So if you have followed the previous several posts you will be aware that I am struggling with my former belief that eating local organic vegetables was the most ecological way to receive sustenance. I no longer think that is true. Perennial pastures build soil fertility, lock carbon in the soil, and grass fed meat can be raised with virtually no petroleum inputs. But I also think that the difference between eating whole, local produce exclusively and getting a percentage of your calories from grass fed meat is very small. If I had to make an unscientific spectrum from least ecological to most, I would have CAFO meat (and if it doesn’t say 100% Grass Fed-it’s almost certainly spent at least some time in a CAFO) and processed foods (if you have to open it- it counts [processing adds another factor of 10 to the embodied energy]), then imported fruits (typically flown in), to processed organic foods, then a huge jump up in eco-friendliness to regional Organic Produce in season, local produce, then local organic foods and finishing with Grass Fed Meats. Further more, raising animals on an integrated farm actually makes local organic produce more ecological by producing the fertilizer on site. Plus animals add enough profitability to actually make a livable farm-only income feasible for a thrifty family. Sustaining a populated rural countryside is very important for biodiversity and our ability to produce our own food as a nation. Supporting these enterprises is a patriotic as well as ecological act.
But here is the kicker. I am still a vegetarian. The largest reason is that, for cattle and hogs at least, there simply are no humane slaughterhouses. Because the USDA and FDA mandate that their must be an inspector in each facility, and those inspectors are expensive, only the big One Size Fits All slaughterhouses can run. Guess who sets the ethical standards for these facilities? McDonald’s. No, I am not kidding. In an effort to forestall PEDA, they have set some ‘minimum’ standards:
Potentially graphic content warning-but if you want to eat meat you need to know this: Readers of Michael Pollan will find this familiar. When the cows are led into the slaughterhouse, they are sent through a chute that has them enter single file. Each cow is then killed by a piston shot into their forehead. When it works, it really isn’t too bad a way to go in my book: brain dead within seconds. But the piston misses. A lot. Because of McDonald’s there are now inspectors watching as the now dead cows are strung up for processing. It is typical that they shake around as their nerves fire, but these are not still alive. However, some of the cows will be visibly trying to get upright again. Those cows aren’t even stunned and they head in to the processing, which starts with skinning, very much alive. McDonald’s standards are maximum 5% still alive. That is about 1 out every 20 cows, and I refuse to support that industry. Though I do not find eating meat immoral, I find immense problems with torturing animals in our care. Therefore I do not eat beef.
Chickens are not as regulated and it is feasible to find local grass fed chicken. I can think of three farms off the top of my head within 10 miles where I could drive up to their door and buy a humanely slaughtered chicken. So why am I not doing it? Frankly, I am not sure if even I know why. Perhaps after all these years I find animal carcasses distasteful. Perhaps I am lying to myself and I do have an ethical issue with eating meat. Maybe it is just culinary inertia. But I do think that there is enough reason that given our current situation we have the means to eat vegetarian so we will continue to do so. I guess it is best summed up that I can think of no reason to start eating meat in our current lives. I also know that if we move out onto a farmette, we will need to keep animals to build soil fertility. At that point I will eat meat-animals will be necessary in our lives and I will personally be able to oversee their ends ensuring a quick, clean death solving most of my concerns. This is still untidy in my mind, which bothers me, but that is where I am right now.
Hopefully this has helped some in their quest for more ecological eating, or at the least spread some knowledge on sustainable agriculture. Those interested in further reading on that topic can check out:
Gene Logdson’s The Contrary Farmer and All Flesh is Grass. Gene is a cool guy.
Joel Salatin’s books are designed for those wanting to farm, but he is a blast to read.
Periodicals to check out include Acre’s USA, and the Stockman Grass Farmer
And those interested in ethical eating shold check out Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. The book is great, but he gives Whole Foods a raw deal.
Remember-eating is a political, ethical, and ecological act.
Be the Change.