Rethinking ‘You Are What You Eat”

Rethinking ‘You Are What You Eat”


Eden Farber
Eden Farber

They say, “You are what you eat.” It’s very simple, then. I am an avocado. However, I think the saying has more to it than the literal meaning.

I think it’s a cautionary tale; it’s telling you to keep in mind what you’re putting in your body and then see if it properly reflects what your beliefs. Is it mass produced or farmed? Does it have pesticides or is it organic? Is it plant-based or animal-based?

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A little less than a year ago, I became a vegetarian. A little less than a month ago, I went vegan. This process has been extremely eye-opening for me. The vegan ideology has really struck a cord with me, and since eliminating animal products I’ve felt healthier and more connected to my world.

But that’s not the point of this column.

While I had always been aware on some level of my food, what really opened my eyes was a lecture that I attended at Congregation Shearith Israel called, “Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows” by Dr. Melanie Joy.

Of the many interesting and insightful points she made, one really stuck out to me. Veganism is a diet attached to a belief system. Vegetarianism is a diet attached to a belief system. When I wrote earlier that I was vegan, (before disclosing my reasoning for it) I gave you a certain impression of who I am.

What is the belief system attached to the normal diet – the most pervasive one? Meat-eating? That’s the action. Many would say there is no belief system, because we’ve accepted that it’s normal, but also because we tend to ignore what “it” is.

I’ll leave you to read the rest in her book.

Since taking on this new understanding of the food world, I’ve also noticed just how big of a world it really is. Have you ever thought about how much money you spend on food every week? Every day? What about how much time you spend preparing food? Or thinking about it?

Food not only fuels us but it also has huge social values, as well as monetary ramifications. So how is it that can we not even think about what we’re eating?

Not everyone should be vegan; not everyone should be vegetarian, pescetarian, carnistic (meat-eating), or any other diet. The issue with eating healthy is that there is no one “Solution.” Everyone will say something else is healthy, or that something else will kill you—and on some level, they’re probably right.

My argument is that with all the energy and resources we spend on food, and with food being what we need to live, I think that everyone should be more aware of what they’re eating.

Hank Green, internet activist, said, “I believe in a kind of self-flagellation…when I eat meat, I consider the impact my decisions have on the world an individual lives.”

For me, that means not eating animal products. For someone else, that means not eating fish, or not eating veal, not eating dairy. The point is, even though it’s an uncomfortable, difficult conversation to have, it is crucial.

“You are what you eat” isn’t literal—it’s a question. Do you stand by your breakfast cereal? It’s a question you can answer “yes” to as well. When carnism is a conscious choice, it’s a valid one. It’s only when we do it because everybody else does, and we don’t realize and accept what it actually involves, that it’s cruel.

So, if you are what you eat…who are you?

Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.


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