The Locavore’s Dilemma

Growing His Own: Radharadhya

A few years back, my friends Radharadhya and Kiriti and I had a discussion that could have been aptly titled, “Where Have All the Vegetarians Gone?”.

Back in our day, thoughtful, alternative, artsy, crunchy, hipster types were vegetarian. The uniform was easy to spot and usually consisted of one or more of the following–dreadlocks on white people, dyed black hair, messenger bag, thick black plastic glasses frames, chain wallet,  tiny vintage t-shirts, canvas vans. These days, the dress is more or less the same but the diet has changed.

Beets and chard and broccolini are still there, but now served alongside free range chickens and organic local veal cutlets. Just as the straight edge kids grew up and now post what bar they are headed to on Facebook, the vegetarians too felt the social strain of a limited, plant based diet and “branched out” to more accessible fare. But of course, there has to be a hook.

And the new hook these days is eating locally. Somehow, killing animals for food is okay, as long as the animals have been raised nearby and have plenty of grass. People who read John Robbins Diet for a New America back in high school have now dumped that book at Goodwill to clear room on their bookshelves for the latest Michael Pollan hardback, shipped from, as opposed to Amazon. Local is the new vegetarian. If you can personally butcher the meat yourself, hey, that’s proof that civilization is advancing!

This morning I read an editorial on the Huff Post by Victoria Moran that reminded me of this conversation I had with my friends years ago. Please check it out:

Veg and the City: My Beef With Locavores.

“Vegetarianism is good. And meat is like you are eating your own body. Because if you kill an animal, it is like killing yourself.”

The above is a quote from my 6 year old son. He asked me what I was writing about and when I told him  I was posting abut vegetarianism, he asked me to add his thoughts. Gladly.

At first glance, Vm’s musings may seem naive, but I find them startlingly profound. “Because if you kill an animal, it is like killing yourself.” The empathy in this boy runs deep. He does not see the difference between eating human flesh and eating animal flesh. There is no hierarchy of bodily designation. Suffering is suffering, across the species. One entity’s suffering is wrapped up another entity’s suffering. Just how open are you to acknowledging that pain?

I could take credit for brainwashing my son into a vegetarian doctrine, but that isn’t the case. He didn’t know he was a vegetarian until he was three. He had no idea people ate meat until we were at the supermarket around Thanksgiving time and he saw people loading large, bulbous white plastic wrapped packages into their car. He asked me what that was and I had to tell him: dead turkey. To eat.

The look of shock on his face was devastating. Without any prompting, my children instinctually knew meat eating was, to be frank, a grotesque abomination. I told my kids that there were dead bodies of animals wrapped in packages in the store. That most of the people shopping here bought, cooked and ate those dead bodies. That how we eat is called vegetarianism and most people don’t eat that way.

Over the years I have tried to brainwash them to have courteous social skills so they can get along in a society where meat is the dominant culture. I never feared them wanting to taste or experiment with meat. Their humanity runs too deep for that.



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8 responses to “The Locavore’s Dilemma

  1. sabjimata

    I just reread my post and want to address a question that may arise: Do I think I am a better person because I don’t eat meat? The answer is a loud YES! Do I think there are other things I can do in my life to make me an even better person? The answer is an even louder YES!!

  2. Ekavali Dasi

    I completely agree. I can really relate to you about your son also. My son has a conviction that runs even deeper than anything I’ve told him about meat eating. He’s very particular when at a friend’s house to ask if it is vegetarian or has eggs. He’s very perceptive too, even if told that it doesn’t have eggs or meat and he has a suspicion, he won’t eat it. That’s a lot of will power and conviction for a kid when cake and cookies are involved! I think that as people who have eaten meat for a large portion of their lives and were told that it was good for so many years we have a higher tolerance to justify it and even though we don’t agree with it we can’t help but feel it to be normal. Luckily our kids will not be brainwashed in that way! I think the biggest difference now with vegetarianism is that it is more for a healthy lifestyle and not ethical reasons. In one sense it is a good start because nowadays it is becoming more mainstream and there are many more vegetarians than before. Even my mother has now become a vegetarian because of health. She has known the whole ethical reason behind it for the last 20 years since I became one. She had also done the whole free-range stuff for awhile too. At least more people are becoming conscious.

  3. Mrs. Barber

    We were discussing the unhipness of veg diets the other day. The foody revolution has def taken over. People you would think that are into veg (because they seem intelligent, aware and “out of the matrix,”) are so much more into finding the best obscure handmade Italian sausage to match that obscure micro-brew they have chosen to define themselves. It’s funny when diets are fashion.

  4. AgniDev

    yeah much is done just in sentiment- vegan, foody etc-

    working in the health field for years I feel I’ve also found a deeper aspect in which some people are/were not getting proper vital nutrients in a veg diet and switched- it was a deep knawing in them- constantly craving eggs, meats etc which is really ones body craving the fats. Ive even had … See Moredevotees come to me in confidence where they were sick mentally and physically for some time and switched back to eggs and etc and felt much better- the crux of it isn’t nec the protein ,but vegan diets most of the time don’t really provide proper fats that are the best for assimilating our fat soluble vitamins (just because you eat a carrot, doesn’t mean you will assimilate the vitamin A- just because you eat an avocado doesn’t mean that fat will convert your fat soluble vitamins properly)- if this becomes an issue then it can lead to all sorts of problems (hormonal imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, metabolism issue etc) – ive known more then a few health food, athletic vegans whose health fell apart until they reverted back- some just have better luck with their nutrients converting without animal fats and are able to be somewhat ok on a vegan diet. 2 vegans I know had their dental health fall apart (gums issues, loose teeth) and totally reverted back when they went on raw milk and pastured eggs–

    although, of course, im not an omnivore I find “omnivores dilemma” much more sound info then “diet for a new america” (and various other books) which is based on half truths– we tend to forget that the healthiest cultures/people on the planet exist on saturated fats, raw milk and plenty of animal fats and protein – which is different then what is (industrial/conventional) meat and milk here– it has (obviously) a totally different effect on the body/mind-

    veggie/vegan health info bases everything on conventional meat and milk stats which really doesn’t have anything to do with the actual products (which is why I say half truths) – omnivore dilemma at least makes these distinctions and leaves it up to the person which diet path they want to choose (there is actually much less dogma in that realm then there is in veggie and vegan) — so I find it that health info has actually become more well rounded in the recent years (which has led to trends, such as foody)—just the veggies/vegans need to do a better job with actually presenting properly worded and researched info and can make a veggie dent in the foody trend (which is something I work on…)

  5. Brooke

    First, bless you for posting this. I’d also like to send B-I-G hugs & kisses to Ekavali Dasi, Mrs. Barber and AgniDev for their sentiments. I think I told you about my fracas with my eldest’s kindergarten teacher / school principal because they will not incorporate ethical foods into the list when families bring food to share. Food allergies, of course those are always a priority (and the K teacher’s daughter has a food allergy, so she’s biased)! But vegetarianism / veganism — for every single school function we have had to provide a dish so our son can partake (and of course all the other children because our food is delish!) — not important; no one cares. I’ve had it, and I’m like that character in “Network,” ’cause I am mad as hell and I’m not going to quietly take it anymore.

    Why on earth is someone’s food allergy afforded more social importance than my family’s spirit? My six year-old thinks meat is not just disgusting but an abomination (and I LOVE your VM for his quote) — so it’s okay for his soul to be compromised because other families are lazy and don’t want to figure out how to make something without murdered animal in it? I believe if our diet were religious (say, Hindu) then we’d have an easier “sell” at the school. But because it’s “merely a choice” (direct quote) — of course it’s an ethical choice and I do believe we are better, more evolved, more compassionate people than murderers — it’s not as relevant. F* that.

    When Mollie Katzen “came out” about returning to meat-eating I was furious. Enraged! Smoke a goddamn cigarette but don’t blow it in my face. And Deborah Madison has long said she’d rather eat a piece of fish (or chicken, whatever) than a bad vegetarian meal. Here’s a concept: don’t eat. Skip that meal. Donate what you would have spent to a hunger-eradicating organization. So I’m fat and I can do without a meal (or two) and Deborah Madison isn’t fat, but there is no way she is malnourished. Puhleese.

    Now putting on a happy face. Tonight we had a Sabji-inspired dinner. Both Y. and I didn’t know what to make for dinner and then a lightbulb went off and I remembered that luscious pic of your fettucine, broccoli, tofu and tomatoes. Whenever I read about / see pics of the dinners you make I always find myself thinking “how come I don’t cook like that?” Everything looks so good!

    We mostly cook Asian (food, not people!), although I did make a (vegan) spinach quiche the other evening and Y. made ratatouille for the boys when I went out (because I hate ratatouille and those three love it). So we’re franco-Asian, heavy on the Asian. LOTS of noodles with various sesame / ginger / miso / curry sauces.

    I wrapped the block of tofu in a cloth towel for a few hours, and then rubbed the sliced filets with a mixture of coriander / cumin / paprika / sugar and grilled them alongside capsicum, red & green onions. Y. made fettucine and a coconut alfredo and voila! We had our Sabji-inspired dinner. It was delicious and it would not have happened if not for you, Friend. Thank you!

  6. Mandakini

    “Over the years I have tried to brainwash them to have courteous social skills so they can get along in a society where meat is the dominant culture. I never feared them wanting to taste or experiment with meat. Their humanity runs too deep for that.”

    This is true for us as well. My kids go to school with non-vegetarian kids and I really don’t feel that it would be fair for them to alienate/demean those kids for something that is largely out of their control. Though, Kapila does have a few friends that are interested in and becoming vegetarian.

    As far as how the locavore movement has changed people’s dietary “status”, i live literally next door to a farm that raises and slaughters hundreds of animals a year (you can look it up: Coon Rock Farm). All in the name of selling people “local” meat and eggs. It is so disturbing, and it totally gives people some weird sense of superiority to buy from this farm.

    Anyhow, thanks for the stimulating blog post, Devadeva 🙂 I really enjoy reading your blog, though I don’t comment much.

    • sabjimata

      Thanks so much for the comment, Mandakini. I had no idea you lived next to a slaughter farm. The name is so…well, you know. Someone on FB commented over there on this post about how it is more of an earth friendly approach to eating (the person commenting was/is a vegetarian). But you know, I agree and I totally disagree. When we lived at GN, there were po’ Amish farmers and they raised a bull and a couple of goats for slaughter every year. I have no idea about their chicken situation, but they did not have a lot of mammalian livestock and when they killed them, they hung the carcasses on a hook for the blood to drip out and you could see it when you were driving by their farm. I guess they salted and smoked a lot of the meat. While I still think it is so gruesome and sad for the animals, It wasn’t like they were just getting meat on demand, cash n’ carry style. Their consumption seemed lower and more earth friendly–so to speak. Ewww….ok. Coon rock Farm is just grossing me out!

      Love you, Mandakini XOXO

  7. AgniDev

    for “informational purposes only” 😉

    there is a symbiotic nature between sunlight, grass, cow (consuming grass), manure, the soil and the biosphere– real manure enriches the soil and the healthier the soil (increased co2 levels) the more it counteracts/negates gasses and such as methane (from cows) and etc– its a great balancing act, as that is nature.

    now at a conventional farm where cows are fed grain, soy, and corn (and antibiotics etc)- then their manure isn’t manure, its just (toxic) crap. it has no benefit and therefore there is no balance.

    Its a myth and/or half truth to say cows/methane harms the environment- it really only applies to conventional farms. So if its stated that way then its correct, but it almost never is (in vegan/veggie literature)
    the “locavores” do have a point with the carbon footprint thing(for what its worth)- this isn’t offbase. there is much less a carbon footprint with that then a soy veggie burger, as soy has a pretty serious carbon footprint (and the #2 product that they are plowing down the rainforest to make way for) —

    I personally don’t see that anyone should feel ‘superior’ over someone else over what diet they choose- it then becomes like fundamental religion.
    If someone wants to eat meat then by all means I would much prefer them to eat locally and from a real farm (that only makes sense)- I see that as a major step up from the other side of things- and plus that’s how people used to do it- go to small farms and get their food and/or local farms bring it into town. Am I going to be down on my ancestors for doing it this way- well of course not.thats just how it was/how it is.
    Its not for me, but I’m not gonna judge if its for someone else.

    I get correspondence from Joel Salatin (Polyface farm in Virgina, featured in food inc, omnivores dilemma, and Fresh)- he says the #1 question he gets (from people picking up his products) is that are they some sort of elitist if they choose to go and purchase his food- as they don’t want to be–
    there may be some that are into more on the sentiment side of things who think it some sort of smug elitism, but in general it doesn’t seem to be the case– and there certainly is the elitism bug in the veggie and vegan camps- so basically it all cancels itself out.

    everybody just do their thang- radhe radhe – if people want to eventually come to the veggie side, then great- if they choose other paths then god bless em.

    we cant expect people we are down on for their choices to also listen to us and come to “our side”- if we want someone to be open to a possible change we also have to be open and respectful to a persons present life and choices…

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