For those not in the know, food ethics, as well as animal ethics, is something I grapple with. When we first moved to Eugene, we fully embraced a “eco-conscious” mindset when it came to our food purchases. We bought as locally as we could, we opted for locally raised and slaughter meats, we aimed for eating seasonally. Our area has its issues, but one of the perks of being here has been access to such food sources. We have a great Farmer’s Market that runs April through November; we’ve got a smattering of other, smaller markets. The next town over has a Farmer’s Market that runs year long, and we have local foodstuffs available in a number of our more typical grocery markets.
For some time, I was proud of how we shopped for our food. I’ll admit I even slipped into “everyone should shop and eat this way,” headspace.
How easy to forget how this abundance of resources is not the case for all places; it certainly wasn’t possible and/or affordable while we were in Philly. How easy to forget that it *costs* more, when you’ve got two people working full time to support a household of two people and a large number of animals? How easy to lose sight of being compassionate . . . .
Anyone who knows me knows that I struggle with despondency when it comes to how we treat the world around us, when it comes to our consumerism mentality that’s so rampant in our society. It gets to the point of hopelessness, where small changes don’t matter, where, if I can’t do it perfectly, then what’s the point of even doing a small amount?
Our situation changed a bit. Less income coming in means less money to spend on food. We’re now in a situation where we’re budgeting tightly, and more or less staying afloat, and that’s great. Eating seasonally was one of the first things to go, because a lot of that food is food that Beth’s system can’t digest properly anyway. Buying food locally went when it became clear that Beth’s ability to do the bulk of the shopping wasn’t sustainable for her health. The last that we sacrificed was buying locally raised and slaughtered meat, and this last has cause me the most internal angst since it was relaxed.
We’ve watched the horrors of the industrial farming industry, and that helped us stay on that track for a good long while. With mounting medication costs and the natural result of aging critters, combined with our tribe mentality (wherein our animals are more important to us than animals in general, so they get the monies and we eat what we can), the introduction of more typically reared and slaughtered meat crept back into our diet. Never in a huge variety or quantity, because one of the things about Beth’s poor system is, it is incredibly selective about what sorts of animal meats in can handle. Chicken has mostly been our thing, for the last year or so. And every single time, there would be the conflict. Not over eating meat, or killing an animal to eat, so much as the life that animal lived before getting to my table.
And here we are, in May. Beth and I have been watching a series of shows featuring a historian and two archeologists who recreate life on various farms throughout the history. They invariably raise livestock, care for it, and slaughter it, prepare it, and eat it.
So, in theory I can say “Yes, I think we should be able to slaughter our own food!”, and you know, if we’re talking about going out and hunting something, maybe I’d be able to actually do it? But watching these people caring for these animals day in and day out, and knowing that they’re going to kill them to eat them . . . I have to be honest; I don’t think I could, not when I had non-animal food sources near to hand. Not when my survival did not require it. I know well and good that, if I had the care and feeding of an animal for a number of months, I would not be able or willing to slaughter the animal for the food that I didn’t *strictly* need.
This isn’t a value judgment on others — I’m grateful for the nice helping of humble pie I’ve received on this topic of the last few years. I do very much believe that we have to pick our battles, and that our system is not set up to support non-consumerism ways of living, and that not every cause can be our cause. I’m not even saying Beth and I are cutting meat out of our diets altogether.
I am saying that, last week I didn’t buy that chicken. I’m saying that this week I wanted more vegetables and fruits than anything else. I’m saying that we wasted less food this past week than we have in a while, and that carrying home $70 worth of groceries when it contains mostly veggies and no meat is a lot easier on the back. I’m reminded that vegetable protein patties satisfy my junk food cravings.
Buying locally and eating seasonally is still a bit out of what we can manage right now. But scaling our meat consumption way, way down isn’t — and where those industrial farming material overwhelm and desensitize, these ‘we’re actually slaughtering animals we raised’ episodes bring the ethical concerns into real life. It’s awful that seeing creatures pressed cheek by jowl in inhumane conditions can be anything less than horrifying, but it’s so much that it’s almost too much for me to hold onto. I realize that that is a huge part of the problem, right there, too. I get it, intellectually, but it’s too big for me to retain in my heart. However, watching animals being animals — frolicking with their littermates, being born, being clever, being affectionate — makes the transition seamless. It happened without us talking about it or even thinking about it, until the mind shift happened, and here we are.
We’re not saying we’re never going to eat meat again. We are saying that the role meat consumption plays in our diet is changing, and we’re not missing it.