A Short Sermon on Going Veggie, or Not

After all that blather about not resolving things in January, I have found myself in the position of going vegetarian . . . again.

No, it’s not for ethical reasons, about which more in a moment.  It’s for health reasons; eating meat these days is an invitation for me to be sick, and that’s one I can’t afford to accept.

My decision to go back to vegetarian has, for some reason, earned the disapprobation of the Youngest Daughter.  That in itself is weird, on account of she is the Fast Food Nazi.  She is so opposed to your basic McDonald’s hamburger that anyone in our family who is ever tempted to eat one has a vision of the wrath of Suz and backs away.   (Suz’s disapproval tends to be more real than metaphorical, and often hits you full force in your center of gravity, which she has spent three years learning to identify with pinpoint precision.  I trust I do not need to draw a picture.)

It’s odd, therefore, that Miss Health frowned at the whole vegetarian thing.  Since we were having this conversation on the phone, she couldn’t knock me over and sit on me; she could only bleat, “What are you doing for protein??” 

I have been putting tofu in your lasagna, kid, since you were two.  Don’t talk to me about alternative proteins.  Beans and rice are a complete protein.  Almonds are possibly the finest things known to snackdom, and there is nothing wrong with eating a peanut butter and olive sandwich every morning of the world.  Plus, there’s fish, scallops, and macaroni and cheese.  I have done this twice before, so I know the drill.

And, since there’s also bacon, the term we want here is “flexitarian,” coined by a friend of my sister’s who is a vegetarian except in the presence of streaky rashers.  I like it.  Food dogmatism is about as appealing as all the other kinds, and besides, there’s humility built into the fact that I have an inordinate fondness for bacon and Snyder’s Puff-n-Corn (which may not even be a food item).

But I do have some things to say about eating meat, whether you’re a vegetarian or not:  People who protest the way animals are treated in factory farms simply take themselves out of the equation when they don’t buy meat.  They might feel lovely and virtuous, but they’re not improving the horrific conditions under which the meat industry operates. 

Let’s not anthropomorphize, shall we?  Animals aren’t little humans.  They do not look forward to a rosy future, surrounded by their grandchildren.  They don’t look forward at all.  What is important to animals, (and I grew up around lots of them, so I really do know) is the Now, so it is incumbent upon humans to make the Now as pleasant as possible.  This is why we take the dog out for ice cream sometimes.

Factory farms do not care about the conditions of Now.  From birth to slaughter, factory-farmed animals lead wretched lives, and every time we buy cheap meat at the grocery store, we participate in this wretchedness.  Don’t do it.  Do eat meat, though, (says the woman who’s giving it up for a while).  Just make sure that the meat you eat is 1.) local, 2.) organically raised, and 3.) free range or grass-fed.  This means, more often than not, that the money you spend for meat will go to a family farm, not a conglomerate, and therefore will support agriculture the way agriculture is supposed to be done.

When enough people do this, it might bring about a revolution in the meat industry, or force certain conglomerates (I’m thinking chickens here) to scale back, thereby abusing fewer animals.  Factory farming needs to be stopped, but we can’t stop it by going veggie, unless we can persuade about 150 million of our closest friends to join us.  The only pressures the meat industry will respond to are economic ones, and the fastest way to bring economic pressure is by supporting the competition.

And, if I may make a side point here, we need to be aware that “organic” on a label actually means something; the USDA regulates organic farms, and those regulations are stringent.  “Organic” does not translate to “humane,” but often the regulations forcing reduced drug and chemical use also force a better lifestyle for the animals involved.  “Cage free,” alas, is pretty meaningless, since it just means chickens aren’t kept in stacked wire cages; they can still be packed into small spaces, and chickens fight.  “Free range” isn’t much better, since sometimes it means chickens have true pasture access, and sometimes it means they have one tiny door at the end of a long barn.  “Natural” is meaningless. 

So before you buy, do some research.  Some companies really do provide good conditions for animals.  Full Circle, one of the largest producers of organic food, also takes good care of its animals.  You can buy their eggs with confidence.  Remember, too, that lots of small, local farms are raising their animals organically and humanely, but cannot afford to jump through all the regulatory hoops to get the official designations. 

Until someone makes tofu bacon that tastes like the real thing, I will aim for nothing more than flexitarian status.  But I’m done with factory farms, antibiotics, growth hormones, and all the evils of cheap meat.  Meat that is raised healthily and humanely is more expensive, but that just means we eat less of it, and that’s okay, too.  I’m walking proof that not eating lumps of meat at every meal will not kill you.  Eating lumps of meat that have been artificially enhanced in every possible way and treated like a commodity instead of a living thing . . . well, that might tarnish a few karmas.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by jackie on January 16, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    For years I taught in my geography class that if grazing land and the eternal supplies used 2 raise beef were used for crops, we could elimate a lot of hunger. Water shortages will become critical in the future.


  2. Just wanted to say that I emailed the Full Circle folks with some questions about how they treat their animals, and got a very detailed response. It included the information that the American Humane Association, and the Humane Farm Animal Care association both certify Full Circle’s humane treatment of animals, and they inspect and audit facilities regularly. I was impressed.


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