All of my blogs start out as invisible (to the public) drafts on my website. I have sometimes dozens at a time just hanging out, sometimes for more than a month, waiting to be published. I take my time to write because I have a lot to say and I tend to be pretty emotional so I gotta make sure I get my point across. I've been wanting to write about this for a looooong time but didn't know what to call it or even how to start. Then, all in one day, 3 things occurred which totally inspired me to not only start the blog, but finish it in record time:
- I had a conversation with a friend who told me about her experience craving chicken and giving into that temptation. She is a self-proclaimed and very proud, long-standing, and vocal vegetarian.
- I discovered through my other friend and fellow health coach, Lacy, that there is actually a website dedicated to "outing" ex-vegans. WHAT. THE. ____?!
- I read a few conversation threads on Facebook from another friend who recently started exploring a vegan lifestyle. Some of her friends were saying some really wild shit.
So, here I am. Let's talk about this: Foodism. I first have to wonder why people are so interested in what other people eat. Unless of course, you're a health coach, like me, and a person is coming to you for guidance. I happen to care a lot about what other people eat. But not because I think they're right or wrong. Mostly because I find nutrition science, the culinary arts, the human diet, the human body, food choices, and food in general to be FASCINATING. It's my life. I understand general curiosity, though. I'm a super curious person too. But to want to know so you can pass judgement is something entirely different.
"Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, and identity." I read that recently in a fabulous book entitled Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I highly recommend it. This quote stuck with me. When I apply it to people in other parts of the world it evokes warm feelings for the most part. I think of my German family, folks living off the land, communities and villages of people sharing food with each other. But I have a harder time thinking about it pleasantly in an American context. Images of disconnect, inequality, over abundance, mass consumption, and factory farming race through my mind. I realize all of that happens in other countries too. And there are even people starving, at this very moment, while we stress about which restaurant we're going to hit up for dinner. But I experience mostly American culture because I live in America. And I know our food culture is corrupt.
So here's the thing. People rarely protest and raise hell when you quit smoking. Or when you start. When you begin to study and practice a new religion. When you change your name. What about when you check into rehab and initiate healing for substance abuse? When you carry out a family tradition or spiritual ceremony. Or how about when you start exercising? Those are all cultural, habitual, identity related things too! So...ahem...tell me why it matters so much when we choose different foods?
Let's jump to the 1st situation that happened...a long time on-and-off-again-between-vegetarianism-and-veganism friend eating chicken. We'll just call this friend Bob so I don't have to keep typing "friend." I will admit that I found Bob's story shocking. Like, I would have never expected him to call me and tell me he ate chicken. But I listened to his story and felt for him. How absurd and sad that ONE food choice becomes such a difficult experience and brings so much pain, guilt, and shame. W-H-Y?? And why, when someones decides not to eat meat for whatever reason, is it SUCH a big deal if they change their mind? I mean poor Bob fought this craving for a whole week until it was consuming his every thought and he was losing sleep over it. Giving in actually made him feel as though he had relapsed (Bob is also a recovering alcoholic). He even began to question his own morals. And do you think he went onto Facebook and posted about his delicious escapade? Think he took an Instagram selfie? Hell no. He PRAYED that no one would see him walk into the restaurant and order the chicken let alone eat it. Is this not some deep shit?
And now, about this ex-vegan website. I can't get into this too much because I could probably write a book about it. This is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard about in the realm of food. I can't imagine how devastating it would feel to be labeled as a sellout over food. Really? I just don't understand. I would like to let you know that if you don't eat meat (or eggs or dairy), you are NOT better than anyone else. And if you do eat animal foods, you are still not better than anyone else. Our food choices are not what define our worth, intelligence, character, or heart! Food may be part of your identity but it's not who you are as a person. You can STILL eat meat and care about the planet and animal welfare. You can STILL eat meat and be a good person. And you can still be a role model, leader, and positive source of inspiration for everyone...even people who DON'T eat meat.
Which reminds me...I have to say, in both my personal and professional life, I have come to sense several levels of implied elitism in the food world. I'm not gonna sugar coat it. Often, people who decide to stop eating meat all of a sudden think their shit don't stink. And they wanna talk about this shift in their life incessantly and share all of this vegan propaganda. Now before you go hootin' and hollerin' let me clarify that I don't have ANYTHING against vegans. I don't care if you eat meat or not. Really, it holds NO significance in my life. I'm also not a food elitist. In fact, when I eat meat, it is a conscious decision EVERY time. One that gets harder and harder everyday. And animal food propaganda exists too. A LOT of it.
The sword is double-edged. I hear people argue that folks who choose not to eat meat are lacking in common sense and protein. Rude. And incorrect. Similarly, people who start eating 100% organic or gluten free, or dairy free, or grain free, or sugar free, or color free (still paying attention? Good.) act like they're the new gods and goddesses of the food world too. Like, "WHAT?! You ate conventionally grown strawberries?!" Or, "O-M-G that steak is totally not grass-fed, I can't believe you're buying that." Just all around judging going on. Give me a freaking break. We're all just individuals trying to do the best we can for OUR lives. Live and let live.
"Praise has a transformative power. Criticism has a corrosive impact." I read that in another book which I highly recommend called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams. Another fabulous read. Let's try praising people who make changes in their life for the better, regardless of if you think the change is better or not. It's not your life.
Which brings me to my 3rd experience with my other friend, let's call her Bobbie. Bobbie is new to the vegan lifestyle and although she is struggling with being consistent, she is very excited about it. Good for her. It's great to try new things and discover yourself. But I notice that her enthusiasm gets both a lot of praise and a lot of criticism from friends and followers. However, neither seem to be constructive.
Allow me to explain...
Some of Bobbie's friends who are in support of this lifestyle change express this in an oddly, passive-aggressive/condescending way. I've seen such comments as: "Welcome!" And, "Congratulations, you're no longer mindlessly contributing to global warming" And, "You made the right choice." Tell me friends, "welcome" to what? Is there a secret, password-protected vegan society in existence? And how does one know (especially so early on) that Bobbie has made the "right" choice? What is "right" anyways? And isn't that for Bobbie to decide for herself? I won't even comment about mindless contribution to global warming. So you see? All of a sudden these folks come out of the shadows with their strong opinions and for what? Is this praise and support? If so, it's blatantly at the expense of judging others.
Likewise, I saw comments like "But I thought I saw you post about getting a turkey sandwich yesterday for lunch, that's not vegan!" And, "Are you still eating eggs? Because otherwise you're not going to get enough protein." Oh and, "Be careful with your soy intake, eating soy products causes cancer!" And my personal favorite, "How long do you plan on doing this?" Let's see here...what good does it do to point out something as obvious as the fact that turkey meat is not a vegan food choice? I hope that comment made that person feel better about themselves, I really do. I have nothing to say about the egg protein comment. Again, I could write an entire book. Same with the cancer causing soybean. Very dangerous little pod that is! Lastly, why are we sooooo obsessed with time, speed, and duration??? How long did it take you to lose weight? How many days do I have to eat like this? How do I reach my goals faster? UGH!!!! Calm the hell down, sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Alright so now you see why it took me so long to even begin writing about this idea of foodism. I feel like I barely scratched the surface. It's something I have to deal with on a DAILY basis in my career and I just hope that as people gain more knowledge and awareness they can shift more of their energy on themselves and let other people just be.