Friday, March 16, 2012

Stumbling Block

Tomorrow is the Big Day of Meat in the Philistine house.  The Husband has been smoking one of the briskets all day today, so we'll have pastrami by morning (it's taking its own sweet time to come to temperature).  The other brisket is still snoozing in the crisper, waiting for its low, slow bath in the roaster tomorrow morning.
As we come closer to tomorrow's dinner, I find myself struggling with the meal.  In my efforts to eat less meat, this is certainly a complete 180 from my normal objectives.  Yes, it will taste good.  Yes, we will have a good time with the friends who come over to share the meal with us.
But the more I work to have a healthy lifestyle, one that works to prevent colon cancer, (and other cancers, too) gives energy, and keeps our hearts healthy, I'm also looking at how my diet affects the planet and how it affects animals.
I can look at my consumption of animal-based food products from a variety of perspectives: the amount of water it takes to feed a herd, how much corn is raised to feed just cattle (which shouldn't be eating corn in the first place), the reprehensible conditions at slaughterhouses, the way chickens are kept inside cages (their beaks and claws having been removed), how pesticides and antibiotics are being pumped into animals and onto crops to make them bigger and more marketable... it makes me shudder.
What is getting harder and harder for me to ignore is the welfare of the animals I am consuming.  How do I know if the beef that I purchased was allowed to roam free in acres of grasslands or shunted into holding pens?  How do I know that the cage-free eggs in my fridge means that the hens were allowed to see the sky and breathe in fresh air instead of just being piled on top of one another in a filthy barn-like structure?  How do I know that the milk I'm giving my daughter came from a cow who was allowed to also nurse its calf instead of having it shipped off to a veal pen?

The truth is that right now, I don't.
I don't know, and that bothers me.

I have done a lot of research when it comes to the vegetables we consume.  I could easily go to the farm where all our veggies are planted and harvested, and I can taste the freshness.
I love it.
It's not see easy with meat and dairy.
Yes, we have local dairies, local cattle ranches, even a local pig farm, and we've gotten products from all of them.
But some of them are not the most convenient to obtain products, and none of them are the cheapest option.  And to be honest, some of them, which I'm not going to name as I don't think that's right or fair to these local organizations, don't raise their animals in a manner with which I'm 100% comfortable.
In an ideal world, I'd be able to have a few chickens in the backyard for natural pest control (they like scorpions, making them my new favorite animal) and egg supply.  My big concern here is neither our city ordinances for our housing zone nor the cranky old neighbor two doors down but rather Zooey.  I imagine a Of Mice and Men Lenny- mouse type incident should we bring home a couple of chicks, which would be devastating to both HRH and myself.  But I'd still like to move more toward that.
In an ideal world, I'd find a dairy that doesn't ship out its calves just to make the milk.  I know from personal experience that one can produce milk even if the wee one for which it was intended isn't there (I've even read articles about women whose babies just wouldn't take to the breast, so they pumped rather than use formula - side note: these women are amazing).  Of course, I understand, too, that human milk is made for human babies; cow milk is made for baby cows.  But I know, realistically, that dairy will be the hardest for me to give up, so were I to be able to find a dairy like I described, I'd be more comfortable using dairy in smaller portions.
In an ideal world, I'd only eat meat on very few occasions, eating that which was raised in that pastoral manner I envision whenever I think of ranching or farming.  The animals would need to have been fed a diet that is amenable to their digestive system (that means grass-fed and finished beef), and the slaughter needs to be as humane as possible.  I know that true vegans believe that any slaughter isn't humane, and I understand that, but I'm trying to use some sort of scale for myself.
We have a friend who went vegan last year, and we talked about his process back in December.  He told me that when he first began, it was a bit easier to cheat, since he was doing it solely for health reasons.  However, he soon started making his decisions from an ethical basis, which made it impossible for him to cheat.  Makes sense - I have a former boss who doesn't eat turkey because it still looks like it did when it was alive, and other people I know won't eat fish because sometimes it can be purchased "with a face."
I know that in order to obtain higher quality products, I'm going to need to spend a little more money.  But we also have a budget that we need to stick to, and that's tougher to reconcile when it's more than a few cents a pound like it might be for organic potatoes over conventional (for the record, potatoes are on the "dirty dozen" list - a list of 12 produce items that "should" be organic purchases so to avoid higher pesticide residues).  It's a conversation that we are continuing to have so that we can make proper, healthy, informed decisions as a family that work for our diet and pocketbook.
Because I'm kind of short on cash right now; I just spent $100 on brisket.

So... what's my plan for my own dinner plate tomorrow?
I don't know.  I went through enough emotional turmoil this week to feel justified, in a way, to have a piece of meat on the plate, and I'm not sure that cabbage and potatoes with brown bread will satiate me after what I plan to have been a 10K morning.
But will I feel good about eating it?
Will I feel good or satisfied afterward?
And, for goodness sake, what am I going to do with that leftover brisket?

What are your feelings with consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs?  What holds greater weight - the price, local availability, or the entire process of raising the animals?  Do you ever struggle with your food choices?


  1. 1. Confession: I had to put Savor down when I got to the section on movement. I just...couldn't.

    2. I know what you mean about the meatless-ethical-cost dichotomy. I would write a longer comment, but bascially, WHAT YOU SAID. I enjoy eating animal products but I'm starting to get to the point where I really, really want to know where it came from.

  2. I want to be what Salty Seattle calls herself - conscious omnivore. I have a feeling that THAT will be the best for me. If I can be conscious of it (which - hey! - goes along with Savor!!!!), I can eat less and feel better about it when I do.
    I'm in the last throes of Savor. I hate to not finish a book; I have done it exactly twice, and it was just too painful to get through the book to stop.