I felt so stimulated by the responses to my meat substitutes post that I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, with the wheels in the brain turning more fluidly than they have in a while. Which isn’t to say that I have lots of answers to the puzzles posed during that e-conversation, but that my mind feels active and dynamic in the all the ways one could hope for. So, for that, I thank all of you who read and engaged with the thoughts I posted on Friday.
In general, the feeling that I was left with after mulling over the nuances of the environmental arguments for vegetarianism was one of overwhelming complexity. It’s hard to make blanket rules besides, perhaps, “Try to know where your food comes from.” As Minkster’s comment makes so clear, most of these decisions are context-dependent; eating meat when the environment you live in supports meat-production more than it supports agriculture makes environmental sense, but not so much so when you live in agriculturally-rich areas where fruits and vegetables are more efficiently-produced than is grain-fed meat. [Though, along with Megan’s point about the “habit” of vegetarianism and the loss of desire for meat, I don’t think I could easily switch to a diet of moose or salmon, deer or halibut, caribou or crab if I were to move to Alaska for a year or less, even if I knew it was more environmentally and culturally sustainable. If I knew the place would be my home for the long-term, however, I would likely convince myself to develop new eating habits…but I guess that’s why I think I’ll stay away from Alaska (because I don’t actually want to eat meat!), even if, according to my Alaska-dwelling friend JB, it looks like this:
Though, of course, Gregory's** comment about the wealth of local meat sources even in the lower 48 reminds me that sometimes those might be more sustainable than the alternatives--like the tofu and almond milk he mentions, which I also consume.] (can’t leave the bracket hanging!)
And to again bring forth the idea of context-dependence, as Mike from Korea* writes, the question about processed meat substitutes might be totally moot if you don't live in a country where veggie burgers are more or less forced upon non-meat-eaters, at least in many restaurant settings (as seems to be the case in the U.S.). The fact that Mike's transition from “omnivore to vegan” was also a transition “from processed foods to whole ones,” makes me realize that that precise sort of confluence of dietary choices is the one I’m trying to champion here in this series of posts. It worries me, I suppose, that the shape of vegetarianism in the U.S. sometimes leads in the direction of replacing low-quality meat with low-quality meat substitutes, though I understand that the latter can sometimes add an element of comfort or familiarity to those who grew up within a certain food culture (as Veganist Kathy Freston partially argues in this HuffPo piece).
As for Molly’s comments about the economies of scale of processed-food production and the fact that soy and corn are being produced in massive quantities whether or not Boca makes use of some of those products: these are excellent points. In fact, Justin made many of those same points last week when I was shaking my head at the ingredients listed on the back of a Tofurky package (even as I enjoyed the taste of this processed-food product and thought about how it might some day save our potentially-vegetarian potential children from lunchroom ridicule). While it is true that the scale at which companies like Boca/Kraft operate probably makes their energy efficiency fairly high, it still seems baffling that a veggie burger should have 13-23 ingredients, depending on whether you count all the individual ingredients that make up the “Enriched Textured Soy Protein Concentrate Product,” and that so many of them should be factory-produced ingredients that couldn’t be found in a home kitchen (Especially when it’s possible to make a delicious veggie patty at home with as few as 6 ingredients).
On top of that, I suppose that even if Boca’s energy efficiency is impressive or if there demand on conventional corn/soy isn't significant, I’m very motivated by the idea of “voting with my fork” and “voting with my dollar” and making food choices based partly on giving money to food producers who I trust and who I want to support in monetary ways. Surely local Wisconsin farmers will make better use of my money, and will value it more, than the huge conglomerate that Boca represents.
I’ll end here, though I have much more to say about the fear of being a “preachy” vegan/vegetarian, about actually making food choices, and about the complexity of conscious consumption more broadly. For future posts!
Thanks again, to you all, for being part of this conversation.