Being ecotarian: the complexity of food

I have an essay published in the fifth issue of Kill Your Darlings. It’s about my transition from veganism to ‘ecotarianism.’ Here are the first few paragraphs:

It all started with an egg. Several, actually, from our neighbour’s chickens. My daughter, Lily, and I were pottering around our veggie patch when our neighbour invited us over to visit their chooks. Our neighbour’s garden is inspiring; huge and full of veggies and fruit, with a big airy pen containing three hens, who spend most of their time wandering around the garden stealing vegetables. My neighbour showed Lily the hens’ nesting boxes and offered her some eggs. I was stumped.

My husband and I were both vegans and we’d been raising Lily as one too, but I couldn’t help thinking ‘Why not?’. Here was a source of protein that had travelled almost nowhere to get to us, and while it did come from animals, I had no objection to the way these animals were treated. These eggs also had a lower environmental impact than our vegan sources of protein. This made them better for the biosphere and all its animals. I accepted the eggs, but my brain felt like it was exploding.

When I became a vegan at fifteen I thought it was the most straightforward way of ensuring I made the most ethical choices when it came to food. I was already a vegetarian, having been horrified at age five by the idea of eating animals. Once I had full knowledge of the way animals were treated on factory farms, veganism was a natural transition.

At first I was like any born-again convert – I preached the good word and tried to convert others. I believed veganism was the pinnacle of ethical consumption and hoped others would come to understand this. Some did (guys who wanted to date me, mostly). Most didn’t.

As time passed, my militancy mellowed. I was keen for people to understand that vegan food was more than just lettuce sandwiches and tofu, but I stopped caring so much about whether they wanted to join the club. But I still struggled to understand why people would choose to eat meat, and I still saw veganism as a ‘gold standard’ for ethical consumption.

My simplistic viewpoint began to unravel well before my neighbour and her chickens intervened. I began struggling with issues for which veganism provided no clear guide. It started with fair trade and organic food, both of which minimised the impacts of my food choices on other people and the environment. I also learned more about the increase of corporate control over the food chain. Responding to these issues added a new layer of complexity to my food consumption, but it was still mostly compatible with veganism.

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