I can already hear the affirmative grunts of my barbecuing friends. "Hellz ya! We love our steaks and burgers!!"
But that's not really what I mean. Sure it all tastes delicious, but I guess what I am asking is do you LOVE your meat? Remember that meat comes from animals. You know your favourite dog as a kid? He was an animal. Or the cat that snuggles with you on a couch? She is an animal. Just like the cow or the pig or the chicken or the lamb or the fish or the turkey that you eat - all animals. This is not a rant about not eating meat, by the way. With the exception of the aforementioned dog and cat, those creatures are all valid food choices. I just want you to ask again if you love them.
Consider this... Do you even ask where your food comes from? Do you know what is done to it? Do you know what it is doing to you?
We all grew up with a very romantic image of the family farm ...
The friendly farmer. The happy animals. As very young children we never made the connection that the friendly farmer actually killed the happy animals, and, when we finally came to that realization, we were still assured that it was done humanely and that all was good in the world. I certainly bought in, eating McDonald's and KFC in blissful ignorance well into my 30's.
There was a time when that is how animals were actually raised and slaughtered (and there are still some very wonderful, albeit rare, farms today - but we'll come back to that). And as far back as time, hunters had a sacred relationship with their prey, with heartfelt thanks offered to the gods of nature and to the animal before its flesh was eaten for nourishment and its hide and fur used to provide warmth and shelter.
The common reality today, however, is very different. Factory farming has become nothing short of an obscene perversion of nature. Commercial fishing fleets are indiscriminately raping the oceans. Wild animals are cruelly butchered to trim the latest fashions and make jewelery.
We don't even realize how desensitized we have become. It's just the way things are. And simply questioning this can open you up to criticism - "What are you? Some kind of tree-hugger hippy freak?". Maybe you are not a freak at all. Maybe you don't mind eating eat. Maybe you are perfectly happy wearing leather. Maybe you don't want to attack our entire North American lifestyle. It's possible that you just want to see if we couldn't maybe, you know, be at least a just little bit civilized about it.
Here is a simple test. Watch this 3 minute movie trailer and then read on...
Truthfully, did you watch it? If not, then please don't read any further. You are choosing to remain ignorant on this topic and that's ok. But I don't see the sense in your continuing without knowing what I am writing about.
If you did watch it, did you feel anything? Again, if you didn't then you should probably skip the rest of this as it will fall on deaf ears.
You are still here? Good. So then you did watch that video and it did affect you in some way. Me too. So much so that I decided I needed to be part of a solution. I'm neither naive nor blindly idealistic. I don't think I'm going to change the whole system. I just want to change you. Just a little bit. If you decide then to pay that forward, all the better.
Here is all you need to do differently.
- Find out where your animal products come from.
- Decide if you are okay with that.
- Source a more humane, sustainable, healthy supply.
- Eat with a spirit of gratitude.
- Sleep well.
That is it.
This is about much more than just being kind to animals, by the way. The food we are eating is literally killing us. But, people are beginning to wake up to this. "Supersize Me" recently became part of our lexicon. "Fast Food Nation" was a New York Times Bestseller. "Food Inc" was just nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature...
In terms of making healthy food choices, "it is the best of times, it is the worst of times". Billions of dollars are spent marketing shitty food to you and your children. And billions more go toward industry lobbying to keep unhealthy products on grocery shelves and kitchen tables. On the bright side, it is also getting easier to find healthy food. Farmer's Markets are springing up all over Canada and the US, where you can buy locally grown fruits and vegetables. Supermarkets are adding organic sections (even WalMart) and chains like WholeFoods are growing quickly. Look hard enough and you will even find nearby organic family farms from whom you can buy meat, eggs, dairy and produce directly!
There are many terrific websites offering guidance and recipes. One I strongly recommend is Carrie Adams' Keeping It Clean. Carrie is an endurance athlete, a mom, and a clean food expert. She will even let you keep the meat in your diet (minus the chemicals and cruelty). But, when she learned that I was pursuing vegetarianism while training for The Death Race, she made me my own delicious recipe that is full of plant protein! You can try "Johnny Waite's Black Bean Death Race Dinner (Veg)" right now!!
Where am I at in all of this? For starters, I ate utterly mindlessly until about 8 years ago. Then, after reading "Nature's First Law", I adopted a raw food diet for about 4 months, which gradually regressed to veganism for another 6 months, then vegetarianism for 8 months, then back to being omnivorous - but more mindfully so, shopping organic and even locally where I could. Over the past several years I have drifted in and out of veggie, influenced too easily by the social gravity of my friends and family.
Today I cleared out my refrigerator of what little meat there was. A few cold cuts for the kids lunches - into the garbage (it was definitely not organic). Half a package of hot dogs (are you f*#@ing kidding me??) - trashed. And finally, a steak that my mom dropped off for me earlier this week. An organic sirloin, from a local farmer who I know personally, who has gone to great lengths to establish an ethical, sustainable, natural small farm business. I made a judgement call. I love my mother without reservation. I love and respect the farmer from whom this steak came. I know that he loved and respected the cow and treated it well. So, with gratitude to all involved, I grilled it up with garlic and pepper and savoured it. I can honestly say that I loved that meat!
That said, in the morning I am back on the vegetarian train. Fortunately my mom also dropped off a dozen organic free-range eggs, so I will be off to a good start!
As for you - just do whatever feels right to you. At the very least, take a moment before you eat to give thanks for your food (to your God, to Mother Earth, to the cow, to the chef). And be open to expanding your mindfulness around food to include investigating ethical eating choices. I promise you will feel healthier for it - in body, in mind and in spirit.
(If you wish to watch the entire film of "Earthlings", free online, click here)