I’ve been avoiding this blog post for the last few days, happily posting recipes for Ham Hocks and Roast Chicken because cooking is way more fun than taking a political, moral, or ethical stance on anything, especially food. In fact, while I claim cooking to be therapeutic, it’s probably also an escape.
Where to begin? As I mentioned in The Year of Food, one of my favorite food categories is meat. So I feel fortunate to have a local source for grassfed meat and have been happily enjoying beef, pork, lamb, and chicken from the freezer in the basement. And reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, plus seeing the movie “Food, Inc.” this year, definitely increased my awareness about the problem of industrialized food in this country–meat in particular.
What changes have I made since?
- I haven’t restocked my freezer with convenient, industrialized chicken breasts yet.
- I refuse to buy or eat feedlot meat.
- I visit as many places my food comes from, especially meat, and talk with the farmers and growers to learn about what I’m eating.
- When I go out to eat, I always ask the server about the restaurant’s meat source–grassfed? local? If I’m not satisfied, I choose a vegetarian entree (or sometimes fish–see below).
- Our grassfed meat in the freezer is running low and won’t be restocked until our meat order is fulfilled next fall so I’ve solicited my friends for vegetarian recipes.
- I’m trying to spread the word that our food system is screwed up by blogging about it.
Then I bought the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer so I could have his perspective on the topic and find out what research he dug up in the process of writing his book. While I’m only on page 51 as of today (stay tuned for a proper review once I’m done), I’ve already learned quite a bit.
What happens to male egg-laying chickens in our country. (Get it? Male chickens don’t lay eggs so there’s no use for them. They are wasted.)
And “bycatch” is the collection of sea animals–including the adorable and intriguing sea horse–that get caught up in the tuna, shrimp, and sushi trawling nets only to be discarded because they’re not the target sea animal for the market. (I thought that only happened to dolphins? Which is why there’s “dolphin-safe” tuna in our grocery stores.) More on bycatch in a future post. I still haven’t taken a stance on the fish dilemma yet.
In Eating Animals, Foer is sorting out the issues of, well, eating animals. Which got me thinking–or, rather, my head spinning–about why I eat animals. It didn’t help that there was a recent editorial in The New York Times, written by Gary Steiner, a vegan and author of the book Animals and the Moral Community: Mental Life, Moral Status, and Kinship. He brings up the popular debate over religious viewpoints and animals–whether animals are made in the likeness of god’s image, whether they suffer, etc.
Then he says, “Many of the people who denounce the ways in which we treat animals in the course of raising them for human consumption never stop to think about this profound contradiction. Instead, they make impassioned calls for more ‘humanely’ raised meat.” He continues, “Many people soothe their consciences by purchasing only free-range fowl and eggs, blissfully ignorant that ‘free range’ has very little if any practical significance. Chickens may be labeled free-range even if they’ve never been outside or seen a speck of daylight in their entire lives. And that Thanksgiving turkey? Even if it is raised ‘free range,’ it still lives a life of pain and confinement that ends with the butcher’s knife.”
Most vegans would likely opine, as Steiner does, that killing animals for human consumption is outright murder.
Here’s where my spinning head ended up, as of today.
It’s Okay to Be a Carnivore
Have you ever heard of the Blood Type Diet? I’ve read about it and was intrigued because it was amazing how much the guidelines for Type O blood, which I have, are right on target: People with Type O blood tend to need more protein than other blood types. And legumes, as well as dairy products, are hard on their systems. Eating meat is actually recommended for me.
Eating Animals Isn’t Wrong
Steiner’s definitely got a point. There are so many rules around “free range”, “cage free”, “organic”, “natural”, and other descriptions being used by marketers to snare consumers into thinking they are buying humanely treated animals, or products of those animals. (I found an online source, Sustainable Table, which might help with those definitions.)
But to Steiner, eating animals is murder. And I don’t know if I can agree with that. I respect the beliefs of vegans and vegetarians but I guess I just consider the natural world of predators and prey a fair system.
Eating Unhappy Animals Is Wrong
As a carnivore and animal lover, I believe it’s bad ethics and bad health habits to eat unhappy animals. Just watch “Food, Inc.” and you’ll see what I mean. Cows that stand in their own filth, eating corn in feedlots is not natural. It’s time for our food system to change.
As Americans prepare for Thanksgiving this week, I challenge them to think about what they’re eating, where it came from, how it lived, and if it’s a healthy, happy, local source of food.