Saturday, May 07, 2011

It's the Food

When I asked for questions, the lovely Robin Raven asked me to follow up on something I had Tweeted recently about veganism. The story goes like this:

I haven't eaten meat more than ten times since I was fourteen. Eggs, yes. Milk products, yes. Fish, no. Nothing with a face.

[Although I should clarify I eat Peeps.]

I do this for a couple of reasons. Reason one is that I never much liked meat anyway, so it's not much of a deprivation, save one; I think most soy products are credible enough to fill the need but I wish bacon came from a plant. I do miss bacon. But the other reason I don't eat meat is that I don't like the mega-farming industry. The animals suffer. The environment suffers.The independent farmers scraping out a living on the margins, forced to cut costs to keep contracts with large companies, suffer. I'm not so naive that I think death is avoidable if I skip the branzino; it's my adding to suffering which bothers me. If I could afford to eat nothing but animals who lived a good life with one bad day at the end, I would. Since I can't afford to eat those animals who lived decently, I choose not to eat any at all. Until she was about eight, Daughter was a vegetarian. Because I don't want this to become a thing -- a thing her mother was a maniac about and held her hostage to -- I always swore if she understood why I didn't eat meat and still wanted to eat meat, she could. About 30% of the time, she does.

A few weeks ago, the family was eating dinner together. I had made Consort and Daughter a dish which involves kale, whole-wheat pasta and Italian sausage. They dove in happily; I ate my kale and looked on, pleased. Daughter waved a fork of her dinner at me.

"You should just try it," she implored. "It's delicious."

"Thrilled to hear it, honey," I said. "But you know my feelings about the meat industry. Just be happy I'm not dragging Chew on This [The kid's version of Fast Food Nation] out for a little light dinner-reading."

She clucked her tongue. "You wear leather shoes, you eat cheese and butter. Eggs, too." she noted, "You think those animals are happier?"

The books on parenting never mentioned the age when your child would shine a Kleig light on your hypocrisy. Consort said firmly, "Leave your mom alone" which, you will note, is not the same thing as saying, "What you are saying isn't true." What she was saying was true, and it merited attention. My shoes are leather. My cheese and my precious butter comes from cattle who have milk to give because their calves were separated from them. Those eggs aren't coming from chickens living in small cheerful coops in someone's back yard. My food and my fashion involve some misery. I've tried being vegan a grand total of eight days in my life and stopped because I felt deprived and because I grew tired grilling waiters about food preparation. But I am ready to start thinking about it again. But there's so much to think about.

So, we begin with leather. I got a wonderful purse from Dean in Silverlake for Christmas, which I won't junk because that's wasteful and, candidly,that cow is already quite dead, but won't replace with another leather purse when it wears out. I've been skimming vegan-shoe websites and while many of the shoes are adorable, they're adorable in a "Grad student at Berkeley" kind of way. I'm the Venn diagram where "Concerned about reducing her carbon and suffering footprint" crosses over "Hopelessly preppy" and there are very few shoes in that category. Thanks to Payless, I can get leather-free espadrilles for the summer, but the winter will eventually arrive, as minimal as it is in Los Angeles. Where, oh where, are the cute preppy loafers for the vegan crowd?

Wool might be a challenge. What am I saying? I live in a city where you wear a wool-sweater because you feel like pretending to be Ali McGraw in Love Story, not because it's actually necessary.

I'd miss cheese. I'd miss cheese a lot. When you don't have much of a sense of smell, as I do, you don't have much of a sense of taste. Big cheeses make me very happy. On Thanksgiving, we sit on the beach and have a picnic. I have no turkey. I don't like stuffing. Sweet potatoes taste like paste-glue to me. But I have a big stinky cheese or two and am thankful.

And then there's butter. I love butter. Just search the word toast in this blog and discover it's a miracle I haven't had massive myocardial infarction already, such is my love of butter. And then I look at my child and see my hypocrisy and realize that even though she's already forgotten about it, I haven't. Vegatarianism was easy; if I take the next step, it's going to be with a chorus of my own whining. It might be the right thing to do, but it certainly won't be the gracious thing to do.

I'll tell you this, though; if gin and tonics turn out to have animal by-products in them, I'm going to just live as a hypocrite.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Riin said...

I was vegetarian for years before I finally took the plunge and went vegan a few years ago. For the first 3 weeks I really missed cheese. After 3 weeks it was just out of my system and I haven't missed it since. To tell you the truth the idea of cheese seems pretty gross now.

I still do wool, so some would argue I'm not completely vegan, but I know a lot of people who pamper their sheep, so I'm not going to feel bad about that.

I'm still wearing the leather shoes I bought before I went vegan, but I haven't bought any new ones. I get by with wool clogs in cooler months (again, not vegan, but no one died), but yeah, the dearth of good vegan shoes is annoying.

Earth Balance isn't butter, but it tastes really good. Give it a try. (Note that there's Earth Balance and Smart Balance. Earth Balance tastes good. Smart Balance tastes like crap. Do not confuse the two.)

5:18 AM  
Anonymous Robin Raven said...

I love this blog, and thank you so much for answering the question. It's so sweet of you to acknowledge me.

Going vegan is one of the hardest things that I've done, and I did still slip up dairy a couple of times. (I'm trying to get to the point where I never will, of course.)

Like you, I never cared for meat, and I went vegetarian around the same age that you did. It was not hard for me at all.

Yet, I have tried to go vegan since I was 18, and only succeeded just this year, to tell you how epic of a struggle it was for me. I know some of my fellow vegans don't like me to say that, but it is what it is.

I think it's awesome that you are considering it.

I swear I won't prattle on all day. I recommend Daiya cheese. I have to say that most vegan cheeses are not very good, except for Daiya. It's really delectable. Of course, since tastes differ, you might like other ones instead, but most of my vegan friends swear by it! Also, Earth Balance butter is worth a try. To me, it's better than the real deal. There's a really good vegan ice cream called Yours Truly that comes prepackaged cone, and the coconut-based vegan ice creams are generally the best.

Okay, now I'm being an annoying vegan. ;-) Since I recently made the transition, it gets me all excited! Thanks again for the great blog and your intelligent thoughts on the subject. Whatever you decide, I think you are setting a great example by caring and doing so much for animals already!

By the way, Happy Mother's Day to a truly inspiring mom!

6:55 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Wait, can I ask why wool is banned? I grew up on a working sheep farm and we sheared our sheep and sold the wool each summer. It certainly wasn't any more discomfiting than a haircut and is a "needs to be done" sort of thing anyhow, by which I mean we would've shorn them whether or not we sold the wool.

(I should give the disclaimer that our sheep were not what is known as a "wool breed" but rather were raised for meat. The wool that came from our sheep is the sort that gets made into scratchy sweaters, scarves and balaclavas hand-knitted and given to children by their great-aunts at Christmas.)

Anyhow, just wondering why vegans avoid wool...?

9:07 AM  
Blogger Rainey said...

It actually isn't as expensive as you think to eat "happy meat." I buy the majority of my meat (haven't found fish or chickens or turkeys yet) from small local farmers who raise their animals without by-products...in a pasture...and with the compassion that REAL farmers and ranchers have for their animals. After all, to them, those animals are their very being!

The meat is oh so much better...you can get it made into dang near anything (if you wanted say, sausage)...and aside from the initial sticker shock and freezer investment...comes out cheaper in the long run!

Example...I just bought a lamb...$200 plus the processing so it'll be maybe $300 for everything. I get about 75-100 lbs of meat. That means $3-4/lb for everything from lamb burger to leg of lamb. My freezer was $600 I think for a big upright...and my additional electricity costs aren't noticeable. So, in the long run, it saved me money. And for my solitary self (save a rather obnoxious husky who wishes she could help out!)...a lamb lasts 1-2 years!

I understand exactly how you feel...corporate farming is a sham...it's not farming...it's a crime towards animal husbandry and a crime towards the great profession that is farming/ranching. And to think...those are the majority of the subsidy recipients! Grrrr....

Anyway...just had to throw that in there as an option. There are oodles of places like http://eatwild.com that can help you find someone near you. Might even be worth it just for Daughter and Consort!

Loved your book, love you blog and so happy to find you after feeling a kinship for that smartaleck kid in Goodbye Girl all those years ago. Your character was a bit of a parallel to my life...and even as a kid I identified with that...thank you! :-)

Rainey

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the butter & cheese--maybe Slow Food LA

http://slowfoodla.com/

could help you find a kinder, gentler source?

And as for leather shoes, how about ebay/consignment/thrift stores? If the idea of wearing pre-owned shoes elicits a certain ick factor, perhaps you could weigh that against the animal-cruelty ick factor and find that you can live with that. There are all sorts of natural disinfectants available. . .

12:50 PM  
Blogger Val Thevictorian said...

Too bad eggs are so fragile. I have 102 of them taking up space in the bottom of my fridge: four dozen and three eighteen-cartons. We are getting about nine a day from our happy chickens. They live like kings and queens. Well, except for not having a castle or crown or title or the benefit of royal matrimony. They roam the yard during daylight hours, and shun their coop for a big cedar tree at night. Our two dogs keep the predators away.

Did you know that chickens really like cantaloupe seeds? They're like crack for poultry.

Long-time lurker here. I loved your book. And I'm interested in how the home-school venture will turn out.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

Ugh. You made me think about my cousin's cow, Lucky. My dad bought Lucky and he came to live in the big white freezer in our basement.
And, having watched what free-range chicken's eat, that option is still a scary one to me.
Being able to dissociate well is a rather handy coping skill I've developed.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

I am a vegetarian who wears leather, and eats cheese and milk. Oh, and honey. Throughout my vegetarian life, meat eating people have delighted in questioning me on my eating habits, and then triumphantly declaring my hypocrisy to me. I'm down to saying 'And you're point is...?'

Whatever you can live with that works for you. If you go for being vegan, good luck with it!

1:13 AM  
Blogger Sydne said...

My daughter became a vegetarian at the age of 10. She is now 15 and going strong. Her sister is 17 and has been a vegetarian for four years now. I'm super proud.

My dilemma, though, is not only cooking for the meat eaters and the non meat eaters on a daily basis but for deciding WHAT is vegetarian. One daughter will not eat anything with gelatin as it is animal related and one doesn't mind. I just let them decide individually to what extent their vegetarianism will go and just to kindly let me know before I make my grocery list.

The only non-negotiable factor is judging others in the house for our choices. The rest of us three are carnivores and the no leather thing doesn't fly in this house. Unless they trade in their dad for one who isn't a biker who lives in leather on the weekends, it ain't happening.

1:54 PM  
Blogger MichaĆ©le said...

Judy, "Lucky" doesn't sound like such an appropriate name for that cow!

3:12 PM  
Anonymous MidLyfeMama said...

While I am good with people making choices that they want with regard to the food they eat and the clothes they wear, you do not have to give up all of the things you talked about to be environmentally and socially conscious. I belong to a CSA and the meat we get is from happy animals, with, as you say, the exception of that last, really bad day. The cost is $7 per lb and I get 6 lbs a month. More than enough for the two of us who eat meat in the house. You can find cheese and eggs and milk that comes from happy well cared for animals too. I am not sure why wool is involved. But you can make a different choice without denying yourself the small pleasures in life.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Tracy said...

I'm okay with giving up everything else, but I've got to have milk!! That's just the deal-breaker right there. Even the thought of soy milk produces a facial expression usually used when picking up after the dog. Can't help it.

6:33 PM  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

I have to echo Heather - wool is a sustainable crop, so to speak! I know there are cruel practices involved with large-scale sheep farming, but there are tons of small shepherds who don't use such practices and whose wool is lovely to knit and wear.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Class factotum said...

I had a friend in college who asked for a diploma printed on paper rather than the traditional vellum one. She was way deep into her vegetarianism. More bacon for the rest of us, I guess.

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Jen Dickens said...

Chickens will always lay eggs, we might as well enjoy them. As a ranching wife, I can honestly say that beef tastes better to me now than when I didn't own cattle. That might sound sick to those who look at a cow with same affection they would a family pet, but cattle aren't pets. Our cattle are living very nice, peaceful lives while we have them. As a beef producer, I agree there are serious issues with the industry. I am also thankful that more people are considering what they are eating. Most people don't think about where their food comes from, meat or otherwise. More conversations about that can only improve the food industry as a whole.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Manic Missy said...

I really liked your post... ur writing is quite enjoyable, i also have a daughter who would question me like yours did you. Not necessary about being a vegetarian cause I'm not but about something else.. they are too smart. :) which is wonderful, until they correct us, haha..it's still wonderful actually. :)

4:34 PM  
Anonymous meadow said...

I quit eating meat from seeing all the destruction wrought by livestock on our fragile Southwest forests. I do not want to participate in that and as it turns out, the eating of animals is replete with waste- waste of other edible food, waste of water and production of enourmous amounts of waste. In a crowded world, that is something we cannot afford.
So being mindful and eating less meat even if you don't give it up entirely is much, much better for the planet. Don't let the thought that you can't stop all together keep you from eating less meat. Everyone can do that.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Kenda said...

Just happened onto you blog and wanted to let you know that you can get humanely raised grass-fed meats, raw milk and pastured eggs from local farms across the country. Try searching westonaprice.org for those near you. Vital Farms sells pastured eggs at Whole Foods.

I also still don't eat a lot of meat cause I'm not really fond of it either, but if I do this is where I get it. Good Luck.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Dear Quinn,
I am no vegetarian myself. I would like to encourage you that preventing misery in your home and your family by being a happy, "un-whiny" person is far more important to the world than worrying about your carbon footprint.

Your daughter is going to catch you at being "wrong" somewhere along the line. That is inevitable. Enjoy your life!

Blessings, Mechelle

10:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Quinn,

If you can find this cheese where you live, you may be able to satisfy both your cheese cravings and your conscience. I went to a tasting, and the farmer from Uplands Dairy was there to talk about the cows. He said they are committed to raising their cattle humanely, and, get this, they keep the calves with the heiffers. Why? Happy cows make better milk, which in turn makes better cheese. It must be true, because Pleasant Ridge Reserve is one of my absolute favorite cheeses.

http://www.uplandscheese.com/index.html

10:28 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

In addition to the great recommendations for finding responsible happy dairy, eggs, and meat already suggested, I recommend taking a stroll through the report cards for dairy and eggs at http://www.cornucopia.org/

More information is good. I've also had great luck talking with folk at my local farmers' market. I found a local beef supplier to me, who's raising their cattle 10 miles from me, and not shipped far for butchering. Yes, it's a bit pricey, but I don't eat much of it, and when I do, it's absolutely worth the price.

I'm trying to make better choices about my food, but ultimately, each of us has to find our own balance between conscience, pocketbook, and palate.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Gabagal said...

I just discovered your book today and then of course googled you and landed here. You are so refreshing and enjoyable to read. So I have to chime in also on the vegan issue. I am a whole plant food vegan. In other words I do not eat any meat, poultry, fish, nor dairy. I became a vegan nearly 4 years ago due to my husband's serious health issues. I notice that the vegatarian/vegan comments have not mentioned this side of the topic. I can tell you that by eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (yes, love lentils) all potatoes, greens and any other plant foods I've skipped, my husband's health has totally turned around. No longer does he have a blocked artery to the heart, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure nor kidney stones. He is not on any medications at all, has had no invasive medical procedure and lost 60 lbs to boot! I lost weight without trying also. I had no medical conditions but support his decision to go this route rather than horrible and useless surgeries like stents and bypasses. I could go on forever on this topic that I am very passionate about.

If you are interested in more about what we do let me know. I will mention that I hated sweet potatoes also, LOL. Then I discovered Japanese sweet potatoes also called Oriental yams. They will knock your socks off. They remind me of pound cake!

I'd be happy to share my recipes and other great resources with you.

Farley

12:01 AM  

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