I have been thinking a lot about meat lately. Partly because of my recent attempt at fitness, but also because I just finished reading The Butcher and the Vegetarian by Tara Austen Weaver. She very brilliantly grapples with the problems inherent in eating meat - health, economics, environmental, ethical. I have been reading her blog, Tea & Cookies for years, it was one of the first food blogs I stumbled upon, and honestly one of the few I where still read every post. So I knew going into the book that I would probably love whatever she wrote. And I did. And like many of her blog posts, it made me think. It made me consider my own food choices, especially my meat choices. Which I guess makes sense as it is a book about meat choices.
I am not going to give a synopsis of the book - it is wonderful, and everyone should read it and love it as much as I did. I am fully aware that tastes vary, but really - love it! But what I want to talk about here is the reflections on my own meat consumption that reading this lovely book has brought on.
I need to eat less meat... This particular reflection was one that was brought on not just by the book, but also by my recent attention to calorie consumption. I know that I eat more than the recommended amount - even the excessive, big-business influenced USDA recommendation. Not everyday, sure, but enough that it is a problem if being more fit is a goal I am working towards. But it's hard, because I like meat - bacon is tasty, turkey makes great sandwiches, and lamb vindaloo may be one of my favorite foods ever.
I need to only eat meat that I know where and how it was raised. The animals that is providing my food should only have one bad day, the day they die. Factory farms, feedlots, CAFOs - these are not humane - for the animals or for the humans who share the world with them. They are not sustainable - animal issues aside, and there are many, they consume unsustainable amounts of fossil fuels, water, and grain. Resources that would be better utilized elsewhere. And they produce more unregulated and untreated waste than entire cities. Entire cities. It is mind-bogglingly disgusting. Really, go read about it and you will have a much harder time with your Sunday bacon from the supermarket.
Eating meat I know was raised ethically and sustainably means eating meat from locally raised animals. This might seem like I will be paying more for less, but really I am paying more for more. One of the benefits of eating local, sustainable meat is the meat itself. I will be getting what I pay for. It is healthier - less bad fat, no harmful hormones or antibiotics, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. And it tastes better. Even if it is just the taste of satisfaction in knowing that I am not contributing to the problem.
This also means that when I eat out I am pretty much a vegetarian from now on. Except for seafood. Thanks to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sustainable seafood is easy to keep track of through their Seafood Watch program. The expense is a problem with meat. But cheap meat really isn't. The cost to the environment, to the animals, and to my conscience is far greater than the cost of my grocery bill.
Now you might ask, why not just give up meat altogether if this is how you feel? I thought about that. One of the reasons is I like it. Maybe that is a selfish reason, and if there was not a sustainable, ethical option available, the selfishness of that reason might not be enough prevent me from giving up the pleasure of eating meat. But it is available, so that is not a dilemma I face. I would like to think that I would make a choice for the greater good if it were the case. The second reason is that I believe in a society that is based on enterprise to the extent that ours is, the best way to vote is with your wallet. And my vote would have to be for sustainable agriculture. Not buying any meat is voting against factory farms and giant agribusiness, it's true, but it is not voting for sustainable agriculture. I feel like this choice is saying I am willing to pay for a better way of doing things, not just I am not willing to pay for your way of doing things.
Here are some websites if you are interested in making a similar choice - or just being more aware about where your food comes from...