I am ever so sorry that I've been away for almost two weeks. It is ridiculously undisciplined and selfish of me to be absent for so long, and I apologize. But friends, I have been Digesting some reading material that was so meaty that it has taken awhile for my Super Enzymes to break it down and assimilate it. And I'm pretty sure I'll never be quite the same.
Warning: The following could be construed as Presumptuous and Daringly Sacrilegious. Please do not consider it so. This is really the only metaphor I can use to illustrate the profundity of this personal Sea Change.
Remember in the Bible when everyone was supposed to get taxed and had to go to their birth cities to Pay Up? And then Mary had a Baby, and all of a sudden, there were Angels and Heavenly Hosts and Night Winds Talking to Little Lambs and visiting shepherds and other such Excitement because her wee bairn was The Savior? Well, people talked, of course.
But Mary, rather than helping to spread the word, mulled quietly over all that she'd recently learned and pondered it in her heart. Not because she wasn't moved or humbled by the goings on, and certainly not because she didn't believe it, but because she was trying to reconcile her new reality with her old reality.
All of a sudden, she wasn't the shamed pregnant-before-married girl. She was the Mother of God. That's a big leap, and while the holiest of honors, it would also be a bit disconcerting, to say the least. I can almost hear her: Am I good enough? Can I deal with this? Can Joseph hang with this? With me? Do I really deserve this, and what will happen to this child?
Well, on a much less holy scale, I've been pondering just like Mary. And the ponder I've been pondering has made me look at food in a whole new way. As you guys may or may not know, The Beloved and I try very hard to buy humanely raised animals and animal products whenever we can. Even though that has been the goal for quite a long time, often it was just plain easier to stop at McDonald's or Burger King or some other fast food place to grab a bite on a road trip. We'd always thanked the poor little factory farm-raised animal for giving its life and apologized for its having a pretty bad life. That's how we were able to justify these trips.
Pretty feeble, right? We were okay with that feeble-tude, but a few things have transpired recently in sort of a mini Harmonic Convergence that render our weak justifications completely indefensible.
Thing #1: I read Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals. Ultimately what his book does is to make a case for veganism. But recognizing that eating patterns run the gamut from Oblivious Omnivore to Ascetic Vegan, it also makes the case for if-you-must-eat-meat-eat-happy-meat. One concept that struck me is the one of eating animals that had "a happy life and a quick death."
We all have to decide for ourselves what we can live with as a "happy life" and a "quick death." We should be able to articulate how much, if any, animal suffering is acceptable to us. For some of us, no amount of animal suffering is justified since we have an abundance of food choices these days. Others of us can live with eating animals who were allowed to live relatively stress-free lives. Some of us might even say that someone has to eat those poor factory farmed animals or they will have died in vain so it might as well be me.
Regardless, we all should know where our food comes from. If we eat meat and animal products bought in most regular grocery stores, we should eat it mindfully, knowing how it was raised and how it was treated. And once we know, we can decide if we can live with it.
Another quote that is still resonating in my wee brain a couple of weeks after finishing Eating Animals is that (and this is a paraphrase) any time we spend money on protein--be it meat, poultry or fish--we are farming by proxy. That means that ultimately, buying a Chik-Fil-A Sammich is a vote in favor of the way Chik-Fil-A chickens are raised and killed.
If we choose to eat animals, I think we can all agree that we eat them after they've lived for awhile and then are dead. And that means that someone has raise them and then kill them. If we choose to buy the On-Special Chicken at Wal-Mart or someplace, we're saying Yes! to one way of raising and killing animals. If we choose to spend extra money to purchase humanely raised, grass fed beef, we're saying Yes! to what is generally a very different way of raising and killing animals. I think most of us would agree that we would like to say Yes! to the latter.
But here's the kicker. When we say Yes! to one, we're automatically saying No! to the other. There's only so much money that folks spend on food, and if they're spending it on inexpensive factory farmed meats, they're not spending it on boutique farm/ranch-raised meats. If the demand is for cheap meat, that is what will be supplied. If the demand is for meat from humanely treated animals, then that is what will be supplied.
I bet that if a research group surveyed 1000 people regarding which they'd prefer, antibiotic and hormone-free happy animals that were compassionately raised and killed or 'Roid Rage animals from factory farms, the overwhelming majority would opt for the former. I also bet that when those same 1000 people next go to the store, the overwhelming majority would opt to spend less and buy the factory farmed meat. Actions speak more loudly than words, and 1000 well-intentioned folks just unconsciously said Yes! to factory farming and No! to a more expensive, more humane approach.
Since The Beloved and I are not Big & Rich, we have to think very carefully about how we spend our money. About what our money supports. I think of our dollars as votes. Votes for or against certain business practices; votes for or against certain political views. We have decided that we can eat meat if we can know that the animals who died to provide it had room to roam and be themselves while they were alive, that they were raised free of prophylactic antibiotics and hormones, and that they were compassionately slaughtered. No, I don't think that's an oxymoron. That's why rabbis oversee kosher slaughterhouses.
Anyway, since eating in accordance with what we find acceptable (and the definition of acceptable is a personal one) is Expensive, we will just eat less meat. In our view, less meat of better quality is more acceptable to us than more meat of lesser quality. Especially in light of the fact that poultry consumption in the US has gone from 30.3lbs/year in 1978 to 58.8lbs/year in 2008. Corporate farms are here to feed the demand for cheap protein, and people are lining up in droves to support it. And why? I choose to believe it is a combination of being ignorant of the realities of factory farming coupled with astute marketing on the part of "Big Farma." We choose not to continue to support them with our dollars/votes.
Who is still buying their gas from BP as oil continues to spew, barely checked, into the Gulf of Mexico? Who stopped buying Exxon gas after the Valdez disaster in 1989? If we can use our pocketbooks to express our outrage against these corporations, why do we hesitate to do the same against corporate farms? I'm not trying to push any sort of Eating Agenda on you guys. I am trying to push education, though. Be aware of where your food comes from. Be aware of how it was raised. Eat consciously. Eat conscientiously.
And that is all I have to say for now. Join me tomorrow for Thing #2 in our Harmonic Convergence. And I absolutely want to hear your thoughts. I'm not sure, even after all the Maryesque pondering, that I've been able to really express this new truth we are trying to live, but if I've sparked a conversation, I'd love to continue it down in the comments. Thanks, guys.