Ok, so this is an admittedly lame attempt at a saucy heading and yes, again, pun intended! ‘Cause I’m not here to talk about the pros of physical intimacy… I reckon Cosmo’s got that covered! I’m here to talk about what we eat. And not for the first time really, but perhaps with a greater sense of urgency and responsibility. From late night documentary viewing on Netflix, to the altogether depressing articles and statistics abounding on the state of Mother Nature, it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore or avoid the everyday decisions I can make in the here and now to do better and to be better… and in the end, I think it’s safe to say, so far I’m all the better for it!
Almost a decade ago, I encountered Jonathan Safran Foer’s illuminating and refreshingly earnest exploration of the animal farming industry, Eating Animals. I worked part time at a bookshop in those days, and for all my youthfully bushy-tailed recommendations for what I felt was truly a masterpiece, I was unable to sell a single copy. Nonetheless I reviewed it for a book blog I had back then, hoping I might sway a handful of strangers on the big wide web. Who knows if I ever succeeded… Here’s hoping.
Most of all, I think the words that really hit home in Eating Animals was Foer’s insistence that “[e]ating animals has an invisible quality,” and that perhaps “one way” to solve this is by “looking askance and making something invisible visible” again. So that’s what I’ve spent the last 8 years doing, looking askance, and not without stumbling a great deal along the way, losing my way at times and often feeling like I still have more questions than answers. All the same, it no longer wears that magical cloak of invisibility around me. In fact, a lot of the time, it’s become uncomfortably conspicuous. Ethical debates aside, there are environmental factors at stake right now that are well, pretty glaringly non-negotiable. Just call me Frank. The demands on this planet to farm animals for today’s average Western diet are simply not sustainable, for all that we proudly pack grocery items into our super cool bag-for-life and tingle with that self-congratulatory rush for every milk carton and wine bottle we dump at the local recycling tip.
If that ain’t enough to inspire a pantry overhaul, perhaps the ever-increasing health risks in nations with a higher consumption of meat and animal products might prove motivational. Today’s special: diabetes for life? How about an appetising helping of heart failure? Then there’s the telling conundrum, while we’re on the subject of ‘invisibility’, that we’re pretty anti-smoking these days (all aboard!) but just as quick to defend our cravings for the processed meats that have proven no stranger to cancer a la carte! Oh wait, but how could I forget… Where I’m from, real men were born to braai! We even sacrificed our national Heritage Day to the blaze of a lekker braai and an ice cold Castle. Here’s the kicker, folks – (#sorrynotsorry) – impotence in men is often referred to as ‘the canary in the coal mine’ among nutritionists when it comes down to a diet high in animal products and cholesterol… So, uh, limp dick, anyone? (Insert Silence of the Lambs meme of choice.)
But look, besides pointing out the obvious, I’m not about to hit anyone on the head with the naughty stick! I’m just saying, y’know, there’s a whole world of possibility out there when it comes to dinner time, and it can be as easy as one google click if you’re new to this and short on ideas. So often we’re quick to pout and mourn instantly for what we’ll miss instead of seeing a diet rich in gorgeous fresh produce and nature’s full bounty as the grand adventure it actually is! I for one, delight in returning after a morning at my local green grocer’s to behold the colourful spread for meals to come, from bright red tomatoes sunshine-ripe and ready for a pasta arrabiata, to those gloriously glossy aubergines, cute-as-a-button mushrooms and black beans which make for the killer base in my vegetarian tortillas.
Call me a dopey-eyed unicorn, but it’s like my fridge has become a happy little rainbow and each meal is an exciting opportunity to mix texture and colour and flavour to create something new for my ever-eager taste buds. Beyond that, the idea that it’s expensive has proven rather mystifying to me. For exactly R31 at my local fresh produce supplier just the other day, I left with a brown paper bag containing 5 slicing tomatoes, a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, an avocado, 3 red onions, a handsome clove of garlic, and an aubergine. In my books, that’s pretty good value for money. Besides, there’s an old Chinese proverb that he who neglects his diet, wastes the time of his doctor. And if I might add, fattens his doc’s wallet! So I’m going to spend my pennies wisely.
I guess , in reality, we’re prone to seeing things right off the bat as all or nothing instead of at least trying to imagine other ways of being (and while we’re at it, eating). Food is seriously tricky territory too. What we eat can be so very influenced by memory and ritual from a doting grandmother’s chicken pie to a hearty Christmas feast with all the bells and whistles and an extra helping of stuffing! It’s only natural that we can feel completely overwhelmed by what we perceive as a drastic change, so much so that we won’t even attempt the alternatives that could be immediately sustainable for us, and maybe slowly gain impetus with time. Instead, it’s far easier at first glance to defend old habits and time-honoured traditions, consequences be damned.
I’m no vegetarian. And certainly no saint. I still eat meat and eggs on occasion and can’t quite wrap my head around a world without butter on a warm slice of bread or double cream Greek yoghurt, but as I set daily challenges for myself, I keep an animal product log as a note on my phone, listing week by week what I’ve consumed to the very last gram so it’s never invisible to me again. I’m a fact logger, that’s just me. It’s not for everyone. That said, each and every one of us has what it takes to start small. Perhaps you can challenge you and your family to meat-free Mondays… Or try your hand at new recipes so when you do cook with meat you can look to other cultures for inspiration, where very moderate portions are used to flavour a dish and the meal is more than just a generous serving of meat accompanied by unexciting ‘sides’. Meat isn’t mandatory for a delicious meal, not by a long stretch of the imagination! And that’s really all this post is about at the end of the day… The power of a little imagination.
I don’t know… Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, but a start in the right direction is just that, for me at least. Each and every day, it’s beginning to feel like a good place to start.
For further interest…
*To kick-start some inspiration in the kitchen, I highly recommend The Yoga Kitchen by Marlien Wright and At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin
*Click here if you wish to read further about the impact of animal product consumption on the environment, as this Guardian article suggests reducing its consumption might be the most effective way to make a difference.
*Click here for a brief summary by a qualified dietitian on the potential risks of a diet high in meat.
*And if you really wish to dive into the belly of the whale, so to speak, I would recommend Forks Over Knives and What the Health for your viewing pleasure, if you have the stomach for it.