I want to start this post by saying that I am not a vegetarian. I grew up eating meat, all of my family eat meat, and most of my friends eat meat. A decade or two ago, I rarely thought about the meat I was eating. As a child I was uncomfortable with, even repelled by, the sight of deer carcasses hanging from the tree in the yard, but I always enjoyed the roast venison and succulent stews. My father killed them, my mother cooked them, and we had food on the table, for which we were grateful. I did not hunt myself.
Later, living on a lifestyle block in New Zealand, I hated the autumn kill day when our 6-month-old lambs began their inevitable transition from paddock to freezer, but I was happy enough to eat the barbequed lamb chops and those glorious, melt-in-your-mouth glutinous lamb shanks, slow-roasted in a rich tomato and onion gravy, served with a heap of buttery mashed potatoes and a side of peas. Ah! See how easy it is to transform oneself from animal carer to foodie in less than a sentence? (And we will choose to forget the cries of the ewe mums standing at the fence in the paddock adjacent to the killing pen, mourning the loss of their babies. It is what it is.)
But as I grow older (certainly), and wiser (perhaps), I find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the dilemma of caring for and about animals, and seeing them as intelligent and sentient beings with as much right to live—and potentially as much meaning in their lives—as I do/have, and then eating them. Meanwhile, the historically-touted health benefits of meat consumption have dwindled down in modern times to nearly—if not totally—negligible. Meat consumption is linked to heart disease, diabetes, and several cancers, especially bowel cancer, and concerns grow regarding industrial farming methods and the use of GMO feeds and livestock feed additives, antibiotic use, animal welfare issues, water contamination, and animal waste.
“Does a cow value its life more than I enjoy a barbeque?” asks conservationist Damien Mander in this TED talk, and I think this is a question worth pondering. Because that’s what it comes down to.
More simply, a small child stages an act of defiance, crying “I won’t eat animals” and offering the persuasive argument "they don't really like being cooked" in this popular you-tube clip. (It's cute. Watch.)
Me? I don’t eat much meat anymore. I don’t even like it much anymore. I can no longer totally divorce in my head the meat on my plate from the animal that was killed to become this food ingredient I don’t need for my own health or survival or well-being. Still, when eating with friends, perhaps at someone’s house or at a restaurant without appealing vegetarian options on the menu, or when travelling, I will—mindfully—enjoy that roast lamb or Thai beef salad or cassoulet with chorizo. I am a bit of a “foodie” after all. And I’m not giving up my occasional (once a month or so) fish’n’chips anytime soon, though I include fish in my head as “animals”. But my own meat consumption is definitely down to “occasionally” and “mindfully”. It’s a compromise position.
Just my thoughts. Each of us will make our own choices, after all.