Comfort Food: on Crisis, Resilience, and Unexpected Benefits of Conscious Eating

Wildflower with 'V' for Vegan

Last week I changed my definition of comfort food. I unwillingly starred in a small tragedy, and found comfort somewhere surprising: my food habits and philosophy impact my world in ways I hadn’t realized – in terms of coping skills, comfort, resilience, and hope.

The Very Bad Day

Driving home after dark, in a rural stretch of delta, a deer leapt in front of my car. It’s a common event, where I live, so I was going slowly and ‘on the lookout.’ I slowed and swerved – no other cars traveled the quiet country road with me – and I was able to miss her. I also missed her first baby.

I wasn’t able to avoid hitting the second speckled fawn. I’d slowed considerably, and it wasn’t a head-on collision; he was still breathing, unconscious but not obviously irreparably damaged.

Readers who know my animal rescue history (in fact, I was driving home after picking up a foster-pup), or those who follow my Faunahope efforts, will understand how deeply distressing I fnd this kind of event.

They will also understand why there was no hesitation about what came next: I moved the pup to the front seat, spread a rain slicker in the hatchback, turned the car around and drove an hour and a half to the nearest animal emergency clinic.

I didn’t really expect it to work; and it didn’t.

He was still alive on arrival. If stabilized through the night, I know a wildlife rehab vet that could have taken him the next day, for intensive treatment otherwise financially unfeasible. The ER vet felt like it was possible, at first; so I slept over at a nearby friend’s house, in case he made it long enough to travel in the morning.

Around midnight he took a turn for the worse. Rather than prolong what now seemed inevitable, we gave him painless sleep.

Why is This Story on a Food Blog?

Of course I was heart-sick about the whole situation; but I noticed something surprising. I had some tools at my disposal that I haven’t always had — and they felt familiar.

Choices change you, and skills you build in one domain are bound to overlap other parts of your life.  On reflection, there are two key concepts transplanted directly from my food ethics garden into my emotional tool box, enabling me to cope with life’s distressing events more effectively than in the past.

What Matters is Intention Plus Action — Not Perfection

When you go vegan, you quickly realize there’s no such thing as perfection. In our modern world, there are animal-derived ingredients in so many things, perfection just isn’t an option.

There’s animal junk in car tires; movie film; and ridiculously added to perfectly nice foods you might not think to check for non-vegan-ness, especially early in your veg days (like milk in jarred lemongrass, for pete’s sake)!

There will be times when you order a burrito with no cheese, and accidentally eat some of the stuff because they put it in there anyway. You can’t keep from killing insects when you drive your car; some insects and birds and small mammals are killed during production and harvesting of even plant-based foods (though much less than those killed for production of animal-based foods, because of the relative crop quantities involved).

None of these things invalidate the good you do by adjusting your actions as best you can, to do the least harm possible.

The goal of veganism isn’t perfection. The question isn’t ‘Can I never harm anything at all?’ Rather, it’s ‘How can I act in such a way as to cause the least amount of harm to other creatures, to the best of my ability?’

So I will give it my best effort, and accept peacefully that it won’t be perfect. It’s my best, and that’s all I can do.

Do the Right Thing, Period

A non-GMO vegan paradigm has also embedded in my brain a firm conviction that there is undeniable power, and value, in aligning my actions with what I see as the right thing to do. I have firmly embraced and internalized Vandana Shiva’s philosophy of moral responsibility:

“You do not measure the fruit of your action; you have to measure your obligation for action. You have to find out what is the right thing to do – that is your duty. Whether you win or lose is not the issue.”

The fact that I can’t do everything doesn’t mean I can do nothing. Sometimes my efforts won’t be enough; but I’ll get better results when I try than when I don’t try! And regardless of whether it ‘works’ or not, I will do what I consider to be the right thing — not just the easy thing, or the popular thing, or the convenient thing.

Philosophical Gold

There are many reasons to eat consciously, and many reasons to eat vegan, whether you’re drawn to issues of health, environmental stewardship, or compassion towards other creatures. But I learned last week that there’s some less obvious wealth to be found within those habits, far from the refrigerator or grocery store or dinner plate.

During this very stressful event, I found some valuable coping mechanisms close at hand — ideas that originated as food ethics concepts, but outgrew their fencing.

I was doing everything I could to prevent the collision, on that very bad day; and I did everything possible to make things better, after it happened. I did my best, and that’s all I could do.

My response wasn’t the easy thing, or the convenient thing — it wasn’t even likely to work — but it was the right thing. There is comfort in that idea, and in actions arising from it.

The constructs underpinning conscious eating, once cultivated, don’t just stay in a box in the kitchen pantry. They take root and bloom in parts of your life that have nothing to do with food. The patterns of thought and behavior that have become second nature to me over the last few years of conscious eating came to hand like well worn tools, on that very bad day. I wasn’t expecting help from that quarter, but they provided a much-needed framework for coping with a hard situation — and then sleeping without nightmares.

What you do shapes who you are. When you act to consciously manifest patterns of behavior that reflect your best ethical self, that becomes more than just a food habit. It enables you to find beauty in intention and action, regardless of outcome perfection; it empowers you to follow your own sense of moral obligation, regardless of convenience or social approval.

My vegan friends, and others who haven’t reached my same conclusions but live their own truth when it comes to food choices, will read this and say, “YES, EXACTLY!”

My other friends will smile and shake their heads: “There she goes again, with all that vegan stuff!”

I offer to both groups this real and valuable philosophical truth: the degree to which your thoughts and actions align with one another on an everyday basis lays the groundwork for everything else you do in the world. I realized last week that I harvest even more than I thought, from vegan habits and conscious eating. The patterns of thought and behavior I cultivated for one garden now grow in other parts of my world, bringing coping skills and comfort to any path I walk.

I am deeply thankful for these blooms; and find new reasons daily to recommend the path.

Image credit: Creative Commons photo by Nieve44/Luz.

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5 thoughts on “Comfort Food: on Crisis, Resilience, and Unexpected Benefits of Conscious Eating”

  1. Life is, after all, a web. Whatever touches one strand of the web reverberates throughout the whole. Practices, habits, and values developed in one area of life has implications for all of life… To take just one glaring example: Our sensitivity to animals (including those who are “processed” for human consaumption) becomes a kind of dress rehearsal for the we we treat other human beings. We are all indebted to EDB and to Ms. Sitton for this amazingly profound, empathic, humane essay, which calls attention to a complex web of issues and questions that every citizen of the world needs to consider.

  2. this is a very beautifully written article that is even more beautiful in its substance. coordinating our words, our thoughts, and our actions is often an extremely difficult task in today’s world, but this article rightly highlights the tremendous benefit of working to achieve that coordination even so. thanks, tanya, for the potential enlightenment for those who struggle to see the big picture and for the encouragement to those who struggle under the weight of seeing. there is never a shortage of good work that needs doing, but every step we take in the right direction is a victory. thanks, too, for the good work you do here on this site, and even more so for the good work you do via the choices you make every day. it’s a challenge we all face, and this article makes the imperative of meeting that challenge clear. well done!

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