I could never be a vegetarian. There are simply too many members of the animal kingdom that have had the misfortune of being made way to0 tasty by whichever process you tend to be believe in (whether God made the yellowfin tuna such a tasty sushi treat or it evolved over millions of years to find itself a desired part of my diet). I’ve also read and carefully considered the arguments made on both sides of the vegan/vegetarian vs. omnivore debate side for why we humans may or may not have evolved to eat meat. I’m not one to judge the choices anyone has made and I do think there is little argument against the idea that Americans in general eat waaaay too much beef, poultry, fish, etc. (a trend that is catching on around the world as developing countries try to be like us).
So no. I won’t be going cold turkey on cold turkey anytime soon. I do, however, want to try to line my own diet up with a sustainably acceptable (not to mention healthier) ratio of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to meat and dairy. But until recently, I struggled to find a simple rule or method to help me settle into that acceptable ratio (which I estimate is probably 2-3 servings of meat per week rather than the normal 2-3 servings per day that “the market” with its artificially low meat prices would guide one toward). Thankfully, right around the first of the year (when you’re most likely to find such work) I read an account by a writer who was undergoing a similar struggle.
Francis Lam writing for Salon laid out his “No Cheap Chicken” manifesto after being exhorted by a lunch meat brand to avoid its competitors’ products by asking “How do you think the make cheap chicken?”
The commercial was right. I have no idea exactly how they make cheap chicken (or cheap beef or cheap fish for that matter) but I’ve read enough Omnivore’s Dilemma-type work and seen enough Food Inc.-type movies to know I don’t really want to know. So, similar to Lam, I’ve made it my goal to eat only foods whose origins and production methods I am reasonably sure of. Food with facts. I will be a factovore. (Yep, just what you need, another term to throw in with ovo-lacto-vegetarian, locavore and agrarian-urbanist.)
How does a Co-op (or a CSA of which Alison and I are members) help with this process? Answering this question goes a long way toward explaining my primary reason for wanting a local food co-op in this area. It can be about connecting consumers to the producers of their food more directly and minimizing the role of the agro-industrial complex that has come to touch almost every part of our food system. With the owners of the co-op being its customers (and not some number-crunching corporation) I can be assured that policies on what products to carry will be thoughtfully considered and be based on more than just the lowest possible price.
How’s the resolution going? On the meat end of things fairly well. The only beef I’ve eaten this month were hamburgers that came from cows raised on Alison’s aunt and uncle’s farm (so I REALLY know the producer) and I’ve avoided almost all other meat entirely (aside from the pepperoni I had a pizza a couple weeks ago). I’m still working on eating only fruits and vegetables whose origins I’m aware of and the Greens Grow CSA is helpful with that. Admittedly, giving up Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and several other processed foods has been difficult.
For all intents and purposes, choosing my diet based on knowing where my food comes from effectively rules out a lot of choices. How do I know exactly where the yellowfin tuna on the sushi came from? It also means paying a little more for other choices. But in the end, the price of a pound of sustainably-raised beef is an effective signal for just how much of it should be in my diet (which, in theory, could reduce other health-care related costs in the future).
Feel free to share in the comments your own thought processes as you decide what foods to buy, cook and serve. In the future, in order to make this kind of decision-making a little more universally accessible, I hope to do a little more research into how to make these choices on a tight budget when “cheap calories” in processed foods and $0.99 per pound ground beef can be so tempting.