Food pragmatics

A post on food dogmatism by c4 reminds me that being pragmatic about food is more peaceful, and also, in the long run, probably more effective.

There are many good reasons for eating vegetarian, including ecology (less land used, less antibiotics used), health (helps many aspects of our health), and concerns for our fellow creatures. (Would I want other creatures to suffer for a short lived enjoyment for myself? No.)

And there are also many good reasons for being flexible about our food habits, such as our relationships and, sometimes, our health.

Which is why I often say I eat 95% vegetarian when someone asks me. I eat mostly vegetarian when I cook my own food (rare occasions with smaller amounts of meat), and I’ll eat whatever is put in front of me when I am with others. (I also try to eat organic, local and free range as much as possible, and when I eat with others, I go for mostly the non-meat parts of the meal if I serve myself.)

There are many reasons why it makes sense to not be too dogmatic about food. Relationships is the obvious one. Do I see food choices as more important than my relationships? No. Can I find ways to balance out the two if I am pragmatic about it? Yes.

Also, the proportions of what I eat matters far more than being strict about it.

And there are the other food related factors: Is it organic? Grown in a way that nurtures the soil? How far did it travel? Do most of the money I pay for it stay in my local community? What are the labor conditions? How does it work with my body here now?

Finally, there is the bigger picture of my life.

For instance, on the ecology side, what is my ecological footprint? Which areas of my life has the largest impact on my footprint? If I travel by air several times a year, as I do, then anything I do on the food side is far outweighed by the air travel footprint. It has more impact to reduce my air travel, so I’ll put my main effort there. Of course, everything else matters too, and there are other reasons for eating mainly vegetarian, so I’ll still do that, but seeing it in perspective helps me hold it in a lighter way.

On the cruelty side, how does my life impact life? How does what I do, and don’t do, impact the suffering and well being of those around me and other beings? I know that my life has a huge impact on the life of others, both in terms of triggering suffering and well being, and often in ways I am not even aware of. I live in a house, and other creatures used to live here. What happened when they got displaced? I fly and use a car, which puts out a great deal of greenhouse gasses, which in turn hugely impacts life. I buy things created in ways that harm life, and even if I try to be well informed about this, I cannot always know. I eat plants, which is life too, and insects and animals may be harmed even in the most benign forms of food production. Whatever I do, life is impacted, and other beings sometimes suffer and die. Holding the bigger picture of this also helps me hold the food piece more lightly, and it opens my heart.

I like what Albert Schweitzer said about this:

… by going out of our way to help any living creature in distress we are helping to discharge a debt – a debt of honor – which we owe to the rest of creation for its vicarious sacrifice to our needs. It is after all the only sane and reasonable course we can adopt.

We can try to reduce our harmful impact on life, but we can never eliminate it. And the debt we are in, invites us to give back to life. To actively support life, in whatever ways life invites us to.

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