Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about food. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my fairly recent decision to stop eating meat (I was pescetarian for about 2 years before also choosing not to eat seafood a couple of months ago). Because it’s recent change, a lot of people have asked me what motivated the decision. However, my answer always feels too complicated to adequately explain in casual conversation. Thankfully, that’s exactly when blogging comes so in handy!
Firstly, here’s some reasons why being vegetarian works for me. I’m an animal person. I wholeheartedly believe that you can be an animal person and still eat meat but, lately, that just hasn’t worked for me. Not eating meat made sense for me philosophically and it didn’t disrupt my relationship to food or eating negatively so I thought, “why the hell not?”
Secondly, in North America where so much meat is produced by factory farming, vegetarian diets* can be a way to build a more sustainable relationship with food and the environment. However, this is not to say that there aren’t plenty of ways to eat meat in a sustainable way and it’s important to consider that non-meat diets contain products which are the result of environmentally (and socially) harmful practice. (My decision to be vegetarian is similar to my decision to compost or take shorter showers. It’s just something I decided to incorporate in to my life as a way of reducing my negative impact on the planet.)
Being a vegetarian has also improved my relationship with food in general. Food shame is something we’re often taught to do to others and it’s definitely something women especially are taught to do to ourselves. Being a vegetarian hasn’t stopped me from food-shaming myself entirely (that kind of complicated unpacking of patriarchy is the sort of thing that requires a lifetime of work) but it has helped me to deflect some of my negative thinking. Instead of being concerned about calorie content, I can research what leafy greens have the most protein. Instead of searching a menu for the meal with the least amount of fat, I can ponder the many ways to replace meat with mushrooms. It’s not a perfect system. But, for the moment, it’s working and I’m having a lot more fun with food than I have in the past.
Despite all of this, the most important pillar of my philosophy around vegetarianism is that I couldn’t care less whether or not you are.
This often confuses people and I can understand why because the vegetarians we’re used to seeing in the media are the kind of militant PETA-style anti-meat campaigners who tend to see discussions of diet through black and white lenses. Trust me, people who “diet preach” make me just as uncomfortable as the rest of you and most of the vegetarians I know are respectful folks who’ve just chosen to eat a certain way. Here’s three of the most significant reasons why my decision to eat or not eat meat has nothing to do with you and why your decision to eat or not eat meat is the least of my concerns.
1. Choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet is a privileged choice to make. Having the financial means to cut meat from a diet while still eating in a way that’s nutritious is challenging because fresh fruits and vegetables are often inaccessible and non-meat sources of protein like tofu and nuts are expensive. In 2012, Stats Canada determined that 13% of Canadian households are food insecure. On a collective level, ensuring people have enough to eat seems a hell of a lot more important than arguing about what we “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating.
2. Food and eating are cultural phenomenon and, for a lot of people, meat is an important piece of cultural expression. Colonization, environmental degradation, and unsustainable practices of resource extraction have disrupted traditional ways of eating across the planet. In opposition to this, emphasizing culturally significant relationships to food can be essential components of decolonization. My friend Laura phrased this so well in her very poignant Facebook rant:
“animal liberation activists screaming ‘it’s not food, it’s violence’ in front of my work on july first – a day which should be reserved for protests against the ongoing violent colonization of those indigenous to this land we call canada, who have sustained themselves by eating meat since time immemorial, who are only harmed by western animal rights movements, whose diets have been colonized and continue to be colonized, as with every aspect of their life and culture since contact. partake in vegetarianism/veganism if you want, stand up against animal abuse, fight against capitalist/corporate greed, eat ethical meat if you can afford it, do NOT lose sight of the privilege inherent in making any of those choices, and do not push your settler-colonial diet activism bullshit onto those whose land you stole.”
3. The way people (and especially women) are taught to relate to food is, to put it simply, fucked up and we really need to stop shaming each other about it. Food is a feminist issue. It’s a feminist issue in the ways that it intersects with class, culture, and colonization. But it’s also a feminist issue because judging you for eating meat is just as harmful as you judging me for eating dessert. From the very foundations of our relationships to food, eating, and each other, we need to see food-shame as any act that creates a hierarchy of diets. For many, feeling good about eating is hard enough – we don’t need to shame each other about what we’re eating too.
To make a long story short, being a vegetarian makes me happy. However, what makes me even happier is emphasizing respect, compassion, and kindness when it comes to food and eating in general. So go ahead and order the ribs. I won’t judge you for eating them but I might make fun of the barbecue sauce on your nose… sorry.
*I use the word “diet” several times throughout this blog. To clarify, I’m using the word to just mean “the kind of food that someone eats” as opposed to it’s more colloquial reference to the restriction of food.