Or are you?
Today I’d like your opinions. About meat, if you hadn’t guessed. And ethical eating in general. Is there anything you abstain from based on ideals? How do you react towards those who make it an issue? Do you make a big deal about not eating certain things? Or, if you do eat things like meat but feel morally ambiguous about it how do you go about righting it with yourself?
I used to be a vegetarian. It was just a short step after abstaining from pork, which I’d done most of high school. I’d like to say it was a purely cruelty-free decision but the truth is I was a college freshman, I was supposed to take up some issue and it was the one was most easily at hand. Plus, I was trying to lose some weight in a smart way (yeah, yeah, a college student trying to lose weight, you’ve heard that before. At least I was being safe!). And it worked. Mostly because I ate in a cafeteria where the prepared food was so unappealing I didn’t really want to eat the mystery meat or the Salisbury steak. I ate two salads a day. And gained a lot of brownie points at my fairly hippie liberal arts college. But then I transferred schools and moved back home, where avoiding meat wasn’t impossible, it just wasn’t convenient, or much fun. I’d have to cook for myself. As a sophomore in college I wasn’t at a point where I wanted to consider that much. So I slipped back into my normal habits.
Now that I’ve begun to cook for myself I could probably cut out meat. But I don’t want to. Even though I’m not a huge meat eater the thought of never having it again is enough to make me feel deprived. I love bacon, maybe better because I so rarely eat it. I like lamb. I admit it. I love lamb. I’d probably like veal. Or foie gras.
But even as I eat these things I can’t help but feel a pang of guilt. It’s not just about the fact that an animal was slaughtered. I can get over that if I try hard enough by thinking about how animals have been part of diets since prehistoric times. Hey, if Jesus ate it can you really say it’s a crime? The man was sinless! That was the whole point, right?
No, my concern lies less with this and more with the way our country, our planet even, has overly popularized, over farmed and over relied on meat as an essential part of our diet and society. I worry when I eat meat about how it was treated, fed and yes, slaughtered before being shipped thousands of miles to my local grocery store. It is the one part of ethical eating that really makes me question my own choices. I question the way we have turned what could be a good part of a diet into an industry that harms living animals, contributes to the destruction of the environment, and helps us maintain our current levels of obesity by making poor quality, high fat meats cheap and extremely available. The meat used at McDonald’s is probably second in my reasons for trying to avoid it, right after considering my personal health. I don’t want to contribute to the continuation of this problem.
And yet, I buy chicken at the store, have steak or lamb on occasion, and pork too. I am not practicing what I preach, even though I’d like to. I’d like to only eat sustainably grown, organic meats. Just as I’d prefer to eat vegetables produced the same way. I am trying to take this up as a goal for the summer when farmers’ markets are abundant. But I worry about money too. Am I being a pretentious, overprivileged consumer who thinks about these things only because I have the luxury to? I don’t think I am because I’m not very well off. But also because I think it is an important question we have to address soon, along with things like healthcare and the environment, important concerns regardless of economic status. I agree with Michael Pollan and Alice Waters when they say we need to address food as part of a trifecta of concerns about more healthful living, for ourselves and the planet.
What do you think?
Photo: American Meat Institute, 1947