I am privileged and fortunate to live in a part of the world where the food supply is abundant. I have the luxury of deciding what I “like” and what I don’t. The only time I go hungry is by choice, usually when I am compensating for over-consumption and trying to balance the scales.
Whether I am eating fresh fruits and vegetables, or some edible food-like substance that is laden with chemicals, salt, fat and sugar, I have complete autonomy over how I choose to fuel my body. In fact, my ability to discern what I will put into this body is mine, and mine alone. It is one of the few things over which I have some control.
As a college student living abroad in the early nineties I stopped eating meat. For several years I ate only vegetarian dishes. I loved them. My “go-to” meal in London was fried eggs, baked beans, white toast and tea. It was somewhat nutritious, super affordable and easy to obtain. I carried out the next several years as a non-meat eater until about the time I was trying to have a baby at which time I craved more protein and animal products.
I generally feel as though we should keep our food preferences to ourselves. We should eat what we want, when we want, as much or as little as we want, because we have the luxury of doing so. But with the excess food supply that surrounds us, we have a tendency to create a religion out of our choices.
We like to discuss with others why we eat this thing, or don’t eat that thing, or why we used to eat something but don’t anymore. There is nothing wrong with having some eating guidelines, heaven knows we need some type of structure so we don’t get lost in the world of food. I am just not inclined to talk a heck of a lot about it. Our choices can stand, quietly and with gratitude. But so often, food IS a topic of conversation, which isn’t really a problem, it is just not my first choice for subject matter when chatting over a meal.
Recently, I heard someone who eats vegetarian, talking about the fear that an animal experiences before slaughter. She was explaining her reason for only consuming non-meat products, which was that just before the animal is killed, it experiences terror which releases certain chemicals and hormones into the blood stream as a result of the fear. Her understanding is that when we eat meat, we also eat the fear of the now plated animal in its final moments. And who wants to eat someone else’s fear? So she doesn’t eat meat.
Sensible enough. Again, consumption is one of the few things we actually have some control over. I am all for individual choices and not at all interested in talking someone out of theirs. I know our preferences change over time and we also adjust our eating habits to fit our lifestyles and individual needs and ongoing medical considerations.
But the “fear” theory is one that I do have an opinion about. As an aside, I recently heard someone say that “opinions are the lowest form of knowledge” so feel free to stop reading if you are uninterested in this low form of knowledge parading as a meaningful opinion. My opinion has nothing to do with whether or not we literally ingest fear hormones from a slaughtered animal whenever we eat meat. As mentioned, the argument seems sensible enough and actually I have heard this at more than one dinner table.
My opinion has to do with the concept of fear itself, specifically: Our own personal fears, of which we have many. We fear not being accepted. We fear that we won’t be liked, or included, or approved of. We fear our bodies are the wrong size or shape. We want to fit in and be loved, even when we are exercising our decision making power over what we put into our bodies. We fear we will be judged. We fear disappointing the chef. We fear our justifications may waiver and not hold up against the challenging criticisms of others.
This can play out at a dinner table, once someone is observed to be eating differently than everyone else. In the case of the vegetarian, she boldly and confidently met criticism of her preferences, with a diatribe about the fear of the animal. She was solid in her position and communicated succinctly, her rationale for avoiding meat altogether. So far, so good.
The problem arose though, when many at the table began to tease her. A revisiting of the old hilarious commercial for a fast food chain, featured three elderly women eating a competitor’s hamburgers that were flimsy and not very robust. They demanded to know: “Where’s the beef?!” It was a great tag line and we got a kick out of the commercial that I remember from the mid 80s with great clarity found HERE (click for the 1984 “Where’s the Beef?” Advertisement)
As the criticisms and comments flew in the direction of the vegetarian consumer, and the laughter roared, the devoted and in her mind, justified position of not eating meat was being made into a joke. As the giggles circled the table and the obvious non-approval arose, the vegetarian grew more and more uncomfortable. Eventually she became very upset and the dinner conversation never did recover from these playful yet threatening exchanges.
“What’s the point?” to the tune and cadence of “Where’s the beef?”
The point is that before we are concerning ourselves with the fear that floods the bodies of animals when they are killed, we need to take a look at our own fears. Does it matter that we are avoiding the fears of animals, when we are trapped in our own vulnerability of wanting to be accepted and liked?
Are we doing ourselves any favors by being dependent on the good opinion of others as we eat a veggie burger? If we need others to agree with our choices, and we are petrified of being judged negatively, does it really make a difference if we are eating chicken, or beans?
I don’t think so. While I understand the rationale behind the choices to eat in certain ways, I don’t think one of them should be not to consume an animal’s fear. Because our human fears far outweigh those of any animal in the last few seconds of its farmed life. We embody our personal fears to such a serious extent that we will do just about anything to belong. And we do. And we pay for those fears, mightily.
Eat, drink and be merry I say. If you have a particular regimen that suits your body, awesome. Stick to it. Prioritize your own self care whether for health or other reasons. But do so fearlessly. Because if we don’t eat the animal’s fear, but we are basking in our own, we really aren’t doing ourselves any favors. Let you choices stand. Take pride in what you consume, or at least try to understand why you eat what you eat.
Learning to be independent of the “good” opinion of others is a far higher mountain peak to strive for, than avoiding animal hormones at the dinner table. No problem in doing both, or either. It’s just that if you are going to openly share your rationale for your personal food choices, you should prepare yourself to become the target of the unavoidable criticisms and even good hearted jokes that may follow.
And we are allowed to have fun and even laugh at ourselves while breaking bread! So join in the fun instead of taking it personally. And when in doubt, as Susan Peirce Thompson says “Keep your eyes on your own plate.” That way we aren’t making a religion out of the vast abundance of food on our table.
In many parts of the world, humans eat what they can, because they have nothing.