Monday, February 4, 2008

Beth: A Vegan & Local Lent: Studies in Mindfulness

From Beth Anderson, Earth Ministry Intern:

"What?? My favorite bread contains whey protein? How can this be?"

"This apple came from New Zealand, ugh…"

Forty days without consuming any animal products and eating only West Coast produce may prove to be a difficult task, even in a relatively progressive, vegetarian-loving, environmentally conscious locale like Seattle.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 10 years now, so it might seem like going vegan for Lent would be a relative non-issue. I don’t crave meat—I never liked it much, even though I grew up in rural Minnesota with a mother who used to comment, “It’s not really a meal if you don’t have meat!”

But choosing to forgo dairy, eggs, and honey (anything produced by animal beings) is quite a bit more complicated than my standard vegetarian diet. For one thing, I enjoy a good omelet or some French toast on a lazy Saturday morning. I love baking, and many of my favorite recipes call for a couple of eggs or some butter. And, though it may seem odd, some of the protein-laden soy products I’ve come to rely on happen to contain ingredients like egg whites or milk-derived proteins (often used as thickening agents).

And then there’s the matter of limiting my produce purchases to fruits and veggies grown on the West Coast—I try to think about my choices, but in the winter I often see myself casually toss a South American tropical fruit or an apple from New Zealand into my basket. Once my local farmers market is closed for the season, I take a hiatus from local produce.

For the next forty days, I will look at the label on my prospective veggie or fruit and take a moment to envision its journey to my grocery store—how much carbon was released during its travel? Were the farmers who grew it paid a fair price? What about the farming practices in that part of the world—have forests been razed or has the soil been depleted of nutrients? Are the resources of our sacred Earth being destroyed in order to bring this piece of fruit to my table?

So when Lent arrives, I will be found scrutinizing labels in my local grocery store and asking lots of questions before I place a restaurant order in an attempt to eat only strictly vegan foods and relatively local produce. This may sound like irritating behavior, but having tried veganism for short stints in the past, I know that it forces me to slow down…to really think about what I’m putting in my cart, on my plate, and in my body.

I hope that my practice will also help me to be more mindful of the effects of my consumption on the other human and non-human beings with whom I share this wondrous, Spirit-endowed world. During my forty vegan days, I will think more about animals, not less, and I will take time to reflect on the hard work of my sisters and brothers throughout the world who are farmers and food purveyors. I will remember the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his "Letter from Birmingham City Jail": “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

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