A vegetarian asks, “what the #!%* are we eating?”

2009 September 1
by Steven R Jones

Nineteen years ago, I became a vegetarian. Looking back, I now consider it to have been one of the smartest decisions of my life. I would like to think my choice was completely rational even though, at the time, I was aware of having recently consumed a fair amount of propaganda. But it would be more accurate to call my decision a practical one since my soon-to-be wife was already a vegetarian and would effectively be making all the future food choices for the two of us.

vegetarian-dishesIt was not particularly difficult for me to drop red meat, pork, and poultry from my diet as I was not brought up feasting regularly on steaks, bar-b-que, and buckets of chicken. I did continue to include dairy products and eventually resumed eating fish as well. But the most important change I made was expanding my food palate. I quickly discovered a wealth of meatless options including Greek & Persian food, Thai & Vietnamese cuisine, Spanish tapas, Ethiopian fare, and more. It turns out that if you intentionally increase the variety of the foods you eat, proper nutrition is unavoidable.

So for the longest time I thought I had that part of my life all worked out.  I was convinced I was healthier than most Americans simply because I wasn’t consuming meat. But I slowly began to realize that even committed vegetarians could eat poorly — in fact, it was too easy to do. Blindly eliminating one area of the food pyramid isn’t really the answer. In fact, it may actually be healthier to simply make smarter food choices across the full spectrum rather than excluding an entire food group.

I never tell people they should become vegetarians – I do encourage them to eat healthy!

So then I started my own tradition of eliminating something unhealthy from my diet every year. The first year I said goodbye to soft drinks…forever. The next year I dropped potato chips, then donuts, then ice cream, on and on. Most people think I’m nuts and I can see how these would seem like silly, arbitrary decisions. But the truth is I haven’t missed these at all. For most of these bad foods, there is a readily available alternative (e.g. tortilla chips or frozen yogurt) and really, how many more donuts do you need to eat in your life?

Well about a year ago, I stumbled on to some fascinating new material (mostly books and documentaries) about the rise of the Western diet, the myriad problems associated with the modern commercial agricultural system, and how a new food processing industry has created a massive health crisis just within my own lifetime. This has led me to revisit the whole equation and rethink everything I thought I knew about eating healthy. Part of what I’m learning is validating. For example, my silly decisions to permanently drop “bad foods” from my own regimen don’t seem so crazy now. But the more I learn about the food we buy and eat, the scarier it seems to get.

I will share some of my thoughts here in future posts but wanted to start by asking these simple questions. These seem so simple that I’m stunned most people can’t answer them. If we eat 3 meals a day, then we are making over 1,000 choices each year of what we put into our bodies:

  • What are we’re eating? When is the last time you read labels or ingredients?
  • Where did it come from? And do you know what it took to get it to you?
  • How was it produced? I challenge you to learn how your food is grown/made, but brace yourself.
  • Is it healthy or not? Pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, oh my!
  • Are there other available options? You have to look beyond what food companies are telling you to eat.

For the uninitiated, I feel compelled to warn you that if you choose to explore this topic you will soon be drowning in issues – it’s that big. I have attached a partial mind map to give you some idea of just how many directions this can lead.

To be honest, I am struggling to find a way to explain it to my own children because it is so vast, so pervasive, and so wrong. Recently, I have begun to think I have found a good way to get started and will start down that path next…

Food Issues
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS