Thursday, June 26, 2014

Eating Animals

Olga and I managed to drag ourselves back to the park yesterday morning, sinus headache and all. We saw quite a variety of insects, including this Tiffany-brooch-like longhorn beetle and a red admiral similar to the one I saw last year in Spain. Olga ran and ran while I finished Jonathan Safran Foer's book "Eating Animals," about the ethics of farming and vegetarianism.

It was a good book, similar to numerous other books that have been popular in recent years, like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "Fast Food Nation," pointing out the evils of industrial agriculture and slaughter. Foer's position is that eating any animals is morally wrong given the pervasiveness of factory farms in the United States. There's no way to avoid eating meat that comes from cruelty unless you avoid meat altogether, he says.

As you know, I lean vegetarian, although I was only strictly vegetarian for a time back in the early '90s. For about 20 years I didn't eat red meat or cook any meat at home, until I met Dave. These days I usually go vegetarian when I make my own eating choices, which means limiting my intake of meat, chicken or fish to about once a day. Living with Dave -- a proud and enthusiastic carnivore who always cooks dinner -- it's not realistic to imagine I can do much more.

I've written about this before -- my struggle to figure out my ethical role in a system of unnecessary animal cruelty. If I can't eliminate meat from my diet altogether, minimizing my intake seems like the next best option. (I'm not quite as all-or-nothing as Safran Foer, recognizing that I have to make allowances for other people. I already feel guilty for being such a Debbie Downer when Dave whips up lamb shanks or some similar dish that makes me blanch. I eat them but I don't hide my ambivalence very well.)

Perhaps we can make some smarter shopping decisions, though that will take research. And what about eggs? What about dairy? They're farm products that carry a heavy burden of cruelty, but I've always eaten them.

At some point regulators have to step up and prevent the worst abuses, but under the current system in the U.S. that's not happening. Farming has been subjected to the same Wall Street pressures facing most industries -- privatized health care, privatized correctional facilities, journalism, you name it -- putting profits ahead of ethics. And the underlying problem -- which Safran Foer did not mention in his book -- is one I rail against all the time, overpopulation. Factory farming is surely a direct result of having to economically feed millions and millions of mouths -- far more than were eating farm products a century ago, back in the days of lower-yield family farms.

Anyway, I do think about this issue a lot. I really struggle with it. I just don't see how I can go back to vegetarianism myself, though I certainly would if it were up to me.


  1. Actually it is a double edge sword...factory farming is mostly fed to the animals...not the people. Mostly corn and soy...I will not eat any meat from a husband hunts and I buy meat if I have to from a rancher that raises grass fed beef and their own eggs. Yes, it cost more...a lot more for the beef but I figure eat less...

  2. I, too have had a sinus headache. I hope yours is now gone. The Sufi acupuncturist put crushed Frankincense and Myrrh into a tiny piece of cheesecloth that I put into a nostril. He left me alone for awhile - I breathed in that beautiful scent and my headache disappeared! It was awesome.

    As for meat, it's a difficult topic. Especially as I get older, complex protein is what is mot nourishing for me - meat, chicken or fish and vegetables. I don't do well when I eat a lot of bread, pasta and rice. And cheese is something I can't digest. I need to eat what keeps me healthy and energized. I eat mostly very high quality meat though I eat in restaurants, so I'm sure some of what I eat is from industrial farms.

    I don't think I'm immoral for eating the food that agrees with me. By remaining well fed and healthy, I can be productive. It seems important to me that I not become one of the walking dead, the people who eat food that disagrees with them or doesn't nourish them.

    It's interesting to think about.

  3. Is it possible, at least now and then, to have Dave buy from a reliably good source of compassionately raised meat?
    At least that way, there is some support of such efforts.
    It is more expensive but it is healthier, tastier, and better for us. And if everyone chose to buy at least a little of their meat from such sources, it would make some difference, I think.

  4. I've never used the word 'elegant' to describe a bug before but, the one in your photo is certainly elegant looking.

  5. Humans are omnivores for a reason. I do understand the ethical dilemma of how modern meat is raised and slaughtered. but I find it hard to say slitting the throat of a cow raised in a pasture is any less cruel. the way it lives perhaps but not the way it's killed. my main concern about eating meat is not so much how the animal is raised though that is important, but all the hormones and antibiotics that we consume through the meat. We buy organic meat when we can, usually just ground beef and chicken since that is generally all that is easily available to us. but eating meat itself is not an issue for me, though I was a vegetarian for several years. I would prefer to eat less than we do but since I'm not the cook, I eat what I'm served.

  6. I love the photo that goes along with this post -- and given how overwhelming EVERYTHING is to me at this moment in time, I'm going to stare at it a bit more.

  7. Sublime photo!

    I can understand your feelings. I have many friends who are vegetarian for the same reasons. But, I don't think mankind would exist today if they had not eaten meat and subsisted instead on fruits and vegetables. It's a tough call for sure.

  8. Not sure if it is an option in London but I get around the food issues by shopping at the Co-op where everything is local organic, beef is grass fed and out in a field, Chickens are free range outdoor chooks, eggs as well. I prefer to not eat baby animals with faces...too cute. IT is more expensive but a tiny bit of animal with loads of stir fry veg goes a long way.Since I do the shopping mostly, unless Mr.Man goes to some discount warehouse and buys a case of spam!- I have some measure of control over what is consumed. I am not a fancy maker of dinners...just honest simple good food.
    When I lived in London a hundred years ago there were options,"food for thought" I remember and a lot of eating seasonally, locally, organically. Maybe it was just a trend.

  9. Ain't: It's great that you have a connection with a rancher that allows you to know the source of your meat. That would go a long way toward alleviating my concerns.

    Reya: I think we all need to eat what nourishes us. You're not alone there. Fortunately, I've felt fine on largely veg diets, so for me I think that should be no problem.

    Ms Moon: I think we DO need to explore that possibility. I don't mind the expense. (It would encourage us to eat less meat by default!)

    Sharon: Isn't it elegant? I was worried it was an Asian Longhorn, which are invasive and tree-killers, but no. It's a European native.

    Ellen: At least you're buying organic when you can. That's a big step in the right direction. I am very concerned about the animal's life up until its slaughter. Some of these animals live in such misery and know nothing else. But I understand about eating what you're served!

    Elizabeth: Thanks. :)

    Lynne: We definitely needed meat at one time. But now we can cultivate food so much more effectively. If we put all the cultivated land used to grow food for livestock to use growing food for people, we'd be able to feed ourselves much more efficiently.

    Linda Sue: I'm not aware of a co-op in our area, but I'd agree that in England there is more of a sense of eating locally and seasonally. Apparently factory farming is less of an issue here, but it is gradually coming.