I am an omnivore. I like eating meat.
But lately I’ve started to question my meat eating ways, since reading more and more about factory farming makes my stomach turn more and more often — the thought of a juicy chicken breast makes me a little nauseas, knowing a lot of that juice is actually muck-and-feces-filled water soaked up by the meat in the factory process (and I paid for that extra weight!).
I’ve never been one to sympathize with animal rights activists — sure, I want animals that are treated well, but…I also want to eat them, and I know slaughter is a necessary means to that end. Animals in nature have been eating other animals since the dawn of time, and I am just another animal-eating animal. And though it’s within my power — and would not be unhealthy for me — to become a vegetarian, meat is just too damn good.
But then I read about the abuses to pigs in the factory farm system that produces 99 percent of available pork.
Did you know pigs are extremely social and clever animals? According to Eating Animals author Jonathan Safran Foer, they’re legendary for undoing the latches on their pens, returning to undo the latches of their fellow pigs’ pens, often work in pairs, and are usually repeat offenders. Pregnant sows — whose instinct, Foer writes, tells them to build a nest and prepare for their young — are kept alone in cages so small they can’t move and they develop sores from rubbing the bars (apparently the cage prevents them from falling and crushing their piglets, since genetic engineering and confinement make pigs unable to easily lower themselves to the ground).
At the supermarket, looking at the refrigerated wall of meat products, these things now come to mind.
But on top of that, I feel I need to take into account the environmental impacts of eating meat too! Did you know that, according to the United Nations, the livestock industry contributes almost 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases — 40 percent more than the entire transportation industry? Maybe I shouldn’t feel guilty, or even all that inconvenienced, driving a little farther to get more sustainably farmed meat. (Issues of offshore drilling and non-renewable resources notwithstanding, of course — I can only worry about so many problems at once!)
I did feel guilty last night eating sashimi at my favorite sushi bar — I didn’t want to ask where the fish came from, or by what methods it was acquired, because I wanted to enjoy the bright, fresh taste of that perfect slab of yellowtail!
How about all the antibiotics being pumped into the water of factory farmed animals? There are reasons — MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureaus) being a big one — why we humans need a prescription to get antibiotics. Yet factory farmers feed it like Wheaties to their animals, no vet signature required. (Interestingly, the FDA is tackling this very issue right now, and for the first time in decades may be making progress toward regulating this practice.)
And while I am angry at BP for causing what is likely the greatest American environmental disaster ever (89 to 176 million gallons and counting), did you know the Exxon Valdez spill (11 million gallons) was not necessarily the greatest before it? In 1995, Smithfield spilled 20 million gallons of pig farm feces and waste — stored in a toxic “lagoon” — into a North Carolina river. Oops!
For the time being, as I continue reading and researching and learning, I am dedicating myself to being (and becoming) a more conscious eater of animals.
Living in the Bay Area, I’m in a fairly unique position in terms of access to local, sustainable produce and meat, so I’m trying to eat only (or at least mostly) meat from sources I know and trust.
I recently happened across Marin Sun Farms’ roadside butcher shop an hour north of San Francisco, and just last week heard they had opened a shop in Oakland, 15 minutes from my kitchen — their pork, beef, lamb, goat, chicken, etc. comes from healthy, pastured animals on a farm committed to reducing greenhouse gasses in their practices.
From Berkeley Bowl to the little market near my office, I’m discovering more and more sources of sustainable meat — the foodie scene makes it easy to find shops and restaurants, clerks and chefs, who care about this stuff. (Don’t forget, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters are both from Berkeley).
For full disclosure, however, I have yet to ask if any of the animals in my fridge were genetically modified. Committing to buying grass-fed, to me, is an important first step.
That doesn’t make it an easy one, though — Steve’s grandfather just sent us a freezer-filling order of Omaha Steaks. (Where’s the farm in this PR statement: “Our state-of-the-art business facilities include two manufacturing plants, a distribution center, and a freezer warehouse.”)
I can’t refuse an old man’s gift — but how should I feel while preparing and eating it?