my morality and my meat

Many opinions and issues converge when I think about eating meat. I’ve drafted several posts but have decided simply to list my current conclusions and thoughts.

  • Without regard for science or particular facts, I prefer eating meat I know was an animal that enjoyed its life. If I know, for example, a cow got to eat grass until the day it died, I’ll enjoy eating its muscle and fat, maybe its liver or other parts, a lot more than if I know it lived in misery, knee deep in wet reeking filth without room to move. It turns out my gut reaction is supported by scientific studies in large part, but that’s not as important to me as what feels right.
  • When she was around two, my now seven year old got me thinking most directly about the issues around meat. When I look her in the eye and say, “This is baby sheep muscle (lamb chop)” or “this is cow meat (instead of the prettified ‘beef’)” I am faced with reality.
  • In Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Barbara Kingsolver did a fantastic job addressing her experience of raising and harvesting (killing) turkeys and chickens. I read that book in 2008, I believe, and it was good timing. It was around then my daughter started asking questions. It was also around then I resolved to become more connected with the source of all my food.
  • Books and movies like Fast Food Nation, SuperSize Me, and King Corn all impressed upon me the nasty side of factory farming. On a gut level, as well as an intellectual level, I find the practice of factory farming abhorrent. On economic and political levels I think they’re bad business, too.
  • Purist intentions seem foolish to me. If I ever believe I’m “doing the right things” in any sort of entirety then I’m kidding myself. Everything we do requires moral choice, down to the kind of beverage we drink or the way we style our hair. The idea that there is a litmus test for socially responsible eating is a false notion. Even pure vegans must make impure moral choices (are they sure animals weren’t killed in the harvesting of those grains? I suspect plenty of rodents died for that loaf of bread, for example) when it comes to meat.
  • The phrase from the book Alcoholics Anonymous that we seek “progress, not perfection” is how I always try to live. It’s too easy to be bogged down into paralysis if I believe my small actions are, in fact, too little. If I buy my eggs from my friends’ farm or from my daughter’s school, it feels good. It feels right. It’s a little more expensive in the short-run and in the long-run may be barely a drop in the change-the-world bucket. But doing nothing at all to make my eating (and purchasing) choices fall in line with my moral beliefs seems a silly response. In other words, I don’t get hung up on the fact that I buy my coffee at Starbucks instead of a local shop who buys tiny batches of coffee from entirely independent farmers who receive fair wages and the plants grow in the shade, etc. etc. I don’t keep a strict accounting of it all, either. As I said, purity in moral choices seems a false concept to me.
  • Quite relevant to this issue is this indisputable fact: I like meat. I used to beg my mother for blobs of raw hamburger. When my snotty boyfriend in the early 90s introduced me to steak tartare I was delighted I could eat the stuff out in public. I like a nearly cold (cold is okay, though some warmth gets the juices flowing) bloody center on my steak. Sashimi is nearly my all-time favorite food. Lamb is delectable. And, well, I just think meat has good texture, taste, and I like having it as a part of my overall food selection. I do prefer to err on the side of the Asian style of meat consumption where it doesn’t usually fill the plate, but acts nearly as a side dish to the rest of the grains and veggies. But, the point for this post is: I like meat.
  • We can’t have chickens here, our landlord said no. I was hoping to raise some chickens for the eggs and a few for the meat. I wanted to harvest/slaughter them myself (with help from an experienced friend). I have developed a desire to experience the process of taking the life of an animal so I can eat its flesh. I feel a bit like Dexter, honestly, when I ‘fess up about how I’m drawn to it. Again, I feel a moral responsibility to understand where my food comes from. I’m not suggesting I’ll only eat meat I raise. I don’t have it in me to be a full-time farmer (too much routine). Knowing what it really means, though, when I eat meat, is something I want. A physical, tactile, emotional experience of collecting meat. I have that with vegetables already, and that’s pretty powerful in and of itself. I can only imagine the exponentially powerful experience of killing an animal for meat.
  • I’ve thought about why this issue (food) brings out in me the need to understand the process more than other life-sustaining parts of my life. Why do I not feel the same about the water I drink? (Well, actually, I did visit the water processing plant.) Or the electricity I use? (I may explore that, too.) The other survival requirements for my daily living all have moral choices surrounding them, intertwined within them. I haven’t yet sorted out what a parallel exploration would be because at this point it’s my food that’s interesting me. Food is something I experience with my daughters on a daily basis. Those phases when I just say, screw it, and take us through the McDonald’s drive through end up making me feel shitty. Not because I think I’m bad for doing it, but I feel physically less well and emotionally disconnected from who I am inside.
  • I’m thrilled, by the way, that our CSA Wolf Pine Farm is offering a “meat share” this winter. We’re trying to decide which level to invest in (we do have a large freezer…). This means I’ll have a season or more of responsibly, sustainably, and ethically raised meat to enjoy. If you haven’t had grass fed (and grass finished) beef, by the way, give it a try. It’s a different experience than the supermarket stuff.
  • This all brings me to my final note. In this pursuit of understanding, I have been considering the idea of going hunting. In particular, I’m wondering about going deer hunting. There’s something very powerful in even imagining the gall it would take, the arrogance, and, I imagine, the humility that would be required to take the life of a mammal. Much to my older daughter’s dismay, I’ve started the process of learning some skills I’d need if I were to actually go hunting some day. She knows I may never do it, but she also knows why I might. She appreciates and supports the idea that eating meat from animals who lived good lives is preferable to eating factory farm meat. As I said to her, though, if I’m going to eat meat, I want to be totally honest with myself about what it is I’m doing.

Twitter, No Auto-followbacks

I’m reposting this from an old blog. I realized the link in my Twitter profile brought people to that old, unused and, frankly, stupid blog. So, this is the explanation for why I don’t automatically follow back. I refuse to read it now or I’ll spend time I don’t have editing it and correcting it. It may or may not hold true today as it did in May 2009.

who are the people in my twitterverse?


Note: As I was writing this I considered defining Twitter terms, explaining them to help readers who don’t use Twitter. Instead of doing that, I’ll post this link that discusses the basics of Twitter.

A few days ago I met a very cool woman whose Twitter name is @choley. She was funny, sweet, and she and my husband (@jdenkmire) have a lot in common. As we sat eating ice cream I began an argument with myself (in my head). I knew then I didn’t want to follow her on Twitter, though I couldn’t say that to her at the time. I did lay the groundwork, though, explaining in a blurty and rambly way that I don’t follow many people and that it would be possible if I followed her I might unfollow her. This is the kind of thing that I worry a little bit about. Did she take that personally? I consider this but I have to let it go. It definitely wasn’t about her. It’s just that that’s not how I use Twitter.

Over the past six months or so I’ve gotten into tweeting. I’ve found the challenge of 140 characters a lot of fun. I like resisting the urge to Tweet only the banal and tediously ordinary as I try to stay slightly creative or at least, random. What interests me in the tweets I read are just those things, the element of surprise, randomness, entertainment. I like to read the same kinds of things I like to share (though I count on the tweets I read to be funnier than those I send out!). No doubt about it, I also tend to slip over to Twitterrific to post very mundane bits and thoughts. As I said, I try to resist that urge but am definitely not always successful.

I’ve written before about the labels some people place on certain kinds of Twitter users. Even with my low numbers, some might call me a “Twitter Snob.” There are real social rules in Twitter, some quite mainstream (using #hashtags, for example), and some specific to smaller subcultures. I happen to be someone who doesn’t seek out followers. More touchy, however, is the fact that I almost never follow-back. I don’t fall into the camp of those who believe it’s polite to follow back, so they almost always do.

When I first started using Twitter I added the small handful of people I already knew were using it (like my husband and our friends from Houston). I looked at Josh’s tweets and picked out a few of those folks to follow. Josh was getting really into it. I wasn’t. I didn’t see the appeal and was much more interested in Facebook. His list of followeds and followers grew and grew. He’s got around 250 followeds and followers now. Among some Tweeple that number is actually low. Compare that to my about 50 followeds and about 100 followers and I’m not even close to being a real player in the Twitterverse. (I don’t even need a system like Tweetdeck to sort my incoming tweets.)

But as I talked with this super nice local woman over ice cream, why did I know I didn’t want to follow her?

I figured it out. There are two issues related to why I don’t do much following. In the case of the local woman, it was because she was local that I didn’t want to follow her. I don’t use Twitter to find new friends. I don’t want new friends. I don’t have time for more people in my life. I don’t mean this at all to be unfriendly. It’s just practical. I’ve got some very close friends offline and a few good ones online, too. I just had a baby. I’ve got an almost-six year old, a husband, a business with active clients, a rental property to manage. As I write this I realize just how taboo it is to say out loud, “I don’t want to know you” to people, even to an anonymous Internet based “you.” By following local people it will become more and more awkward if, let’s say, I want to unfollow someone. If I’ve met someone offline how would it not be insulting to unfollow them? Following local people creates a sense of community. I see that as Josh gets more involved (hear him on Monday in his second appearance on the Word on the Tweet podcast). There are great advantages to what Twitter can do in bringing people together in their offline worlds.

But that’s just not how I use Twitter.

It’s not just the locals I mostly avoid. I’ve already got my online friends there. It’s only very rarely that the mood strikes me to start following a new regular person. When I do start following a regular person, I frequently change my mind after just a day or two. It’s not that I have some high fallutin’ standard they need to meet, it’s just my need to keep the stream simple.

I’ve got a handful of celebrities (perfect for me: entertaining and random like @robcorddry or @michaelianblack) and a few information Tweeters like @theonion or @eatmedaily. Too many more, regular or otherwise, will make me feel cluttered and overwhelmed. Even the few I’ve got can be too much at times (it’s been ages since I’ve clicked a link shared by The Onion).

Again, I’m not looking to make new connections. I was talking through all these things with Josh the other day and I think he nailed it, helped me figure out what I’m trying to do with Twitter (or, what I’m trying to avoid). Despite my outgoing personality and openly sharing online expressions, I am an intensely private person. I don’t let many people in to my life. The way I use Twitter is a good example of how I need to control the gates. I need space. I need to control (ah! the therapist’s favorite word!) who gets in to my life. Having an audience for my tweets (followers) is one thing. It’s fine. It’s flattering, really (even those who have thousands, if they don’t unfollow me, I’m amazed). I sometimes even consider going out and finding followers just because it tickles me to know people are reading my tweets. But, again, I have no desire to follow more people. I have enough to read. I have enough people I want to know about on a regular basis. Any more and I might completely lose my mind.

It shouldn’t be an insulting thing, though, that I don’t want to follow you. A great part of why I don’t want to follow you is because you might be interesting. I might want to take the time to read your tweets, respond to them, and learn even more. I can’t add more to my life right now. Of course, I haven’t built any walls, so some people will get in. That’s fine. But there’s got to be a limit. I have a great time tweeting. I hope people enjoy (or are able to ignore or feel free to unfollow) my tweets. I get a kick out of the tweets I get to read every day from the 10 folks who tweet of the fifty or so I follow.

I’m happy with my Twitterhood. Are you happy with yours? What’s your Twitter method/style?

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Of course, if you use Twitter and want to follow me, please feel free. :-)

Mothering

In Houston I once asked to see a woman’s baby who was in a sling. The woman yanked the sling down quickly and exposed her full breast as her baby popped off. At the time, this kind of freaked me out. Was she trying to make me uncomfortable? She wasn’t, of course. She was simply a part of a culture I hadn’t been…exposed to, yet. Mothering.

Later she told me about this magazine, Mothering. Until that time in 2000 or 2001 I always considered the meaning of “mothering” to be micro-managing, hovering, smothering, nagging. Totally negative. That magazine led me to Henci Goer’s “Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” and to all sorts of wonderful and amazing lessons about alternatives to mainstream parenting. But alternative choices in parenting isn’t what I want to write about today. I’ve read a lot, I’ve talked to a lot of parents, I’ve spent a lot of time in online communities. I am familiar with labels that increase the odds a parent might have something in common with me as far as parenting goes. But the only thing that really guides me in parenting is my gut. My heart. My soul. Some deeper part of me that has no words.

In the last week I’ve had more than a handful of people comment that I seem to be doing well. They mean “considering the circumstances” in some ways. But each of them (none of them know each other) referred to a peacefulness or calm about me. And, it’s true. I’m deep in the sadness of the divorce. But I also made a decision a few weeks ago to return to my parenting roots.

When Maya was a baby I threw financial responsibility out the window so I could be with her. I’ve been lucky enough (or unlucky enough my parents or others might say) to have the attitude that “things will always work out.” With our first baby it was so clear to me that the only thing that mattered in my life—and I mean the only thing—was my daughter.

Our second baby, Althea, who turned a year old a few weeks ago has a lot in common with her sister. She’s deeply, deeply interested. Almost everyone she comes in contact with comments on the intensity of her gaze. She is different, of course, as well. She giggles and laughs a lot. Maya was always more serious.

The other day I was doing some errands with Althea in the car. Maya was off at school. As I got Althea in or out of the carseat I remembered how with Maya I never, ever went from one stop to the next without pausing in between. We probably spent hours in the car, her on my lap or standing on the passenger side. Talking to each other, looking out the window, snuggling, nursing. Always slow. We took our time and rarely rushed. It was my belief, and still is, that rushing children is something I like to reserve for those times when we really have to. Just like yelling or being really, really seriously firm/hard-ass about things. If I keep those to times when I really mean it, they have a lot more impact and usefulness.

So, a few weeks ago, I decided to slow down. I decided Althea needs more time like I gave to Maya. Peace. Slow. Touching tree bark, plucking dandelions. Pointing at leaves blowing in the wind, grabbing dirt. The textures, smells, sounds, and feelings of life. Slowly. With care.

Life is different these days, of course. Josh moves out in a month and a half. I’ve had to crank up my work schedule. Maya’s finding things worrisome (divorce related, definitely) and her anxiety is palpable. She needs lots and lots of Mommy, too. I’ve done the same with her. Slowed down. We’re not trying to get so many things done. We’re letting things slide. We spent a lot of time with sidewalk chalk after a rainstorm on the driveway a few days ago. Just being. Letting go of things like staying clean, or following rules, or having some ultimate goal. Being present, in the moment, in pure joy.

Parenting is a talent, a calling, a vocation that fits me perfectly. There is nothing I enjoy more with such frequency. The depth of the pleasure I feel in those moments when we are slow and still together, or when we’re all in a rhythm of getting what needs to get done, done… It’s like art for me. There’s a flow that happens more often than not. A grand orchestration, a weaving of connections. Love, interest, time, appreciation… Mothering.

One more

So this “vision” I’ve had of the guy out on the ocean has been with me for a few days, percolating. I didn’t think I’d write it up here because it felt like maybe it would come out like telling someone a dream does. It’s never really fun hearing someone else’s dream because there’s no way to get inside it. Then the book I started today began with a man coming to shore after being on the ocean. That was yet another blip of synchronicity that made me think I’d try to share the ocean guy thing. This book is the kind of thing that has me thinking, how is this possible? How can someone have so much wisdom and beautiful combinations of words in every single sentence? I’ve never considered myself a “romantic” person, but this has me wondering if I’m wrong. Then I was surprised to hear in the text the lyrics for this song. It’s been one of my favorites for as long as I can remember. If I wasn’t so tired and overwhelmed and exhausted and lonely and deeply sad (the pain of being away from my children combined with the exhaustion of being the only one “on duty” has been very, very difficult) and, did I mention, tired? I’d take it as a good sign that I keep having these lovely blips of happy coincidences. Mostly, though, I’m just tired.

a bit about #OWS/creeping fascism with some personal/blog updates

(For those not using twitter, #OWS is the hashtag used in tweets about “Occupy Wall St.”)

Today I read an article on the Freakonomics website about the Occupy Wall St (#OWS) activities that made me really angry. The tone was paternalistic and condescending in the extreme. I had planned tonight to simply update my America’s Creeping Fascism page [note made 6/25/2019: this page is long gone] with a couple links (which I did) but I realized I want to say a few words about #OWS. I’m also going to give an update about my life and the future of this blog.

So, regarding #OWS: When the Tea Party people started getting active I was reminded of my childhood. People always asked me about my religion when they found out my father was a minister. “Am I religious?” I’d say, “I don’t know, but, I know I believe in church.” I had seen too many people who had nothing else; no other community or support system welcomed them like church did. I feel similarly about activism. I don’t judge harshly any activists because I respect that they are actually doing something. Apathy is what is destroying our country’s chance at greatness. Activism in any form means people care, and that’s always a positive.

As for what #OWS and the many other actions happening across the country and now around the world, I agree with Angus Johnston’s take about how movements happen (I recommend his blog for a good blend of very current events informed by historical information). “You don’t win by making demands.” And, as the Rolling Stone piece I linked to on the Creeping Fascism page points out, the energy and enthusiasm and hope demonstrated by people taking part in the activism is amazing in and of itself.

Mostly when it comes to #OWS, I’m thrilled. I haven’t been active in much beyond my own life for a couple years with the exception of the poorly designed America’s Creeping Fascism page here on this site. Finding out that people are finally realizing that the “bad guys” aren’t the “others” that most people tend to blame. It’s not even the government, directly. It’s corporate greed and the influence it has had on our government. The groups of people out there are not “organized” in a way that fits easily into the corporate media’s needs so the fact that they are still in the news is promising. I’m excited by the fact that they haven’t lost much steam and that momentum elsewhere is growing. I’m feeling very hopeful for our country because of these activists.

Now, on to the personal stuff…

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day of my wedding, and while our divorce isn’t finalized on paper, it is without question going to be in the near future. My former husband and I are still friends and we are sharing custody of our two beautiful children. The girls and I live in Portland now (Maine, if you’re new to me/this blog) and their father is in Orono, Maine. He comes to be with them several times a month and they go to stay with him regularly, too.

I’ve been through some stressful times in the last few years. The last year in particular was dark and desperate. I let my business slide and came to some pretty dismal places emotionally and financially. Recently, in the last couple months, I’ve rediscovered myself. I’ve made adjustments where I needed to and I’ve remembered more intimately the lessons I learned when I began recovering from alcoholism just over 15 years ago. I remember now how to connect with what I call god. Through that connection, I know the very elemental and basic fact that everything is going to be okay. Working from that foundation, rather than one of fear, the rest of life begins to come together. Things are just as they are and it is good.

In the dark times I lost the ability to pay attention to a lot of the things that have held my interest for the last several years. In particular, the creation of meaning through metaphor (in my view, this is just another way of saying “all reality is socially constructed” which goes back to my college years studying Erving Goffman and Symbolic Interactionism). In the last couple years I’ve been really into the history of quantum mechanics. I’ve been fascinated by the interplay of themes with the George Lakoff/Drew Westen style brain work (metaphorical thought creates meaning) and the transformation of physics from a deterministic view of the world to one that is more malleable and flexible and flowing. In other words, “what is reality?”

For this blog, I would like to put the reader in a place of respect. I’d like to (with the exception of this post) share with you my ideas that have been thoughtfully considered. Atypical of my write-and-post style, I have drafts of blog posts forming. I don’t know how frequently I will post, but I know I’ll be posting again here soon.

I also hope to redesign the Creeping Fascism page so it’s user-friendly. Many of the links on there are really important, useful, terrifying, or inspiring. I’d like more people to access them.

To my friends and long-time readers who have reached this point in the post, thank you. I’m thrilled any time anyone clicks over to my site. The world is a very busy and crowded place. You taking time to read my thoughts is truly an honor. Again, I thank you.