Tag Archives: food

400 Million Lives Saved

Yorkshire_pigs_at_animal_sanctuaryI’m writing to share a huge success story. A larger success than I ever imagined. Last year, 400 million fewer animals were killed in the U.S. than in 2007. That’s more lives saved in America than there are American citizens.

As a vegan I would love to take credit. But it’s not just vegans and vegetarians; in fact it’s not even mostly us. Most of those lives were spared by people who are simply eating less meat. It’s a known trend that as societies get wealthier they demand more animal products, but that trend is being reversed in the U.S.
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Food Politics

I almost said that I’m expanding my focus with this article, since I usually write about animal rights. But really I’m narrowing my focus to one particular animal: the human animal.

I’m used to boycotting foods that cause harm to non-human animals. These include all animal products, and lately I’ve started being careful to avoid palm oil unless it’s certified rainforest-safe. Palm oil is often grown in a way that destroys orangutan habitat. I’ve recently become aware of how harmful the banana industry can be to its workers and it’s gotten me thinking about human exploitation in our food system.

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Shark fin syndrome

Today’s post was inspired by a panel at Pantheacon two weeks ago, Gods and Radicals. I recommend reading the ‘zine after you finish with this post. During the discussion (in a tiny room meant for 25 and upwards of 75 were trying to take part), I found myself thinking of ideas to expand on for this blog. Eventually I decided to write out a pet theory I’ve had for several years.

If you are not familiar with the food, shark fin soup is a delicacy thought to have originated in China over 1,000 years ago. It was a delicacy found at special events such as weddings. Now it has become a more common dish, often found at business lunches as a sign of prosperity. In order to sate the demand for shark fins there is now a booming business of finning: cutting off the dorsal fins of sharks and throwing them overboard. Without this fin, sharks are unable to move, sink to the ocean floor, and die.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mO7hvOtYnck&w=560&h=315]

When I was younger my dream was to be a marine biologist. Sharks were one of my favorite aquatic life forms. Now they are a commodity. This is problematic on multiple levels. First, as apex predators, sharks serve a vital role in their ecosystems. (I’m not going to be going into details of that here but if you’re interested in learning more I highly recommend the book Where the Wild Things Were.) Second, and what led to my naming of shark fin syndrome, is the waste. The fin is not the only part of the animal which has been considered edible. I imagine that at least part of the reason why the fin was originally made into soup was to minimize the amount of leftover shark after it has been consumed. Instead of respecting the animal, and the hunt, now it’s simply another commodity. And who’s to care about dead sharks or decimating the cycle of life in the oceans? Sharks may not be the prettiest animal in the ocean and have the man-eater reputation thanks to Jaws. But that does not make them unnecessary, or only valuable by what prestige they can bring to humans.

I see this kind of thinking rampant in our cultures. With foods, it’s the wanting of specific cuts of meat, or latching on to a “super food” billed as a panacea when other, more common fare can have the same benefit but does not have a good PR department behind it. While my syndrome applies to things where we want a small amount of something while ignoring the totality, I think it applies well to other aspects of our society. Our overculture teaches us that if we want it and can put out the money for it, we should just be able to have it without consequence. If we want cheap goods, we have a right to them, along with overseas slave labor to make it and people receiving below-poverty level wages to sell them to us. Cheap food? Sure! Complete with migrant workers to pick it, monoculture grains (corn, wheat, and soy primarily) genetically engineered to withstand synthetic fertilizers and pesticides hosed over them and made stronger every year because the bugs feeding on them quickly become resistant, and causing the food which does come to our plate depleted of nutrients. Diamond jewelry or rare earth metals? War in African countries. A full wardrobe? Sweatshops in Bangladesh collapsing and killing workers.

How do we combat this waste? I wish I knew. Despite its marketing, making individual choices isn’t going to do much when the people in power are able to sell personality responsibility over making major ideological changes to the world at large. The back of the Gods and Radicals zine reads “An Other World Is Possible.” We need to actively work toward this world.

Resources

Shark Truth
Shark fin soup and the conservation challenge

Orthodox Pagan Food

I’m an avid reader. Books, blogs, and HuffPost articles feed my unquenchable hunger for more information. The genres I read lend toward nonfiction: science, memoirs, and of course, Pagan books. Religion is something I have deep interest in and not just my religion. I love to read books by and about Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and any other religion. My favorite stories are religious memoirs, books written by people who came from some sort of orthodox life who “escaped” and are now making their way in the world. Some of my favorites include Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, and The Namesake.

Whenever I read books on this subject an envy deep in my soul grows a little bigger. The envy is for the the connection many of the community members have: living in tight knit communities, sharing space and lives and sometimes bloodlines, of actually *knowing* your neighbors, of being able to trust those around you to have your best interest at heart.

Of course, the authors don’t paint the rosy picture my mind wants to see. Instead, they talk of oppressive patriarchal hierarchies so tightly knit together they can be almost impossible to rip back. They speak of deep loneliness, of feeling “other” all the time, not being able to trust their families and peers for fear of being shamed for wanting something other than maintaining whatever the cultural and religious norm there are.

Our religion does not fit into the above description. We Pagans tend to flee when we see the words “rules” “restrictions” “regulation” “responsibility” because many of us came from religions which had far too many of these “r” words. We bristle at the very thought of anyone having power to tell us what to do and what not to do. I’m one who bristles at the very thought of someone telling me anything. But I see there is a need for some rules. Paganism is not a free-for-all religion. We have responsibilities to ourselves, our kin, and Mother Earth.

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Selling Us Apathy

The other night I ordered a pizza from a popular chain. If you’ve read my other articles, you can probably guess that it was a vegan pizza. The website where I ordered it even had no cheese as a standard option. But the box they sent it in told a different story.

The top of the box named and pictured five cows. The company hailed them as their unsung heroes, calling them an important part of their team.

I guess they picked the wrong box for my cheeseless pizza.

It’s hard to read it with a non-vegan eye. Was I supposed to take the box seriously? Was I supposed to be moved to a newfound respect for cows’ importance in the web of pizza? What was the purpose of this?
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Dogmatic Foodies

roundtableHere at Pagan Activist, we cover the issue of food frequently. That’s because 100% of Pagan Activist authors eat food.

Author’s here have a variety of diets. I eat paleo. Jason eats vegan. Soli eats traditional. Debra avoids GMOs thus avoiding processed. Our commonality? We all want to eat as healthy as we can.

Whose health are we talking about when we use the loaded word “healthy”? If the discussion is about Earth’s health, some argue eating meat isn’t healthy for Mother Earth. Some argue eating grains is the real detriment. Still others lament at the high carbon footprints of trekking vegetables from below the equator to above it to feed the wealthy north is the real culprit.

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Dietary Tribalism

1360016977Recently I attended a multiday event which included a lot of physical activity and required endurance. Knowing the participants would need to be fed, the organizers sent an email a few weeks prior asking participants about diet restrictions and food allergies. I responded with “paleo” then listed my food allergies and what happens to my body when I eat the foods I’m allergic to.

The midday meal consisted rice and bean burritos with some tofu wrapped in wheat tortillas or peanut butter and jelly on either wheat bread or “gluten free” bread. Dinner was rice and beans, chili made of beans and corn, lettuce with apples, and bread. I can eat none of these foods yet because these were the only meals offered I ate what I knew my body would negatively respond to.

By this time I was very worried about the days to follow. I went to bed yet found myself unable to sleep due to frequent trips to the bathroom. When morning came I was not only completely exhausted from not sleeping and all the physical activity of the day before but I was also extremely hungry. I had to make the decision as to stay with the group or travel home. Not only was my body undernourished my brain didn’t have the fuel it needed so decision making wasn’t easy.

I talked with a volunteer, a lovely young woman in her senior year of college, who said “meat was never going to be provided. The majority of people here are vegetarian.” I asked her “if you were the only vegan with a bunch of paleos wouldn’t you expect to be fed?” She responded with “Oh, I didn’t think of that.” She also stated the volunteers and organizers had seen my diet requirements when I emailed the form to the organization. However, no one made any attempts to communicate with me. I was informed by the volunteer “it was on the website.” Prior to leaving my home I saw the menu on the website. I wrongly assumed* my dietary needs would be met.

I then went to the organizer, a young woman in her early twenties, who said to me “buy your own food.” When I explained I had only enough money to get back home via public transportation she shrugged and walked away. My tired, hungry brain bubbled over into emotional tears. I felt devalued, unwanted, poor, and so … dismissed. That’s when I decided to return home.

It took almost four hours for me to get home via public transportation. During that time I got some animal protein in my body and was able to nap on the bus. I started to feel better but knew I wouldn’t return to myself until I slept in my own bed and ate food my body is accustomed to.

Food Tribes

More people are realizing the Standard American Diet of highly processed, refined foods is not “healthy”, thus creating dietary tribalism: paleos, vegan, and everyone in between. Whether intentional or not, food tribe members are imposing their personal morality and individualistic dietary requirements on others and it’s causing conflict and, worse, exclusion. After the 24 hours I spent eating vegan I felt so marginalized that my trust in the group deteriorated to zero. Thankfully, after my belly was filled and my body rested I was able to think rationally and realized this was a time for non-accusatory dialogue. But I’m still struggling with that.

Events designed to bring people together can, and do, have the opposite effect. One can bring their own food but doing so can insult the hostess which leads to more conflict. What one person eats as a staple may cause anaphylactic shock in another. Gone are the days when a BBQ of dogs and burgers, slaw and salad feeds 100 people. Family functions have become fraught with peril. The dietary needs of paleos and vegans — not to mention the multitudes with severe food allergies — are often left out at large functions when providing an abundance of food as cheaply as possible is the goal.

Economics

The Second Great Depression is making it tough for everyone. Personally I’ve been affected by an inability to find gainful employment. My fulltime job is looking for a fulltime job. The lack of employment has effected every single aspect of my life. Most discussions start and end with “I don’t have the money.” There are lots of events I don’t attend, conference calls I can’t join, and spend much of my time home alone, isolated away from the population because of the economy. Even my familial relationships have been affected. One member of my family will no longer talk to me because I could not afford to attend her wedding last year.

Because money is so finite, I pick and choose what I will spend greenbacks on. I have to weigh the options carefully: is what I want to do financially feasible? Will it throw my budget completely out of whack? How long will it take my bank account to recover from spending money on _____.

I planned to attend the event for months. All I needed was a small amount of cash to get to the departure point and home from the end point.  I decided the cost of the bus tickets was worth the event. I knew my meals would be provided so that was something I didn’t need to worry about.

I was very wrong.

Planning for a large group of people on a finite budget isn’t easy. Choices have to be made as to what is economically feasible for the group. Budgets have to cover the plan and if the budget does not, the plan has to be reworked. As someone who has done a multitude of event planning I understand this fully.

The group didn’t get the funding they were anticipating so cuts had to be made. But as the volunteer said “we were never planning on providing meat”. So even if the food budget had been slashed, my meals were never going to made available to me. And that was never directly communicated to me.

Solutions

There just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium in which everyone’s dietary needs are satisfied. A vegan may not want to watch a paleo eat chicken. Individuals allergic to nuts may not be able to attend public events where nuts may be in attendance. A celiac can not eat anything with grains in it, often excluding that person from eating grainy salads on the table. Bringing ones own food may insult Grandma who spent hours planning, shopping, and preparing a meal.

So what’s the solution?

Not imposing dietary tribalism of one group onto another.

Just as a group of paleos wouldn’t consider forcing vegans to eat meat, vegans should not force paleos into eating grains.  To look down one’s nose at someone who is eating as their body calls for is silently imposing dietary tribalism. The last thing I want when I’m eating lamb is for snide, rude comments, dirty looks, and a holy-than-thou attitude from someone sitting across from me. It’s just as easy for me to make disrespectful comments in attempts to shame someone into eating the way I want them to. For instance, I could say “Grains are converted into sugar and we know there’s nothing cancer cells love more than sugar!” just like someone could say “That lamb had a face! Meat is murder!” Neither attitude is appetizing. Leave your inner Judge Judy at home.

Finding Commonalities

There are lots of commonalities between paleos and vegans. Both tribes, generally, want to avoid processed foods, artificial ingredients, false sugars and genetically modified organisms and other forms of chemical engineered food. Both want organic, nutrient dense, low carbon footprint foods grown locally. Both groups focus on their health and feel, as individuals, they are feeding their bodies the best possible diet for optimal health. Focus on those commonalities instead of the differences.

Avoid Exclusion

“We were never going to provide meat” the volunteer said.
“Buy your own” said by the organizer.

Both statements made me feel other, marginalized, unwanted, and disrespected. Both reeked of economic privilege and offended me to my core.  Those two sentences made me not want to work with the groups who organized the event, nor with the two young women I spoke with. I realized the two women who spoke these words were young and what they need is education about privilege and how the choices they made as individuals and as a group affected me quite negatively.

What the organizers and volunteers planned to do about the exclusion of my dietary needs once it was pointed is the crux of the problem. Obviously they had no idea what to do so their response was to make what they overlooked into my problem. By shrugging off my concerns they dodged responsibility. This is not an acceptable solution. In short, their solution was exclusion.

Social movement want inclusion. In order to do so organizers must plan for all dietary and economic needs. Otherwise entire groups of people will be deliberate excluded to the detriment of the movement organizers are trying to recruit for. Basically: don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.

Communicate

A few weeks before the event, I sent in the questionnaire regarding my dietary needs. The volunteer said “oh, we saw that” but the group never communicated to me their unwillingness to provide the requirements of my diet. The response I received when I brought this up was “it was on the website”. Putting something on a website is not the be all, end all in communication. By saying what she did, the organizer dodged responsibility essentially saying “it’s your fault. Go home.”  Being contacted when the organization first received my questionnaire should’ve occurred. At that point I would’ve been able to make a decision as to whether to attend, save money, prepare meals, and ask friends and colleagues for donations to help me procure appropriate food in order for me to succeed in completing the week long event — something I had looked forward to, and trained for, for months — was feasible.

What I learned from this experience was to be inclusive of all eaters. The next event I plan will either have food for all or require all to bring their own food. I do not want anyone to feel the way I did, not even for a second.

If you’re inclined, I often foodgram.

*Assumptions make an ASS out of U and ME.
**Emphasis mine

Image credit

This week in food politics, the Soli edition

We’ll start with this image, which I saw on Facebook last week.

I know a lot of us are having issues with being unemployed, underemployed, or just not having enough money to cover all our living expenses. I admit that I wonder sometimes how my paycheck can disappear so quickly. Food is one of the reasons why. Good, nutritious food is a right, not a privilege. But until water and air, which we also need to live, growing food takes people power. It takes knowledgeable farmers with skills and brains to make the food the best it can be. Salatin, in the above picture, is just one farmer taking this approach. Unfortunately he is in quite the minority, when most of the food Americans eat come from industrialized, monoculture farms. Too many of them use toxic chemicals to grow their food, or the food is toxic themselves. Which leads well into my next point…

A viral gene has been found in genetically engineered soy and corn/maize crops. I’ve been anti-GMO since I first learned of their existence around 1996, and one of my goals for the year is to better educate myself about these crops. Whatever your beliefs may be about them, take note of these paragraphs from the end of the article:

It is perhaps the most basic assumption in all of risk assessment that the developer of a new product provides regulators with accurate information about what is being assessed. Perhaps the next most basic assumption is that regulators independently verify this information. We now know, however, that for over twenty years neither of those simple expectations have been met. Major public universities, biotech multinationals, and government regulators everywhere, seemingly did not appreciate the relatively simple possibility that the DNA constructs they were responsible for encoded a viral gene.

Biotechnology, it is often forgotten, is not just a technology. It is an experiment in the proposition that human institutions can perform adequate risk assessments on novel living organisms. Rather than treat that question as primarily a daunting scientific one, we should for now consider that the primary obstacle will be overcoming the much more mundane trap of human complacency and incompetence. We are not there yet, and therefore this incident will serve to reinforce the demands for GMO labeling in places where it is absent.

I’ve said it before, I love food. It’s my passion. And I want to see everyone able to access real, nutritious food and have the best health possible. But more and more of the food in this culture is fake, lacking in nutrients, and making us sick. Our overculture seems to want food which is cheap, fast, and good. The way we’re doing things right now you can have the first two without a problem. The third is when things get dicey and it seems like that is what we’re most willing to sacrifice.

Meal time can be sacred. In Egypt there was a prayer which translates as this: May Netjer (God/the Gods) be satisfied with the repast to the right and to the left. When you live in a culture where food is not automatically abundant on the table at all times of the year, or you had to worry about a poor or failed harvest, you do gain a level of reverence for when you are able to eat.

Incidentally, this applied to all cultures throughout the world before modern times. Yes, it’s amazing we have such abundance and can eat so much out of season. But we don’t respect it as we once did. We don’t have to plan ahead for the fallow seasons and can, ferment, dry, and otherwise preserve the bounty. If something spoils, we can just toss it in the trash and drive down to Stop and Shop for more.

But is this abundance a good thing? We’re throwing away up to half of the food being grown or made. One argument I’ve seen for genetically engineered food is that it will help feed people going hungry. Forgetting the fact that people go hungry for reasons which have nothing to do with availability, the fact that we’re tossing half of what can possibly be eaten doesn’t speak well for bioengineering food to cover this deficit. If we can’t get the food we’re making now to be consumed, how will making more be a help? Won’t it just mean more of this food getting tossed?

I’m not going to try to present solutions here, since such things are beyond me at this point. Instead I take a lesson I learned from Jello Biafra a long time ago, that the first step to finding a solution is pointing out the problem.

Incidentally, some of the food issues I’ve discussed here aren’t just for people whose politics fall on the left. As this article puts it so well, Tea Party Libertarians and small organic farmers make strange politics bedfellows. It’s something to consider, and part of why I still question whether I am a liberal. If I’m not, I don’t mind being a left libertarian.

What do you do to get food to your table? Do you grow it? Buy organic? Or beyond organic? Do you avoid GMOs? Do you have, or wish for a garden?

One last little tidbit for this wanting to garden. The University of Connecticut now has a rain garden app if you are interested in making a garden and taking advantage of rainwater to make your environment a more beautiful place.