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Archive for the ‘meat’ Category

I’d been thinking recently about how exactly my interest in all-things-food-related came about, and I decided it really had a lot to do with cooking. I really didn’t care about food until after I’d dropped out of college after 1 semester. After that, I started working at a restaurant. There, I started as a prep cook, chopping vegetables and making sauces. I graduated to fry cook shortly thereafter and discovered that I really enjoyed working in a kitchen. At the same time, actually handling the ingredients that went into these meals made me start thinking about where dinner actually comes from – something I’d never had to consider when my mom was making all of my meals. I was struck by the enormous food waste created by the food industry, something that appalled me almost to the point of physical illness.

One morning, while I was busy scrambling five million eggs for the breakfast rush, a woman came through the kitchen door with a dolly stacked with crates of food. The eggs were speckled, the carrots had dirt on them, and her hands were rough and ridged with hard labor. The head cook told me that she was a local farmer who provided the restaurant with eggs and whatever vegetables were in season. All of a sudden, farms became a big deal to me, and I had to know more.

Now, my cooking is a part of my interest in local food issues. Just as with the second-wave feminists, political action is first encited by personal experience. I will never again be able to look at my dinner without thinking about the systems that created it, and its consequences. A step in the right direction.

I was thinking about this today because my friend Lauren just sent me an article from Grist on the revolutionary nature of the cookbook, and the way they have changed the way Americans think about food in all of its permutations. Go read it.

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Ethical Meat

A happy cow at AppleSchram Orchard, not far ouside of Lansing

Cookiecrumb of I’m Mad and I Eat fame brought up a good topic the other day: that of former vegetarians being swayed by humanely-raised-and-processed meats. I’ve seen some of this here in Michigan, though not a lot. I’ve seen more meat eaters switch to ethical meats, however. It raises interesting questions though, and while I’m still vegetarian and plan to stay that way for the foreseeable future, that’s no reason not to take a look at the issue.

I’ve heard it said that sustainable/local is the new organic. I’m fairly convinced that it’s also the new vegetarian too. As more and more people are talking about local, humanely-raised animal products, people who once might have considered vegetarianism are instead starting to buy more pastured products. My mom is a case in point. I’ve been talking to her about food for years, and for years she has told me “if it wasn’t for your dad, I’d probably consider going vegetarian.” She’s the cook in the house, and if she stopped cooking meat, there would be trouble. Sigh.

Anyway, I made her read Omnivore’s Dilemma this summer, and she immediately decided that she wanted to find local sustainable and friendly sources for her meat from now on. It fascinated me that she latched onto this so quickly, while the idea of not eating meat was such a struggle for her. I think that for people who have the means to do so (and let’s not kid ourselves: these are considerable means we’re talking about here), eating “humane” animal products is a way of assuaging their guilt without taking a more radical stance.

Now I need to back up, because I’m making claims more antagonistic than I really intended when I sat down to write this. I eat animal products too. As I’ve mentioned before, I was vegan for 4 or 5 years until this past year, when I caved. This caving was not the result of serious thought and consideration. It was because I’d moved in with John, and he didn’t know how to cook vegan food. I didn’t want to end up cooking all of our meals, and I was pretty tempted by eggs and cheese to begin with, so I just started eating it. It wasn’t an ethical choice. And I was eating eggs and cheese from the supermarket, too: organic, mostly, but nowhere near humane. So I’m not speaking from any kind of moral high ground here. I’ve since cleaned up my act a bit, buying local milk and eggs form happy cows and chickens, and I’ve been trying to find more local happy cheeses, but I’m by no means spotless.

When I first stopped eating meat, I did so for a whole host of reasons. For the most part, those reasons have stayed the same for the past 6 years. I’m less focused on animal rights/liberation now, and more on sustainability, but all of my original problems with meat are still intact. Eating meat is inefficient, environmentally unsustainable (at least in the way it’s being done at the moment, and with the current global population) and cruel to animals. The first two issues are addressed fairly well by pastured/ heritage/small-farmed meats. If those were the only issues I had with meat, I’d be eating bacon for breakfast.

I still can’t shake the opinion that eating meat is cruel, no matter how you slice it (forgive me). I believe, pretty firmly, that it is cruel to kill something if you don’t really need to. These pastured, humanely raised meats are certainly much less cruel than factory farmed meats. But they are still cruel in my book, and I try to avoid unnecessary cruelty.

I won’t state any moral absolutes. This issue becomes tricky when I expand the issue beyond my own circumstances. I was reading 100 Mile Diet a while ago, and got to this part:

Alisa and I were near-vegans when we began our Hundred Mile Diet three months ago. Suddenly, everything we could eat or drink at home had to come from local land and waters, and immediately an unexpected ethical question loomed. What the hell are we going to eat for breakfast?

James and Alisa (vegans) decided that they couldn’t eat a local, sustainable diet that didn’t include animal products, even fish. In Vancouver, that’s probably true. And I’m okay with that. As I said, it’s cruel to kill something if you don’t really need to. If the choice is between humanely raised chickens from the farm 10 miles away and Boca burgers, I’ll take the chicken. I’d sill feel a little bit gross about it after all this time not eating meat, but I really think that would be the right decision in that case. Fortunately, Michigan (while cold) grows a whole lot of really great food, much of which is protein- and calorie- dense enough to stand in for meat. If Michigan stops producing beans and grains and the like, and if I don’t have my mini-farm by then, I’ll give it some thought. But for the time being, that’s where I stand on meat.

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