Where Logic Meets Love

The Stepping Stones to a Change of Heart

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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The Stepping Stones to a Change of Heart | Faith Permeating Life
Thanks to everyone who left such thoughtful comments on my previous post. I provided some updates in my replies, but I wanted to mention those here as well.

Mike and I just sent off our subscription for a Community-Support Agriculture (CSA) share. We're going to get six months of meat and five months of produce, plus a "storage share" at the end of the growing season of squashes, potatoes, onions, and such that will last us through the end of the year. We're also going to get eggs, honey, and jam from the farm. The farm is farther away than I'd hoped -- about 150 miles -- but given that I was initially operating under the assumption that we couldn't get local farm food, finding one that delivered close to us at all was a revelation and allowed us to make this positive change.

If you add up the total cost for our subscription and divide it over the amount of time we hope to make all that food last, it comes out to roughly $114 a month. (It's about $170 a month just counting the months we're receiving food.) Since we have a budget of $280 a month but have actually spent under $150 some months (which includes meat and vegetables), it's not going to affect our budget as much as I'd anticipated. We have $50 set aside each month for a good cause, so we're borrowing that money for the CSA subscription. $280 + $50 = $330; subtracting $170 leaves $160 for all of our other groceries, which is do-able.

This is good news for Mike, our resident chef and grocery shopper, who had just subscribed to a $5-a-month meal plan that sent recipes using what's on sale at Aldi. We figured switching to Aldi was going to save us money anyway, so if Mike is able to sub out the meat and veggies in the recipes for whatever we get each month and buy the rest at Aldi, we should actually end up in pretty good shape budget-wise, not to mention health-wise.

Because I feel good about 1) supporting a local farm, 2) getting humanely raised meat, and 3) getting organically grown vegetables for our main groceries, I don't mind continuing to get other groceries from the store. I do see more small steps coming in our future. There's a place near us that makes bread and other baked goods with all local ingredients, so we'll probably check them out. I'm sure we'll stop by at least one farmers' market this summer, and maybe try to get some extras to store for the winter. (This is something Kingsolver mentions quite a few times -- stock up at the farmers' market and then can or freeze the veggies, and you'll have organic veggies through the winter plus increase the chance that that farmer will be back next summer.)

I also made the decision to avoid meat -- within reason -- at restaurants. I was never comfortable with the idea of becoming a full-blown vegetarian and having to worry about getting enough protein and other nutrients in my diet, but knowing we're going to have this stash of meat at home (which is where we eat the majority of our meals anyway), I feel like I can forgo meat while eating out. I am still OK with participating in a few meat-centric meals, like summer barbecues and our family's occasional buffalo wing night. (My husband's family is from Buffalo, so I feel like I'd be a traitor if I gave those up!) For me, it's about those small steps, with the hope that if I don't make my choices look too difficult or strict, it will encourage others to follow suit.

There were a lot of different factors that led me to make these decisions; here are a few big ones:
  • Obviously, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle played a big role in educating me about local eating, but a few key points stood out to me. One was reading about the United States' absolutely ridiculous regulations (or lack thereof) regarding testing meat for BSE, or mad-cow disease. Another was discovering the many different options for eating local, from farmers' markets to CSAs to restaurants that use all local ingredients. Another was simply being educated about when things are in season, so it didn't seem so daunting to try to eat in season. And finally, finding out that Kingsolver still bought energy bars at the grocery store and ate out at restaurants (minus eating CAFO-raised meat). That made a local lifestyle seem less extreme and more do-able.

  • I got in a conversation with my boss when our department went out to lunch a week or so ago; he ordered a vegetarian item and then explained that since he's been teaching an Environmental Science class, it's kind of guilted him into wanting to become vegetarian because of everything he's learning and teaching. He said he has a hard time reconciling that, though, with the fact that our biology is made for eating meat. I told him about the book I was reading and said something like, "Well, it's not really about the meat, it's about where it's raised, and really you should be eating local produce too, if you're concerned about the environment." We had a long and really interesting conversation about this, comparing what Animal, Vegetable, Miracle said to what his class's textbook said, and he ended up sounding really overwhelmed by how he couldn't make all the changes he wanted to. I found myself coaching him about taking small steps and doing what he could, then walked away from the conversation feeling ridiculous because I wasn't doing any of those things myself.

  • Ever since I started reading this book and talking about it, Mike has started planning and researching more about what animals he wants to raise when we have a house. (Apparently what we've been calling a "mini-farm" is properly called a "homestead.") I got so frustrated with the idea that we had to wait to make changes to our lifestyle that I finally got on the Internet, "just to see," and discovered LocalHarvest.org, and the CSA that delivered near us. Then I started doing the math, and finally went, OK, let's do this.

I can't help but again draw comparisons to Christianity in my "conversion" to eating more local food and less CAFO meat. I appreciate that no one -- even Kingsolver, in her book -- aggressively tried to convert me into being either a locavore or a vegetarian. There were just these small pieces along the way that all eventually led to a change in my behavior. I've heard that more than once from people talking about converting to Christianity, that it was small things that formed a path to believing. In fact, I don't recall anyone ever saying, "So-and-so got up in my face and told me I was going to Hell, and argued with me, and then finally I realized I was wrong and I believed." Have you ever heard that conversion story from anyone? I'd be interested to know.

Before my grandparents were married, my granddad converted to Catholicism from something else -- Episcopalian, maybe -- and it wasn't because my grandmom issued any sort of ultimatum that he had to become Catholic; it was because my grandmom's mother had such a strong faith, always saying her rosary and talking about the Virgin Mary, that it left an impression on my granddad, and he started talking to his Navy chaplain about Catholicism. He ultimately went on to become a Catholic deacon and a devotee of Padre Pio, healing people with one of Padre Pio's gloves. In a lot of ways I see this story as similar to that of Kingsolver's daughter's friend, who went from never giving a second thought to where her food came from to "volunteer[ing] on local farms and develop[ing] a sincere interest in agricultural methods that preserve biodiversity." This was sparked by a conversation about why Kingsolver's family wasn't buying bananas at the grocery store. Changes of heart can be dramatic, but they often start with small pieces that fall into place along the way.

My challenge to you, if you haven't already done so, is to go on LocalHarvest.org and just see what's around you. Of course I would also highly recommend Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. But I won't recommend any specific changes. Do something, even a small thing, that works for you. Or just start thinking about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. eating locally in Alaska is difficult and expensive. I do stock the freezer with salmon I catch myself each summer (residents can dipnet for 25 fish per member of the household). And I do plan to go to the farmer's market more this year. I just signed up for an organic produce delivery service but it was not local enough and the quality sucked, so I'll go back to buying organic at the grocery store I guess.

  2. @Becca
    Sorry to hear that! It sounds like you're trying to do what you can, which is great. About.com has information by state about eating local; I don't know if this is of any help but maybe you can find some people who have had a better experience. That's very cool that you catch your own salmon. I grew up in the Seattle area and I miss having fresh salmon (or any fresh fish) on a regular basis!


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