Everyone has to come to terms with the issue of eating meat, in their own way. People are born into a family that either eats meat or doesn’t, and tend to stick with that pattern without really thinking it through on their own. We have a very strong psychological tendency to stick with eating things that our mother served us. Going against ones home food traditions feels bold, possibly verging on revolutionary.¬† But in the modern age, deciding whether to include slaughtered animals in your diet is more complex than just the morality of the slaughter. Humans can have a nutritionally complete diet without eating flesh, but it’s easier to do in tropical climates where fruit, nuts, veggies, and starch can be harvested year-round. Cultures in temperate climates developed more of a reliance on meat-based diets to help get calories and nutrition outside of the growing season.
For many of my adult years I ate almost exclusively a vegetarian diet. That was during the years when real food was difficult if not impossible to source.¬† The morality of the death of the animal wasn’t ever the deal breaker for me, although of course I don’t take it lightly. My decision was influenced by the following issues:
- Animals, being at the top of the food chain, concentrate toxins. Fat stores toxins. I don’t eat animals that have been fed pesticide and herbicide laden feed. It seems just as much of a junk food to me as, hm, marshmallow peeps .
- Food animals compete for space/resources with wild ecosystems.¬† When I learned that the South American rainforest was being cut down to make space to grow beef cattle, I immediately stopped buying beef. I would rather the wondrous insects/plants/animals/birds of the rainforest be left alone to flourish in their natural habitat, than have meat on my plate. Even if I couldn’t stop the destruction of native habitat, at least I was not going to pay for it to be done on my behalf.¬†¬† Even in the US, wolves are in competition for water with beef cattle or sheep out on the open range, so ranchers shoot them.¬† I personally would rather there be wolves, so I don’t want to send money out to folks who kill wolves or object to their reintroduction into their native range.¬† The negative impact on habitat from pesticides and herbicides by conventional agriculture is also my¬† primary motivation for buying organic food where possible. Of course, other agricultural crops might be grown on ex-rainforest, and probably are, but somehow the rainforest beef was getting all the press.
- As an animal lover, at that time in my twenties, I decided that if I was not willing to slaughter animals myself for my food, it wasn’t ok to pay mercenaries to do it for me.¬† This is kind of an extreme position, I supposed, but I felt that it was facing up to reality. Since every morsel of meat I have ever put in my mouth came from a once-living animal who had to go through dying, I decided that it if I couldn’t look that process in the eye, I had no right to eat them.
- Growing animals for food can be very resource intensive, which draws down nonrenewable resources. It takes alot of water to grow a pound of cow, and alot of calories of feed to produce a calorie of meat. Granted, some animals are raised on pasture rather than feed, but most meat for sale in conventional retail outlets is raised or at least finished on grain.¬† Bringing them grain to eat takes fuel. On the other hand, growing plants and transporting them to a retail outlet also consumes water and fuel, but an order of magnitude less.
That was in the eighties.¬† Since then, even more reasons to avoid commercial meat have sprung up.¬† Conventional practices for raising meat animals in flesh factories, otherwise known as CAFOs, confine the animals in such tight quarters that they don’t have room to turn around. For their whole lives.¬† That seems excessively cruel to me and I don’t intend to send money to folks who do that. It should be just as illegal to cruelly confine a pig or veal calf as it is to do the same thing to a dog.¬† To make matters worse, large animals like cows emit greenhouse gases; that contribute to global warming, more if they are raised in CAFOs.¬†¬† Altogether, that adds up to alot of reasons not to eat conventional meat.
These days it is much easier to buy meat that has been grown without those problems. We buy or raise¬† organic meat (no toxins or antibiotics, and less damage to local ecosystems), from animals that are raised on pasture so they have plenty of room to roam.¬† We are blessed in Central Massachusetts to have a variety of farms raising pastured, organic meat. We buy meat mostly from Misty Brook farm, in Barre, who I’ll write about in a separate post.¬† Many Hands Organic Farm has been a trailblazer in raising organic meat and teaching others organic methods for many years.¬† Besides raising chickens for ourselves, we are raising organic, heritage-breed turkeys this year to sell. Growing and slaughtering my own poultry has meant coming to terms with the life and death cycle of animals raised for food. The experience really makes me appreciate the food on my plate. There’s still the global warming issue to contend with, so we eat meat sparingly.¬† With two of us in the house, we eat only about 2 chickens and around 3 pounds of red meat a month.¬†¬† Although this is far from a vegetarian diet, it seems like a good middle ground for us.¬† We stretch the meat we cook into lots and lots of servings, using meat like a spice rather than a dish on its own.
As in many consumer purchases, buying meat produced for food has a variety of consequences that are hidden from the consumer.¬† The issues are complex.¬† The issue of vegetarian eating is one that many people grapple with, but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing deal.¬† Reducing the amount of meat in our diets is definitely one positive way to cause less environmental harm.