The politics of food have been tenacious and challenging for as long as I can remember. I have friends/family who are vegan, vegetarian, and/or raw. In general, I find that many people who work with an ethics-based diet makes it a point to establish the superiority of their diet over all others. There is a tendency to oversimplify the discussion about the ethics of eating–somehow eating X or Y diet makes you an ethical, better person. Unfortunately, many of the vegan/vegetarian vs. meat eating debates is that its an either-or fallacy (logical fallacy in a rhetorical sense). Either you eat vegan/vegetarian and you’re an ethical person or you eat meat and you are a selfish bigot. One problem with this approach is that these “ethical” diets are often based on exotic ingredients and don’t necessarily align with seasonal, local eating patterns. But choosing to forgo animal products doesn’t necessarily mean that what you are are eating is any more ethical. For example, I have a family member who is a raw vegan. Nearly all of the foods that he eats are shipped from exotic locations using fossil fuels (where else are you going to get mangoes, avocados, and dates in January in Michigan?) I believe that the overall environmental impact of your diet should be just as important as the ethics of animal welfare. Reality gives us more than just these two choices.
Animal welfare is certainly an issue that we need to care about both with meat and dairy products, undoubtedly. But only placing concern upon animal welfare is ignoring a huge amount of other critical issues with our food system. We have issues with fossil fuel use, land use, poisoning of workers, and the monopolization of seed crops and loss of genetic diversity. In fact, the whole food system is rife with horrors and ethical violations. Do you really want to eat another tomato purchased at the store after reading this story? Can you really enjoy your Earth Balance vegan spread when a main ingredient is palm oil, which directly destroys rainforests? How about the local impact on land use and food ethics of that excellent quinoa and soy that you enjoy so much? Even the so-called “good guys” are often not so great (as in the recent case of the GMO law defeat in California or Trader Joe’s many violations).
And so, I’d like to offer an alternative for those who are concerned with the ethics of eating: localvorism. A localvore is someone who focuses on local, sustainable eating and who supports local growers and/or grows his/her own food. The localvore diet is a seasonal diet that changes as availability of food changes with the goal being minimizing the distance from food-to-plate, in growing or raising as much of your own food as possible, and in eating animal products in very limited quantities and only in ways that their ethics can be established. This may take on different forms depending on your location; but here in Michigan, I work for the “100 mile” diet, where I get as much food as I possibly can from 100 miles or less (and in fact, most of my food comes from less than 30 miles!) I also make sure I am eating non-GMO, organic produce–food that is as close to its natural, unaltered state as possible.
As a localvore, I eat vegan or vegetarian most of the time when I’m out and about, especially if I can’t verify where the food I’m eating comes from and what ethical/sustainable/animal-friendly practices may have been employed. Yet, I support locally, ethically raised meat and dairy and eat it several times a month at home (I belong to a CSA and a raw milk share that provides dairy). In this way, I recognize both the ethical implications of factory farming and choose not to support them but also recognize that animals can be treated humanely and support the local farmers engaging in these practices. I also keep pet chickens. I eat their eggs, but they are pets and so they’ll live long healthy lives even if they stop laying.
I also see localvorism as part of my spiritual practice in the sense that this diet brings me closer to the seasons, aligning with the energies of this land and the foods that grow here. I enjoy fresh foods when they are in season, experiment with season extension for fresh greens, and enjoy dried/canned/stored foods when they are not. I really feel this diet helps me establish a deeper spiritual awareness of the turning wheel of the year because I begin paying attention to what is growing when. Eating in season is a spiritual thing, bringing you so much closer to the turning wheel of the year.
Right now, on average, my diet is about 60-70% local year-round (and if I could only start growing my own rice, which I have planned for next year, I would get much higher!) This number came over a period of years and a lot of proactive approaches to understanding food. I described the process of shifting to a locally-based diet in my earlier post, “Six Principles for Local Eating.”