The ethics of food is an odd one. It seems quite cut-and-dried: eat in a sustainable fashion. Local food, as veggie-based as possible. Steer clear of battery farms, stick to the organic, the free-range, the lovely produce down at the farmer’s market. Not a bother, eh?
Except that, of course, it is a bother. It’s a hell of a bother. And it’s a bother that is far more realistic for some than others. It’s a cliche that veg*nism is a middle-class privilege, but there’s some truth to that. Locally-grown, organic food is often harder to source and always more expensive than the alternatives. Eating well as a veggie or vegan takes more time, effort and thought than as an omnivore. And if you have food intolerances or allergies then, well, it’s a minefield.
Which is a thing that I had been thinking about in the past few months, as I’ve moved from an entirely omnivorous diet to what I like to call weekend omnivory. While I am by no means vegetarian, I keep my meat/fish-eating down to a day or two a week at the most, and veggie it up the rest of the time. What this means for me is that when I cook at home, it’s veggie, and I save my omnivory for when I’m out. The reason for this is pragmatic- it’s as easy for me to cook something delicious and veggie/vegan as it is to cook anything else when I’m at home, but if I’m travelling around the country with work or visiting friends, then it’s often significantly more practical to not be fussy.
The reason that I do this? A combination of ethics, pragmatism, and an awareness of my own needs. Sure, it would be better, ethically speaking, to cut out meat and dairy entirely. However, for pragmatic reasons it just ain’t gonna happen. However, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If I can cut out, say, 70% of my intake of animal products, then that’s a hell of a lot better than doing nothing. And, to be honest, I think that 70% is a hell of a lot more important than the other 30. More than twice as important, if we’re being nitpicky.
The other reason that I do things this way? Is my awareness of my own needs, which is something I’ve been reminded of in the past few days by some posts I’ve read over in Voracious, formerly the Voracious Vegan. Tasha, whose blog it is, recently reverted to omnivory, for health reasons, after over three years of veganism. Her post detailing why she did so is worth a read, by the way. As is her more recent post responding to the reaction to her announcement. Yikes.
I can relate to her situation. While I wasn’t vegan, I was vegetarian for about seven years, and my reasons for reverting to omnivory were a combination of pragmatism and health. Pragmatism because I was in final year of my undergrad, barely had time to sleep, never mind cooking, and the veggie options available on campus were rather lacking. Health, because in the months directly preceding my decision, I’d been plagued with an array of weird health problems which I won’t go into in much detail, but which did largely resolve themselves when I reintroduced meat to my diet.
That’s not an easy thing to say- as Tasha at Voracious is finding out this week. Either it means you just didn’t try hard enough, or else it’s seen as a vindication that veggie diets Just Don’t Work. Instead of simply meaning that at some times, for some people, they’re not going to work, but for other people they work just fine.
Which brings me back to sustainability. When we talk about sustainability and the ethics of food, it does seem cut-and-dried. But sustainability is about us, as well as about the world around us, and that is anything but. A sustainable diet* is not only one which is good for the environment, for animals, for others and the world around us. It’s also one which we can practically sustain, which both nourishes us and leaves us time to live our lives.
In short, it’s complicated. Oh, and weekend omnivory is awesome. If it works for you.
*Diet meaning the sum of what we eat, as opposed to weight-loss diets. They’re a whole different kettle of fish.