My foot squished with water when I stepped into the shoe repair shop. I was looking for waterproofing spray. My shoes were old leather ones that I had bought second hand, and I didn’t think they’d be half as spongy as they were in wet weather.
Holding a can of mink spray, I asked the friendly owner if it was made of real mink. He jutted his head out. “Of course,” he said, and delved into the many benefits of real mink.
I shouldn’t have said it. “Hmm, I don’t really like using animal products,” I admitted, in a store that smelled like leather to a man who smelled like leather. He looked down and shook his head very slowly and deliberately, like I had told him he worshipped a false prophet.
“The artificial stuff is made from chemicals,” he said. “It’s not good for the Earth. Sure, the mink spray isn’t too good for the minks, but it’s natural. It’s . . .” he went on. I was now one of the many hippies who had confronted him to belittle his cruel and unusual business.
It really had nothing to do with him. Vegetarian ethics have been a part of my life for the last six years; it’s something that’s about myself, not anyone else. It’s been a process that’s helped define who I am, even if my eating habits are continuously changing.
I still can’t decide on exactly the best diet, one that blends health and ethics. With the same thought process I had as a teen, I am still upset at the fact that we have to kill to exist. At the same time, I recognize that this is true for every living being, vegetarians included.
“I’m gonna keep looking. Thank you!” I said. The tanner turned around fast enough for me to see.
When I was a teenager, ethics were simple. If I didn’t eat meat, I wasn’t killing or harming anything, I was consequently allowing more food to be produced, and I would be the healthiest I could possibly be. If everyone did the same, we would probably have less health issues, less global hunger issues, and less animal abuse. I didn’t expect everyone to do the same right away . . . but I kind of expected everyone else to do the same, eventually.
After years of consideration, I’ve realized that these ethics aren’t so simple. I’m not perfect, and no one else is, either. Also, the more I judge and try to control others, the less they want to listen to me.
For myself, I was able to eat only plants, and it did good, so I did it. I stepped up to a vegan diet for about three quarters of a year a while ago, which felt even more in line with my beliefs.
But I didn’t do it properly. I mostly ate beans. Gratuitous amounts of beans. Eventually, I felt so unusual that I went back to eating a meat-based diet, to try to feel healthy again.
What’s funny is that most often I hear people say they do the opposite: they try vegetarianism to feel healthy. Usually because they’ve watched some documentaries. There’s a good chance that vegetarianism can lead to good health, and there’s a good chance that one can find an overwhelming number of writers or speakers who support this idea. But the same goes for eating a healthy meat-based diet. It’s pretty easy to make your claim either way.
“Are you eating this now?” is the standard line of questioning I hear from my mom every time she brings out a platter of cheese. Last time, she held oysters. Every time I visit, she’s tried to guess what new restriction or allowance I’ve created for the season.
I currently eat pescetarian, which is vegetarian except for the inclusion of fish; I’ve found reasons for justifying eating this way. I feel healthiest eating higher amounts of protein and fat, with lower amounts of carbs. I’m also more convinced that the fact that humans have evolved while eating meat-based diets has made our bodies best suited to doing so.
But, I still prefer to not eat animals that have the high cognition level of pigs or cows, along with the damage to the Earth that often comes with raising such large animals on a large scale, if I can avoid it.
Of course, there are problems with the pescetarian rationale, as well. The food that we eat now is not the same that prehistoric humans ate. There are high levels of mercury in fish, and there are hormones, steroids, or genetic manipulations in them and other animals; the fruit we eat is sweeter than it ever was before; we have plants and chemicals that never before existed. We live in a different world, and we eat different food.
But what else can we do, other than try our best? I feel healthiest eating my current diet, perhaps due to biological factors, but also maybe due to psychological ones. Still, I feel like I boycott many of the problems of large-scale, factory farming. My diet is not perfect, but neither am I.
I hope that people can eventually work together to make a better world through diets, but to make a better world would mean agreeing on what a good diet entails. I can’t even agree for myself which path is best.
But we don’t have to agree on eating ethics. What we do need is to keep talking about these issues, and adapt ourselves to what feels right without closing our minds to new or old ideas. Let’s not stick with an idea because we’ve told ourselves we have to, even after it’s stopped making sense.
Let’s listen to each other, to our bodies, and to our ethics. Eating will always be a personal experience, but it can also be made a personal journey.