7.3 million Americans in 2008 were vegetarian. That number is likely to have doubled by 2014 and, really, it is no wonder people are turning off meat when chefs like Jaimie Oliver reveal how hamburgers are made at McDonalds and when documentaries like Fed-Up and Food, inc make you never want to look at a food again unless it is a safe, leafy green thing.
The rise of vegetarianism and veganism can be partly attributed to the horror stories we hear about factory farms, overcrowded animals in concrete boxes with no sun and inhumane raising and butchering practices. But it may be too simple to suggest that the growing moral sensibility regarding food origins come from a nation-wide newfound enlightenment about how ingredients are processed.
We could say that people are more conscious now of the provenance of food for the sake of their health, for the sake of quality, and for the sake of taste and all of those reasons are legitimate impulses for changing the way we eat. But what if the organic, all-natural, local food movement began in some other place? Such as a deep, cultural fear of the world at large.
Not to sound too dramatic, but the rise of vegetarianism and veganism could also be seen as a reaction to a general lack of feeling in control. All us regular people take in bad news everyday. The media reports stories of how the economy is a mess, the environment is on the brink of disaster and the political stage looks more like a darkly funny circus act every year.
Therefore, the average person, feeling paralyzed by the messiness of global living, turns instead to something they think they can control. Their food.
When you think about it that way, the popularity of various form of meat-free diets start to make more sense. As a single human being, I cannot fix the global climate change problem or stop the ice-caps from melting, but I can buy cage-free eggs and not eat meat from farm that mistreat their animals, I can not eat meat at all, and by doing so it makes the over-crowded factory-farms less valuable. At least that’s what I hope for.
Maybe our food choices are driven by fear, maybe by a moral sensibility, maybe by a passion for good food. Whatever the reason, does it make a difference in the long run? Maybe, maybe not. But I like to think so. I like to think of food as being a good start. And since we all have to eat anyway, why not eat all-natural, organic, cage-free, hormone-free, vegan, raw, non-homogenized, rBST-free, local, non-processed food? Even if it does sound like a lot of work.