Archive for the ‘To Meat or Not to Meat’ Category

Guardian: I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat (but farm it properly).



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It was convenient that just when I was thinking, ok, I really have to take the time to figure out what to feed my cats other than store bought cat food, along came this link from someone online asking the same question: Making Cat Food

Now I have no idea who this person is, or whether I can trust their opinion on cats and diet. But the thing I like about their recipe is that it says basically all the same things that I, using my amazing powers of observation and deduction, had already figured out. What do cats eat when they are on their own? Birds and rodents. What can we feed them to best fit this diet? Birds and rodents (ie chicken and rabbit). Duh. And, just like I would never feed myself meat that came from places I didn’t agree with, where the animals had been fed unhealthy diets, I would no more feed my cats meat that came from places where animals had been fed unhealthy diets.

I already know that Serafina at least loves eating meat when I cut it up small enough for her. She will tackle pretty good sized pieces of fat, too. Seide will be a little trickier, as for some reason she hasn’t seemed to grasp that meat is edible, which is odd because she was a stray and I’m sure was well used to devouring all kinds of meat when it was still in animal form.

The problem, as I was discussing the other night with the handsome fella, before I even found all these links, is cost. (We were also discussing how some vegetarians seem to think they can feed their pets entirely vegetarian diets, which just indicates they’ve never looked at pictures of dog intestines). We were feeding the handsome puppy scraps of steak and speculating on feeding him an all meat diet. The hardest part would be getting his apparently very sensitive stomach used to it. Some animals it seems have a much harder time digesting meat than others- lack of appropriate bacteria, I would imagine. The easiest way I would guess would be to start when the dog is a puppy, so they can develop the right stomach flora right off the bat, which is what some of my friends do with their dogs. But that aside, meat is just expensive.

According to this website, the cost is the same or better. But she’s also buying her meat at whole foods for $1.99/ lb- our chicken is $3/ lb presuming I get whole chicken and not cuts. And then I’d have to get a grinder for the bones. And again the cost isn’t comparable because right now I’m feeding only dry food- which this vet says is just flat out bad for the cats. Obviously if I’m buying cheap cat food it’s not going to work out price wise, but I’m also not going to buy cheap cat food in the first place, so maybe it isn’t so much of an issue. It would probably work out best if I convinced my many other cat-owning friends to go in on it with me- then we could all take turns doing the work, too.

It ultimately comes down to the same question I face every day when I decide what I’m going to eat. I could go to the grocery store and get a lot of calories for very little money, and end up with a diet high in grains and therefore sugars- which is basically what cat and dog food (especially dry) are. Then I would get sick and have to spend a lot of money on medication and on doctors and all the rest. OR I can eat whole foods, and a variety of foods, and because I want to make sure they are nutritious and not just labeled to say one thing when really they are another, I get them locally from people I trust. I could shop at Whole Foods too- but I don’t trust them not to lie to me. And when it comes down to it I am often paying less locally than I would be if I went to the store, where everything is marked up for transportation and packaging.

One day I am going to try and do a side by side comparison of cost in terms of nutritional content, which I will probably fabricate entirely because I have no idea how to go about doing this.

The point of all this rambling, however, was to ask the question: is anyone else out there feeding their pets actual food? How do you do it? What do you feed them? How do you find that your pets responded? I am totally curious, and looking for answers. So are they:

Seriously. Can you say no to this? Aren’t they worth it? (Aren’t we?)

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This is a blog about food, and I am not the only one in my house that eats. Ever since my first cat chose to come home with me (believe me, she was adamant about it) back in February 2008, I have over and over asked the question: what should indoor cats be eating? As I’ve learned more about what diets humans should be eating, it has become even more apparent to me that the cat food sold in stores is not what you would call food- and I have felt like a terrible mother for feeding my cats what I know is unhealthy simply because of the convenience and cost.

These are my babies. Yes, I know, people are very irritating about their pets. Whatever. Don’t read this if you don’t care. It is a valid point of conversation, because it says a lot about our collective food retardation- the fact that we have no idea what’s good for ourselves or for anyone else to eat, and thus we try to feed cats vegetables. Seriously? Vegetables?

Let’s start at the store. I had to give the cats each a pill the other day, and so decided to buy some wet food to hide the pills in. Usually I feed them only dry food, because everyone I have asked has given me completely contradictory answers on the wet vs. dry food debate. No one seems to have any real idea about what is best for cats to eat. I also give them pieces of meat when I make it, though Seide (the younger one, on the right) won’t eat it for some reason. Anyway, when I was standing there looking at the wet food options, I was flat out appalled. The list of ingredients is just horrific. I would never, ever put something like that in my own body… and yet people constantly feed this to animals. The selection included obviously a variety of “meat” options, but also vegetables, fruits, and cheese. NONE of these are things a cat would ever eat on it’s own. Cheese? Really? These are carnivores we’re talking about. Worst of all, almost all cat food contains grain, which is downright dangerous for cats to eat (and not great for humans, either).

Here’s why. Cats and dogs are both carnivores, meaning they eat only meat. Their digestive systems are very straight- basically they eat something and it comes out the other end. Humans, by contrast, have all kinds of twisty tubes and stuff where food can move around for a while, being processed by various enzymes so we can digest a variety of foods. Carnivores don’t have this. They have the space and the enzymes for meat, and meat alone. Animals that are actually intended to eat entirely plant based diets, like cows and sheep, not only have ridiculous long digestive tracts, but they often have multiple stomachs, AND have a special kind of bacteria living in their stomachs to digest plant matter. The only animals who are actually equipped to each grains are birds. And maybe mice. We aren’t, either- this is why grains should be cooked or preferably fermented before we eat them (so they are pre-digested).

The only plants that carnivores will (and should) eat are the occasional grasses- cats and dogs will both eat these precisely because they can’t digest them, and they serve to clean out their intestinal tracts. Otherwise, think about what a cat would eat if left to it’s own devices- birds and small rodents. When my cats catch and eat mice they eat everything but the intestines (which they leave in little bloody piles on the floor. It’s very exciting). That includes the bones and the organs- all of which contain really important nutrients for cats.

Instead we feed cats… corn. Just like we feed ourselves. Does anyone else see a problem here? It is no wonder that, just as with humans, cats end up with all kinds of diseases as they age… diabetes, cancer, the whole list. The diabetes, especially, is directly linked to having too much grain in the diet. And then we end up spending thousands of dollars on medications and vet bills.

Just as like with humans, it’s no wonder they’re not encouraging you to feed cats what cats were meant to eat. There are an awful lot of people making an awful lot of money selling you cat food (and treats, and supplements, and medications). Or we could… do something different. Now that’s an idea.

One more for good measure:

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I fully acknowledge that a lot of my thoughts are illogical. I’ve decided to eat meat, but only if I’ve met the animal and the farmer and feel satisfied that they are both attempting to the best of their ability to do what is right for the animals and the planet. But then I turn around and eat veggie burgers.

Now given, I would not normally eat veggie burgers. At home I try to eat everything locally and as close to its original form as possible. But out I defer to my old habits- vegetarian, and when there’s limited other options, processed soy product. Halfway through our trip, I found myself standing in an aisle of Publix, staring at the selection of veggie burgers and thinking about how industrial soy farming is not only extremely destructive, but soy itself is pretty damn bad for you in its unfermented state. It crossed my mind that if I was going to eat a soy burger, I may as well go ahead and eat a damn cow burger. But somehow the directness of eating a dead cow that lived an appalling life still seems worse to me than eating a soy burger that contributed to the deaths of many animals by destroying ecosystems and then killing more animals with combines and pesticides.

I’m not sure entirely why I cling to this rule. It doesn’t help that industrial meat simply tastes bad when you’re used to grass fed. Part of it might just be a desire to cling to the remnants of my years of vegetarian living. It may simply be the human fallacy of being more concerned with the death I was directly responsible for (the cow) than the multitudes I’m indirectly responsible for (the animals in the fields). It’s similar to people getting all worked up over a murder in their town but being perfectly happy to send troops abroad to blow thousands upon thousands of people up with bombs.

The trouble is, I know it’s illogical. And I can’t seem to stop myself beating myself up over the things I’m doing “wrong” by being an unwilling resident of industrial civilization. But unfortunately they won’t let me out, and I’m not sure I could survive even if the government miraculously granted me a huge tract of land to go live on. And so I’m continuously taking part in the destruction. I’m not upholding my part of the bargain. And each day I wake up and ask the same question as Derrick Jensen- should I write today, or go blow up dams?

It should be obvious which I’ve chosen. But I don’t feel great about it.

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I’ve been eating meat for a few months now, and, as I suspected, my need to sit and contemplate the origins of every piece of meat has started to fade. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve now eaten meat from three separate farms that I have not visited, though I know the owners personally (and one second hand). I feel kind of like I’m cheating, and that I am in many ways breaking my bargain with the animals I am consuming.

The question at the heart of this dilemma is: is it enough that the meat is raised locally, and more or less humanely, or am I only going for the most ethically raised animals I can find?

This question would be a lot easier if I had more options. I am perfectly happy with my beef from St. Brigid’s and my eggs from Colchester, but I do wish I could still get my chickens from my friend who moved to Missouri, because I’m not 100% about the remaining options.

But is this a problem? I mean, do I really need to meet the highest standards of ethics for every single thing I eat? I don’t check every vegetable farm I get my produce from (though I’ve been to most of them). I eat all kinds of crap when I go out to restaurants (industrial cheese, anyone?). But the meat, after years of vegetarianism, just seems different.

I therefore present, as something for your consideration, this:
Urban Scout: Hey Vegans, Plants Have Feelings Too

It’s a good read, I recommend it. The reason I present it is because I think it’s true, also, that plants have feelings. I spend way too much time talking to plants to not think it’s true. And yet I don’t think twice before harvesting from my plants. I do struggle with the whole harvesting animals thing.

The person who pointed out, I think in the comments, that animals do struggle and fight for their lives, I would add in a way we directly perceive (whereas plant struggles are typically outside our day-to-day perception), is not wrong, really. Whether or not plants are struggling, we are more affected by the struggles of animals because they are the most similar to our own struggles. I don’t think that’s ever really going to change. We just associate more nearly with animals, because, well, we’re animals. And I think that’s why I struggle (mentally) so much more with the meat question.

I think, at heart, as much as I obsess over food, it’s one of those things I have to let go. I think if I’m doing my best, trying to only eat locally, and from the most environmentally friendly farms I can find, and only the most ethically raised meats I can find, I’m doing my damndest. The most important thing, of course, is bringing down this whole ridiculous system so this will no longer even be an issue.

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This was also, believe it or not, written at least a year before I started eating meat. If I had read this again it may have occurred to me that I would not be vegetarian much longer. Interestingly enough, it closely mirrors a lot of the arguments in The Vegetarian Myth.

I debated, for a long time, putting a section in here about the relative morality of eating animals. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a legitimate argument in favor of factory farming, but if you raise a couple chickens in your backyard, and allow them to be chickens, is there still a moral quandary to eating them?

I’m not here to tell anyone whether it’s right or wrong to eat meat. I think that’s a personal decision more than anything. I’ve heard plenty of the arguments on both sides, and it can really go either way. As is often pointed out by meat eaters, we have canine teeth and stomachs which have evolved to allow us to digest meat. The vegetarian response is usually that we also have a tail bone, and this is not an indicator of the rightness of having tails. It’s usually argued that one day we will evolve away from having canine teeth. I have my doubts about this one.

The other typical argument is that animals eat other animals. Well, many animals do a lot of things that we don’t do (eat their own young, for example), so this argument falls pretty flat. If you’re going to get into the moral aspects of eating meat, I think you have to take some pretty big issues into consideration. Are humans animals, for example? I would argue that they are, but there are still millions of people who don’t think so. And what makes it ok, in the eyes of many, to have an abortion, but not ok to eat a cow? Or vice versa? This is an enormously complicated subject, and I really don’t want to get into it here, where we are primarily talking about cooking, but considering we are talking about cooking in terms of revolutionary values, it becomes rather relevant.

I’m of the belief that there is generally a natural order to things. Most people would agree it’s wrong to put an elephant in the circus, because, well, elephants don’t belong in the circus. It drives them mad. It does not, however, drive cows mad to put them in a pasture, given sufficient room to move around and plenty of grass, because that’s basically what they’d be doing anyway, the only difference being their movement is a little more directed, and they get a place to hang out in the winter that’s not so cold (ie a barn). Same goes for chickens. But put them in a tiny dark cage where they don’t have the space to move around, and they go crazy. I would also make the argument that the same applies to humans, and that some of our cultural madness (anyone checked the suicide rates recently?) has a lot to do with how effectively we’ve placed ourselves in very small cages (metaphorically as well as literally). But that’s another story.

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe some of our aversion to eating animals comes from the relatively recent development of humanizing animals. Yes, a cow deserves to be treated with respect, and allowed to pursue its innate instincts, but it is not a human. A better example of this is how often people will “rescue” a baby deer, put it in a diaper, and allow it to run around the house. It’s a deer, not an infant. The best place for a baby deer is in the woods, with other deer. The best place for a cow is in a field, the fence being debatable. The best place for a human…?

Well, that’s up for some debate, now isn’t it? It’s possible, when you get down to it, that our cultural indecision on the are we supposed to eat animals point, comes right down to the fact that we have no idea how we as humans are supposed to live. If you come to the conclusion that humans are meant to be wild and free, living in small close-knit communities bound together by tradition and shared interest, living as a part of the ecosystem rather than outside it, then yeah, eating animals probably makes sense, because that’s how humans evolved to fit into ecosystems. Native Americans played an integral part in controlling the populations of other animals, just as sharks do in the ocean. And even in communities that rely on some agriculture, living with animals is more of a symbiosis than a power struggle. Chickens evolved the way they did by living in close quarters with humans. They aren’t very good at surviving in the wild (believe me).

However, if you conclude that humans are meant to live in tiny boxes, with zero survival skills, and getting all their food from stores, disconnected from the land they live on, disregarding the seasons, the weather, and the soil as anything other than a minor annoyance, well then, maybe humans aren’t supposed to be eating animals, because in that case the animals are the same as us: trained to suppress natural urges, eating food out of a bag rather than catching it for themselves, shitting in a box, playing with plastic toys, clipping their claws, and keeping their spirits up with treats and catnip. And the ultimate solution is to get your food in one magic, efficient pill.

To get back to the moral argument. We are essentially the only species that, at least as far as we know, looks at things from a moral argument. So is it wrong to kill animals for our own needs? There are those that would argue, without exception, that the answer is yes. But I’d like to ask all of those people who morally condemn killing animals no matter how it’s done if they drive cars, live in buildings, eat grain (including soy), or wear clothes, all of which result in the deaths of animals by respectively running them over, destroying their habitats with pavement and brick and glass, and killing them with pesticides or the blades of a combine. Is there, in fact, any action you can take that does not result in the death of some other kind of animal? Do we really want to get into a debate about whether or not it’s wrong to kill bacteria?

There’s a line in there somewhere. And I will say it at least five more times before this book is finished- ultimately, it’s up for you to think about it, and decide where it is for yourself.

“What troubles me most about my vegetarianism is the subtle way it alienates me from… a whole dimension of human experience… The notion of granting rights to animals may lift us up from the brutal, amoral world of eater and eaten- of predation- but along the way it will entail the sacrifice, or sublimation, of part of our identity- of our own animality. (This is one of the odder ironies of animal rights: It asks us to acknowledge all we share with animals, and then to act toward them in a most unanimalistic way.) Not that the sacrifice of our animality is necessarily regrettable; no one regrets our giving up raping and pillaging, also part of our inheritance. But we should at least acknowledge that the human desire to eat meat is not, as the animal rightists would have it, a trivial matter, a mere gastronomic preference. By the same token we might call sex- also now technically unnecessary for reproduction- a mere recreational preference.” –Michael Pollan

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This was written long before I started eating meat, and would have been in the cookbook after a paean to veganism. I’ve taken out the parts that were actually flat out wrong, but thought it was an interesting insight into my mind a year plus ago.

I feel the need to point out, before moving on, that not all animals are treated with vicious, disturbing cruelty. There are exceptions, and I have met them and patted them on the nose.

I am going to pause for a moment here and point out that eating animals is not inherently the problem. The industrial farming system is the problem. Living in the country for several years introduced me to the concept of well-treated, sustainably raised animals. My friends raise chickens, and if the thought of eating meat again after all this time didn’t make me want to puke, I’d probably join them in eating them, because these chickens are spoiled more than most of the humans I know, and really, when you get down to it, humans are omnivores. On a self-sufficient farm, it would be stupid not to have animals, which are a necessary part of returning nutrients to the soil so plants can grow properly. And it would be wasteful, on these small farms, to raise animals to complete the cycle of nutrients and then not eat them (even if you didn’t raise them for eating, at some point they will die, and then what are you going to do with them?). But there is a big difference between raising a few chickens in your backyard and raising thousands upon thousands of chickens in a factory, and since most people are not fortunate enough to live in a rural area where their neighbors are happy to share the bounty, vegan or vegetarianism is one way to opt out of the industrial food system. [If not a particularly healthy one for many people.]

An increasing number of farmers absolutely refuse to fall in line with the practices of the factory farms. This may mean they cannot turn quite the profit of the factory farmers, and they may struggle every day against adversity from all sides, but they persist in their belief that animals should not be kept in tiny, filth ridden cages. This is not to attack all those who participate in the factory farming industry. Many, many people feel as if they have no choice, and if, faced with starvation for your children or cruelty to animals, many choose cruelty to animals, you really can’t blame them. It’s the practices themselves that must be attacked, and the insatiable demand for cheap meat from the public, though I honestly wouldn’t mind a few attacks on the executives that have the opportunity to change practices and are more concerned with profits.

That said, there are many farms where you can find happy, frolicking cows eating grass and chickens running about scratching in the dirt and all those things you come to expect when you picture cows and chickens. Often these farmers sell their meat at local markets, and slaughter onsite (except for cattle, which the USDA requires be sent to a slaughterhouse). However, some simply raise their cows under humane conditions, and ship the milk off to the big processing companies that make the products you see on the shelves. Either way, it is almost impossible to identify these conscientious farmers unless you visit the farms yourself.

As it turns out, the meat you buy at Whole Foods that reads “organic free-range” may be nothing of the sort. Free-range, as defined by the USDA, only means the animals have the opportunity to go outside. Likely they spend their entire lives in cramped conditions with the door open. For example, though the chickens may be cage-free, they may be crammed onto the floor of a barn with little more room than they would have had in the cages. Additionally, organically raised animals (in cramped conditions) are so susceptible to disease that to allow them outside would likely cause them all to die before they could be fattened for slaughter. Many of those who raise cattle particularly protest raising cows organically, as this would forbid them from administering antibiotics to sick cattle. They instead propose raising cattle as they are meant to be raised, in a pasture eating grass, finding this keeps the cows healthy enough that the only chemicals they must administer are the occasional antibiotic for the cow version of the cold.

While it may not be true across the board, food labeling is lax in defining what exactly constitutes organic or free-range, and the only sure bet is seeing the animals for yourself. If you meet a farmer at your local market and they tell you their animals are treated well, they probably aren’t lying, but anything bought at Whole Foods and produced by an enormous company is likely just as suspect as the meat, dairy, or eggs purchased at the regular grocery store. However, I cannot protest eating meat, dairy, or eggs if you feel they have come from places where everyone involved is treated humanely.

In the end, the choice is up to you, and you have to do what feels right. Yet a conscientious, informed buyer is always, almost without fail, more revolutionary than the one that eats whatever is set before him without question.

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