the hierarchy of food.

i used to be a vegetarian. or, i should say, a pescetarian. i didn’t eat birds, cows, lambs, sheep, deer, or pigs. i ate lots of vegetables, lots of meat substitutes, etc. i drank lots of water. i thought i was healthier than meat eaters to some extent, but i was largely a veggie because i was disgusted by the idea of consuming flesh. it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. i went back to meat, cuz i love chick-fil-a.
i never really thought much about it, until sometime in 2006 when i became a vegetarian more or less by default. i couldn’t afford meat. and i didn’t like to cook it, then eat it. so, i very rarely prepared meat at home — i’d have pre-cooked, or somewhat processed (lots of stuff from trader joe’s, maybe a cheesesteak from a local spot) meat items. but one day, i started getting really sick. i was diagnosed with IBS and though there’s no real treatment for it, i did what i could to lessen its symptoms and impact. less stress, etc. but it got worse, especially when i finally returned to ‘regular’ food.

about 6 months after my first visits to the GI doctor, it really started to click: i ate a handful of pretzels. i was sick for two days and had hives on my arms. the pretzels contained wheat and soy. i assumed it was wheat, though i’d long ago suspected that soy was giving me lots of womb issues. so, bit by bit i had to eliminate things in my house. no more faux-meats (except for quorn products, which are often gluten free and soy free but not always vegan), no more bread, pasta, etc. i had to stop eating a lot of different prepared foods, as they almost always contained soy. soy lecithin, soybean oil, vegetable oil . . . the list goes on and on. i had to change how i ate. when i was broke, the cheapest things to eat were always pasta and baked tofu & veggies with some discounted tomatoes made into a sauce. i had to change that. i had to eat rice noodles. i had to use mushrooms, squash & zucchini when i prepared my ‘broke bitch’ food. i was cool with that. less food prep was involved, etc.  but the more i thought about it, the more frazzled i became.  why? because the things i could eat were very limited.  if i were hungry and on the go, i had to pray that i’d find something that didn’t involve eggs, soy, wheat, or dairy. because, of course, when you eat one fucked up thing there’s always another two or three or ten lurking behind. i am allergic to fish. i don’t eat eggs, because they make my stomach hurt (but i’ll eat something with egg as an ingredient, i.e. a gluten- and soy-free cake that has egg in it).  and so on.  i had to describe myself at one point as a vegan meat eater — that is, when i felt comfortable with my food restrictions enough to eat what i could, instead of what was available.  sometimes, the foods that i am most allergic to are the least expensive (see: ramen noodles — not that i ever ate them regularly — and lunchmeat & bread), depending on where i am (i live within walking distance of two supermarkets where i’m able to get what i need).  i wondered how this impacts folks who don’t have the same resources i do.  what if i come to a place in life where i no longer have those resources? and what’s caused these reactions? am i “lesser” for not choosing to be a locavore, vegetarian or vegan?

i don’t argue w/ the veggies/ vegans anymore on the animal cruelty tip. my reasoning is very simple. being who you are, in this country, in this place, in those clothes, etc. means you are dominating someone else on this planet. whether it’s a fellow citizen or a sweatshop worker, a child laborer, a kidnapped female sex worker, or war prisoner, you dominate with everything you do. if you desire to advocate for the lives of farm animals instead of human beings, i can’t stop you. but understand that it’s all connected. industrial farms are no different than puppy mills, no different than the factories that employ the people who make the nikes, et cetera. yes. i know this. but if you’ve never been allergic to fish, soy, eggs, milk, and wheat (possibly all gluten, including oatmeal), i don’t think you have room to talk shit about how someone chooses to get their protein. my sister, for instance, is allergic to mushrooms, tomatoes, soy, fish, eggs, dairy and onions, but can eat wheat.  tell her she needs to be a veggie, and she’ll laugh in your face. it’s her choice (as well as it is mine, and my mom’s, and anyone else’s) to get her protein from lean meats from locally raised animals, if from local farms at all. shit.   usually, people take care of themselves, the best way they know how and are able to.  we have to be equipped to do these things, right? 

** sort-of sidebar: animal cruelty is reflective of larger and deeply-rooted societal issues, in my opinion. how many ‘famous’ murderers first practiced on animals? how many people who are ill equipped to adequately deal with their own emotional shit pick on defenseless, smaller, or supposedly subordinate beings?  isn’t destructiveness of what can be broken down usually the result of a feeling of disenfranchisement elsewhere in one’s existence? wouldn’t that help to explain why dog fighting is so popular in working class communites and communities of color? **

so i’m saying, it’s taken me close to 12 hours to write this blog post.  and i don’t feel any closer to a conclusion.  i feel like choosing to be a vegetarian or vegan or locavore as a means of protesting big business farms/ food distro is a great idea. it is impactful when part of a bigger organizing.  i feel that by itself,  it falls short in some ways. no method is perfect. i also feel that it is classist, or at the very least excludes persons whose resources are severely limited. it is no secret that, in this country, the ‘healthier’ food options available to us are often more costly than the ‘regular’ food options. what do you do when you make “too much” for food stamps? what do you do when that $8 worth of antibiotic-free, free range, hormone-free, vegetarian-fed chicken is not enough for you alone to eat for more than two meals? i don’t know. i suppose it’s the same thing as understanding and implementing environmental justice instead of simply ‘going green’ in the hood.  you kinda have to see the bigger picture in order to even come close to knowing what your work is going to do.

and on another note, you can’t tell people how to live the best life for themselves without knowing intimately what their situation is. i’ll never forget the sideways look i got from someone for talking about how good bacon is. at one time, i didn’t eat pork or red meat because i was so thirsty for an identity i thought that super bohemian afro queen of the universe might suit me — and what better place to begin than with my food choices?  it failed. because i wasn’t coming from a place of my own understanding, but instead doing something that i thought would ally me with other folks.  i’m older, wiser, more traveled, and a lot more mellow.  i come back to the same thing i’ve said repeatedly to folks about my life: what’s right for you is not always — and sometimes never — right for another person.  we do not have the space to judge. we have the space to be ourselves, and live our best lives. and if we are truly concerned with that, picking on someone for eating meat (or not eating meat, or being homosexual, or being trans, or being a person with a disability, or WHATEVER) isn’t going to fucking matter.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. C
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 09:10:48

    “what’s right for you is not always — and sometimes never — right for another person. we do not have the space to judge. we have the space to be ourselves, and live our best lives. ”

    I think THAT right there, made the 12 hours in progress totally worth it. Well said and summed up nicely.

    Reply

  2. The Vegan
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 14:49:08

    Hi, I don’t know how I happened by here but I wanted to comment on what you said. I appreciate that “what’s right for you is not always — and sometimes never — right for another person. we do not have the space to judge. we have the space to be ourselves, and live our best lives. ”. But whether it’s “right” for someone in their own mind to be a vegan or not is not really relevant. And although I am definitely not in favor of telling people how to live their lives to me what is relevant is the right to life. Sure everyone should decide how to live their own lives but only up to a point. And that point is where you infringe upon the rights of others. Abusing or killing another creature is definitely beyond that point.

    Peace!

    Reply

  3. omi
    Aug 15, 2009 @ 23:49:13

    *testifyin*

    wuuuurrrrrd.

    Reply

  4. Trackback: the hierachy of food « Raven’s Eye
  5. lovinginthewaryears
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:21:35

    i love this post. i was vegan for a few years and it became deprioritized as i dealt with a lot of health problems and food restrictions. eventually i had to say fuck it because eggs and chicken we’re the only things i could bring myself to eat. i have to eat these things to survive, and it feels weird to still believe in animal rights and interconnectedness and look for other ways to describe these systems and to know that there’s no place for my experience in a “vegan community” because i do consume animal products.

    a lot of women who are or have been vegans have experiences like this (with IBS and other illnesses), our narratives get pushed to the side by people who want to practice veganism like a fucked up religion, but there is an analysis there.

    Reply

  6. bint alshamsa
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 22:06:14

    The Vegan,

    “And that point is where you infringe upon the rights of others. Abusing or killing another creature is definitely beyond that point.”

    That’s YOUR opinion. It’s based on your views about who and what has rights and what those rights are. See, in my belief system, ALL living things are equally valuable. That means the flowers and the trees matter just as much as the pigs and the cows. We all rely on living things in order to sustain ourselves.

    Reply

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