A few years ago, I learned of the terrible conditions animals endure in factory farms, and the devastating impact these operations have on our health and the planet. I decided to change my diet. What I never expected was just how political and touchy the subject of food is for most people.
Often, my conversations about these issues with people who've never given much thought to them end with the person telling me "I don't want anyone telling me what to eat." As if I'd just shouted, "See that broccoli over there, eat it!"
I suspect the real issue is this: No one wants to feel like a dick. When people tell me eating meat is just a personal choice, and I counter by pointing out that meat production is one of the leading causes of global warming, deforestation, water scarcity, and world hunger... well, you get the idea.
But what's so interesting about this knee-jerk response ("stop telling me what to eat") is that while people become peeved over me supposedly now planning their breakfast, lunch and dinner, they're very happy to take that advice from the meat, dairy, and restaurant industries who ARE telling you what to eat, every minute of every day.
"Beef, it's what for dinner." "Pork, the other white meat." "Milk, it does a body good." Sound familiar? These are the slogans of multi-million dollar ad campaigns paid for by multi-billion dollar corporations hard at work getting American consumers to eat more of the animal-based foods they produce and profit from. I don't hear any of my meat-eating friends throwing a fit over another celebrity with a milk mustache. Why not? They're only in every magazine. I'm tired of the dairy industry telling me what to eat, dammit!
And how about restaurants? You can't turn on the TV without seeing endless slow motion shots of lemon being squeezed on fish and shrimp (Red Lobster), steaks on the grill (Outback Steakhouse), or chickens dreaming of being slaughtered (Foster Farms). Or how about McDonald's not only telling you what to eat, but also telling your children. Happy Meals are specifically targeted to kids to lure them in with plastic toys.
Our parents tell us what to eat from the time we're born. I certainly don't remember by mom asking me what I wanted to eat when I was a child. Oh sure, maybe I had a choice between hamburgers or hotdogs but I was never offered any insight into where either came from so I could've made an informed choice.
Culture and society further instill our eating habits. Does anyone question eating turkey on Thanksgiving? Does anyone even know why we eat turkey on Thanksgiving? Would it matter to anyone that historians actually believe that Pilgrims ate fish at the first Thanksgiving? And when did pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce enter the equation? Yet we mindlessly do as we are told.
The truth is that most people are just fine being told what to eat, as long as it validates what they're already doing. What they're really complaining about, when confronted with unpleasant truths, is: Don't make me think about what I'm eating.
Isn't it time we stop shooting the messenger and instead say: "That sucks. What can I do about it?"