Saturday, July 4, 2009

chips on a hot dog bun

In honor of the Fourth of July and the annual awkwardness of being the only non-meat eater at a barbecue, and in recognition that I'll be spending the next year thinking about it, learning about it and...umm...growing it...the first of some reflections on food.

My family had a tradition of marking the day we moved to Kenya - September 1st. Along with making a cake, we would make a list of the things we were thankful for, specifically related to living where we were. One of my entries on the list perhaps foreshadowed something. I thanked God for all the wonderful fruits and vegetables.

As a child I would eschew hotdogs at cookouts and instead happily load a bun with chips, ketchup, mustard, and lots of relish. I refused to eat drumsticks, stuck to white turkey meat at Thanksgiving, and religiously pulled apart bacon strips to remove the lines of white fat. My parents weren't thrilled with the idea of my becoming a vegetarian, so I waited for an opportune moment (when they were jetlagged and exhausted in Heathrow Airport - not a particularly ethical strategy) to ask if I could quit eating meat my senior year, and they agreed. They had no recollection of this conversation when I brought it up again (surprise), but by that time I was determined to quit eating meat, and so they relented under the condition that I prepared my own non-meat sources of protein. This, of course, did not happen. I interpreted this aggreement to mean that I would open my own can of baked beans now and then, which was unacceptable to my mother who had been a vegetarian once upon a time. She started making lots of lentils.

All this to say, I am not a virtuous vegetarian. As I learn more about the ecological and environmental consequences of industrial meat production, along with the health benefits of eating vegetarian, I'm more convinced that it is an important choice, but unlike most vegetarians I know, I'm not really giving anything up. One of the most difficult things about my time in Cambodia (up there with major illness/med evac) was eating meat at (almost) every meal.

Unlike meat served in the US, what showed up in my bowl in Phnom Penh very much resembled the animal from which it came. No energy was ever put into removing the bones of anything we ate, be it fish, mammal or amphibian. One evening my host grandmother enthusiastically served me what she called "leg of the pig soup"...and sure enough, there it was, bristles and all.

Walking past cases of meat in US grocery stores now, it strikes me how much effort is put into disassociating what ends up in your cart or on your plate from what was once walking or swimming around. This goes for non-meat items as well. While a sign may tell you that your grapes came from Chile, quality standards and the modification of food crops to maximize shelf life and delay ripening mean that the impact of the location something was grown is seldom evident in the taste or appearance of the food.

So I'm going to farm for a year, and perhaps learn way more than I ever wanted to know about those fruits and vegetables.


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  2. just came across a news article shortly after i read this blog and couldn't help but find the common theme...

    hope you enjoy!