Posts Tagged ‘vegetarian’

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: http://www.vegsource.com/jo/qa/qasugar.htm.

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.

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.