Ruminations on Veganism

(Sophie Reingold • The Student Life)I pause as I try to remember where the dining hall is. As a new transfer to Pitzer College, you could say that my lackluster sense of direction is the least of the craziness of adjusting to a new school. One new experience I'm adjusting to is the refreshing level of awareness about social justice at the 5Cs, particularly in the areas of food and environmental justice.

If you ask a random person what they believe to be the number one source of pollution, they might respond with “cars” or “factories.” From my experiences, it’s rare to have someone respond with “the agriculture and food industry.” As members of society, the vast majority of us have become disconnected from the impact we have on animals and the environment. In addition, most would dismiss the notion that we are also perpetuating a continuous cycle of disrespect to both animals and other human beings.

This is most evident during grocery shopping. When the average person looks at a package of chicken breast or a steak, they don’t visualize animals being slaughtered in large numbers, or the exploitation of other people; they see the beginnings of dinner for that night. Take Brazil, for example, in which 5.6 million acres are used to grow feed (mostly soybeans) that is transported to livestock in Europe. Not only does agriculture lead to deforestation and immense pollution, but the land used for growing animal feed such as soybeans is land not being used to grow crops for the Brazilian people, thus contributing to poverty.

A similar situation occurs in the United States, where a large amount of land is used for the mass production of corn and livestock. This both forces farmers to become part of the system to remain profitable and also produces an industry that sees humans, most notably undocumented immigrants, as expendable resources. However, there are a few people who do take an active stance in opposing this cruelty and lack of respect toward animals, people, and our world.

Still, society, for the most part, has rather unappetizing assumptions about vegans. Some criticize them for doing it for attention or for being hipsters. Others deride vegan food because it doesn't appeal to their own palettes; one of my less conscientious friends used to joke about how vegans were human rabbits. Not to mention that the food industry lacks accessible options for vegans as compared to omnivores or even vegetarians. Yet what are the actual reasons behind a lifestyle of impressive willpower and dedication to both animal rights and environmental respect?

Before I came to the 5Cs, I hadn’t spent much thought or effort questioning the industry that allows me to so easily make my favorite baked pork or spaghetti sauce. In the past month, however, I’ve not only engaged in this conversation, I’ve also learned the more practical side of it through vegan-friendly recipes. Admittedly, cooking vegan food is more difficult than I initially expected, but I’ve found the experience rewarding. I'm developing the ability to prepare full meals that are still delicious and balanced, and are nothing like stereotypical vegan meals of nothing but greens. Granted, my first attempt at vegan cookies was the equivalent of a thermonuclear fallout in the kitchen, but that’s beside the point.

Coming from a background where both meat and vegetables are celebrated, my experiences with this dialogue about food and environmental sustainability has been not just one of morality and stewardship, but also a sort of internal ethnic dialogue. Growing up in a Korean family and living in South Korea, Japan, and Singapore, I experienced cultures and countries that had many types of non-meat dishes, but also celebrated meat in a way that the United States does not. In South Korea, for example, meat was at one point a food reserved for royalty and the nobility. In Japan, sushi and the consumption of fish is an inseparable part of the country’s history and culture. Singapore is a country with a cornucopia of peoples and cultures who have contributed to a unique culinary culture with a variety of seafood and meat dishes that are inexorably linked to the identity of this island city-state. In addition to engaging others, it’s been an interesting period of introspection as I try to mull over the impact of the meat industries in my many homes and determine whether or not there is too much disrespect present to contribute to them.

To round things up, I offer you readers one of my favorite vegan recipes: lemon artichoke pesto. It’s a very tangy and tasty alternative to not only herb-based pestos, but sauces in general. It goes well with not only pasta, but salads, wraps, the whole shabang. It’s also simple, cheap, and produces enough for a few meals. So without further ado:

Ingredients:

1 can quartered artichoke hearts

1/2 cup olive oil

6 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon rind

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Store in an airtight container in a refrigerator.

Serving suggestions:

This sauce goes excellently with pasta noodles, wraps, and sandwiches, and is a great alternative for horseradish-based sauces.

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