For eight years, I didn’t eat a touch of meat. Not an ounce of animal flesh passed through these sometimes-black-painted lips, aside from the occasional bit of sustainable seafood — and only then, my choice in seafood was (and still is, and shall forever remain) based in sustainability. When choosing seafood, I always refer to my “pocket seafood guide” provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium (for information on getting your own free pocket guides to which seafood is sustainable and what is not, please visit http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx to print them out or click on “order large quantities” to order 10 or more pre-printed copies for yourself and friends).
As mentioned above, the key to eating ethically (which has always been my focus) is to choose food wisely, whether plant or animal. Save seafood, I didn’t eat meat (and certainly proselytized vegetarianism) for reasons of ethics and morality. I still, and will always, be concerned with animal rights and the ethics of things we consume — food product or otherwise. Every dollar we spend is akin to casting a vote.
When my Coven proposed butchering half a pig last Autumn (free-range, from a local farmer) with the help of some of our community elders who were to partake in the other half, my stomach churned. At the time, I couldn’t imagine eating meat: it was unethical and immoral. After talking to ecologists, browsing certain articles online, and after reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, I realize that the ethics of eating are not as black-or-white as “veg vs. non-veg.” It’s much more complicated; there are numerous dimensions and factors to consider. The production of the food, the way in which the product is treated, genetic modification of plants and animals (GMO), carbon footprint, effects on the environment (devastation vs. conservation), and one’s surrounding agricultural cycle are of extreme significance.
It’s true that our ancestors ate meat. It’s a good point. BUT, that meat was not factory-farmed, so it’s not a valid argument for those who eat unsustainable meat. Our ancestors, as well as other cultures across the globe who live in tune with nature, valued and understood meat to be the flesh of sentient, conscious creatures. Our ancestors ate seasonally: more wild game and root vegetables in the cold season, and more fish, fruits, and veggies in the warm season. I recommend taking a page from their book! If we’re going to eat meat, I believe it should be in alignment with our local environment and agricultural cycle. I live in Montana, which means that we have relatively long winters — the most ideal and ethical diet for this environment includes wild game. If I lived in an area of the country or world that had a year-round agricultural cycle (with fruits and veggies almost always in season), a vegetarian or vegan diet would be the most ethical choice — in this case, meat consumption would be an unnecessary expenditure of life. Vegetarianism and veganism are fantastic choices if such a diet is supported in one’s immediate environment. For ethical reasons, I would much rather eat some elk, deer or antelope that my dad hunted, and which provide years’ worth of sustenance than eat vegetarian “sausages” whose environmentally-devastating, genetically-modified soybeans were grown in Paraguay (South America) and combined with Monsanto corn products in the States. I’d rather eat a formerly free-roaming, happy pig named Ferdinand, whose local farmer I am familiar with (and garnish his cut with local potatoes and carrots) than consume a high amount of vegetables imported from gods-know-where while Jack Frost rears his head just outside the back door.
Factory farming is the enemy of sustainable living, earth consciousness and ethical eating. It doesn’t matter to me whether meat “tastes good” or not; what matters is my impact on the environment and the welfare of all beings whose energy was spent creating the food. I won’t order meat at restaurants because it’s nearly always factory-farmed, unless the menu specifies otherwise. The process of factory-farming animals gives no recognition to the animal’s happiness. Animals are usually pumped full of growth hormones, inhumanely crammed into tiny spaces, torn from their families, are unable to roam free, are given cheap GMO feed, are allowed to develop tumors and infections, and they may never see direct sunlight or feel the grass beneath their feet — not to mention the environmental impacts from their waste products and the GMO feed itself. I refuse to support a greed-based, inhumane industry such as this. No being should have to endure the suffering that millions of factory-farmed animals are forced into every year.
Supporting real, local farmers, fishers and hunters helps reduce negative impacts on the environment. Putting money into ethically-raised meat takes money away from the factory “farmers.” Hunting is also financially economical. Organic (or similar) meat may be more expensive in the grocery store, but that’s okay: most human bodies don’t need meat to survive; we are omnivoriously designed, and America’s meat frenzy (the perception that we need a daily intake of meat to live) is unrealistic, unsustainable and unhealthy.
Free-range. Animal-friendly. Organic (if possible). Grass-fed (if bovine). Sustainable. Veg-fed. Ethical. LOCAL! These are qualities I look for. If you choose to eat meat, I hope you will too.
Dukkha muccantu: May all being be free from suffering,
PS: Here’s a great, scientifically-based article on the subject: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation