What’s Your Personal Food Policy?

Tom’s got a policy. Do you?

The Thanksgiving holiday brings together an often incompatible assembly of  vegetarians, paleoterians, pescatearians, breatharians and folks who just don’t give a damn, to share a meal. While I’m sure many family gatherings pass without controversy, many of the readers of this blog probably end up in uncomfortable discussions about where our food comes from. It’s a holiday that provokes a consideration of what Mark Bittman calls our “personal food policy.”

The point Bittman makes about developing a personal food policy is that our choices at the dinner table make a difference. We all have to eat and we vote with our supermarket dollars. Just as our Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack helps craft our nation’s schizophrenic food policies, I thought the Thanksgiving holiday would be an appropriate moment to define my own personal food policy.

But as I started to write down my personal food policy I discovered so many contradictions and exceptions that I just stopped. My own personal food policy, when considered honestly, was almost as tangled as the USDA’s. Yes, sometimes we manage to grow all of our greens, but other times bugs/bad soil/forgetfulness in the garden sends us on a trip to our local discount Armenian supermarket. Other times we’re so busy that we pick up prepared crap at Trader Joes. And frankly, my personal food policy, started to sound a bit holier than thou. As Rumi says,

Spiritual arrogance is the ugliest of all things.
It’s like a day that’s cold and snowy,
and your clothes are wet too!

One issue, however, that over the years I’ve come to feel strongly about is factory raised meat. I just can’t eat it anymore. It used to be that, out of courtesy, I’d eat anything served to me when I’m a guest at another person’s house. I’m not sure I can still do this. As Michael Pollan says, “Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do.” And those walls have become transparent to me. I’ll happily eat meat, but only if I know it was humanely raised or hunted.

So, dear Root Simple readers, what’s your personal food policy?

And, of course, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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13 Comments

  1. Our food policy is a work in progress, for sure. Right now we are 6 months into our “no buying veggies” policy–we are working on eating seasonally with only what we grow. Obviously here in Massachusetts, that challenge is about to get a whole lot more interesting as we head into the winter, and we see if we were able to lay by enough to get us through. We also recently added eggs to the “no buy” list, but again, that will be leaner in the winter. As our berry bushes and small orchard mature, we are hoping to add fruit to that list next year. We don’t have enough room for our own animals (except maybe rabbit and meat chickens), but my goal is to keep layering a new “rule” every few months as we get good at the previous “rules.” I think we’ll be working on building up our homemade baking skills and coursing local grain over the winter (all that inside time is great for getting the kids to be bakers too).

    For us, it’s not about being sticklers for the rules so much as sticking to it in order to learn how to make it work. We’ll go buy veg in February if we need to, but we’ll learn what we need to plant and/or store more of if we run out, and we’ll try to get it right for the next season. I guess this is like farming with a net?

  2. For the sake of my sanity and our budget with two children under 3, I don’t go too crazy worrying about every item we eat, but we do try to eat whole foods and support our local farmers as much as possible, and I always buy organic grassfed dairy (especially since my toddler usually drinks upwards of a quart of milk a day). We try to source the meat we buy from local farms that pasture raise their animals, and sometimes I’ll buy one of the whole organic chickens from the grocery store, but mostly we try to fill the freezer with venison when my husband is successful during the hunting season. We’ve been raising chickens for eggs for the past three years, and this year we actually raised heritage breed turkeys for meat as well, to make the most of our half-acre pasture. We now also have friends who are raising poultry and family members who are raising pigs, and sometimes we’ll make trades with them. I find that raising poultry is a lot of work and expense for not a whole lot of food, but it helps me appreciate all that goes into the food we eat and allows me to honor the animals by giving them good lives and respectful deaths, so it’s worth it to me.

  3. I feel the same way about animal products, especially meat. Unfortunately, this year, my mom got a free Turkey from Safeway and free is a hard thing to resist when you are feeding a house full of people. I do not have enough self control to resist at least a little turkey on Thanksgiving Day, but I am already planning on offering to buy the turkey for next year, because factory farmed animals leave me with a very heavy conscience and a heavy heart.

  4. I don’t know that I’ve got a policy so much as a guiding principle: don’t be a jerk. I tend to avoid non local food, I tend to gravitate towards my local co-op, but there are exceptions. I’ve got gastric issues that far outweigh politics however, so that’s often the more pressing matter- I can’t do massive amounts of animal fat, dairy, caffeine or spices, so, as much as I might prefer to eat locally made cheese, with fair trade coffee, and a farm-to-plate jerk chicken, that’d result in the same effect as going to a fast food franchise. So, I just do my best to not be a jerk to anyone, including myself, and if I’m a jerk, I swear it’s not on purpose, and I’ll try better next time.

  5. This is definitely worth some serious thought. Thank you for the suggestion.

    We exclusively buy local, humanely raised meat. It is more expensive, but we have really reduced our meat consumption anyway, so we can afford the little that we buy (and when we buy, we buy in bulk).

    I try to hold myself to not eating meat at restaurants unless I know that it came from a local, sustainable farm. But occasionally I break that rule when I’m traveling because there just are no vegetarian options available.

    I’m not sure how to handle the meat issue in other people’s homes. On one hand it’s a teachable moment, but on the other you take the risk of of offending your host and isolating them farther from the good food movement.

    I’ll need to think more about this. Thanks again for the literal food for thought.

  6. My policy: No meat at all. No dairy at all. Only eggs from my pet chickens or my neighbors’ chickens. No slavery chocolate.

  7. Our food policy is convoluted like yours. We eat local, pesticide free, and direct from the farmer…except when we don’t. I am assuaging my guilt over some of the food purchases made out of convenience by remembering that every little bit helps. Every ethical choice I make helps build a market for those producers. Drops fill buckets.

    We buy organic dairy and most meat (except for supermarket rotisserie chickens a couple of times a month…I know, but there are no humanely raised options available here and we can only eat so many versions of quick scrambled eggs). I swallow my principles when I am a guest, because I can’t figure out how to ask where the food came from without being insufferable. Anyone who is likely to feed me also knows I am not vegetarian. Suggestions?

  8. Our food policy has a descending order: Produced by us, produced locally, or produced organically but imported from elsewhere. We do not purchase meat, eggs, or dairy from a factory producer (organic or not). I do always feel like a jerk whenever I put it into writing, but that’s how we eat. As a guest, I always assume it is potluck and bring a giant salad.

  9. Our food policy is very simple, most of the time support local farmers, support local businesses. Our freezer is full of lamb raised a couple hour’s drive away. Our veal is raised by a woman farmer who comes to our tiny farmer’s market in our “transitional” urban neighborhood. Eggs, chicken, bacon and fruits come from that same farmer’s market. We try to make as many purchases from a small bodega that sells local as well as convential foods. We don’t demand too much from the local small businesses in the neighborhood because there is still a risk (crime/vandalism) opening up here. Making sure they survive the first few years is more important to us for the sake of community over particular food rules. But the restaurants that tout organic or local we support more.

    The other times we shop at Costco, or stop off at one of the major supermarkets (Giant, Yes! Organic, Trader Joe’s, Safeway, etc) on the way back home for a few things. It’s not 100%, but it’s not my highest priority because it is only a support for a higher priority.

  10. I may have posted this before, but on the meat issue, I don’t think many would eat factory meat if they experienced what it does to others who haven’t been exposed to our antibiotic-filled, hormone-stuffed, at times (unknowingly) cannibalistic meat. A friend who moved to the States who loved steak began losing weight to a dangerous level after about a year and a half. Once she went back it stopped. She returned for a job and within six months began again losing weight until she looked skeletal. It took a while, but the doctors traced it to the hormones in meat speeding up her metabolism. Of course she cut out all animal meat in this country. It took about nine years for her body to stabilize. She still hates milk shakes (as she was required to drink at least two a day for years), and what a sad thing that is.

  11. When a guest, I eat what I’m served, although if the host offers a choice, I’ll choose a cheese dish over meat, or hunted meat over factory-farmed. At home, I don’t buy factory-farmed meat (meaning we eat very little meat due to cost), try to avoid dairy with rBGH (tho’ sometimes it’s impossible to tell), buy fair-trade, organic chocolate, coffee, and tea (having met a coffee farmer who talked about people dying on the plantations due to chemical spraying), and buy local, seasonal produce to the extent possible. We do have a locally owned grocery store that gets produce from within our state, so that is a help for things I can’t get from local farms. Local eggs aren’t really available, so I get organic. I also try to avoid anything that might contain GMO corn or soy. We do go out to eat and buy some canned soup and crackers for when we are sick and can’t get out. Nothing’s perfect, right? I just do the best I can. My number one rule is to be thankful that I have an abundance of food, and to be active in helping those who don’t.

  12. Thanks for sharing.
    -Our food policy:
    NO factory-farmed meats. (This one is strict.)
    NO processed foods. (Well, okay… maybe the occasional thing slips through.)
    NO preservatives. (Salt is cool though.)
    Only local, pastured eggs. (Unless we’re out for breakfast.)
    NO corn, very little wheat. (Food allergies.)
    Home grown produce whenever possible, otherwise as local, in-season and pesticide-free as possible depending on availability and budget.

    We struggle with eating out/eating with friends due to my wife’s severe corn allergy and because of it, we can usually avoid eating anything outside our personal food policy without offending people.

    -However, we’ve learned that challenging a chef on his/her knowledge of ingredients is not fun. Pretty much everyone claims they make their food “from scratch”. -Our ideas of “from scratch” are usually pretty different.

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