When I revamped my eating habits a few years ago, I did it for one reason, and one only: vanity. In that world, people ate fruits and vegetables not for health, but because they had less calories. People didn’t exercise for enjoyment or mental clarity; they suffered through it to burn off what they ate.
I never could have predicted the journey that an awareness of health would take me on. With both the good and bad, it has ultimately transformed me for life. Perhaps what I’ve come to enjoy most is that my approach to health is in a constant flux: I am always learning more, about nutrition, about myself, about exercise and my relationship to it, about my decisions regarding food.
One piece has remained in the background up until the past few months. I’ve developed a strong sense of responsibility to support local farmers, and I try to shop at the farmer’s market when I can. But, when I stand in the aisles of the supermarket, staring, for instance, at the brands of Greek yogurt I eat daily, I am hit with a dilemma: organic or not? To be perfectly honest, I very often go for conventional. I see the price difference, I know I am on a strict budget, and money wins out.
At the summit this past weekend, the speaker that truly moved me was Regina Beidler, an organic dairy farmer. She spoke with passion and conviction, presenting the life she leads as a farmer devoted to a responsibly produced product. She really got me thinking.
While I believe I have an open mind when it comes to eating styles, as I feel strongly that the elements of a person’s diet are personal and unique, I nonetheless wish the fresh foods I adore could become more of the norm. It would be nice to join friends who might not care about health at a restaurant and not feel I need to dissect the menu and pay $15 for a salad that wouldn’t fill up a five year old.
One of the ways I support this way of life is through the groceries I choose to buy, particularly farmer’s market or local produce. Leaving processed foods with unpronounceable ingredients on the shelves and opting for whole foods allows me to do my small part in supporting a more natural lifestyle. Regina Beidler’s speech alerted me, however, that I am choosing to see only a piece of the big picture.
I support naturally produced foods. How is it ok then, to purchase, for instance, a conventional dairy product? Knowing full well, as Beidler emphasized, that the cows who produce that dairy are anything but responsibly raised? Beidler showed us pictures I had seen before, of cows lined up in miniscule, individual stalls overflowing with corn and grain. Leaving the inhumanity of an animal who never sees the light of day aside, the entire process of overfeeding a cow with chemically-infused feed she was never meant to eat, simply to produce an excess of hormonally-altered milk, is anything but natural. How can I support that when I have the option to buy organic?
I was struck most by a question asked of Beidler towards the end of her speech. Over lunch, I spoke with a couple bloggers who grew up on farms, and I questioned how it felt to eat meat from animals they had known and raised. Beidler was spot on in her response, as she presented the two options we have.
In one, we choose meat from a package in a grocery aisle, with no concept of the animal it came from, the farm it was raised on, or the way it was processed. The other: we know the animal, know it was fed grass, as it is naturally meant to, know it was allowed to pasture and didn’t live its life in a pitch dark barn, and even know that it died in a humane way. She emphasized that she eats and enjoys all forms of meat and has never intended to become vegetarian. She simply wishes to support responsible and sustainable farming.
I’m not going to stop eating dairy. And while I very rarely eat meat or poultry, I’m not going to stop having bites of my dad’s or limit myself should I want to eat it myself. But, I am going to make more of an effort to know where my food comes from. I never want my dollars to go to conglomerates who are modifying the product I buy. So, if that means spending a few extra dollars on organic, I am going to find a way to make that work.
Is organic important to you?