Animals were, and still are, my favorite part of being alive. I put on nature shows as background while writing; I devour anything books and articles on animals. Other kids had cars or sports stars on their walls. I had cheetahs, hippos, whales, giraffes… and He-Man, who's his own unique kind of 80’s animal. I played with plastic animals and read encyclopedia entries on animals. I could spit out facts about more or less any animal you could think of. And I still kill at dinner parties where I can spew information about a pig’s corkscrew shaped penis.
Come to think of it, I haven’t been invited to any dinner parties in a while.
Knowing this (my animal obsession, not pig cock-facts), my mother supposedly asked me once when I was four or five and dining on some form of bovine-based red meat, if I knew that what I was eating came from a dead cow. I say supposedly because, well, I have no concrete recollection of this tale.
My mother, a long-time vegetarian whose own mother who hadn't eaten an animal product since the age of six, hoped that pointing this out would cause some kind of connection between my animal obsession and my diet. It did, but not in the way that she expected.
Supposedly, I paused, looked up at the heavens, and proclaimed, “Thank you, cow.”
I was probably just being a wiseass. A skill I have refined, but not quite polished, over the years.
Regardless, I dashed my mom’s hopes of my following in my maternal line's non-meat eating footsteps.
More importantly, I set the building blocks of my relationship with food going forward. While I don’t remember the incident, I do remember that whenever I ate meat going forward, I would say “thank you, cow” or “thanks chicken”. I thought that the animal gave itself for my food. And I appreciated it.
I actually had fucking spectacular eating habits back then. I ate, and loved, vegetables and fruits. Didn’t eat cheese. Didn’t like rich, saucy food (much to the dismay of my Indian parents). I basically ate produce and meat. Out of choice, I might add. I just wouldn’t eat what the rest of my family would eat. I had to just have very simple food. I fucking killed it at dinner parties back then too! “We got pizza for the kids.” “Well, Pheroze doesn’t eat pizza. But he’ll eat some dried out beef. Or just take off the cheese and sauce and he might eat the bread. Or just give the damn kid an apple and a glass of water and let him starve.”
Fussy, but smart.
As most people in this day and age do, once I became subject to food marketing and peer pressure, I started eating like shit. The typical western diet became my staple.
I became conscious of this about fifteen years ago, but didn’t know what to do about it. So I started playing around with my eating. Name it and I’ve tried it, and done it for an extended period of time. Veganism (led to the worst health I've ever been in), fasting (no food or shakes for forty days. Just liquid. I was stupid.), no-carb (terrible over the long term), organic-only (bullshit due to regulations) and any permutation of omission, addition, or modification of nourishment you can think of.
I didn’t make peace with a way of eating until about three years ago. And even now, I’m still refining it and experimenting with certain things. And I work with a great coach who helps me finesse my diet to my goals and desires.
I’ve explored so many ways of eating that I consider myself pretty fucking good at figuring out diets, both for myself and for other people.
But what led to the shift in my diet three years ago? Re-implementing what I had hit upon as a kid.
I started thanking the food I ate.
If I was eating steak, I would think of the cow who had given up her life for my nourishment. I’d think of the knocker, who slammed her head with a sledgehammer, and felled her to the ground. I’d think of the carvers and butchers who cut her apart. I’d think of the farmers who penned her, the farmers who fed her grass or grain. I’d think of the packaging plant who wrapped her up in plastic. I’d think of the truck drivers who delivered her to the grocery store. I’d think of the cashier who rang me up, or the staff at the restaurant I was eating at.
Then, I’d thank them all.
All these beings, working together so I can eat a damn steak.
I started doing the same thing for all my food: bread, rice, oats, fruit, vegetables, candy, dessert, chocolate, donuts. Fucking donuts rock so much (I’m dieting to cut weight right now, so do-fucking-nuts are going to frolic in my mind for a while over a field of frosting).
And here’s what I discovered by doing this consciously at every meal: The more packaged and processed the food, the harder it was.
If I ate M&M’s, who the hell do I thank for half the ingredients listed on the package? Assorted factory workers? Machines who coat the chemicals into a candy shell? Who partially hydrogenizes the milk fat? Who creates yellow no. 5? What the hell does that mean?
I started thinking about these things. And realized that the more people or creatures I had to thank, the worse the food was. If I couldn’t think clearly of the chain linked from the genesis of the food to my ingesting it, then it shouldn’t make up part of my diet. I mean, look at that chain above for a steak; it’s already pretty damn hefty.
So, if I have one piece of life advice to offer anyone it’s this: think about the food you’re eating. Think about who and what was involved in getting it to the point where it’s ready for you to eat. If you’re at peace with the process, then eat it. If not, then don’t and find foods you can live with.
I've started doing this with other things as well. How were these sidewalks I'm walking on made? This computer I'm typing on? What went into it, and who worked on it? Did they want to work on it? Were they fairly compensated?
All thoughts that lead me to better choices based on my consciousness and being, and not my bias, upbringing, or surroundings. And definitely not the squawk of my newsfeed.
And always, at the end of thinking about it, I thank everyone involved.
Especially the cow.