As you might remember, I’m currently in the middle of doing a year of slow living experiments. I say you might remember because you wouldn’t have known it in June. One of the commitments I made to myself before starting these experiments is that I wouldn’t write them on a list and do them in order. Instead, I promised myself I would slow down whichever area of my life felt like it needed it most. I experimented with slow mornings, slow money, slow moving, slow breathing, and slow technology because that’s what I needed. And after losing the dogs in May, I needed to do nothing in June. So, that’s what I did.
Well, I didn’t exactly do nothing. I had a quiet week in Victoria with my dad, and another quiet week in Squamish with friends. Then I packed two pieces of carry-on luggage and flew to Minneapolis, where I had another quiet week with friends. From Minneapolis, I hopped in a friends’ car and drove all the way back to Squamish. We spent two nights on a homestead in the Black Hills National Forest, two nights on a ranch outside of Jackson (with Sarah!) and three nights in Boise. It was slow and quiet. Some of the driving days were fast, but we filled them with podcasts and stories and conversation. I didn’t do a slow living experiment. I was living slowly.
I’m grateful I was able to take so much time off in June and that I could spend it with people who love and support me. It was an incredible gift. The only thing that didn’t feel great, by the end of it, was my body. Driving through the Midwest and parts of the West can leave you with few options for food. By the time we entered Wyoming, I was counting down to the day I could make a green smoothie at home. I was making the best choices I could with the options I had, but it wasn’t what I’m used to. And even before I got home, I knew which slow living experiment I needed to do in July: slow food.
What is Slow Food?
The slow food movement started in Italy in 1989, shortly after the country’s first McDonald’s franchise opened in Rome. As their website says, Slow Food is a grassroots organization that was founded “to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.” A lot of the work they do is around food production itself and political activism. It’s a noble cause. But for the sake of this experiment, I’m going to focus on the one thing I can change right now: the food I put into my body.
My Personal Slow Food Experiment
It will start with eating home-cooked meals. I don’t eat a lot of fast food in my normal daily life, as it is, but I’m not going to eat any in July. I want to touch and chop up and cook every ingredient my meals contain. I want to spend just a little more time in the kitchen, so I can appreciate how my meals are prepared. And I would love for my meals to require 10 ingredients or less. The one exception that will allow me to maintain traditions and socialize with friends is I’m going to let myself eat out once a week at the restaurants I know serve locally-sourced food (including the food they grow themselves): The Village in Victoria and Fergie’s in Squamish.
Speaking of locally-sourced food, as part of this experiment, I’m going to see how many ingredients I can swap out for ones that can be sourced in Squamish or in BC as a whole. I’m not going to be super restrictive with this one yet, and not allow myself to eat something just because it’s not from here. I simply want to pay more attention, do some research and swap out as many ingredients as I can.
And then speaking of ingredients, the biggest change I’ll be making this month is cutting out meat from my diet. I was a vegetarian for four years (2009-2013), then went back to eating meat for the past four years, and I have to be honest: it hasn’t always felt great. I really don’t want this to spark any kind of heated arguments, because I think everyone is entitled to eat whatever they want – meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike – so please consider this a safe space for everyone, as we do for every other topic we discuss here. But I do want to share where my head and heart have been at on this topic.
When I decided to become a vegetarian in 2009, it was my way of taking a stance on the animal cruelty that we know exists in the production of our meat. I was a very healthy vegetarian for four years, meaning I ate a balanced diet and got protein from lots of other ingredients. But after travelling for a month straight and not always making healthy choices, I could feel my body physically craving it for the first time and I gave in. Looking back now, I know there were other sources at play. Most of my friends had never supported my decision, so there was definitely some peer pressure. I was also seeing a guy who ate meat and didn’t feel strong enough to maintain my conviction in our new relationship. These aren’t great reasons, I know, but they are honest ones.
I’ve been eating meat again since May 2013, and when I say it hasn’t always felt great, I mean that mostly in a physical sense. As an example, I know my body doesn’t love beef. It just doesn’t. It also doesn’t really like pork. And if we look at non-meat ingredients, like sugar, I know my body doesn’t love that either. It’s interesting that we can know these things about ourselves, but it usually takes a long time (and countless reminders) for us to make a serious change and stop consuming what doesn’t serve us. For me personally, most of my reminders were dished out on the two cross-country road trips I’ve done this year.
There are many different variations of a quote that essentially says we would all be vegetarians if slaughterhouses had glass walls. Whether or not that’s true, I can’t say for sure. But I know I don’t even need to see what happens inside. My heart hurt enough when I saw truck after truck stuffed full of animals on their way to the slaughterhouse on my solo road trip last year. This shouldn’t have been earth-shattering news, but I’ve always been so far removed from the process that seeing it in action gave me pause. So, my own version of that quote would say something along the lines of this: if we could actually see how our food was produced and processed, we might stop eating it.
It gave me pause last summer, but I continued eating meat. From that day on, however, I’ve always felt like there was a misalignment in the food choices I was making. And during the two weeks I was travelling in June, the misalignment became more and more obvious. First, sitting in the passenger seat gave me the opportunity to see even more trucks stuffed full of animals. Then I stayed on that homestead in South Dakota, where the owners were vegan and vegetarian, and we had some great discussions about it (while hanging out with the wife’s chickens). Friends from home sent me news stories about the animal cruelty happening at Lilydale in BC. I felt physically ill for about five days. And then I watched the documentary What the Health on Netflix.
Again, I’m just sharing my personal experience here. I respect everyone’s decision to eat whatever they want and know our decisions are all personal. I think one of the reasons I’ve been so hesitant to switch back to a vegetarian diet is because of the constant criticism it came with. Some people felt like it was a personal attack on their decision to eat meat, and others told me I wasn’t being “good enough to the animals” because I was still eating eggs. The reactions were similar to my decision to quit drinking. Whenever you decide to live a counter-cultural life, people have something to say about it – and when you love those people, it hurts.
But I’m finally at a place where I’m comfortable making the decision to switch back. I know it’s not only a way to say that I care about animal welfare, but it’s also better for my health. (Seriously, watch What the Health.) I don’t know where this change will take me in the future. Maybe I’ll eventually give up eggs and switch to a vegan diet. Maybe I won’t. But in tune with all the experiments I’m doing this year, this is what I need right now.
Experiment #6: Slow Food
- Eat mostly* home-cooked meals
- *Eat out max. once/week at restaurants that use locally-sourced ingredients
- Swap out some ingredients for stuff that can be sourced in Squamish or BC
- Switch back to a vegetarian diet
- Eat slowly :)
My goal for this experiment isn’t for “slow food” to be slow, in that it takes up a lot of time or mental energy. I simply want to continue to make more mindful decisions about the food I’m putting into my body, and enjoy that food rather than eat it like it’s going to be taken away from me. I don’t eat a lot of fast food, but I do have a bad habit of eating food quickly. I want to stop that and appreciate what I get to put into my body each and every day. I also want the food choices I make to align with my values. So, that’s the plan. And before the month is up, I’ll be sure to share some of my favourite meals and recipes with you!
For now, I’d love to know yours: do you have any favourite vegetarian/vegan recipes? Or links to favourite recipe blogs?