Thursday, May 8, 2008

Veggie Might: That Food Crisis Everyone’s Just Raving About

Penned by the effervescent Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about the wide world of Vegetarianism.

Kris, thanks for inviting me to join the CHG tea party. It’s an honor and a pleasure to chime in with my two bits about living and eating vegetarian on just pennies a day.

All the recent talk of food and the economy reminded me of an article from the April issue of VegNews. In “Privilege or Necessity,” Catherine Plato discusses whether vegans and vegetarians are left-field elitists—not just food snobs, but food snobs with a cause—or down-to-Mother Earth pragmatists who are taking a bite out of the environmental crisis.

The article could so easily be an “in defense of my lifestyle” tract, but it goes much deeper into the politics of poverty, health, sustainability, and responsibility.

“A vegetarian diet doesn’t have to consist of expensive meat substitutes, processed foods, and prepared gourmet hummus.” (Just ask Kris.) Plato goes on to say, “A plant-based diet … can actually be more affordable than one heavy with meat and dairy products. The key is relying on unprocessed foods.”

Amen, sister. When I first became a vegetarian, lo, those many years ago, I had no idea where to begin. My family ate meat at every meal—even the vegetables had meat in them. Like many newbies, I bought the line that to get enough protein I had to stuff myself with tons of processed soy and fakery. Now, 17 years later (rock!), I know better. Whole grains, legumes, veggies, fruits do the trick­—and much more affordably. My body and my handbag are much happier.

Of course it’s not that simple. Time is a major player. Try telling an exhausted single mother of three that when she gets home from an eight-hour work day, plus a two-hour commute, not to microwave something from a box. Maude knows, I do that, and it’s just me and my dog. Which leads us directly to access.

The New York Times just ran a piece on Monday about the dearth of supermarkets in poorer neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Because of high rents and low profit margins, grocery stores are being driven out and replaced with drug chains and convenience stores. This graphic shows the correlation between the lack of fresh food in neighborhoods with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

Education and outreach, as always, is key: reminding folks that it’s cheaper to cook at home, that it’s healthier for people and the planet. The veg community has long maintained that a plant-based diet yields environmental sustainability. Crops are cheaper and require fewer fossil fuels to produce than livestock. Don’t forget about all that methane snacking on our atmosphere.

According to John Ikerd at the University of Missouri, “...about 90% of all food crops produced in the U.S. is fed to livestock and poultry....” If we could eat the food we grow to feed the livestock that we slaughter to eat, we’d have enough affordable food to feed Every Body. And think of all of the other resources that would free up. Hold on, I think I just solved the oil crisis! Okay, I’m willing to share credit with the other 4.7 million or so Vegetarian-Americans out there. And maybe some science dudes.

I’m curious what others think. Just in the last week, there have been higher prices at the market that made me adjust my grocery list. Omnivores, are you cutting back on meat purchases as food prices rise? It’s easier than ever to give veg a go. The InterWebs are chock full of amazing recipes and tips, and almost anything can be made vegetarian or vegan with minor substitutions.
A group of friends, of whom I am the only vegetarian, just had our monthly potluck, and it turned out to be an all veg success. I’ll even venture to say that no one missed the meat. Come on, food crisis, I’m ready for you. What else have you got?

(Photos courtesy of Flickr members Muffet and yoshiko314.)


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