Urban Druid: Eating Meat Ethically
If one chooses to be a vegetarian because one cannot guarantee that the sources of one's meat is cruelty free, then that is certainly an admirable action, but I do not believe that vegetarianism is an inherently more ethical choice of diet. If meat can be obtained from sources where animals have been well tended and cared for during their lives and killed quickly and humanely, then there is nothing inherently wrong with eating meat.
American Indians would hunt meat for food, giving the animal that died thanks for its sacrifice. The animal hunted and killed was treated with honor, and even the butchering process was done according to a ritualistic process that was part of spiritual practice. The reason for this is explained in the Cherokee Legend of Awi Usdi, the little deer.
The tale goes that man and animals could at one time speak to one another, but as man grew, he largely lost this ability. Where once he would kill only for food and skins, he soon started to kill much more, even when he did not need food or skins. The animals held a conference to see what could be done, and after many such conferences held by different groups of animals, Awi Usdi, the little deer declared that he would visit the hunters and tell them that from that moment forth if they wished to kill a deer they would have to first prepare ceremonially, then after the hunt they must show respect to the animal's spirit and ask for its pardon. If they did not do it, then they would be crippled by his magic.
Treating one's food with that kind of reverence and respect out of fear that a deer spirit will visit vengeance in the form of magically induced rheumatism may seem like a foreign concept to many in modern western societies, however, as with most myths and legends, there are practical reasons why following the advice of this little deer would be practical. In the first instance, not killing animals unnecessarily is one method of maintaining healthy population and food source, in the second, it ensures that there is not over consumption which results in its own ills.
Today we have forgotten the lessons taught by these stories, and millions of us starve, whilst other millions die of obesity. These lessons which many of us are now painfully learning are lessons of balance, and of respect for nature, which is ultimately, respect for ourselves.
That said, you don't have to go and stalk animals through the wilds in order to eat meat ethically of course, there are many small scale enterprises dotted about the world where the owners go out of their way to treat their animals well.
'Cruelty Free' meat can be found on the menus of many major restaurants and chains, and even in supermarkets. Organic meats are also generally produced with more care and attention to humane treatment than those which are mass produced, and pumped with steroids and artificial chemical compounds. You might be surprised how much information you can gather from searching for 'cruelty free' + 'your area' in your favorite search engine.
As a starter, this site provides links to grass fed animals, which enjoy a more natural life than those stuck in barns for the duration of their miserable existences. (This is primarily for US consumers.)