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When I was fifteen, nearly sixteen, I gave up red meat. I had already gone nearly five years without eating pork (ever since dissecting fetal pigs in middle school Biology), and it seemed like the next logical step. My country parents, who put meat in salads, despaired (although I continued preparing meat in their meals for them). I spent over a decade completely vegetarian, though my attitude toward my vegetarianism changed over time.
At first, I stopped eating because pork because of how gross the insides of a pig are. That’s all there was to it. I stopped eating fish, which we also dissected in Biology, for the same reason. I couldn’t enjoy a piece of bacon without smelling formaldahyde. Ugh. So it was really very easy to give up pork. Red meat was harder, especially because veggie burgers used to taste like cardboard. Still, I gave it up and felt better for it in the long run, until I became obsessed with the zombie apocalypse.
Truthfully, it was half heartbreak and half a fear of The End of The World As We Know It that inspired my change of attitude. Someone I loved very much made a point of telling me that one of the best things about his new partner was her willingness to eat meat. It kind of broke my brain a little, especially when my then boyfriend (and now husband) echoed that attitude, mentioning that because his mom was a vegetarian, he didn’t want to end up with one.
Later, when I was studying sustainable farming and the history of agriculture. That made me realize that a farm without pigs has a lot of unused food waste products that can then only become compost or a burden. So I started reading about the history of animal husbandry, and I came to the conclusion that meat can be okay. This was in part because domesticated farm animals essentially tied their species’ futures with our own, and they no longer have the ability to survive in the wild. If nothing else, we owe domesticated poultry and North American bovine breeds our ongoing care because of how long they have fed us. (Goats and pigs would probably do okay on their own).
I used to eschew all meat; now I buy and eat entire cows straight from the slaughterhouse. Well, not slaughterhouse: local butcher is more accurate. I made arrangements with the farmer first, agreed on a price per pound of hanging weight (after the cow has been slaughtered and eviscerated but not processed), and provided the butcher with directions on how I wanted the meat processed (how thick the steaks were, how many pounds per roast, how much ground versus cubed for stew, etc). Then I fed my family (and my extended family) for three years on the meat we bought, which is why we’re going to do it again.
You want to know the other major perk of buying meat ethically (at least beef and pork if you eat it)? It is so much cheaper than buying even conventional beef at the grocery store by the pound. For the price per pound of mediocre ground beef from Goddess knows where, I’m stocking my freezer with standing rib roasts and sirloin. Every single cut of meat ends up being less than $4 per pound. I’ll let you think about that. Steaks, roasts, ground beef and specialty cuts: all the same price per pound.
If you’re not familiar with the process of buying a beef cow from a farmer, it’s pretty simple. First, you have to find a farmer whose production standards meet your own. We opted for a local farmer whose cows are allowed to free range on organic grasses all summer and are fed haylage and silage made from organic grasses during the winter. Their feed is not supplemented with grain, and they are not given any antibiotics or growth hormones. We went with a smaller dairy breed, so there’s not much fat in the meat. I don’t even have to drain it when I brown a pound of ground beef.
Of course, you need one, possibly two, chest freezers to store your bounty, and if you’re like me, there will be a learning curve to preparing red meat. Even if some extra reading and work is required, you’ll be relieved to know you can just go to the freezer and pull out dinner. You’ll also have plenty of bones for the dog and an opportunity to step outside of your culinary comfort zone.
Here are a few important things to consider when contemplating ethical meat eating:
- Eating meat from an ethical, local source is much less environmentally damaging than eating meat from a factory farm. There’s also a much better standard of living and quality of treatment for the local animals, so there’s less cruelty involved.
- Just because you can eat meat doesn’t mean you have to. Feel free to turn down any and all invites to eat meat in a chain restaurant; it won’t be ethical or cruelty-free.
- Just because you have standards doesn’t mean you have to be a jerk about it. Asking for a cheese pizza so you don’t have to eat commercial pepperoni grease if someone is ordering a bunch of pies isn’t a jerk move. Turning down someone’s home-prepared, lovingly cooked goat stew, however, could be. Be flexible and remember that not everyone can afford ethical meat. Sometimes it’s more important to be considerate of your host than to stand firm on a personal rule.
- You should still be limiting your meat consumption, especially your red meat and pork consumption. That doesn’t mean limiting it to once a day. That means you should have a standard serving of red meat 2-3 times a week, at most. There are plenty of sources of protein, and it’s not as hard to get in your diet as you think.
In the end, you’re the only person who can decide what’s best for you to be eating. Despite my best efforts, I struggled with mild anemia while I was vegetarian. Having red meat available to me during my pregnancy made the nine months of morning sickness more tolerable and surely helped my son develop into the strong toddler he is today. Being flexible with what I eat has made it easier for me to socialize, and it helps my relationship with my husband because we can enjoy more gastronomical experiences this way.
I’ve spoken with people who have told me that they couldn’t buy freezer beef because it would be upsetting eating a particular animal. I try to not get gross when I point out that NIMBY-ism doesn’t fix anything food-wise. I won’t say, for example, that a single chain store burger patty can contain tissue from hundreds of cows, each of which probably had a miserable life. But it’s true. Yes, I know a cow was killed for my meat. An animal has died for any meat product you’ve eaten, even if it was processed and anonymous looking. I’ll stick with my happy, single, sun-soaked male Jersey, thank you.
The decision to eat meat is one that many people take lightly. I would encourage others to examine their diet and their hearts. If your attitude toward your meat is that you want to consume less and impact the planet less, buying a big amount of beef at once may, counterintuitively, be the way to go.
Photo Credit: DutchChef via [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons