Vegan? Locavore? Both? Neither? A discussion on ethical eating.

I know, it's been a very, very long time. Here is the truth: I've started eating a few local nonvegan foods, and I've been a little nervous about posting. My friend Gene was in town last week. He was one of my friends from church, a fellow vegan who helped with the vegan cooking class. He prompted to me start thinking about why I don't post, since he always read and frequently commented on the blog back when it was active.

Taking the Menu for the Future class last year was a great experience. I encourage anyone who's interested to get involved with that or any of the other discussion courses offered by Northwest Earth Institute. The class did talk about the hazards of factory farming, the resources consumed by raising livestock, the pollution, etc, and the necessity of eating lower on the food chain. However, it also talked about the benefits of eating local. And that's kind of the rub for me.

I believe as strongly as ever that eating lower on the food chain is the more ethical choice for a lot of environmental reasons. I also believe that animals, even animals you keep for food purposes, even animals you kill and eat, should be treated with kindness and allowed plenty of space and healthy food. If a person kills an animal, it should be done as humanely as possible and with reverence for the sacrifice the animal is making.

When it comes down to it, which food is the more ethical choice: a pineapple or an egg? Let's say you're a girl living in Arkansas. The pineapple is grown using cheap borderline slave labor and flown halfway around the world using dirty oil. The egg is raised a few blocks away by a friend at a community garden that serves as an outdoor classroom, teaching urban kids about sustainable farming. That one is pretty easy.

Now which one is a more ethical choice, the pineapple or a locally raised chicken? The chicken was pasture raised and spent its life running around and eating bugs and grass and playing with other chickens. When it was killed, it was done in a way that minimized the animal's suffering. To me, the line is blurry. Who would I rather be? The chicken, who enjoys life and loses it prematurely, or the man working for pennies in the unrelenting heat growing the pineapple? The woman who died in the desert for the oil it took to transport the pineapple? Her children? It's way more complicated than just not eating or using animal products, for me.

Gene and I both agreed: in a sense, veganism is easy. (I know a lot of people who would be shocked to hear it!) You can make one choice, draw a line in the sand, and know that most of the time your choices will be the most ethical under the circumstances. In terms of Kohlberg's moral hierarchy, I think choosing veganism is akin to choosing a system of laws that already exists, like choosing a religion that most closely matches your beliefs and becoming an adherent of that faith. It's a great way to simplify the process, and I am absolutely not criticizing it. I admire and respect vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians, locavores, anyone who takes the time to make a conscious choice about what they put in their body based on ethical concerns.

I just think for me the question has become more complex, for now. Jay is in the kitchen right now making breakfast: local eggs, local blueberry jam, and local 8 grain vegan bread. We still use the smart balance lightand the unsweetened silk. We still check the label for sneaky bits of whey. We still make our own ice cream with mimicreme. In fact, after Gene and I finished talking about this, we wandered into the kitchen and I heated up a meal of local purple hull peas (seasoned with vegan bacon salt and vegetable broth) and cornbread (veganomicon recipe). Most of the food I eat is still vegan.

I'm not going to lie, though. It's been nice to have eggs in the morning, or local raw milk colby on my pizza, or even meat, occasionally. And I guess that's the point. I've always been a vegan with a lot of exceptions, so I suppose this is one more. As to whether I have the right to the term vegan, my friends understand the complexity of my relationship with food, and understand that it's shorthand I use with strangers whom I don't feel need to know the depths of this issue.

It's not that I'm never going to eat another pineapple again, either. But when I do, it will be like meat: with as much concern as possible for how it got to my table, with the knowledge that it's a very occasional treat. For now, that's where I want to be and the choice with which I'm most comfortable.

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