Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Eating Animals (not by JSF)

This post is a bit of a cheat, as it is more or less culled from something I wrote previously.  So, if you have already read this, feel free to skip today's reflection!  Also, it is actually about eating animals, as opposed to being about not eating them.  I am also glad to talk more about what I write below, so please feel free to comment or email and I will definitely get back to you.

I've recently* reconsidered my pseudo-vegetarian (PV) diet (by this I mean that I have always eaten wild seafood, along with the occasional hunted venison, wild boar, and true free-ranged poultry). Having been a PV for around six years, I actually felt pretty good, was healthy for the most part and in a given month had something along the lines of one or two seafood dishes with the remainder being entirely vegetarian. I also ate eggs, cheese, honey, and milk - excepting a short stint of veganism for Lent one year. So, I would say that my reasons for being a PV were a little moral, a little political, and a little nutritional.

Moral, because I didn't like animals being haphazardly raised, made to suffer, and killed in factory farm settings. I still don't! I still won't eat the garbage that they sell you in place of beef, pork, and poultry at the supermarket. I never really had qualms with the thought of animals being killed though, but to those who do - here were some of the questions I asked myself when deciding. How are all the vegetables, grains, and legumes that you eat grown? How are these things fed and fertilized? How are they harvested? How many living beings are killed when a field is plowed? How many habitats are destroyed, diverted, filled-in, dug-up, or just moved to make room for agricultural products? How do you define a living being? By analogy to human beings? Some other way? If you don't know answers to these questions (even if you are not a vegetarian) take some time to look that information up.

Political, because I thought that factory farms were the bane of the earth, that they destroy the environment, as well as demand unbelievably large amounts of water, electricity, and grain. I still do! I am encouraged by the number of permaculture farms that have sprung up in quiet protest of the industrial eating machine that we daily cultivate here. I'll also continue to work with others to stop some of this degradation. However, I wasn't really as off the hook with the previous complaints as I thought I was. I asked myself - Is grain meant to be grown everywhere? If so, why does it require massive amounts of water to be diverted for its irrigation? Am I all right with the environmental devastation that comes from the industrial scale  production of corn, wheat, and the 'organic' produce that is available? Compare the amount of calories, nutrients, and nourishment that a correctly-raised cow (not factory-farmed) provides with that of the most earth-friendly, complete vegetarian diet you can find.

Nutritional, because common-sense** would seem to dictate that eating lots of grains, vegetables, and legumes would be way better than eating lots of meat. Also, I managed to ascribe medicinal properties to lots of the food I was eating (see last week's reflection), so that made it better. I still think it is a good idea to eat vegetables and fruit, and maybe some grain, but being nourished correctly from a vegetarian diet is a hell of a job. Despite what people may tell you to your face, eating a vegetarian diet that includes all the protein(s) that you need requires you to literally plan every meal, very carefully, with ratios and proportions measured***. A vegetarian diet does not simply mean making all your normal meals without the meat. Further, ask some of these questions - How are soy products made (milk, burgers, TSP, edamame - obviously might not apply if you steer clear of soy, which you should)? What do grains and other carbohydrates, simple and complex, break down into once I digest them? Why do cows have four stomachs and I one? Could I (in theory/if necessary) eat raw meat and stay alive? Could I (in theory/if necessary) eat raw wheat, soy, barley, quinoa, and legumes and stay alive? Are cholesterol and saturated fat important? Why have Americans gotten fatter even though we have a low/no-fat substitute for every food we eat? Consider the influence exerted by those in power who have helped us to start seeing all saturated fat and cholesterol as so very bad. Meanwhile, we become blind to the fact that most of our food is packed with grain and grain byproducts (i.e. corn syrup). If you hate geese being force-fed grain for foie gras, you should hate how much we look like those geese, especially vegetarians.

I know that it would be in good form for me to cite a bunch of studies, or a bunch of authors here so your job is easier, but I do that enough and would prefer that you all just listened to me without questioning. Seriously though, when all the arguments are already preempted before you have a chance to look things up for yourself, authors commit a kind of verbal fascism. However, I am not claiming to present an unbiased picture here. I actually want all of you who are vegetarians to stop being vegetarians and that is why I write (if any of you are vegans, I really want you to stop). I also want those of you who eat meat to consider where it comes from, what the animals eat, and whether you love the animals being slaughtered so much that you can consider every aspect of their lives from their birth to their intersection with your own life as you eat. 

* Recently as in July of 2010 - I was a PV for 6 years prior.
** Next week, I will post a reflection on why I think what I describe here seems like 'common-sense'
*** Obsessing over the types of food you eat to the point of measurement on a near-pharmaceutical level sounds a lot like an eating disorder, whatever form it takes.  There is such thing as re-orienting your eating apparatus, but at some point, you become nothing more than an eating apparatus.


  1. Rachel and I recently went to a wild game fund-raising dinner. All the meat had been donated by local hunters. There were such dishes as pheasant egg rolls, elk meatballs, rabbit and squirrel stew and wild turkey with mashed potatoes. Here in Minnesota I've run into more people supplementing their diet with local wildlife, especially fish.

  2. Wild game is really amazing stuff. Hunting is far less popular here in CT, though fishing till has a following. You can get it from time to time, but it is technically illegal to sell (I think it is in most places), and to buy it from a licensed processor is really pricey.

  3. What I find most depressing is the lack of butchers. In England, practically every village has a butcher and often they offer not just game and the usual fare, but they can order more unusual things (tripe) and often sell meat from local farms, or true free range poultry. Going to the supermarket here just depresses me. Where do *you* purchase meat around here?

  4. Seriously depressing! So, what I usually do is buy my meat from the farmers at the wooster st market. They have it all through the winter, and the stuff is pretty nice. It is a bit more expensive than most are used to paying, but I haven't found it prohibitively so. Also, I email or call them prior to the market and special order my tripe, caul fat, spleen, belly, and trotters. Folks in the US are too focused on cheap, cheap, cheap and so we've pretty much lost our traditional butchers.