In the spring of 2008 I read a book called Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry. This one book changed my life forever; because suddenly I was more aware than I’d ever been when it comes to the politics of food. At the time, my solution to stopping a corrupt, environmentally devastating industry built for efficiency was to opt out. After all, sourcing meat produced outside this system was too difficult and too expensive for me. So I stopped eating meat and dairy, and I went dietary vegan. Nearly seven years later, my views—and subsequent political strategy—are starting to change.
A little less than a year after my epiphany, The Meat Hook opened inside Greenpoint’s The Brooklyn Kitchen, practically right in my backyard. The Meat Hook is a whole animal butcher shop, where all of the meat sold is sourced from small local (mainly upstate) family farms. The cattle are grass-fed and grass-finished. Pigs and fowl are raised on pasture sustainably by responsible farmers and are free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Animals are sent to responsible, family-owned slaughterhouses before going directly to the butcher shop. No feed lots, no CAFOs, no middlemen.
I never got into the “locavore” movement. I shook my head at hipsters and yuppies who thought they were opting out of the system by eating local, pasture-raised meat. Because as nice as local pasture-raised meat sounded, I knew better than to trust that it was slaughtered and processed in the same sustainable and humane way it was raised. And as nice as The Meat Hook sounded, I was too focused on dietary veganism, determined to make a difference that way. I even started my own blog, Kitchen La Bohème. For me, The Meat Hook went mostly ignored.
But a funny thing started to happen. Local farmers were getting increasingly fed up with not being able to control the way their products were processed, and they started to do something about it. This NPR article from 2012 explains exactly why and how farmers aimed to take back control.
Now, at the start of 2015, I’m coming to terms with the fact that dietary veganism isn’t working for me as well as it used to. From 2009 until 2011 I was a freelancer and had more time to prepare meals and exercise more than frequently. Now, working full-time makes that increasingly more difficult. In addition, I’ve struggled with diagnosed autoimmune thyroid disease since 2004. I’m learning that it’s time to tailor my diet to autoimmune thyroid disease, less available time to exercise, and a desire to do my part to support family farms in keeping sustainable, humanely raised and processed food on our tables.
So I’m making up my own diet:
I'm not ignoring The Meat Hook anymore. I’m paying more attention to local seafood. I’m finally shopping almost 100% at the great greenmarkets in the city. And I’m staying away from gluten and soy, and uncooked goitrogenic veggies like kale (read: I’m not juicing kale anymore). For me, this means making a pledge to be better at eating locally and with the seasons, and incorporating meat again sometimes, but sticking primarily to a vegetarian diet full of fruits and vegetables, lentils, black beans, amaranth, quinoa, steel cut oats and fermented soy products like tempeh. And I'm alternating light use of cooking oils and grass-fed butter instead of relying heavily on oils.
Being dietary vegan for seven years has taught me how to connect with the Earth and to have reverence for the food that we eat, from the way it is raised, caught or grown to the way it is processed. I've learned to consider the "why" behind what I'm eating and make better, more informed choices. That is a lesson I won't soon forget.
I wasn't sure what to do with Kitchen La Bohème, but I think I'll keep it going. It's been sitting idly for a while so maybe this will be the kick I need to get started on it again. I want to begin to update it with new vegan meals that rely less on sugar, soy and processed meat replacements, and focus more on baked goods that are also gluten-free. And I'm interested in providing sources for sustainably, humanely raised and processed meat and wild-caught seafood across the country for those not quite ready to take the vegan plunge but wanting to make a difference.
Time will tell if this change will help to make a greater impact when it comes to the politics of food.