Monday, December 14, 2009

A Case For Meat

One of the issues with which I struggle daily (just ask my close friends) is the sustainability of meat. Long ago, when I was in graduate school at Cornell and later Oxford, I was a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat for ethical reasons, long before Fast Food Nation hit the scene. I felt very strongly that even though humans evolved to eat meat, and much of the population did not have the luxury to turn their nose up at a food source, that we had the technology to keep people happy and healthy without slaughtering animals for food.

What can I say? I was young and full of principles. I focused on the face of the beautiful cow that should not become my supper and ignored the reality of the thousand faceless animals killed in the growing of my squash due to deforestation, pesticide runoff, habitat destruction, maiming from farm equipment, etc. Life, it seems, is never that simple.

But until I could guarantee the end of suffering for the meat animal itself, I could not pay into the system which caused such cruelty. So I went without meat. This was actually quite easy to do. Mad Cow had paralyzed the UK and so even McDonald's offered a veggie burger. The years ticked by and although I missed the taste of meat, I was happy for the token effort I was making to Make The World A Better Place.

Then I got sick, very sick, and I began to lose eyesight in my right eye. Back in the States, and working at my first professional job, I had access to MRIs, specialists, tests. They found nothing, no brain tumor, no retina detachment, no Glaucoma. Doing research on my own, I found I had a severe Vitamin A deficiency which is derived from eating too many tubers. Yep, starch can suck the vitamins right out of you. I started eating meat again and my eyesight improved. My doctors were incredulous, after all, American doctors never consider diet and nutrition when treating an ailment, right? Many people can live quite happily on a vegetarian diet. I could not.

I decided I needed to eat meat, but was saddened at the lack of choice. Picking up a steak at the grocery story made me sad for the creature that had sacrificed so much. (Again, this was before much of the publicity around the fecal contamination in butchered meat, so I was not concerned about cleanliness). Until I did some more research and found a grass farmer in the Texas Panhandle that would ship meat to my door. Clean, ethically raised meat that never stepped foot in a feedlot and was humanely killed instantly. No misses, no suffering. I became that farmer's biggest fan and as he expanded his offerings from beef to chicken to lamb to goat, he became my sole meat provider. I had entered a world of Food Consciousness.

The years ticked by and I become vaguely away of some of the other issues with our meat supply: the contamination from fecal material, the treatment of workers, the ridiculous amounts of fossil fuel required to grow a pound of corn-fed beef and deliver it, packaged in wrap, to the grocery store. My dream of a farm starts to take shape in my mind. Yes, it would be great to grow some veggies, but really, I wanted to secure a sustainable meat source.

And here I am. With only five acres, I am not about to run a herd of beefers on my land, but there are wonderful, low impact solutions for people just like me. I've covered the chickens I raise on the farm in a previous post. I know they are treated well and they are humanely processed, because I do the work myself. Every chicken is appreciated and they are never forgotten or faceless. Animals, especially those that sacrifice their lives for us to eat, should always be treated with dignity.

Chicken is great, but what about other meat sources? This fall, we logged the back three acres which will open up about 4 acres of pasture in the next three years. It takes time to build pasture, and I intend to do it right, so there will be no grazing through 2010 and then select, high intensity, rotational grazing from then on. But more about that in another post. With 4 acres in high production, I can rotate through 2-4 horses (with Brego muzzled to lessen his impact, of course), a lamb and a pig. And then there are also the goats, but more on them in a later post as well.

I estimate that my small family can live quite happily on chickens, a pig and a small lamb a year, using all the parts from tail to snout. These animals will live in fresh pasture and treated with dignity, this I can guarantee. Once the pastures and animals are running smoothly, I will no longer buy beef, even from a local farmer. Many, many people raise cows sustainably and with beneficial impact, but I will be able to provide my families' meat on farm without it.

In the meantime, the pastures are still a year or more off. So I bought a pig from a local farmer. I purchased the live pig and then paid the farmer to take him to butcher. I was able to see the pig alive, in his field, wallowing in mud. I was able to follow his progress and even help move him from field to field. When the time came, I was able to specify the cuts to the butcher. He was my pig, in a very real sense, even though he did not set a trotter on my soil. I will have more details about the pig in the coming days.

So in many ways, I have reversed my opinion on many things. I used to abhor the slaughtering of animals for meat, and it still weighs heavily upon my mind. But now I either perform the act myself or I am a willing and eager participant. Not out of blood lust, mind you, it is never a fun job. But because it is the only way I can continue to eat meat, with eyes wide open, to the Real Cost of the food on my table (lest we forget the Meat Fail). I firmly believe that if you eat meat, you are complicit in the death of an animal. The sooner we all acknowledge this fact, the sooner the atrocities in our food supply will stop because people will not stand for it.

1 comment:

Lese & Nat said...

Fantastic entry. :)