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.