Hostess with the leastest.
If you’ve ever hosted dinner, you know that there can be snags. Maybe you’re short on fish filets because someone brought their super-secret-surprise significant other who nobody knew about. You graciously give up your comfy seat and end up on that one spare uncomfortable stool sans fish, now a head higher than the rest of your guests, eating in your lap. They indulge in both your filet and each other’s faces. Or, that cake stuck to the inside of the oven from a baking incident involving a too-small bread pan for that luscious batter? It burned, permeating your subsequent oven project of the night with a heavy, smoky flavor. Which wouldn’t have been unfortunate, if you hadn’t been baking chocolate chip cookies. Which you were.
All these pale in comparison, however to the horror instilled by these three words, “I’m a vegetarian.” (Substitute “vegan,” if desired. Then multiply the following reaction by about three times.)
Hitchcock couldn’t begin to cover this moment
Oh no! What do you do!? Do you run out and get last-minute soy-based imitation meat? Morning Star or Boca brand? Seitan or tempeh? What’s the difference? Do you play it cool and heap extra servings of the side dish onto the vegetarian’s plate and hope they get the hint? How offended is this person by others eating meat? Are you expected to ask about their dietary choice and force smiles and nod while you are regaled with an underhanded holier-than-thou bildungsroman? You make sure to sit in the chair that faces the TV.
It can be awkward to have someone like this in your dinner party. The idea of this person might make you triple check everyone’s dietary preferences before sending out invitations. Maybe you have a friend like this and stash veggie meats in your freezer, just in case. Maybe you don’t, because one dinner with them was enough. Why does the idea or reality of eating in the company of a vegetarian make so many people uncomfortable, even in the absence of verbal controversy?
I’ll have my food without a side of guilt, thanks.
One answer stems from the simple fact that people like to enjoy their meals and the taste of their food. Having to think about what it is you’re eating and how it was made can be unpleasant. Most of us know, at some level, that we are far too trusting with our food. Most of us don’t know, however, that each bite we take without really understanding our food is problematic; poor nutrition leads to disease. We, as a population, are eating food without researching the facts. In an age rife with information, you’d think we’d understand more. We don’t.
The more you learn about the reality of food production and the links between nutrition and disease the more you scrutinize what you eat. The last thing the food industry wants is questions and scrutiny to affect their bottom line. We find out more about the dangers of aspartame? Profits decline. We realize that consuming animal protein above a certain amount creates conditions for cancer? Profits decline.
We are pummeled by food advertising that could make eating your own shoes look sexy. We are distracted from the truth of products by the outrageous taste or by the fun the foods purportedly inspire us to have. Want the fun to never stop? Pop a Pringles can. Wishing you could taste the rainbow? Open a bag of Skittles.
Eating something without insight into it, in my opinion, means blindly endorsing that product. Food is bigger than calories and taste. Every purchase is a mandate for greater production. Most people who are vegetarians or those who make related conscious eating choices with the goal of better health, not just weight loss, know this. This often leads them to place social comfort second to social responsibility. Table fellowship becomes a small concession in the face of foregoing eating products by companies who unfairly profit from our trust. If you have a strong sense of justice, you may find yourself agreeing with this position.
(Like any other group though, you can come across the missionary vegetarians who try to convert everyone from their self-made pedestal. These intolerant ones are often relatively uneducated, doing it to trash the status quo and start arguments. This type of person is just as bad as the blind eaters, in my opinion.)
Research can lead to revolution.
There’s no question, it’s hard to get a clear picture of nutrition. We are outliers to the food production process and have to discern fact from fiction in the midst of a nearly unmanageable amount of information. It’s not a coincidence that understanding food and food production is confusing. The food and factory farm industries make sure of it. Just like the FDA finally cracked down on the tobacco industry to reveal the ingredients in cigarettes due to public pressure, I believe food regulation will experience a similar transformation.
Like the tobacco industry, legislation and change for safer food cannot happen without pressure from the public. This pressure cannot occur without public interest. Public interest requires education about truths that are buried deep by the industry. Education comes with research and our innate ability to pull truth from lies. This is why I advocate for personal research into the facts and taking responsibility for our food. There is a real possibility for a food revolution, but we are still in the grassroots stage of gaining public support. Consumers shifting their purchases and the public pressuring lawmakers on a massive scale is still a distant dream.
(Responsibility –> Research –> Education –> Public interest –> Public pressure)
It’s your body and you’ll cry (for truth) if you want to.
Food is something that affects us on a cellular level. Eating is deeply intimate. The act of eating has few rivals when it comes to what is external becoming truly internal. We must eat to live. Food affects us at every level.
Surely the industry should be accountable to a degree at least found acceptable by the U.S. court system? A jury makes decisions based on evidence that convinces them beyond a reasonable doubt. Shouldn’t we follow suit and demand that companies show us even that much consideration?
How do we know what to believe? I stick to strong copious evidence. You’ll be surprised at what truths I’ve found.
Hostess with the mostest.
Back to our dinner with the shifty motley crew dancing around the soy-based elephant in the room. Really the dinner only becomes uncomfortable when neither the vegetarian nor omnivores are open to the dialogue that America needs to have. Maybe it wasn’t an intended dinner topic, and doesn’t have to be. But, if not now, when? (Not uncomfortable? I’d like to hug you. You’d be surprised how uncommon it is that you have such an open mind.)
Deviating from the standard American diet needs not to be so polarizing. Mostly, it seems we eat and love and obsess over meat, or abstain and hate and curse it. I hope that dialogue and education can convince many to at least take a position somewhere in the middle. The idea is to educate rather than criticize.
Granted, sitting and listening to a vegetarian wax poetic about a lifestyle change can make you want to tear carnivorously at a drumstick nose-to-nose with the ol’ windbag. Even better, though? Imbue yourself with your own personal research, not just for debate purposes, but for yourself.
Challenge: Research the ingredients you can’t pronounce and/or identify off the labels of two of your favorite processed foods. Discuss with others. Aspartame is a great place to start if you’re stuck. http://leda.law.harvard.edu/leda/data/244/Nill,_Ashley_-_The_History_of_Aspartame.html
(The conclusion, “XXII. Conclusion,” is a solid summary of the paper if you’re short on time.)
Link: http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/files/P65single010711.pdf California’s Proposition 65, a list of substances known to cause cancer published by several agencies. A fascinating list.