I'm Not a Vegetarian, and I'm Okay With That
So What's Wrong With Carnivorism?
I don't eat much meat. In
fact, sometimes I go days without eating any. I do this mostly for my health.
But I'm not a vegetarian, and have no intention to become one. Why the paradox?
And what’s wrong with eating all the meat you want, anyway?
It’s Not Only About What I Eat
I don't like the diet that most animals intended for food are raised with. They don't get to eat as they were meant to eat. Chickens are meant to eat bugs as well as grass and grains. In the chicken factory, they only get corn. Cows are meant to eat grass. In the feedlot, they only get corn. Pigs are meant to eat all manner of stuff. In the hog confinement, they only get corn. And so on. This means the factory-raised meat is not the same meat we're meant to be eating. We're meant to be eating animals that grew up eating their natural diet. The corn that the animals eat affects their tissues. Corn-fed beef (in advertising, “corn-fed” is meant to be a good thing) has a higher fat content. The meat is “marbled for flavor.” But it’s also much higher in cholesterol.In contrast, Argentinean beef is raised entirely on grass. The Argentine beef producers don’t crowd their cattle into feed lots and make them eat corn. Argentine beef is also meant to be tastier, lower in fat and cholesterol, and better for you. Luckily, you don’t have to go all the way to Argentina to get grass-raised beef. Check your local farmers’ market to find a local producer of grass-fed beef (or free-range chicken or pork). It will cost more than at the supermarket, but it’s worth it.
See the Difference?
On the surface, this has less to do with nutrition, but I'm unhappy with the way industrial animals are treated. They don't get to be animals; rather, they're treated as a product, like a cell phone or a CD player, that can be put on a shelf and ignored. If you think the pig or the cow or the chicken that you ate for dinner last night grew up on a farm in the fresh air and sunshine, you’re wrong. The meat that most of us eat comes from industrial factories that can only be called “farms” in that they produce calories for human consumption. The animals are either crammed into tiny cages, or else confined and dangerously overcrowded in a mega-barn. Caged or otherwise, the animals are so close to each other that they have to receive antibiotics as a preventative measure, or else if one chicken, hog, or cow gets sick, they'll probably all get sick before anybody notices. They may have “access” to the outdoors, but all this really means is that there’s a tiny door to a tiny lawn that doesn’t necessarily (and rarely does) get used. All of these unnatural conditions, on top of the unnatural diet, makes for stressed-out animals. Meat saturated with stress hormones is different from meat that isn’t. It’s not just protein we’re eating. We’re also getting all the cortisol and norepinephrine these animals have been producing. Norepinephrine has been linked to ADHD, which, along with type II diabetes, obesity, and heart disease is a growing public health problem.
Another problem related to these Caged Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is the pollution. Animals eat. They also excrete. On a traditional fresh-air-and-sunshine-type farm, animal waste is incorporated back into the ecosystem in a sustainable way. This works because the animals get to roam around a comparatively large area. In a CAFO, the high concentrations of animals result in equally high concentrations of poo and pee that overwhelm the local ecosystem. The pollutants include ammonia, phosphorous, nitrates, and high concentrations of e. coli bacteria. The chemicals mentioned interfere with the natural oxygenation of water, creating “dead zones” like the one in the Gulf of Mexico (as of 2009, the Gulf’s dead zone covered over 3000 square miles). We are all aware of what e. coli contamination can do to public health. Aside from the quantifiable chemical and bacterial effects, there is also the smell.
What is the Meatrix
Shh. You Smell That?
My father grew up outside the town of Buckeye, Iowa. When I was younger, we would visit the family there for a week or two every summer, and we enjoyed it very much. On a more recent visit to Buckeye, after a few CAFOs had been built on three sides of the town, two things were impossible to overlook: the ever-present stench, and the empty homes. If you’ve never been downwind of a CAFO, trust me: it’s not pleasant. You wouldn’t want to live there. Small towns all over America are dying—or rather, being killed off—by CAFOs.
On top of all the practical reasons not to support industrial meat production, I don't want to be a part of making animals—and their human neighbors—miserable for my convenience.
Some Related Media
Barbara Kingsolver's thoughts on why eating meat isn't inherently evil, among other things.
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
A documentary on industrial/corporate food, and a 2010 Oscar nominee.
A couple college students rent an acre of Iowa farmland and follow their crop from field to food. (Their attempt to make high-fructose corn syrup is especially amusing.)
So Why Not Go Veggie?
But I like crispy bacon. I like roast beef. I like fried chicken. I’m a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens, which has evolved (or was designed, depending on your viewpoint) to eat meat as well as plants. And dang if I don’t love to fire up the grill on the weekends. So when I do buy meat, I make sure to get it from a local farmer who raises his livestock in a humane, sustainable way. You can find out how your meat is raised by talking to the farmer who raised it. You could even visit the farm. Most farmers welcome visits from their customers. Some even only sell meat at their farm, so you have to visit them to buy. Because I have a relationship with the folks who raise the meat that I eat, I know that the cow, chicken, or pig that graces my grill had a really good life. Well, right up until the last couple minutes, anyway. They were allowed to behave like an animal instead of being treated like a VCR. They weren’t dosed with hormones or antibiotics, they didn’t create an overwhelming concentration of nasty, and they were slaughtered in the most humane way possible.
Anyone who eats anything is eating something that was once alive. We take a life when we harvest a strawberry, just as when we slaughter a hog. I don’t feel guilty for taking a plant’s or an animal’s life to sustain my own or my family’s. But just as I wouldn’t keep a dog or a cat locked up in a tiny cage full of poo all of its life, I wouldn’t raise a cow that way either. I likewise wouldn’t want to pay someone to do it for me. True, I pay more money for the meat that I buy. But the true cost of industrial meat is much greater.
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