What’s woke.

12.12.21

You would be proud, dad. I recently started eating meat again. Well, to be clear, I never really gave it up totally. I considered myself an 80/20 vegan. Vegan 80% of the time and not vegan 20% of the time. My beef (thank you I’ll be here all week) is mostly with the treatment of animals in the process of farm or factory to table. I believe we are meant to eat animals AND be good stewards of animals, which means treating them as living creatures, good gifts from the Creator. Not our own property or solely the means to being fed. With that said, whenever I am home, I eat meat from the local farmer, Mom and I are friends with. He takes care of his animals. I can taste it. Someone told me once he believed if the animals suffered from the cruelty or mistreatment of large companies looking to produce more and pay less, then the suffering remained a part of the animal after death and thus a part of the meat we eat. I don’t know if that is true, but I am convinced meat from well-cared-for animals tastes better and the nutrients better absorbed by our bodies. Makes sense, I think.

Mom made sure we ate well growing up. Well-balanced and nutritious foods and of course, the occasional treat. Like ice cream night on Sundays. Or baking cookies for dessert. I don’t really ever remember wanting for anything except for one thing. Fruit Loops. That was something Mom never budged on no matter how hard me and Adam pleaded and fought with her. No sugary cereals. Period. Though I am extremely grateful now not to be addicted to sugar, my younger self loved soccer trips when we stayed at a hotel with Fruit Loops in the cold cereal offerings at breakfast. You bet I took advantage. Still, I am so grateful for the balanced foundation. It was high school when my relationship with food started to get a bit out of hand. I tried doing a paleo diet and got hooked on how I could control my body, especially after one of my friends told me I lost all my chin fat. Seems pretty silly thinking now how flattered I was, but honestly, there are still parts of me insecure about my body. Body image and diet became idols. I wanted to be thinner and leaner like some of the girls on my club soccer team. This was the key to become a better player. I was convinced. Of course, I didn’t share this with anybody. I found the answer and was going to hold fast to it.

What I ended up holding fast to was pride. Food and diet became a source of pride. I was disciplined. I did it right. I could handle it on my own. It was under my control. And I am pretty sure you could see it, dad. I remember literally eating salad and maybe chicken every night for dinner. No pasta. No bread. No cheese. No dairy. We fought each other about it, which honestly fueled the flames. Then my grip was not only prideful but spiteful. I know you didn’t like how I was eating and that spurred me on. Though mom made sure our food foundation was balanced, I definitely unbalanced it.

Fast forward to deciding to go vegan or 80/20 vegan. I took a class in college called “sustainability.” This class opened my eyes to the mistreatment of animals in the mass production of meat. Chickens never seeing the light of the sun. Cows pumped with chemicals to grow bigger faster. One of my cherished guilty pleasures, Pop Tarts, more concocted than actually made. I was distraught and disgusted but only a mere college freshman playing a collegiate sport. Some food choices were just not in my hands, and I knew how important fueling properly was to performing well. Some things are just better than nothing. It wasn’t until after college when a friend of mine decided to go vegan for other health reasons that I thought I would give it a try. I was basically there anyway. One part of the paleo diet from high school I will always be grateful for is the greater awareness of eating vegetables and a variety of them (and how they can actually taste good- crazy I know).

Fast forward again to this season and dare I say, being a bit older. Recovery slows down, which means making sure my body has what it needs to perform at a high level is even more important. As prideful as I was about my diet, I was depleting my body of essential nutrients, i.e. inadequately fueling it. I didn’t get my period until I started taking medication towards the end of college. Mom was worried about the long-term effects, like fertility, but I just thought it was nice not to have to worry about it like other girls. Now I am doing every thing I can to be regular, eating more wholly and including red meat once or twice a week to boost iron levels. I think eating 80/20 vegan has had many positives for me, and I believe there are many positives to be had- less processed foods, a greater awareness of ingredients, a recognition of alternatives that taste good- but I didn’t consider enough what was best for my body and health. Alternatives can be helpful. Substitutes can go so far, but they aren’t the real thing. This is key.

It seems a recent trend in the vegan and vegetarian food market is meat substitutes. In an article on eater.com titled “Beyond Impossible: The Sanitarium and World War II Past of Meat Substitutes,” the author notes, “It’s not a stretch to say that fake meat is having a moment. With the popularity of brands such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat joining fast-food menus and grocery store aisles alike, plant-based meats are no longer seen as a sad option for vegetarians long denied flavor with meat substitutes (though, as we know, plenty of vegetarian food is packed with flavor), but for anyone who enjoys a good burger, fried chicken, or nuggets.” She goes on to suggest meat substitutes have actually been around for a while and have their origins in products like Spam (little meat and lot of filler), used during WWII when meat rations forced cooks to get creative.

So what’s the deal? Well, like any substitute, it is not the real thing, of course. It maybe looks and tastes almost exactly the same, but there are characteristics of meat irreplaceable by meat substitutes. In an Instagram post by Max Lugavere, author of Genius Foods, Max displays a picture comparing the nutrients in a certain portion of animal foods to plant foods, specifically broccoli. In the caption, Max says, “I made this post to show just how silly it is to compare plants to animal foods. And before I get a ton of hate, here’s the thing: I’m actually sort of kidding with this post, because broccoli is insanely healthy…The takeaway: Eat lots of broccoli. Just don’t kid yourself into thinking it would be easy to get all of your protein, iron, zinc, or any number of important micronutrients with it…Both (beef and broccoli) are healthy. You NEED nutrients found in both.”

Meat substitutes are of course not using large amounts of broccoli in their ingredients to provide meat-like nutrition levels. The ingredients in a “Beyond Meat Beyond Burger” are “water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, dried yeast, cocoa butter, methylcellulose, and less than 1% of potato starch, salt, potassium chloride, beet juice color, apple extract, pomegranate concentrate, sunflower lecithin, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, vitamins and minerals (zinc sulfate, niacinamide [vitamin B3], pyridoxine hydrochloride [vitamin B6], cyanocobalamin [vitamin B12], calcium pantothenate)” (beyondmeat.com). Like Max, my point is not to hate on plant foods but rather to point out the nutritional differences between plant and animal foods. I am most definitely a sympathizer with vegans and vegetarians because the internal battle is real with the way animals are treated in food production. Not only this but the overwhelming amount of information and bias presented to people through media outlets and even “experts” about eating this and not that. I am not a dietitian. Just speaking from my own experience of eating a mostly vegan diet. Based on the ingredient list of the Beyond Burger, it is easy to see that in order to attempt to replicate the same nutritional profile as a beef patty, a mass of natural and synthetic ingredients come into play. Though coming very close, the team of plant-based and synthetic ingredients is still slightly inadequate in providing the same nutritional benefits, which brings me to the same conclusion as Max. Both animal and plant foods are healthy, and it is the combination of both that adequately supplies proper amounts of nutrients to our bodies. It is just true a substitute is not the real thing, and it’s up to us whether we are willing to settle with the inadequacies.

Am I writing this to convince you meat substitutes are evil? No. That you shouldn’t be vegan or vegetarian? Definitely not. Rather let it be a lens to see. In the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” Mr. Keating has his students stand on his desk to see things differently. To provide a different angle from how they are used to seeing things. Why do meat substitutes exist? Maybe because there is a shortage of the real thing, as in the instance of WWII. Maybe because some of us don’t want the real thing, not totally; we want most of the real thing, except for this or except for that. So, for whatever reason, we look for substitutes.

In the current atmosphere, we might even call meat substitutes “woke.” They are trendy with good intention, as far as helping fill in the gap for vegans and vegetarians. But they don’t go far enough. They can’t, truly. Plants cannot be animals, for a reason. Let us stand on this desk and look at other “woke” things.

“They (social justice movements) provide people with an explanation for events and conditions in the world. They offer a sense of meaning, a purpose for living, and the feeling of belonging to a community.

Even more than that, like Christianity, these new movements tell their own ‘story of salvation.’

To explain what I mean, let me try to briefly compare the Christian story with what we might call the ‘woke’ story or the ‘social justice’ story.

The Christian story, in its simplest form, goes something like this:

We are created in the image of God and called to a blessed life in union with him and with our neighbors. Human life has a God-given ‘telos,’ an intention and direction. Through our sin, we are alienated from God and from one another, and we live in the shadow of our own death.

By the mercy of God and his love for each of us, we are saved through the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. Jesus reconciles us to God and our neighbors, gives us the grace to be transformed in his image, and calls us to follow him in faith, loving God and our neighbor, working to build his Kingdom on earth, all in confident hope that we will have eternal life with him in the world to come.

That’s the Christian story. And now more than ever, the Church and every Catholic needs to know this story and proclaim it in all its beauty and truth.

We need to do that, because there is another story out there today — a rival ‘salvation’ narrative that we hear being told in the media and in our institutions by the new social justice movements. What we might call the ‘woke’ story goes something like this:

We cannot know where we came from, but we are aware that we have interests in common with those who share our skin color or our position in society. We are also painfully aware that our group is suffering and alienated, through no fault of our own. The cause of our unhappiness is that we are victims of oppression by other groups in society. We are liberated and find redemption through our constant struggle against our oppressors, by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.”

[Archbishop Gomez, Address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Madrid, Spain]

Ok, before I get “a ton of hate,” step on the desk with me. We all desire worth and meaning. There is a reason we do. We all also have a desire to protect ourselves and our existence. We all have some kind of standard. Social movements are good, but they don’t go far enough. “Wokeness” is good, but it doesn’t go far enough. How can we possibly know what is the best for everyone? I hardly know what is the best for me. We need Someone outside of ourselves. Inside of ourselves. Someone who knows us better than we know ourselves. How is it possible Someone could know each one of us better than we know ourselves? Better than we know each other? How is it possible that a Boeing 747 with a max weight of 910,000 lbs can fly in the air? Metal with wings suspended in the air. No matter how powerful or high tech those engines are, that very large bird is not getting off the ground unless it climbs on the air, unless the air is strong enough to lift it. The same air entering into my lungs automatically every day, the same air my body knows what to do with to keep me alive, is the same air flying me home nine hours to Chicago from Denmark.

How can Someone know all human beings intimately enough to know what is best for us? Well, Someone who designed us. Someone who is Being itself.

“First of all, God is our Father in the sense that he is our Creator. We belong to him because he has created us. “Being” as such comes from him and is consequently good; it derives from God. This is especially true of human beings. Psalm 33:15 says in the Latin translation, “He who has fashioned the hearts of all, considers all their works.” The idea that God has created each individual human being is essential to the Bible’s image of man. Every human being is unique and willed as such by God. Every individual is known to him…

We see that to be God’s child is not a matter of dependency, but rather of standing in the relation of love that sustains man’s existence and gives it meaning and grandeur.

God’s fatherhood is more real than human fatherhood because he is the ultimate source of our being; because he has thought and willed us from all eternity; because he gives us our true paternal home, which is eternal. And if earthly fatherhood divides, heavenly fatherhood unites.”

[Benedict XVI, Pope. Jesus of Nazareth]

If earthly justice sometimes divides, heavenly justice unites. Always unites because it is real justice. If social justice movements are well-intentioned, provide meaning and community but still can be divisive, it is because they do not go far enough. It is because by their very nature they are inadequate. They cannot provide all the nutrients. They are substitutes for the real social justice movement we want to take bits and pieces of but not the whole thing. The real social justice movement, the story of Jesus Christ. The death of an innocent Man. The ultimate injustice. And what was the remedy? The real meat? Suffering in love. The love with which He suffered. With an eye to eternal peace and communion with the Father. What we were created for. We want peace and rest, but we don’t want suffering. Maybe we can handle a little bit but only if we know for low long or through what we must endure. Or maybe we think peace can be achieved without suffering. A meat substitute.  

Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom, but few cross-bearers. Many desire His consolation, but few His tribulation. Many will sit down with Him at table, but few will share His fast. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few will suffer for Him. Many will follow Him to the breaking of the bread, but few will drink the bitter cup of His Passion. Many revere His miracles, but few follow the shame of His cross. Many love Jesus when all goes well with them, and praise Him when He does them a favor; but if Jesus conceals Himself and leaves them for a little while, they fall to complaining or become depressed. They who love Jesus purely for Himself and not for their own sake bless Him in all trouble and anguish as well as in time of consolation. Even if He never sent them consolation, they would still praise Him and give thanks. Of how powerful is the pure love of Jesus, when not mixed with self-interest or self-love!

[Thomas Kempis, Imitation of Christ]

How far do today’s social justice movements take justice? “For instance, social justice is the notion that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social opportunities irrespective of race, gender, or religion” (ethicsunwrapped.utexas.edu). How about everyone deserves to be treated as a human being irrespective of how they look or what they believe? How far can concern for equality really take us if we have no concern for eternity? If we don’t believe we are eternal beings made for life after death, what’s woke is still inadequate. Leaves us wanting. Fake meat.

“Again, my friends, my point is this: I believe that it is important for the Church to understand and engage these new movements — not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion. 

In denying God, these new movements have lost the truth about the human person. This explains their extremism, and their harsh, uncompromising, and unforgiving approach to politics. 

And from the standpoint of the Gospel, because these movements deny the human person, no matter how well-intentioned they are, they cannot promote authentic human flourishing…” [Archbishop Gomez, Address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Madrid, Spain]

If the power of air can haul an enormous hunk of metal in the sky, I think it is fair to say things unseen hold more weight than things seen. Not that things seen do not matter at all. Quite the contrary. The things seen alert us to the things unseen. The things seen are doorways to so much more. The goodness of plant and animal foods together. The good intentions of social justice movements remind us, or should remind us, of something more important than the movements themselves- the truth we are all made with great intention and with great purpose. Our desires for equality are good within the context of eternity. But equality without eternity cannot go far enough, as we are not made solely for equality, nor is it best for us to all be treated the same because the reality is we are uniquely made and uniquely loved. And this is what we cannot determine on our own. It was determined already for us from the beginning. From God Himself. Being Himself.

By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God, so that what is visible came into being through the invisible. [Hebrews 11:3]

But it’s more woke to take what we want from the real thing and call it good. To settle with the inadequacies or disregard them as inadequacies at all in the name of convenience. As a girl without her father or grandfathers in this world, I have a hard time with the thought of walking down the aisle. It is going to be painful, Lord willing, if I have the honor of loving someone and being loved by him to unite ourselves in the union of marriage. The real meat of the story of salvation through Jesus Christ is his death means for us to be united with God. A union (the thing unseen) the sacrament of marriage (the thing seen) points us to. So should I avoid such a divine-inspired union altogether? Walk down the aisle by myself? Put my fist up at the whole tradition and spitefully shirk it because I didn’t ask to be fatherless and it isn’t just or deserved?

“The historical significance of the father bringing the bride down the aisle to “give her away”, of course, is that he owns her.

Today, generally speaking, women aren’t owned by men, they are not the property of men to be traded off from father to husband, and most of us can walk our own-damn selves down our own-damn aisle.

Yes, the historical roots of a father giving away the bride down the aisle are sexist. But choosing to include the ritual because it means something different to you doesn’t make it wrong. *Like how a marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Puhlease.

We talked about it on Mamamia Out Loud this week and decided that some traditions exist for no good reason. Others remain for the emotional symbolism. Traditions change over time; the meaning correlated can shift. You take meaning where you see it, and for what it means for you at that time.”

[MamaMia.com, “To those who say it’s outdated to have our dads ‘give us away’…]

I understand many women have been hurt by men. Betrayed by fathers. This pains me as a daughter who longs for her dad. Is it true men have treated women as property? Yes. Does sexism exist? Of course. Is it also true there were and are a lot of fathers who “give their daughters away” to make sure they will be well-taken care of? That it is the father’s responsibility, as head of the family and caretaker of his daughters, to make sure when the time comes for them to have their own family, she would be with someone who loved her and wished to do the same for their future daughters. Yes. Just because some fathers shirk this responsibility does not mean the real thing is only an ideal. Rather it is ideal because it is intended to be the most real thing all the time but is not. It is the standard we as sinful human beings fall short of. So which is the real and which is the substitute? My dad walking me down the aisle means I am his daughter. This is what is real. Not all fathers fulfill their responsibilities as fathers, I know, and I am sorry for everyone who has experienced it. But this doesn’t knock fatherhood down to a commodity or “emotional symbolism.” The truth is the goodness of fatherhood is still greater. I hope we can see loving relationship as the fabric of our existence, not inadequate “isms.” One leaves us resilient and trusting while the other leaves us resentful and unsatisfied. One is meat and the other a meat substitute. One is truly woke and the other, broke.

So what is woke? What is real? Meaning that changes with the season because it isn’t convenient? Justice that only addresses equality and not eternity? Inadequate. It cannot go far enough. The story of Jesus Christ is truly woke. An innocent man condemned to death, humiliated, and killed, taking down the ultimate injustice and waking again. Rising again to raise all of humanity to who we are created to be. Wake up, y’all, to what’s woke.

I love you dad,

Lauren

larry_saj6Author

"Surely man at his best is a mere breath." -King David I am a mere breath God has graciously gifted to be His daughter first, a daughter and sister, a friend, an athlete, a writer, a coach. I hope to be a full-time professional soccer player, write a book or two, be a lifelong learner, work for a sports and faith ministry, coach college soccer, have a family and maybe even pick up the guitar. My dad died when I was a sophomore in college. Writing became especially important to me after his death, helping me grieve and heal. I find writing letters to him has helped me process deep emotions and pain I didn't really know what to do with. My hope is the letters will share experiences that speak to and shine a light into the lives and stories of others in some way.

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