This post is a departure from my usual. I need a chance to think out loud about a larger-than-usual decision I’m making. Bear with me, or skip it entirely if you like. You can always come back again later for nerdier fun. This morning I’m writing about this choice. This is not a life-or-death decision, but it is certainly a change in the way I view the world.
See, I was a Vegetarian for 5 years of my life, and have been Pescatarian (I eat fish) for another 9 years after that. I’ve recently decided that I’m going to eat meat. The beef and poultry kind of meat. I haven’t acted on this decision, yet. I thought that writing this out might help me understand my changing views, so here goes.
I originally became a Vegetarian because I stopped liking meat. I don’t know if it was the preparation, a blood-type thing, or just a distaste for the weight and texture of meat. After a couple of weeks without, a hamburger felt like a huge snail crawling through my system. A Vegetarian diet didn’t slow me down. It worked.
When it comes down to it, It’s not really about the animals. I do care about animals, probably more than the average animal-lover, but I’m what I would call “pragmatic” about it. I’m not squeamish about blood. I’m not anti-hunting. I understand overpopulation. I understand that the cost of building the living space that I enjoy means displacing a good portion of habitat and that the price is often paid in blood, one way or another. I’ve come to terms with that.
That being said, over the years I have become painfully aware of the horrors of the commercial meat industry. I cannot and will not ever eat meat from animals who have been raised shoulder-to-shoulder like plants, fed chemicals and their own brethren, slaughtered inhumanely and shipped to my grocery store. It’s not my primary reason for being Vegetarian (or Pescatarian); the principles resulting from this knowledge can still be adhered to without forgoing meat altogether. It’s just been what “felt” right for me.
I can’t fully explain why I decided seafood was going to fit into my overall diet. I think I knew I needed more protein than I was getting, and fish seemed benign enough to not conflict with the feelings I had developed about eating flesh. Somehow seafood didn’t equate to beef and poultry. I’m still squeamish about fish I know are being overfished, and have avoided certain types based on what knowledge I had. I’m also generally careful about where my seafood comes from, but not to the point where I wouldn’t eat sushi out if I didn’t know its origin.
My diet is still primarily Vegetarian, fish is an occasional thing. But I consume it often enough that I can’t call myself a Vegetarian. I’m also very, very far from Vegan. Really, the only things I don’t eat are beef, poultry and pork, as well as a good number of foods that I’m just too damn picky to swallow.
I recently watched several TED talks on seafood. I’ve realized that for every shrimp I eat, dozens more creatures of the sea were being killed and discarded. The random destruction of entire ecosystems is a huge price to pay for a small meal. The most frightening aspect, to me, is that–from my location in the Upper Midwest–I have no way to see where my seafood is really coming from, or the impact that its production has. At least with beef, I have the ability to trace the source and understand the process.
It’s really that simple. Once you know something like that, it’s hard to see things the same way. I’m not John McCain. I don’t change my views based on light pressures or a change in wind direction. I am willing, however, to change my stance in light of new facts or new understandings.
I’ve seen the local chicken factories. They’re disgusting. You can smell them for miles. I have no intention of eating what they produce. Nor will I be eating at KFC or McDonald’s (I’ve boycotted McDonald’s for 17 years for reasons mostly separate from their meat sources). However, I’ve also worked on small, independent farms. I’ve slaughtered cows, chickens, turkeys and pigs. I’ve had their blood on my hands and, honestly, it didn’t bother me. I can eat meat from those grass-fed, free-range sources.
Further, and the reason I’m mostly focused on beef right now, is that our cattle are almost entirely dependent on us. They’re a creation of our own breeding and farming techniques. They’re not “wild,” they wouldn’t survive without our intervention. The feelings I used to have about seafood have now transferred to cows. It might just be a mental justification I’ve concocted, but it makes sense at the moment. I still do not want to see any animal raised in horrid conditions and then slaughtered on a conveyer belt. I doubt I will ever want to have any part in that.
As a general rule, I won’t be eating meat (including fish) at restaurants. Unless they can tell me that they’ve sourced their meat locally and can account for its life and death to some reasonable extent, I won’t be able to put it in my mouth. There are several restaurants around here which can actually do that, though, and I’m kind of looking forward to a steak at one of these establishments. Our local co-op also has a great selection of meats from local farmers whose farms I’ve seen, whose cattle I can personally verify is free of growth hormones and other nasties, and whose death I can verify is as humane as a slaughter can be. I’m ready to eat those cows. I think…
Why eat meat at all? Without strong moral objections, I’m finding I’m curious. I might change my mind after a month of trying it. I don’t know. I think there may be health benefits for me, too. I’m told a shift in my diet might help the nasty intestinal problems I’ve suffered from for almost two years now. Maybe it will be more effective than the $10,000 I paid out-of-pocket for hospital stays and tests last year. That’s a lot of money to not have any answers, or even suggestions. Either way, I want to find out. I just need to do it with an understanding of the ecological effect of my decisions, and to eat in a way that helps, in some small way, to create a sustainable way of life on a large scale.