Would You, Could You, Anywhere?

Did you know that PETA sells stickers designed to be put on stop signs so that they read “STOP EATING ANIMALS”? I’ve always thought that was pretty excellent, myself, and pondered striking in the dead of night and doing some street sign modification. Becuase I would like people to think more when they eat animals.

My post title is actually stolen from an excellent post over on The Ethicurean, which is a great site, by the way. I’d also highly recommend reading Omniwhore’s post, which is about killing your own meat. The comments that follow are also very insightful.

The basic gist is that many vegetarians ask meat eaters if they are willing to kill their own meat, thus making them uncomfortable and perhaps giving some food for thought. So to speak. Vegetarians like to prod meat-eaters, in some sort of self-righteous cycle of veganmania. The question at Ethicurean is whether or not it’s an argument with logical consistency, whether readers agree with it, and so forth.

So I’m weighing in on the issue.

To start off with, I eat meat. I heart meat. I don’t eat it all the time, but I’d say a dead animal passes these lips about once a week, and animal products almost daily thanks to my passion for yoghurt. I have a very conflicted personal opinion about the consumption of animal products, having gone the range of extremes from eating an entire roast kid* to being a hyper-vigilant vegan.

I’ll start from the beginning here–I lived on farms with animals that I ate until I was around eleven, and after that I was around livestock large and small most of the time anyway. Some of the animals I ate had names, even. (We had two pigs named Breakfast and Dinner. Mmm…those were some nice pigs.) But we also had chickens (mostly for their eggs), sheep (mostly for wool, although a little lamb wouldn’t go amiss), goats (mostly for milk), and an assortment of other animals. All of our animals lived good lives, although some of them had foreshortened ones.

For fowl, we’d do the killing and butchering ourselves. For larger livestock, we’d call in the butcher for a professional job. We also went hunting. I will admit that many of our animals became pets, not food, especially the chickens. Except for roosters. Roosters were food, preferably before they got gamey. But I had a flock of hens who were housetrained and would follow me around, or raid the fridge with the pony. (Who realized the fridge was an easy access point for tasty things and would try to sneak into the house if we left the door open. If she succeeded, she’d grab the handle of the fridge with her teeth and pull until it opened or the fridge fell over–either way yielding the goodies inside.)

So I should establish that I have swung an axe and killed something, and I’ve also shot a gun and killed something. I’ve participated in butchery from start to finish. I’ve plucked and skinned and handled steaming entrails, and I’ve eaten some delicious meals. So I feel like I’m talking from pretty confident ground when I state my opinion here.

My opinion is this:

I think we all have an obligation to ensure our food comes from the healthiest, most humane, loving sources possible. Ideally from your own farm. But we can’t all have farms. So from a family farm, or the farmer’s market, or locally grown. If your only option is a grocery store, you can buy organic, and you can often find sustainable meat. Most towns have a market where you can get locally sourced meat. Many small towns have farms who are only too delighted to introduce you to the source of the meat.

As one of the commenters on Ethicurean pointed out, we live in a more specialized society now. Alas, we don’t live in a primarily agrarian society where one farmer produces food for a small group of people. We live in the century of factory farming, of pesticides, of cramming intelligent, sensitive animals like pigs into tiny pens. A growing movement is trying to take back our food sources, and it’s a movement I’m supportive of, because factory farming of animals or produce is foul and exploitative.

I think that all of us should be prepared to raise and harvest our own food, whether that means stalking the elusive Jerusalem Artichoke or slaughtering a cow. It doesn’t mean you need to collect your own food for every meal, but it does mean it would be nice if you had an idea of what it was like to grow peas from seeds, to do battle with the gophers over your carrots, to scream impotently at the deer as they grazed your cabbages. And yes, it means that you should be able to visualize yourself with an axe facing down a hissing goose.

Maybe people wouldn’t be so afraid of food if they’d handled it and been involved in production at some point in their lives. Maybe they could take joy from things like tripe and liver and hearts if they understood what it meant to use the whole animal, rather than a portion. Perhaps if they knew that there is a season to everything, they wouldn’t be so unwilling to try things in their peak, even if these things were previously unheard of. Get up close and personal with food!

After all, when the revolution comes, those farm skills might be handy.

I think it’s important to distinguish between ideals and realistic expectations. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to go back to growing their own food, nor is it practical with a population this large, sadly. It’s idealistic to expect everyone to eat my ethics all the time (including, sadly, me). But it is realistic to ask that people get dirty now and then, and explore their world a little more to make a positive connection beween crates of avocados in the store and the trees they come from. It might make us all a little more conscious of what we eat.

If you knew what went into producing commercial veal or foie gras, maybe you wouldn’t order it. If you understood that we have lost 80% of our tomato varietals, maybe you’d be more into heirlooms. If you knew that we’d lost 93% of corn varieties, maybe you’d comprehend why factory farming is a tragedy. (These numbers, by the way, are from Fatal Harvest, an utterly amazing and groundbreaking book.) We are separating ourselves from the Earth, and I don’t like it one bit.

There are a lot of people in my life I respect greatly for making a push in their own lives (and businesses) to use locally produced foods, to meet their meat, and to generally be more aware of the roots of their food. They also try to educate others around them, even if it’s only in small ways, and I think that’s a great thing. I want to see us exploring our tastes more. I want sardines on the menu, damnit.

I’ll even fish for them myself.

We take the lives of animals and plants to eat–we should respect them. We should ensure happy, peaceful, loving lives for all the things we eat from apples to swordfish, and we should harvest them gently, humanely, and swiftly, bringing them to market within a day while they are at their peak. This, for me, is rightful.

*Baby goat, people. Not human baby. Although if you want my opinion on something else, it’s that if you’re going to eat meat, you shouldn’t distinguish between species. All living beings have an equal lust for and right to life, and it’s really not fair to say it’s ok to eat a cow and not a baby. I’ll bet babies taste like veal.