Three years ago, if you told me that I would be an animal and environmental rights activist because of what I was eating, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. My food writing journey has been an amazing one – sampling, sipping, and telling stories about the best food and drink you could imagine. But along the way, I began to listen to other stories – ones that affect you and me. The “local” eating movement goes beyond supporting local businesses. It’s about supporting practices that are 1. humane and 2. sustainable. And while the concept seems pretty simple, finding restaurants that follow those same ethics are not.

I’ll admit it – I watch those terrifying factory farming videos. You know what I’m talking about. The ones where pigs are beat in the head with rods for not cooperating. Chickens crammed into tiny cages in the dark. Cows being abused for their milk. And the slaughtering practices? It’s a big reason why I opt for vegetarian choices. Because the food I am eating has suffered for me. And I do not want to eat suffering animals anymore.

The environmental effects of factory farming should also be considered. From cattle methane emissions to the carbon emissions from harvesting the grain to feed the animals to transportation costs, not to mention how much water is being used… just so these animals can be treated as objects and not living beings with feelings. All of this makes me feel super conflicted when I just want to eat out and enjoy new food. And I still do, but I still feel bad because I know if I ask where this or this came from, 9 times out of 10, the server won’t know, the chef won’t know, and the supplier doesn’t care.

Luckily, there are a few star restaurants that do. But there aren’t many of them, not yet anyway. I’m not asking everyone to start ditching meat and dairy and eggs because it’s hard. It’s SO hard, but it’s also not impossible. I just ask that you start questioning where your food comes from. Did the steak you order live a good life? Did the veggies on your plate come from a local farm from your state? (I know it’s not possible for all produce.) Were the fishing practices used sustainable? I’m not sure if you know this, but as a consumer, you have so much power. You are in control: the more you ask, the more restaurants and grocery stores will listen and provide it for you. And restaurants: I will be your most loyal and supportive customer TO THE END if you can guarantee that my food was happy when it was alive (cc: McDonalds and Starbucks – I have not visited for over a month now. Now you know why.)

So what does this mean for my food writing career? Well, I’m not going to stop eating out and making you hungry with my Instagram posts. But know I am always on the lookout for restaurants that align with my ethics. The eating culture I want to dine in is one where we know where our food comes from so we can eat it guilt-free, without destroying the planet. And I believe it’s a feasible future that we can achieve together.