You Are What You Eat (Or Don’t Eat)


I used to be a huge supporter of the “live and let live” mantra, especially in respect to food — as in, what I eat is my business, what you eat is yours. And I still believe that. If there’s one thing I firmly and adamantly stand for, it’s personal freedom: the idea that everyone is entitled to choose their paths for themselves, to design their own lives. Of course, not all choices we make are good ones, but that doesn’t take away our right to make them. Similarly, while I do occasionally have feelings and opinions about things people do and their motivations for doing them (within the scope of this article, things food-related), I will never tell anyone what to do outright, because I don’t think that’s my place. I do, however, think they should know what they’re doing.

Recently, I made the transition from a nearly-vegan diet to a fully vegan one. I did this because I finally decided to pull my head out of my ass and approach consumption, of both food and other products, from an ethical perspective (also, I may or may not have watched Earthlings and sobbed). Earlier, when I adopted a mostly vegan diet purely for health reasons, I treated it exactly like a diet: I was on it and then I was off it. Everything was fine and pure and lovely until suddenly oops, I’m drunk and there’s a piece of Jumbo Slice inexplicably stuck in my facehole. But things aren’t like that anymore. I know what happens to “food” animals and, as a result, when I look at a burger I no longer see just a burger. (Obviously I still get drunk sometimes, but nowadays I get my pizza with non-dairy cheese.) (And before you start the hate engine on that one, non-believers, I urge you to try some Daiya cheese first. Seriously.)

Now, I realize that not everyone feels this way, or even understands where I’m coming from. That happens. There are people who have never given the origins of their food a single thought, and there are also people who fully acknowledge the reality of animal suffering for human consumption and don’t give a what about it. But as with everything else, there are varying levels of conscience and consciousness, and I’m not about to pass judgment on everyone for everything ever, that’s not the point. I’m not a saint, damn it, I’m just a girl with some questions

Mainly this one: to what extent do our beliefs influence our actions?

I was thinking about this while reading Krista Houstoun’s recent essay, in which she discusses the steps one can take to optimize “cheating on” their professed vegetarianism. While I found it to be funny and well-written overall, there was one thing I couldn’t quite grasp: why would a serious advocate for animal welfare, who has also apparently been one for many years, even want to eat meat? (And don’t even start with those “bcuz its so delicious duh!!!1” comments, you guys — you’d be amazed at the faux meats veggie geniuses have come up with. If my Eastern European family can’t tell the difference, neither can yours.)

To clarify, I’m not trying to judge Krista or demonize her in any way. I am legitimately wondering: what is it about our psychology that gives us the ability to hold a staunch belief, and then willingly act in opposition to it? We do this all the time, and not just with eating — do we give ourselves days off from our philosophies, or just set them aside when they get inconvenient? “Awareness is pivotal to eliciting change,” Krista writes, and I agree. But then, what kind of role does self-awareness play? If you’re an advocate for change, doing all you can to lead by example and have a clear conscience and all that, how does eating meat actually make you feel? Do you just forget about what it is for a minute, or…?

I mean, it’s okay. It really is. No one is going to kill you for being a sometimes-vegetarian. That’s better than most people do anyway. But ultimately, the choice is about more than a diet, I’m pretty sure — if you make it, it’s about your life, your ethics. It’s about holding certain beliefs and acting in accordance with them. And no one ever said that was easy; in fact, it can be really difficult, as getting rid of cognitive dissonance usually is. But that’s part of growing, and learning. You learn to get better. You get comfortable with yourself; you learn how to build your life in accordance with your beliefs and you learn how to live it that way. It’s not the easiest journey but, provided you’re really into what you believe in, it’s one you should be happy to take.

Eating meat does not make you an inherently bad person. Not eating meat does not make you an inherently good person. Given that we are largely defined by our choices, however, what we choose to consume says something about us, for better or worse. And unless you are in one way or another incapable of making it for yourself, what you eat is always your choice — a choice that, like all others, you should ask yourself if you’re making for the right reasons.

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