Being a Carnivore While Loving Animals: 6 Reasons I Eat Meat
Having lived in Oregon has given me an automatic label amongst even my most inner circle: vegetarian. Friends that have watched me eat meat half-jokingly say it. I don’t take offense, by any means, but it is confusing, since the only time I’ve spent as a vegetarian was a handful of months nearly ten years ago. Apparently that kind of thing sticks with people (especially if you then move to the West Coast), but I fairly quickly came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t for me. And that was a tough decision, because I’d done a heck of a lot of reading about how meat is produced in this country. I’m positive that I’m not alone – that others, too, must struggle with the juxtaposition of compassion for other living creatures and consuming them.
Let me make this explicitly clear: I am not denouncing vegetarianism or veganism. If it’s working for you, super. But it doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s who this post is for. If you’re wondering how to juggle a deep love for animals with the prospect of eating them, maybe my perspective can help you. Maybe my opinions will push you to be vegetarian, and that’s okay too. That’s what this post is: my opinion and perspective.
I have always been deeply attached to animals, domestic and wild alike. When I started to learn about the horrors of the meat production industry (and it is most certainly an industry) and how it affects us, I took some time off from eating meat. My protein came primarily from soy products, beans, nuts, and the other standard newbie-vegetarian fare. However, it didn’t take long for me to decide that keeping meat products out of my diet wasn’t for me. Here’s what’s going on for me.
1. Different bodies have different needs. My body was not interested in living without meat. I struggle with blood sugar and insulin issues, and meat not only plays a pivotal role in keeping my body satiated, but has nutrients that non-meat products don’t have, or do not have in sufficient amounts. Not all bodies can thrive on a no-meat diet, period. The opposite is also true: some bodies have a hard time processing meat and nutritional supplements are sufficient for maintaining health.
2. Eating a strictly non-meat diet and lobbying for others to do the same will not stop people from eating meat. Period. There’s a huge movement in the no-meat communities that aims to stamp out meat-eating. It’s never going to happen. Humans are designed to eat meat; we evolved on meat. No matter how many vegetarians and vegans exist, their numbers and campaigns will never convince everyone else to halt meat consumption.
We need to change animal product production. Because people will never stop eating meat, what we need to focus on is making critical, overwhelming changes to the way we produce meat. The animal cruelty, overcrowding, environmental degradation, and flagrant use of antibiotics, inappropriate livestock feed, and hormones – it all needs to stop. Like, yesterday. The only way, in my opinion, that this can happen is if we stop supporting industrial meat production and start putting our money towards sustainable, humane livestock operations.
3. I support humanely-raised, organic, healthy livestock products wherever possible, and whenever I can afford to. And let me be perfectly clear: I can’t always afford to. I’m a regular person, caught in the same societal, economic, and financial maze as the rest of my fellow countrypeople. But when I can afford to, I do my best to put my money heavily into animal products made without hormones or antibiotics, from animals that have been allowed to eat a natural diet, have been permitted a fair amount of space, and have been raised and slaughtered humanely. When I can’t afford this meat, I reduce how much meat I purchase. Only by putting our money towards meat that has been raised humanely and with a high quality of life will we change the meat industry. And this isn’t just about beef for burgers – this is about your rotisserie and fried chicken, milk and yogurt, cheeses, eggs, and all other animal products.
4. Choosing not to eat meat is a privilege. While, again, I have nothing against a person’s choice to stick to a no-meat diet, I do have a problem with the occasional higher-than-thou attitude. Only first world countries get to flaunt a choice to not eat meat; and it is, absolutely, a privileged choice. We tend to ignore that. People who live in poverty do not have the opportunity to say “no” to food, and meat is one of the most important foods for nations in poverty because of its caloric density. The ability to pay more for humanely raised animal products is also a privilege, and this is where I choose to use mine.
5. I want to learn how to hunt. Not because I like the idea of killing things – far from it. After having to euthanize entirely too many fatally injured smaller animals during my time at a nature center, the thought of taking life makes me feel anxious and desperate. But my personal values are waging battle against that anxiety: how can I eat meat without knowing what it feels like to kill for it? We’re so detached from our food production (another privilege) that we have the option to ignore the brutality of killing to eat. That’s something I want to personally face. One deer could feed my family for months, and I would have the distinct opportunity to take its life with respect, dignity, and honor. That’s something I can’t get in the average grocery store.
5a. Hunting is healthy for some ecosystems. In a country where we’ve removed most of the natural predators, many of our standard prey species are in numbers too high for some habitats to maintain, which can lead to disease and starvation for some of those animals.
5b. Hunters help preserve our wild spaces. Now, I am not a fan of trophy hunters, recreational hunters that take more than they need, poachers, or predator-hunters, but I don’t need to be. They’re a whole different issue. The fact is that hunters (particularly those that respect the connection between life and death, and the consequences of taking life) are attached to what they do and fight to protect the space in which they do it. That works out to the benefit of far more living things than they’re taking out of the ecosystem, and it serves as one more defense against the loss of our wild spaces.
6. Eating a strictly no-meat diet is not sustainable either. You can read more about this issue in a book called The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith, but suffice to say that it takes far more deforestation and monocropping to produce the vegetables needed for a country of vegetarians than it does for humane meat production, particularly if we stop feeding our livestock grain products they’re not designed to eat in abundance. Soy and corn are two of the most genetically-messed-with and processed food plants on the market. And if those vegetables aren’t being grown organically, that’s thousands of gallons of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers being dumped onto the delicate topsoil.
I truly believe that convincing meat eaters to switch to humanely produced livestock products is the key to changing the face of the meat industry. I believe that when we respect and feel gratitude for the animals as the providers of our sustenance, we’ll bridge the gap between the pain we cause and the food we may need. Be sure: animals can live healthy, happy lives before they nourish us. But for this to happen, we as consumers need to end the demand for inexpensive meat products.
Stop expecting meat to be cheap.
If your food is cheap, it’s missing something; in this case, a basic respect for the living thing that died so we could eat it, and valuable nutrients if it’s raised in an unhealthy, unclean manner. Furthermore, a scared or stressed animal is pumping itself full of stress hormones, which not only makes for a low-quality life, but stays in the meat that we then ingest.
The higher the demand for humanely raised livestock products, the more obsolete the current meat industry will become. I firmly believe that when we eat animal products that come from happy, healthy animals, we’ll be healthier, happier people. When you demand cheap meat, you demand animal suffering, which, in my opinion, becomes a part of your body when you consume it.
And as far as I can see, we sure don’t need any more suffering in this world.
So what can you do? A lot.
First, understand that most meat at your local supermarket is raised on meat farms, and learn about the realities of concentrated animal farming operations. The key is finding somewhere to buy it where you can rely on knowing that the animals were raised humanely. As of yet, this information is not as easy to find as we’d like – it takes some digging, but it’s truly worth the time.
1. My first and strongest advice is to find your local farmers. Start at Local Harvest, or call your local extension office. There are almost certainly farmers near you, rest assured. Visit the farm if you can and talk to them. The farmers I’ve experienced have been happy to chat with me and even show me their livestock. What better way to know than with my own eyes that the animals have space, look healthy, and have a caretaker that cherishes them? If they’re a larger farm and they’re too busy for personal tours, ask about farm visit days, which many farms have to invite locals in to see what they’re about. If you have friends or family that want to take this adventure with you, consider buying an entire animal from a responsible farmer and splitting the meat. You’ll pay more upfront, but the per pound cost could end up being as low as $3/lb or more. Small farmers face a lot of challenges and need our support, so go support them.
2. Do your research and start looking. Find natural food stores and check out their meat products. Do they have a welfare rating system? Whole Foods, for example, has one and you can get an idea of what amenities the livestock is afforded by using this system. The high the number towards 10, the more amenities the animals are given. Is this full proof? Absolutely not. At my local Whole Foods, the chicken has a welfare rating of 2, which is actually a little insulting for a Whole Foods. Alternatively, you can jot down the farms the meat comes from and do your own research.
3. Look for labels when you buy. Certified Organic, Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved, and American Humane Certified are good labels to look for if a local farm is not an option. The sites make available the documents listing their standards, so check them out. But understand: these labels do not make everything peachy keen. Not all of them require all animals to have access to outdoor time. Which, in my opinion, is pretty critical. This is why I say support your local farmers first and foremost.
4. Learn how to hunt, or raise your own. You can’t monitor the health of the animals you consume more than if you raise it yourself. If you’re limited for space, maybe you could just keep a few chickens for eggs. (Just reducing the demand for cheap eggs can go a long way – read more about that here.)
5. Find others like you. Go to Mother Earth News, Earthineer, and look for online communities and blogs. I highly recommend Tovar Cerulli’s site, A Mindful Carnivore. He’s a vegan-turned-hunter and has some really valuable insights and perspectives on eating meat ethically. I follow him on Twitter, and recently he posted:
I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far! I welcome polite conversation and questions in the comments. Also, I’d love to direct you to two other links you may find useful: one is this article by Ducks & Clucks on the realities of having your own backyard flock – which you should be familiar with before committing, as is true with any animal in your care, and the second is PetFinder, where you can actually find adoptable barnyard critters and chickens (which are under the birds category) – adoption is awesome if you can take that route and help animals that have been abandoned.
Posted on January 19, 2014, in Connected Living and tagged CAFO, carnivore, concentrated animal feeding operations, conscious, dairy, eating, eggs, ethical, factory farms, food, humane, hunting, livestock, local, meat, omnivore, organic, production, products, responsible, small farmers, vegetarian. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.