Since we’re still in the primary stages of our adventure into the world of environmental conservation together, I thought I’d take this opportunity tell you a bit about what the starting point looks like for me. Today, I want to talk a bit about dietary preferences.
Many people nowadays will tell you with quasi-religious fervor that veganism is the only way to eat if you care about this little blue planet. But full disclosure here: I’m not a vegan. I’m not even a fully-fledged vegetarian. Could I do better in my dietary choices for the environment? Undoubtedly. And doing better is why we’re all here.
Before A Quill of Conservation came into being, I had already started trying to reduce my meat and dairy consumption, but my relationship with food in general has been a long and not always entirely pleasant one. During my childhood, although my parents grew much of our food, and home-cooked Southern cuisine was a staple in our house, my favourite food was Hamburger Helper stroganoff. I survived my teenage years on a diet of Taco Bell, Mountain Dew, and Pop Tarts.
I learned a lot about nutrition and maintaining a reasonable diet during college. However given the dietary choices stated above, it should come as no surprise that I’ve struggled with my weight from an early age, and dietary choices are still emotionally fraught much of the time for me. Learning to choose foods that are good for your body (and feasible for your wallet) is hard. Pair with this the difficulty of making sure that your food is sustainably sourced, has the highest possible animal welfare ratings, and has as small a carbon footprint as possible? Some days it seems like it would be simpler to just give up on eating altogether. That would help with overpopulation, right? And thus goes the downward spiral into despair.
But this, my friends, is not how it has to be. For those of us here in North America, it’s impossible to argue that we couldn’t stand to reduce our consumption of animal products. Factory farming is, without a doubt, a scourge on the environment. That’s not even to mention the treatment of the animals themselves, which without getting into the shock-and-awe is absolutely atrocious. However, for the large-scale change that we need, I don’t think pressuring people into veganism is the best or even the most plausible way to insight change while still addressing the varied nutritional, social, and personal preference factors that go into our food choices on a daily basis.
In recent years, it seems that veganism has become more of a lifestyle choice than a dietary preference. In this article, also from the Guardian, Bee Wilson describes the almost religious conviction with which many followers of veganism and other highly restrictive diets approach their food choices, as well as the backlash facing people who turn away from this lifestyle, even when their health is on the line. For many, veganism is a cornerstone of personal identity, and perhaps, according to Wilson, one based more on a desire to be part of the community than on actual nutrition facts.
In addition, eating is a highly social experience. Sharing food and drink is one of the oldest methods of bonding with other members of our species. It may be the Southerner in me, but when someone offers you a meal, especially one they’ve prepared for you, you better have a darned good reason if you choose to turn it down, and frankly, there are more often important things to address than our personal dietary preferences however noble they may be. It’s important to stick to your principles, but sometimes, making the most of the time you have with the people around you is more important than what’s on your plate.
I can’t speak for the larger conservation community, but looking at the big picture, I think we need to focus more on appealing to people’s logic and helping them find food solutions that meet their individual dietary needs and preferences while also reducing the demand for large-scale factory farming. Reducing consumption of animal products is an integral part of this process, but we must take into account the needs of the entire population—from hippies to body-builders to the folks who make a living producing the food we need to survive. This process must also be grounded on facts, not a righteous urge to spread the good word of clean eating.
I’m not sure where my search for the facts on sustainable food choices will end up, but rest assured I’ll keep you guys posted as I learn more.