Are you going to eat that?

As you can imagine, I think a lot about diet, and what motivates people to choose to eat a certain way. I for example, prefer to primarily alternate between eating whatever food best services as a vehicle for cheese and mushrooms (lettuce or eggs) and gorging on grapes. I find my motivations for feeding myself vary depending on what I am doing, like how much I am exercising, what fruit is in season, if there is salt water taffy around, etc etc. But to be honest, I don’t really have the self-discipline to eat according to a philosophy, especially while on the road, where pragmatics take over a lot of the time.

At first I had the problem of how to keep things cold for more than a day, which made dairy a bit precarious. Now, with Salt Lake holding steady at 25 degrees, I have the opposite problem of not being able to keep my greens from freezing.

I also have the problem of every time I cook, needing to have the same conversation with which ever KOA neighbor just arrived. [Actually, I am heading somewhere colder, not warmer. And yes, I can stay warm in there. Yes, the trailer is awesome. Want to take a look? I am all alone. I guess you could say it’s crazy/brave/goofy/different.] It’s not that I particularly mind chatting with people at the KOA. I kind of enjoy it, but it is seriously the same conversation every time.

Anyway, the point is on this trip I have spent way more time planning and thinking about how I am going to eat that at any previous time in my life. Which gets me on to how other people think about how they eat. I wonder about other people a lot. Frankly, you all are weird, and I don’t get you. Not in a judgey way. Keep on keeping on, weirdos.

But a thing that is quite curious to me is people who stick to a food -ism, and why someone might pick their particular -ism. It’s hard enough for me to figure out what to do eat from a purely practical perspective, so my ear prick up when I learn about those of us who have a strict food dogma.

The obvious one is vegetarianism. I’ve dabbled with this particular -ism myself. It was primarily motivated by environmental concerns. It started as a conscious effort to reduce my meat consumption. Giving up meat is the food group that was easiest for me, and was a personal “carbon offset”. I use a frightening number of disposable cups, so I am trying to make it up to the planet by not eating meat or having an air conditioner. I went to full blown vegetarianism simply to see if I could. I could not. If I considered my food choices to be made in vaccuum, I probably could have done it. But I eat socially, and honestly, I just can’t rally enough to have the “I don’t eat meat” convo every time I want to share a meal with someone.

[Btw, I have since learned there is an -ism for shiftless veggies such as myself. “Flexitarian” it’s called. If I’m not willing to have the meat convo with people, I am certainly not willing to explain the term flexitarian to anyone.]

Then there are the vegetarians who will eat fish (pescatarians), those that won’t eat eggs or dairy (ovo-lacto veg), and the level 5 vegetarians, the vegans. And of course there are the myriad of fad movements. The paleo-diet, the raw diet, South Beach, Atkins, and so on and so forth.

I have very little investment in what anyone else decides to eat. In fact, the only thing I particularly care about is that you tell me before I cook for you. I eat and like to eat almost everything, so it’s no never mind to me if I need to make a gluten free vegan whatever. But like I said, I am constantly wondering about the why of it all.

Now, I just want to warn you. I’m going to talk about bees now. It’s so out of the ordinary for me that I thought you guys should have some time to brace yourselves.

My particular beekeeping path makes me especially interested in what people think about honey. Honey is a pretty universal dietary staple. In fact, the only people I have come across who are iffy on it are people who have never had raw honey, and only ever tasted the tinny pasteurized stuff from China, (everyone, don’t eat that.) or vegans.

Some, but not all, vegans avoid honey for the same reason they avoid meat and dairy. It is an animal byproduct that is being taken in a way that they deem to be cruel and exploitive. 

I will be first, and probably the loudest, critic of the modern beekeeping industry.* But from my point of view, honey is not where bees are being exploited. Honey is a small fraction of the income that the beekeeping industry receives. Most commercial beekeepers make their living from pollination services in the various food crops nationwide that rely on insect pollination. And it’s that system of trucking bees from coast to coast for the majority of their lives, and exposing them to vast fields of pesticides and fungicides in landscapes that they will starve in without our intervention is the cruel and exploitive part. We have created an agricultural landscape where bees simply cannot survive unless we take care of them, and we’re not taking care of them very well.

I recently purchased a vegan alternative to honey, called Bee Free Honee. Kudos to a fellow Minnesota entrepreneur, and her product is certainly tasty. And there are a lot of advantages to having a natural sweetener that is not honey. (For people with allergies, and infants who can’t eat honey), but it’s made exclusively from apples. It is not bee free.

And this where food dogma becomes quite the sticky wicket. Just like every other time rigid rubber of idealism hits the real life road, exceptions and “what about….?” questions come up. It is in an admirable sentiment to want to avoid foods and other products that exploit animals, and I am grateful that there are people who give a lot of concern to bees. But unless we are paying someone to hand pollinate our nation’s apple orchards, there were bees used.

So, then what is the answer? To stop eating food pollinated by bees, and rely solely on crops pollinated by wind? To give you something of an idea of what that would look like, here is an abbreviated list of crops pollinated by honey bees.

Okra, Kiwi, cashews, apples, berries, beets, mustard, broccoli, rapeseed (Canola oil), peppers, chestnuts, coconut, coffee, citrus, almonds, avocados, cotton, pears, celery. The list goes on.

You’ll notice even cotton is on that list. This now becomes about more than food. Vegans avoid leather, wool, silk and pearls because they are animal products. Without bees, there is no cotton. Are we left with just synthetic fibers now?

I am not trying to be an ass to vegans. I would rather talk to a vegan who accuses me of cruelty (as much as it stings) about the bees than someone who dismisses bees as “just bugs”. Because at least the vegans care, and that’s a much easier place to start from. But, bees are not the same as cows or pigs or chickens. We could do without all of those. The simple truth is: we can’t do without our pollinators. We absolutely need them, doing what they do.

So is taking advantage of the bee’s natural behavior an exploitation? I can tell you, they will be out there on all of our food crops anyway, because that’s how they feed themselves. If we plan an agriculture landscape that creates a healthy habitat for the bees is that enough? Should we still avoid taking honey in that situation? Should we only allow feral bees? Or do we go in whole hog and scrap systematic agriculture entirely? There is a balance to be struck somewhere in all of this. And that is because we need the bees, so we have to find a way to do it.

What was I talking about again? Oh, right. Deciding what to eat. Like I said, I have no judgements on what anyone eats, because I don’t want anyone judging what I eat. Listening to me trying to justify why I won’t eat is soy is hilarious because I really can’t, and comes down to me being stubborn and defiant.

I can practically feel the eyes of my old catechism teacher rolling as I type this, but dogmas are unreasonable. Not that I am trying to make an appeal to the Holy See of Veganism to revise their stance on honey or even animal cruelty, or accusing vegans of not taking careful reflection on their lifestyle choices. But the “what about the bees?” question is an important one for anyone who wants to avoid animal products. Those tiny pollinators have their sticky little legs in everything.

So, in conclusion, I have no conclusion. I still am curious as to what makes people decide on their food habits, why some people decide to describe themselves with an -ism, and what that means for the whole damn system. This whole long post comes to a dissatisfying conclusion. And the only real thing I have to say about food choices is the same thing I have to say when someone asks about just about everything I spend any time thinking about.  Whether it’s this, what I am doing with my life, or if I’d like some Soyrizo, it’s to sigh and respond: “It’s complicated.”

*Please note, I said industry, and not commercial beekeepers. These guys are primarily doing the best they can with a dysfunctional food system and an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile. commercial beekeepers have more motivation to want healthy bees than anyone, and only solutions that will work are the ones that keep them in mind.

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