Archive for the ‘Vegetarianism’ Category

Sugar Rush

So the other day my husband and I were once again purchasing sugar from the store. We tend to go with a variety that claims to be vegan, but that’s not why we buy it. Rather, we buy it because it is one of the only bags of sugar that assures us of both organic and fair labor practices.

Still, every time we buy this particular brand of sugar, the person working at the checkout counter never fails to ask, “What makes it vegan? I didn’t even know sugar wasn’t vegan.” We had no idea either, so we’d usually shrug our shoulders and comment to each other that we’d need to look it up when we got home.

Now, I dabbled in veganism for a little while, and as you know from my previous posts, I’ve spent quite a few years as a committed vegetarian because of the horrors of big agribusiness. But I had no idea what could possibly be un-vegan about sugar. Until a couple days ago, when my husband and I finally remembered to look it up.

We found out that sugar in the US comes from two sources: cane and beet. Because of the way that it needs to be processed, cane sugar is often purified through a charcoal filtration made from bone char–charcoal made from animal bones. Beet sugar doesn’t need this process, and therefore bone char is never used to purify beet sugar. Now, cane sugar filtration doesn’t always use charcoal from bone char–it really depends on the sugar plant that it processing the sugar. But there’s really no way to know from the package. You have to do a little more digging to find out which companies use bone char and which do not. I found this website to be a thorough explanation:

Now, some would say that this is taking things a little too far off the deep end in terms of awareness, but I’m not so sure. I think that there are a lot ways our current food system does a very good job of hiding human and animal exploitation. From the methods of processing to the damaging of local economies far far away, the way our food reaches our tables is not always as simple as we may like to believe.

I think the most important thing here is to simple become slowly more and more conscious of how things are made and how they get to us. You don’t have to go out and become an advocate for unfair labor practices or give up your favorite fast food place…just become aware. Take time to learn about how things work. Then, and only then, can we all have an educated and practical discussion about what we need to do about it–morally, economically, politically. But we can’t get anywhere if we continue to just take things at face value; unfortunately, food has become much more complicated than that.


Voluntary Displacement

One of my favorite books from our one-year journey with JustFaith last year was entitled Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen and others.  In this book, the authors talk about the idea of voluntary displacement–the idea of consciously setting oneself outside of what is comfortable and protective and thus cultivating a greater sense of solidarity with those who experience the same displacement, but involuntarily.

Nouwen talks about how this is a central message of the Gospels, saying that “through voluntary displacement, we counteract the tendency to become settled in false comfort and to forget the unsettled position that we share with all people….as a Christian community we are people who together are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing” (pp 61-62).

It seems paradoxical. Wouldn’t a loving, compassionate God want us to feel protected, safe, and comfortable? But looking closer, it isn’t so confusing. The answer is yes, but it is yes for all people. And since God is not a God of slavery but a God of free will, God cannot force us to right the wrongs of this world. God won’t even do it Godself. Rather, because God is a God of relationships, and we are created in the image of God as caretakers of this world, we must be the ones who do God’s will on earth–who create those relationships, tend the garden, care for the poorer, weaker, and more fragile of our earthly community. We are the hands and feet of God.

What does this, then have to do with displacement? It seems to me that we cannot be those hands and feet if we do not feel the depth of God’s compassion in our own hearts for the suffering. But compassion, by its very nature, requires a certain amount of discomfort–after all, the sister to compassion is empathy, which causes us to intimately recognize suffering. I think the important aspect of healthy empathy/compassion is not letting it paralyze, but rather letting it inspire enough courage to do something about the problem.

Displacement, then, is one of the best ways to cultivate compassion. Since it’s so easy for us to ignore a problem that we aren’t experiencing ourselves (directly or indirectly), displacement is a way for us to be conscious of the needs and sufferings of others without ourselves becoming part of the problem (i.e., living very simply as a way to be conscious of the poor, rather than becoming so impoverished yourself that you become another poor person that somebody else will have to help). 

Displacement is also an important spiritual exercise. Displacement can often be countercultural. For example, truly keeping a Sabbath would be an act of cultural displacement. Likewise, so would be the act of boycotting brands that support child labor, or boycotting major agribusiness that does not promote the ethical raising and harvest of animals. Displacement could also mean that a member of a majority group spends some time in a minority community. Or caring for some of the easily-neglected members of our society (the elderly, the imprisoned, those with special-needs, etc).

I have a lot more that is rattling around about displacement, but I think for today I’ll leave with a final thought: displacement may, initially, feel like an inner desert…fruitless, lonely, uncomfortable. But as my husband and I have seen, the desert is actually teeming with life. You just have to change the way you’ve always thought about it.IMG_3686

Farmers Market Relationships and Bison


IMG_4441Saturday morning, my husband and I gave this photo to a seller at our farmers market…a lady we call our “bison lady.” It’s a photo of a pot pie we made from a bison rump from her family’s bison farm. She took the photo, smiled her familiar smile, and holding it to her chest, said, “Is this for me?” It was followed by a big hug.

Two things are important about this picture. The first is that it represents something that my husband and I have been hoping to cultivate for a long time: a personal relationship with a farmer, and the honoring of that farmer’s labor and harvest through that personal, supportive relationship. The second is that it captured the first time I had eaten meat in almost five years.

The meat aspect isn’t the point of this post but I suppose for context I have to address it. There’s a lot of history and personal philosophy behind my vegetarianism. In a nutshell, I  became vegetarian after slowly coming to an understanding about the unspeakable practices of large agribusiness. Because I hold deeply the belief that we are created as caretakers of this beautiful earth (and all that is in it), I just couldn’t bring myself to support these unseen houses of horror for the poor creatures that we consume. As an omnivore by design, I didn’t believe that eating meat in and of itself was wrong. But the means…the means by which the meat was coming to me was, in my opinion, so upside-down and against the very core of my view of God and my faith that I simply could not indulge myself for the sake of my own gratification. So, I opted out of meat-eating (even though I often really, really wanted it…just ask my husband!).

Then in March I read a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Her one-year experiment in self-sufficiency (and helpful informational tidbits) helped me to begin to see that depending on soy was also supporting big agribusiness, especially with its irresponsible growing and harvesting practices. Add that to the fuel consumption to ship it all over and the genetically modified additions to various soy products, and here I am supporting an upside-down system again. So I had to rethink things. What was the most responsible way of eating?

Which leads me back to the purpose of this post in the first place. I thought and prayed. I came to the decision that if I wanted to eat responsibly, it would all come down to building relationships. Knowing exactly where my food was coming from, who was harvesting it, and what their practices included. If I could find someone who had compassionate and thoughtful raising and slaughtering practices, I would return to eating meat.

My husband and I have been frequenting a Saturday farmers market in the hopes that we could begin to develop relationships with all types of farmers, supporting the families that had philosophies and practices that were close to ours. When we met our “bison lady,” Kathy, we knew from our first conversation that we wanted to support what she was doing.

But this story goes beyond eating meat. What it’s really about it the importance of relationships. And even deeper than that, the importance of consciousness. If you have a conscious awareness of the source of your meat, eggs, milk, fruits, vegetables (the list goes on and on), you begin to appreciate the work that got it there, and the lives that were involved in the process. This awareness naturally leads to the cultivation of relationships, because once you really begin to appreciate the process, it leads to expressions of gratitude and friendly chit-chat on a Saturday morning. It brings a connectedness back into our daily meals, a connectedness that has undoubtedly been lost amidst frozen dinners, fast food lines, and bananas shipped from South America. It’s a connectedness that is necessary in a world aching for real, face-to-face relationship.

This connectedness, I’m happy to say, led to a very nourishing hug from our bison lady on Saturday morning. This was the first sign for my husband and me that we were really beginning to develop personal and memorable relationships of appreciation with those that help bring us food. And I am hopeful that there will be many more.

Faith Like a Cat

Anyone who knows me knows I have a deep love for animals. While this has, to an extent, fueled my own decision to be a vegetarian, I’m not one of those blood-tossing PETA types; rather, I find that my sense of spirituality and relationship to God is enhanced by my relationship with the living things of the world. The call of stewardship over creation in Genesis helps me to find God in caring for living creatures in the best way I can and know how.

That being said, I found myself reflecting today on my relationship with my cats, and my cats to me. My husband and I have two cats–two siblings, full of mischief, that I have had since I took them home from the pound in a yellow cab, eight weeks old, weighing about 2 pounds each, with upper respiratory and eye infections, and scared to death at the slightest movement. This was my first shot at really caring for something, of feeding and worrying and doing my best to keep them comfortable. I found that I really grew to love my cats, and through my relationship with them began to find that I recognized their unique personalities, likes, dislikes, pains, comforts. It sparked a love and concern for living creatures I had never even considered to be worthy of my thoughts before, let alone my concern and social commitment.

As my cats grew, I made sure to always let them know how much I loved them. I wanted these little lives, though some would say they are “less worthy” than humans and others would say they are just “dumb animals,” I wanted these little lives to know that someone in this world found them worthy of love. After all…isn’t that what we all hope for, somewhere deep inside of us? Isn’t that the longing we all feel?

An interesting thing happened over time. I found that my cats didn’t fall into the normal characterization of cats–aloof, silent, hiding under beds, only allowing themselves to be pet when they decided it was okay. No, these cats became companions on the journey. My husband and I often find it interesting that the cats go to whatever room in the house we are in, simply to be near us. If I am on the couch, one of them wants to be on the couch. If I am taking a shower, one of them sits nearby, waiting for me to finish. I’ve told my husband before that our cats just seem to express love for us constantly. Our male cat curls up next to us on the bed, like he is a third spouse in the mix, taking his rightful place. But it is obvious that he is doing it because he loves being next to us, not because he feels obligated or is hoping we’ll feed him tomorrow. Our female cat will often sit on my lap as I write or read, but it is without any need for reciprocal affection; she just loves to be near me in her peacefulness. Nothing we do with their feeding schedule or type of food changes this behavior; it’s not some Pavlovian reaction. No, I believe they just want us to know that they love us back.

And we do love them. We dote on them, we give them special treats from time to time. We get up in the middle of the night to make sure they are okay if we hear a strange meow or hear them fighting with each other. Believe me–there have been nights when, despite our deep love, frustration has reigned because our male cat is feeling talkative at 2:00am, or the two of them have decided to get their midnight exercise by chasing each other around the house, over our bed, down the stairs and back again. But we love them still.

Today I was thinking about my own faith, and thinking that perhaps I have a thing or two to learn from my cats. Is my relationship with God so different? Most of the time, I just want to be close to God. I just want God to know that I love God, even though I might frustrate God with my antics, or I may be a little too vocal about my wants when it clearly isn’t the right time for such things. Perhaps I should be more content just to curl up in the lap of God, knowing that God loves me, and will always love me, and that is enough.

Do we make our relationships with God too conditional? Do we only feel close to God when we feel satisfied with what we are getting out of it? Are we aloof, except when we want something? I hope that I can step outside these notions, and have faith like my cats have love. They love me just because I am me. They want to be with me, whatever I am doing. This is how it should be with God. I want to love God just because…well, God is God. And God will love me–even when I can’t stop chattering in the middle of the night.