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Meat-ing our needs

Posted in Food, and Food & Entertaining

A happy cow in the window of Lindy & Grundy in LA
A happy cow in the window of Lindy & Grundy in LA

For 15 years of my life I was a strict vegetarian, abiding by some vague notions centered around animal cruelty. Then, one night, about 12 years ago, sitting at one of Suzanne Goin’s restaurants, I saw a plate of jamon serrano whizzing by and I simply had to have it. Under the astonished eyes of my friends, I devoured the entire thing without batting an eyelid. And never looked back.

What I know now about nutrition is a lot more informed than what I knew then. I was a perpetually anemic vegetarian because I was paying little attention to what kind of protein, if at all, I was ingesting. Needless to say, as soon as I resumed eating meat, I felt generally more energetic and was never plagued by anemia again. My meat consumption is no more than once a week: not a big fan of beef, I will eat poultry, game and pork but my very personal guidelines have been evolving and, after a 8 year stint in the food industry which forced me to look up close at how animals are raised and butchered,  I have come full circle and I am now struggling again with the moral issue of eating meat.

Setting aside for a moment the environmental implications involved in transporting meat and the ozone-killing methane gas emitted by the millions of cattle bred for our voracious demand of beef, the quality of the meat we mostly purchase and cook (or are being fed) is what first raised my concerns. The increased resistance humans have developed to antibiotics is in large part to be  blamed on the antibiotics being injected onto animals to prevent diseases in cramped and unsanitary conditions. And what to say of the hormones pumped into poultry and cows to deliver abnormally plump breasts and steaks to a public that has come to expect such extra-sized (and flavorless) cuts?

Not long ago, when purchasing a chicken at a Farmer’s Market, the farmer half apologized for the 3 pound bird – as opposed to the standard 5. But, having spent endless summers playing in the chicken coop with the nearby farmers’ kids and having seen chickens routinely butchered, I actually appreciated holding a chicken that looked surprisingly normal (not to mention it was juicy and delicious).

And then, there is the killing. Cows are shot in the head, as they advance through a maze-like structure that prevents them from seeing what is happening ahead, and sometimes don’t die and are still alive while being skinned. Chickens are hung upside down, on a conveyor belt system that pairs water and electrocution. I won’t horrify you with details we have all heard or read about. Still, as we swoon over our pets as if they were family members, we have no compunction in reaching for a sanitized and harmless looking piece of packaged meat. How do we reconcile such opposite behaviours? If we do believe animals have feelings and some kind of thought process, and anyone who ever has owned a pet couldn’t argue such points, what differentiates cows, pigs and chickens? Or fish?

I have personally not reached a conclusion I can ethically live by. Humans have adapted their stomachs to the digestion of meat thousands of years ago and, even if too much meat consumption can lead to a host of diseases, moderate amounts of  it have not harmed us in the long time. Plus, eating meat is in, if we are to believe the new Paleo diet craze.

Lindy and GrundyFor the time being, I will only eat meat if I know where it comes from and how it is fed. Because grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free meat is way more expensive, it forces me to keep my consumption really low. On a recent trip toLindy and Grundy , the butcher shop owned and run by two spunky women who only sell meat sourced within 150 miles of LA, grass-fed, and from farmers they personally know, I was thrilled to see that the tenets I live by are becoming more common. And Wholefoods, love it or hate it, has done a lot in establishing guidelines that even McDonald’s, to a certain extent, is starting to follow. Slowly, but surely, the meat industry will have to bend and change to such giant pressure.

What is stopping me from becoming vegetarian again is the thought of not being able to taste prosciutto again, the highest form of pig use in my world (sorry bacon). Is it morally wrong to raise a pig humanely, butcher it when the time comes and use every bit of it like farmers have done since time immemorial? I am not sure yet. As to the vegan option, I consider eggs to be the most perfect form of food ever created and I can’t conceive of ever letting them go.

But Franz Kafka’s utterance after becoming vegetarian keeps on playing in my brain: “Now at least I can look at you in peace. I don’t eat you anymore”. Kafka said to his friend Brod after seeing a fish swimming in an aquarium at the Berlin Zoo.

And where do you stand?

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  1. I haven’t eaten beef in decades and that is because of the antibiotics they’re fed. I also got creeped out when mad cow disease came into the picture. I used to enjoy pork but since it is a red meat (even though they try to convince us that it isn’t), I limit myself to only lamb and that is on rare occasions. I don’t eat veal anymore, it’s too expensive and it bothers me how they treat the animal to get that meat. I try to find the smallest chickens possible when I buy chicken. Those are usually younger compared to the big birds that are often older. I eat some type of seafood twice a week. I eat lots of fruit and struggle with getting enough vegetables into my diet, even though I like vegetables! It is also an effort to get dairy into my diet. Right now, I’m not hungry but I’m making myself eat some cheese because it’s necessary to get the calcium.
    When I get to the gym on time, I watch a show called “Unwrapped.” It shows you how foods are manufactured. For example: bread, or potato chips, or whatever. NONE of it looks appetizing! EVERY food process they show turns my stomach because in my opinion, the machinery isn’t clean enough. Certainly they must have passed the sanitary standards otherwise they wouldn’t allow cameras in. My mother used to have a friend whose family made ravioli. She said if you saw how they made it, you wouldn’t eat it. (Ravioli being my favorite food.) After watching 10-15 companies manufacturing our food on the TV show, Unwrapped, I don’t want to eat ANY of it – I just want to make everything myself from scratch!!
    Yes, I definitely believe animals have feelings. I also believe plants, which are living things after all, may also have something like feelings! Read the post that I reblogged about trees:
    So, what does that leave us to eat? Nothing, if we are to worry about feelings.
    Would a hungry lion or tiger hesitate to eat us if we were in the jungle? No. Would a hungry bear hesitate to eat us if we were in the woods? No. Would any of the following hungry animals hesitate to eat us: hyenas, vultures, crocodiles, leopards, sharks, dingoes, etc. No.
    I eat what is good for me and I eat a minimal amount of what may be “bad” for me (red meat, sugar products, salt products, nitrates and nitrites). If we limit ourselves too much, will life be worth living???
    The other thing I keep in mind is this: the experts are always changing their minds! Remember when eggs were “bad” for you? Now it’s “good” to eat them. Remember when cranberry sauce caused cancer? Whatever happened to that “fact”? If cranberry sauce caused cancer, I should have been dead three times over by now as much as I eat cranberry sauce. Remember when coffee was bad for us? Now it is highly recommended to drink coffee.
    Probably the best rule of thumb is to eat a variety of foods in moderation and make sure we exercise.

    February 14, 2013
    • I personally find I can’t use animals’ aggressive behaviour to justify killing them, as we have a higher level of consciousness and reasoning. In my mind that would justify also hunting, which I generally don’t condone.
      But I agree with you that a little bit in moderation goes a long way – and I am so happy an egg a day now seems to be accepted by the medical establishment as a healthy dietary staple. Poached eggs are one of my favourite foods!

      February 14, 2013
      • I consider human beings to also be animals. With all the killing sprees humans go on and with all the rationalizations we do to justify wars/killings, I can’t see that we have a higher level of consciousness and reasoning.

        February 15, 2013
  2. Intriguing question that people have been trying to resolve for a very long time. I became somewhat of a vegetarian many years ago simply because I like veggies and heart disease runs in the family. I still ate eggs, milk and cheese, lots of cheese. Of course, vegans don’t eat milk of cheese, something I will never figure out but more power to them. It’s their life and I am not going to be judgmental. I missed meat and eventually began eating it again. I am very comfortable with being a carnivore. I like meat. Although I have never eaten a lot of beef, not because I don’t like it because I do, but I like other things more. I have hunted it, fished it, killed it, processed it and eaten it. I have never grown it for consumption simple because of the land mass required. I don’t agree with cruelty to animals any more than I agree to slowly killing tees or other plants. It has nothing to do with them being sentient beings but simply what I believe on a personal level as the way to treat life. I do, however, care about genetic engineering, growth hormones, abuse of antibiotics in the name of food safety, and generally the “witch doctor” approach of many nutritionists, dietitians and M.D.s, not to mention the corporate and government structure that “regulates” food safety and consumption. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. My family has a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol so eating lots of fats, be they mono saturated or polyunsaturated, is not healthy. So, I guess the point of this long comment is that everybody has to guide themselves through how to live their life, including how and what to eat. For health reasons, for protein, Baby Lady & I eat primarily seafood, poultry, pork, cheese and tofu. We prefer local, antibiotic free animals but we also eat what is available and affordable. Life is a balancing act and we do the best we can do to balance our life which include food consumption.

    February 11, 2013
    • Your choices make a lot of sense. And you are right, like everything else, even food is a balancing act. Thanks for your insightful comment

      February 12, 2013

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