The Ethics of Ethical Meat
“How can you possibly be an educated person and still eat meat?” I’ve come across this attitude fairly frequently from those vegetarians and vegans that choose to be so for ethical reasons. While understand the reasoning behind this statement, especially in regards to factory farming in America, I can still counter their position.
“How can you be so lazy that you’re not willing to do the research to find ethically-sourced meats?”
Herein lies the debate. Before we venture into this delicate conversation (emotions may run strong, as you are what you eat), I feel the need to define what ethical means, at least in regards to this posting. According to Webster’s Dictionary, ethical means:
1) involving questions of right and wrong behavior, relating to ethics
2) following accepted rules of behavior, morally right and good
So, from here on out, we can agree that what people view as ethical, is culturally and socially learned. Therefore, no two people will have the exact same set of moral values that determines their view of ethical. May we also agree that they are questions of right and wrong? There is no definitive answer to what is truly ethical.
At this time, we struggle with the rights of vegan parents whose children suffer or possibly die from not getting proper nutrition. Which is more ethical, to feed your child according to the needs suggested by human biology, or concern yourself with rights of animals?
This is my truth, and this is how I eat meat ethically
As a yoga teacher, we are constantly come across the debate of ahimsa or non-harming. For many practitioners this means being vegan or vegetarian. In my case, I’ve tried both of these diets, and even raw vegan, but they didn’t work for me. My body felt lighter, but not as strong. My joints became weak and overly flexible. I knew that in order to practice ahimsa towards myself, I was going to have to re-introduce animal products into my diet, and to practice ahimsa towards the environment and the other beings in it, I was going to have to do the research.
A very strong argument against meat is that it is bad for the environment, which it is if produced in factory farm conditions. These operations create excess animal waste, not only urine and fecal matter, but also because of all the pesticides from the feed, the growth hormones and the antibiotics farm animals are given to combat disease and infection resulting from their disgusting, unsafe and overcrowded living situation. Where does this excess go? Often we find it ending up in our watersheds due to rain run-off. And the stuff that never makes it out of the animal? Well, that winds up on your table. There is even a blood trail that goes beyond the feedlot. It can be found in the GMO grains fed to the cattle, the antibiotics that were tested on the other animals, and the petroleum it takes to transport the final meat products.
But there is hope! You have a choice! So, how do we change these practices: Vote with your fork
Following the lead of Joel Salatin and and other farmers, there are meat producers who use no chemicals and rely on the symbiotic relationship of various species. Plants and animals help each other when manure is treated as a natural fertilizer. To leave less of a carbon footprint, these are farmers only fairly close to home, at local stores, or in farmers’ markets. Even Chipotle has committed in several locations to locally source its meats from farmers who do not use pesticides, hormones or antibiotics. Meat produced this way could make up about 5% of American meat. American Meat, a film now available online, explains the differences between factory production and other alternatives.
The first step to being an ethical carnivore is to eat more veggies. Veggies take less energy to produce. Yes, they are transported and require water, but you don’t need to feed them corn and grain that’s been transported across miles and miles, so they are ultimately more eco-friendly. Plus everyone needs more vegetables! Raw, fermented and cooked vegetables that come in lots of varieties and colors make for a healthy body and digestive system. Many of us eat too much meat, and healthy, responsible, organic, pastured meats are expensive, so this will also help your carnivorous purchases last longer.
Economically, veggies are cheaper than meat. I hear a lot of complaints from people that ethically-raised meats are too expensive. If you are feeling economically stressed by buying more expensive cuts of meat, eating more vegetables will help your budget stretch a little further.
Stretching the Dollar for Ethical Meats
Cheaper cuts of meat can be slow cooked to the point that they become delicious and tender. These cuts also tend to have more fat and nutrients. Do the research and learn how to cook them to make them delicious! Use them to make big batches of chile, soup, and other slow-cooked meals you can freeze. This will help keep ethically-raised meats in the house in the time of a crunch or an emergency. Bone broths are a great option too, easy and cheap to make from soup bones.
The Slow Food Movement is starting to gain momentum and restaurants supporting the practice of local, environmentally-responsible farming are cropping up more and more. Eat meat at these restaurants. They tend to promote the source of the products. If they aren’t promoting the source, there’s usually something to hide. Eat vegetarian in these places. If people stop eating factory-farmed meat, demand decreases and producers will realize it’s time to switch practices.
Ok, so I’ve been talking a lot about eating veggies. So, where’s the meat? Here it is!
Talk to your butcher and grocery store. Tell them what you want. If they don’t have it, maybe they can order if for you. The more questions you ask, the more research they have to do. The more you buy the good stuff, the more they are going to sell it. Do you see a pattern here? Vote with your fork.
Shop at your local health food stores, and if you live in a food desert, make friends with your farmer. If you are economically stressed, talk to your farmer. Farmers are people, too, and they don’t make six-figure incomes, either. Maybe you can barter with them! Volunteer on the farm, trade services or offer to do marketing for them. Grow a food community. Buy a whole steer or lamb with your neighbors or extended family. Split the costs.
If you join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group, you can eliminate the middlemen and pick up at a drop off station shared with other customers.
Being an ethical carnivore looks different for everyone, but there is always a choice. I’m not saying its always the easiest, cheapest, instantly-gratifying choice, but when you eat you vote. Vote for the cleaner environment. Vote for the farmers to raise animals so they get to express than animal-ness. Vote to support your small farmers that are struggling to keep up with Big Ag. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Create your ideal food world. Vote with your fork