The topic of eating meat--whether or not to eat it, if so in what quantities, and where to source it--has been a popular topic in the blogosphere this past week. Sharon addressed it at Casaubon's Book on Monday, Erin posted on The Green Phone Booth on Tuesday and Kate talked about it on Thursday at The Simple Green Frugal Co-op. So, I suppose I feel compelled to add my own two cents. I agree with most, if not all, of what these women write. At my house, we do eat meat, but in limited quantities and I'm very conscious of where it comes from. It will be one year ago in February that my husband and I joined a grocery co-op and we started buying, what is starting to be described as, SOLE food--Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical--whenever we can. These changes have extended to all our food, but the change in the meat that we eat has, by far, been the most important for me personally.
I had never really thought about it before. I just knew that once a week you were supposed to go to the grocery store and there you would buy enough food to last you another week. Wash, rinse, repeat. I had absolutely no idea where my food actually came from and I didn't know that not knowing was a problem. If I had to ask my then-self where my pork chop came from, I would probably naively answer, "a farm." But once the reality of factory farmed meat became clear to me, there was really no way that I could close my eyes to it.
I do think that we are "supposed" to eat meat. I believe that it provides essential nutrients to our bodies. I believe that we evolved to be omnivores. We wouldn't have canine teeth and eyes on the front of our heads if we weren't supposed to eat other animals in addition to plants. But I also believe that for an animal to die so that I can live, is an amazing and precious gift. Those animals deserve my respect, my caring, and my mercy. Packing 5,000 hogs into a building where they have no room to lie down and never see the sun is not respect. Keeping laying hens in cages so small that they can't even turn around or stretch their wings is not caring. And having a killing line that tries to process more cattle than is possible with the result of cows often being skinned alive is not mercy. Knowing the conditions that these animals suffer in (as well as the workers--I know this is a human's rights issue as well) makes it impossible for me to eat them. How could I? So, I spend the extra $2 a pound for ground beef that comes from local cows that live on small farms and are allowed to graze on pasture for part of the year and I just eat less of it to make that choice financially possible. I don't think animals need to be coddled. But they should be allowed to live according to their nature. That means they should be able to be outside, to breathe fresh air, feel the sunshine, and to live a life free from pain and suffering.
In short, whether each of us eats meat or not, I think that the distance between the consumer and the producer of food--all food--is a really big problem. So few people are really aware of where their food comes from, how it gets to them and, increasingly, how to prepare it, if it doesn't come in a box or a can.