Not too long ago, I became extremely aware of the food I put into my body. This isn’t to say I started a diet, or that I am eating healthier as a result of this awareness — or that my eating habits have changed at all. But maybe a year ago, I realized that I eat animals and other things that come from their bodies, and it started to make me sick.
I was raised by a mom who loved to cook simple meals of a small amount of starch and a large quantity of vegetables. Growing up, veggies were like candy to me. I was the kid the other kids would pass their cauliflower off on because I would devour it. And I still do, but I’m also now a meat-eater. I was vegetarian at a really young age and then dabbled in it again throughout my adolescence, but gave it up because I don’t have much self-control and I think meat is delicious, which was basically the only criteria for what I ate.
Then, I took a class about the American food system, and I started reading about plant-based diets, about the environmental impact of the meat industry (especially poultry and cattle), and about animals themselves. Meat was expensive, so I didn’t buy it — I eat mostly vegetarian meals at home. I like tofu, and I don’t mind meals without a “main dish”. But when I have a crappy day, I want to eat chicken nuggets. There’s so much cognitive dissonance about the animals that I eat, and it frustrates me.
What I realized is that my meat-eating is wrong, and the fact that I am complicit in the commodification of millions of powerless creatures is societal brainwashing. I don’t think the dairy or egg industries are any more morally sound, because they inflict torture on animal bodies. The thing is, this is such a controversial topic, and what people eat is personal — when people’s eating of meat and other animal products is questioned, they become vitriolic. That’s why there’s an impetus to frame vegans as irrational zealots at any point possible.
Like I said, though, I still eat animal products, and enjoy them. This is such a struggle for me ideologically, and that fact alone makes me feel like it’s important for me to think about. Is my own pleasure and convenience worth being a part of a system I don’t agree with? Why am I okay with eating some animals but not others? I would gladly eat parts of a pig, but if you butchered my cat, I would be really upset. I dislike a lot of the politics of vegan argumentation — equating animal commodificaion with the Holocaust, the objectifying advertisements created by PETA — but I think it’s undeniable that something is amiss, logically. When confronted with the realities of what we do to animals in order to eat them, I feel sick and sad.
I also have access to fresh food, which is a luxury that I take for granted all of the time. People living in food deserts (Baltimore has a hell of a lot of them – pdf warning) aren’t able to easily feed themselves enough nutrients every day, let alone contemplate a plant-based diet (diet used in this sense as a way of eating, not a means of losing weight). I feel incredibly hypocritical whenever I choose to eat meat or cheese, but I also feel good because I enjoy eating those things. Again, where do I draw the line between denying myself pleasure and denying animals the right to their lives and happiness? I just don’t see how I can reconcile those things, but I do know that I need to think about this more, as well as how this fits into my feminist ideals.
I don’t like telling people what to do, so I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad for eating meat — that would be entirely hypocritical. But I do think it’s something we don’t talk about enough, and that our discussions of bodies and their rights shouldn’t end at humans. As today is Thanksgiving, there is going to be a whole lot of turkey consumed on this day, not to mention all the other stuff. I know I will be consuming an animal and animal products today, and a lot of other days, until I feel able to make a change. Until then I’m not sure, but let’s talk about it a while.