Thursday, October 8, 2009
Let's Not Beat a Dead Horse
by Clare Brauer-Rieke
For those who were unaware, October happens to be National Vegetarian Month. While one has to imagine that this arbitrary designation was recent, it is hard to discuss vegetarian and vegan diets without feeling like you're beating a dead horse. Very few people, it seems, have not had "the conversation" about vegetarianism. Whether triggered by a coffee-table copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma, a son or daughter who comes back from freshman year of college quoting Peter Singer, or any other number of sources, the word is definitely out there.
The 101-version is that there is definitely a spectrum, rather than polarity, of human eating habits. If not an omnivore (literally "one who eats everything"), one might be a pescatarian (one who abstains from eating animals except for fish and seafood), pollo vegetarian (one who abstains from eating animals except for chicken), pollo-pescatarian (you do the math), ovo-lacto-vegetarian (the fancy way of saying non-vegan vegetarians, or vegetarians who consume milk and eggs), or vegan (one who consumes no animal products of any kind). Some people are vegetarian or vegan for a few months or a few years; others make it a lifelong commitment. To further complicate matters, many factors play into people's decisions about what they eat, including economic means, treatment of animals and related ethical concerns, environmental considerations, personal health, and perhaps most basically, tastes or desires.
It's a dizzying world of eating habits, but there it is. In contemporary society, it seems that everyone has some preconceived notion about those who eat differently than they choose to eat (or who eat the same way for different reasons). Almost everyone, at some point, feels judged for their choices regarding food. One way or the other, many people feel strongly about their own choices and competitive or antagonistic toward others.
Enough! As a faith community, we are to live in koinonia-- while one should remain true to their personal ethics, there is much room for empathy and flexibility in building-- rather than tearing down-- relationships with one another. So, while I am aware of the irony of this phrase in this context, let's not beat a dead horse. I'm not writing to influence how you eat. Eat in a way that is spiritual, ethical, healthful, and joyful for you. All I ask is that in your decisions to eat the way you do, hold both yourself and others accountable with charity, compassion and respect.