Why The Term “Ethical Meat” Gives Me Irony Attacks:

{Introductory note: I recently read The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith.  The book’s description goes like this: “Part memoir, nutritional primer, and political manifesto, this controversial examination exposes the destructive history of agriculture—causing the devastation of prairies and forests, driving countless species extinct, altering the climate, and destroying the topsoil—and asserts that, in order to save the planet, food must come from within living communities. In order for this to happen, the argument champions eating locally and sustainably and encourages those with the resources to grow their own food.”  Those of you who know me know that there is nothing I would disagree with in this synopsis.  But as you may have noticed from the title, Keith devotes a considerable amount of her narrative to discrediting vegetarians and vegans.  Which, as those of you who know me know, is a problem for me.  I wrote this book review for goodreads, and I touch on some of my general issues with the “ethical meat” arguments that can also be found in such popular books as Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  So I thought I’d post it here for discussion.  May the firestorm commence.}

From the title onward, Keith aims her knife blade in strange directions.  The foundational argument of this book is based on an anti-agriculture, anti-civilization critique.  She clearly has a bone to pick with veg*ns, but the whole first half of the book I kept thinking: If you really want to critique industrial agriculture, why focus on veg*ns?  The veg*ns I know put way more thought into their food sources and choices than the average American does.  The veg*ns I know are more likely to grow their own food or eat locally-grown food.  It’s not like veg*ns are the only ones eating industrial monoculture crops like corn and soy.  In fact, I guarantee I eat less of those things (in their highly processed forms, especially) than a great many of the people I know.  So why does the book have a smug, condescending, join-with-me-meat-eaters-of-the-world-in-laughing-at-the-ignorance-of-the-veg*ns tone?

In fact, I had a hard time figuring out who her target audience really was.  Was she aiming her book at veg*ns with the hope of converting the back to meat-eating?  (If so, maybe it would have been wise to be a little less insulting.)  Was she aiming it at Americans who eat meat, the regular old factory-farmed way?  (Which is the vast, vast majority of meat-eating Americans, and so maybe it would have been a good idea for her to spend a little bit of time on why the factory farming system is so bad—she acknowledges that it is in passing, but then assumes that base of knowledge from her readers.  And obviously the deplorable nature of factory farms is not common knowledge, or else why would they still exist?)  Or was she aiming for fellow anti-civ sympathizers?

{Sidenote: The American factory farming system really is reprehensible.  Really, truly.  A very small percentage of animals are raised on the family farms that populate our collective farm-animal imaginations; most animals are born and die in factory farms where they are mutilated, abused and beaten, and where they suffer from illnesses and deformities brought on by genetic modification, inappropriate food, and a continual regime of antibiotics.  If you’re not sure about this,  I recommend clicking here, here, and here.}

Keith makes repeated references to the “ignorance” of veg*ans (“What vegetarians need to understand is…”) then follows them up with mind-numbingly obvious factoids.  (Yes, veg*ns know that insects die in the agricultural process.  Yes, veg*ns know that cows eat grass.  These are not revelations.)  I completely agree with her that most of us are woefully disconnected from our own food chains. (I am, too, though having a brother who is an urban organic farmer has definitely helped alter my perspective.)  This doesn’t just apply to veg*ns though; the vast majority of people living in industrialized societies have very little connection to the production of the food that feeds us.  The parts of Keith’s book where she tried to help the reader connect with the roots and processes of plants and soil were, for me, some of the most touching and impactful.

In the end, though, the strength of Keith’s argument rests upon her efforts to remake the world from the bottom up.   Her vision might make sense in the context of a world inhabited by only 3 million people (I think that’s the number she said would be ideal) divided into self-sufficient non-industrial bioregional communities.  Perhaps post-apocalypse she and I could have a very different conversation.  When you try to apply her arguments to the present day, though, unless you include a clause of voluntary human extinction, they don’t make as much sense.  What would Keith’s non-agricultural vision of the world look like right now, applied to the 7 billion people who actually exist?  What are concrete steps that people can take to eat in more ecologically friendly ways?  (No, eating more steak is not an answer that works in the here and now.) 

My overall sense is that this book will not produce very many anti-civ, anti-ag activists–because that is a really, really hard thing to commit to.  Rather, it will create readers whose consciences are assuaged into meat-eating as an ethical choice–because that is an easy thing to commit to. 

Every pro-meat eating argument starts with the disclaimer, “Of course, factory farming is reprehensible, but…”  But most people don’t go away from books like this committed to move to the country and raise their own animals.  The diluted take-home message ends up being that our ancestors ate meat so we should too (a la paleos) or that you really can’t live without animal products so you shouldn’t bother trying (a la Weston Price Foundation). 

In other words, when people read Pollan and Kingsolver and Keith, they may come away from the books with a sense that it would be more ethical for them to raise and slaughter their own animals–but of course they can’t do that [they have a job, after all] and so the message that remains is the moral justification for meat-eating.  So maybe one year for Thanksgiving they buy a “humanely-raised” local turkey, and then feel that they have done their part.  Or maybe they occasionally buy cage-free eggs at the grocery store, not realizing that’s a basically meaningless distinction for the chickens involved.  Then the rest of the time they continue to eat the daily special at the restaurant and rush to the grocery store to take advantage of “meat sales” and stop by McDonalds or Burger King on the way home from work.

Listen, different veg*n-believers may have different opinions about Keith’s personal choices.  Some veg*ns believe in animal abolition (completely abolishing the paradigm within which people can own animals); others dedicate their energy to animal welfare within current systems.  I can relate to both of these perspectives and I often feel like I’m straddling the fence between them.  But today, I’m thinking about the 10 BILLION factory-farmed animals who are slaughtered for food EVERY YEAR in the US alone.  I can respect that Keith opted out of that inherently exploitative system when she decided to feed herself from the ground up; she made an effortful and responsible choice.  My big issue is when she starts telling other people—people who don’t have the resources, gumption, know-how or commitment to follow suit—that eating animals is going to save the world.  There may be a handful of people [I know there are a couple of them who read this blog and will probably be commenting] who actually follow her lead.  But most people will just order a steak the next time they’re at a restaurant, and feel even less guilty about it.

And so this is exactly what I’m trying to say: In a world where the vast majority of people are not willing or able to live as full-time sustenance farmers, raising and slaughtering their own animals for food, a defense of “ethical meat-eating” is really no more than a defense of meat-eating.  And the industrialized style of meat-eating is frankly indefensible.

Really, I have this lingering sense that the “ethical meat” argument must be a dream for the meat industry.  It doesn’t provide any solid critique of meat-eating as a general practice–and factory farms don’t care if people have vaguely negative opinions of them, as long as everyone keeps buying their products.  And because it is so difficult to avoid factory farmed “products,” the “ethical meat” argument (and its inherent supposition that meat can, in fact, be ethical) provides people with some psychological wiggle room, keeping them from considering whether they should eat animals at all.

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34 responses to “Why The Term “Ethical Meat” Gives Me Irony Attacks:

  1. nat kelly September 2, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    Damn. I am really glad to hear your thoughts on this, Missy.

    I avoid reading all these kinds of books right now because of some of the points you raised here: I don’t have the energy or resources to be able to make my eating habits much better than they are right now. I’m always trying to do the few things I can to cut out meat, buy organic when it’s on sale, eat local if it’s somewhat semi-affordable, find out if my fruits came from a company that I know is devastating the lives of thousands of peasants south of the border.

    I know I’m not doing enough. But I know I don’t have it in me, right now, to do more. And I know that reading works like these, or like the books you might recommend over this one, will just fill me with guilt for not living up to the standards I wish I could set for myself. Saul Alinsky said that knowledge is critical (duh), but having knowledge, without having the power to act on it, is just painful.

    Someday, I’d love to join the ranks of vegetarians–and full throttle too (I’ve gone through periods where I’m a “flexitarian”, where I would only eat meat about once a week). It’s just too much of a leap in my life right now. So I don’t try to justify my eating decisions as ethical – I just know they’re the best I can do for now.

    This is what is so frustrating about trying to have awareness while living so enmeshed in our imperial capitalist structure – everything I touch, eat, buy, or use is tainted. Or if it’s not, it’s only accessible for people way above my income range.

    Can I just live outside, naked, and eat grass? Is that an option?

  2. Katrina September 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Great critique!

    (i’m curious.. why do you use the * in veg*an?)

  3. birthfaithLani September 2, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    I really like Nat’s comment. I fall far (FAR) short of my ideals every. single. day. of my life. on so many levels. Juggling all the worthy causes and trying to stay on the strait and narrow path of ethics is tough. I can hardly stay on top of my kids’ schoolwork or the laundry let alone all of the other “good” I’m supposed to be doing in my neighborhood, ward, PTA, family, and the world at large. Sigh.

    It would be lovely if I only put things into my mouth that were wholesome and ethically-created. I’m definitely not there yet. Maybe someday.

    It would be interesting to study whether our ancestors’ diets impact how and where we’re able to absorb the nutrients we need to function. The more I learn about how a mother’s food choices and environment impact her fetus, the more it seems likely to me that it’s all connected and almost pre-determined how our bodies will function.

    I’ll be pondering this for a few days, I’m sure. Thanks for getting me thinking.

    And ditto to what Katrina said.

  4. ajbc September 3, 2011 at 5:47 am

    “Veg*n” means both vegan and vegetarian, the * comes from computer science where it means “find anything that matches to fill in the blank.”

    I have to rush, but Amen to the post.

  5. Mary Cate Bassett September 3, 2011 at 6:05 am

    I raise and slaughter my own animals, milk goats, and raise happy egg-layers as well as grow my own herbs, veggies, berries, and fruit trees. I bake my own bread from food-storage grain. I am learning how to eat the “weeds” off of my land, therefore getting the veggie part of my diet from plants I don’t even have to slave over! Free, easy, sustainable, full of nutrition and other medicinal benefits. In fact, I am experimenting to see how much of my diet can be: low-work plant harvested from my land, and locally U-picked fruit. It has been an interesting experiment.

    I chose this lifestyle about 6 years ago from a background of zero experience and have researched, sacrificed, and worked hard to get to where I am because I believe in it so passionately. I have learned so very, very much. I have no plans to ever stop eating meat, but I can tell you that I eat a whole lot less than I used to. Meat is a precious delicacy, a “dressing” I eat with my otherwise plant-based dinner. Eggs and milk I have more frequently, according to how they are being produced.

    I try to eat these things in proportion to how they are produced. It takes a lot of time and resources to produce meat, and I can get a lot farther on producing animal protein (this includes both milk and the animals raised on milk that become our meat) on grazing animals than I can on poultry meat, which is heavily grain-dependent. (Unless you want a skin-and-bones bird for bone broth.) I tried raising turkeys last year on mostly forage and little meat. Those who bought my turkeys complained at their small size and scarcity of meat. :sigh: Being the one who raised them myself, it caused me to be more aware and deeply grateful for the meat they had.

    I try to raise these animals in pattern with the seasons to keep down on feed costs. Feeding an animal through winter is wasteful unless that animal needs to be there to produce next year’s animal-protein crop (there for breeding, milk, or eggs.) So the flocks and the herd rise and shrink with the seasons.

    It *is* sobering to contemplate eating poultry when you see the mountains of grain consumed to produce that meat. That is grain I could be eating! But when it is a matter of them constantly turning the grain into eggs or having a little grain with their grass/hay to become milk, it is much more ethically and conservationally palatable to me. And since producing milk requires producing meat, and the other food that meat consumes is plant matter growing on my land that *I* don’t have any use for (and don’t have to slave over or burn resources to harvest) it seems a very harmonious use of the land and resources.

    So, this experience has made me feel more favorable to eating young goat (and a young beef raised on excess goat milk, then slaughtered just a few months later.) It is rather convenient that while baby goats are the *cutest* things ever, by the time it makes sense for me to slaughter them, they have stopped being so adorably cute and have become troublesome and obnoxious. 😉

    I haven’t read this book, so I can’t speak for the author, but I can speak for myself and tell my own story. My desire is to help people who want to do what I’m doing but don’t think they can.

  6. Karmen September 3, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Missy, thank you for this! I haven’t read the book but your review motivates me to do so.

    I eat meat, try do to so sparingly, choose “ethical meat,” and think more and often of the origin of my food. I wish I had the resources and life demands that made it possible to raise all my own food as we did when I was growing up, but not possible for me right now. It’s too bad that the author apparently seems to focus on veg*ns rather than consumers at large as Pollan does in Dilemma. Awareness brings change in behavior which will change the demands of the market.

    As for my own choices and actions, I continue to do what I can — raise fruits and veggies in my own little yard, increase those things in my diet, look for more personal options (is it worth raising chickens just for eggs) decrease my intake of meat and choose that meat as wisely as possible with the information given, and spread the word (as you are doing here).

  7. missy. September 3, 2011 at 8:22 am

    ajbc, thanks for getting to the veg*n question for us 🙂

    See, I don’t think vegetarianism is hard at all. That might be a function of my having done it for so long, but I don’t find it it be a challenge. Veganism is a little trickier–but not because it’s inherently tricky, just because its less-understood and therefore less-accomodated by our culture at large. If you are a regular meat-eater who wants to only eat “humane” meat, you face a greater challenge than the vegan. To determine the precise living conditions and slaughtering conditions of every animal you eat is simply impossible. Which is why this is hilarious even though I relate to it a lot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2LBICPEK6w

  8. missy. September 3, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Karmen, if you are looking for book recommendations, one that I love is “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. He is such a great and inventive writer and and he tackles his subjects from many interesting angles.

  9. missy. September 3, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Sorry, I should have put an asterisk on my first comment there. There are a few people like Mary Cate who do know the living conditions of all the animals they eat. It’s a very small minority though.

    Mary Cate, I thought your comment was interesting and I have tons of questions about it. You mentioned that you eat a lot less meat than you used to. How have your impressions and ideas about animals changed since you started on this lifestyle? Do you feel like meat is a necessary part of your diet or do you just like it? Do you have another job or is the work of feeding yourself a full-time endeavor?

    I have to admit that it made me feel sad to come up against the paradigm that it is “wasteful” to feed an animal through the winter. It’s hard for me to hear people talking about choosing when to bring animals into existence and end their lives. I view animals as agents of their own existence who should be able to reproduce as they choose, and everything I know about nature says that creatures want to exist and fight for their lives. So I’m sure that an animal wouldn’t think surviving the winter was a waste.

  10. Andrew Izatt September 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks for your post Missy, I definitely enjoyed reading it. I had heard of this book but it wasn’t even on the periphery of my field of vision with regards to what I wanted to read. I figured that it would just be yet another defense of “happy meat” which I am not surprised to find that it is. But anyways I think it deserves some comment and I thank you for getting through it. I would like to comment on line (and in general to some of the responses you have received: “In a world where the vast majority of people are not willing or able to live as full-time sustenance farmers, raising and slaughtering their own animals for food, a defense of “ethical meat-eating” is really no more than a defense of meat-eating.” I don’t believe there is, nor can be, such a thing as “humane” or “ethical” meat. That seems as much of a misnomer as it is to say there is such thing as “humane” pedophilia or “humane” rape or “humane” slavery. These titles are ones that we make up to assuage our consciences. All exploitation is exploitation and I wonder what can ever be “humane” or “ethical” about talking a life (especially for the frivolous and unnecessary reason that we like the taste of their muscles? While it is “better” (in the sense that it causes less pain) that someone not be tortured before they are killed or it is better that they be shot quickly in the head while asleep rather than stabbed to death, I doubt that we would ever make the argument that those forms of death are “humane.” The solution to animal exploitation is not to try and make it “better” but to end it altogether. We don’t need more “local,” “organic,” or “family,” mea/egg/dairy operations, we need no meat/egg/dairy operations. Thanks again for the post.

  11. nat kelly September 3, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Btw, missy, this makes me think again of one of the first topics I requested OMK to write about when you guys first got started.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on what eating lifestyle the WoW encourages us to have.

  12. Erin September 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Hm, I agree with a lot of what you say, but I have to disagree with the conclusions you think people will draw from reading Pollan or Kingsolver’s books (I haven’t read the book you’re specifically talking about here, so you may be right about that). After having read Omnivore’s Dilemma my husband and I certainly did not feel justified in continuing to eat at McDonalds (not something we usually did anyway) or buy meat from the grocery store. We’ve cut way back on how much meat we do eat (usually one, no more than two meals per week) and started buying our beef and pork from local farmers. (I’ll admit we still buy chicken breast at the store – and I hate that we do. If someone wants to help me learn how to best use a whole chicken I’d be happy!) I’ve known others who have either begun to limit their meat intake or gone vegetarian or vegan after reading those books.

    Personally, I do feel my body needs some meat at times. When I’m pregnant, the other foods we eat to get protein just don’t cut it sometimes (and on occasion make me feel sick). Also, the only food that would leave my mom feeling half-way decent and slightly energized when she was going through chemo: red meat. I respect others’ choices to eat vegetarian or vegan. I feel that our family still has a ways to go in making good food choices. But I’m okay with where we’re at now (as long as we continue to progress!) and feel that good, healthy food choices can include some meat, even if we don’t grow it ourselves.

  13. Mika Alden September 3, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Excellently written Mary Cate. In some parts of america it isn’t nearly so hard to find out where your food comes from. An entire little economy around small urban and suburban farming exists here. I can walk to the house I get eggs from, I’m more worried about my cat killing one of the chickens than anything else, and my milk and cheese products come from a single family dairy. And I eat mostly the fruiting bodies of plants, and locally grown corn. I am working to get enough money to one day have my own little farm and raise nearly everything I need there. One of the more destructive food sources for me will be wheat, with transportation and all, but I love bread!

    Missy,

    “I have to admit that it made me feel sad to come up against the paradigm that it is “wasteful” to feed an animal through the winter. It’s hard for me to hear people talking about choosing when to bring animals into existence and end their lives. I view animals as agents of their own existence who should be able to reproduce as they choose, and everything I know about nature says that creatures want to exist and fight for their lives. So I’m sure that an animal wouldn’t think surviving the winter was a waste.”

    Here’s where I get most hung up around calling any lifestyle more or less ethical. To me, life is life. We’re connected and related to all of it, and plants are not unfeeling or any less desperate to survive and reproduce. This is not a rationalization to do whatever, though most veg*ns assume so and stop listening to me at this point. We are going down the same path with plants we already did with animals and at some point we have to face the fact that biodiversity is a zero-sum game, and the more humans there are, the fewer other things there can be. We need balance, life is meant to feed on itself, but if any single factor grows out of control it disrupts the cycle. We have a path to it also, we can reduce our population sanely and without violence simply by having only one or two kids at most. I’m not advocating a totalitarian mandate for china style one child laws. I want to see education. I think that people are basically smart enough to work for their own best interests if they are educated. I’m not saying we should go extinct, but we need to reduce the amount of people back to a level that can be balanced with the natural world. If we don’t we will continue to see the spread of desertification.

    I think I may have wandered a bit from my point, but I guess what I’m saying is that I feel like veg*ns should be supportive of other people’s efforts to reduce impact on this planet, and it can often feel like they are attacking any alternate approaches. From the outside looking in, veg*ns have just elevated animals to the level of humans, then continued to view everything outside of that as fair game because it has a lower level of conscious. Just like most view everything that isn’t human. But we basically have the same goals, want factory farms to disappear, don’t like to see animals abused, and want the quality of life for people to improve.

  14. Betty Jo September 4, 2011 at 7:37 am

    I operate a small diversified Organic farm, with a small cattle herd, and ~3 dozen laying hens.

    I do not find the term “ethical meat” at all ironic, tho I understand that others do.

    Ethics are a tricky business aren’t they? Some believe that breeding and raising mammals
    for food is unethical no matter what. Others focus on the treatment of the critters to make that determination. Still others look at all the grain raised for animal feed and consider that to be wasteful. Some consider the Industrial agriculture model unethical all by itself – what with
    not only factory feed lots, but all the pollution from synthetic fertilizers, pesticide and
    herbicides. Others believe that meat of any kind is unhealthy. The range of attitudes one may
    find when it comes to food is quite amazing. I had one customer who would only buy my
    chicken eggs when there was no rooster in the flock. So long as there was no conceivable way
    for that egg to be viable, only then it was ethical to eat it. Most of my beef customers
    are not big meat eaters. Mostly what I hear from them is, “we don’t eat meat often, so when
    we do, we want the best” (e.g., Organic, grass fed, humanely raised). One customer (in chemo
    therapy), buys for herself and other cancer patients, since she wants the antioxidants and anti-carcinogens (CLA) from grass fed beef, and needs the iron, minerals and folates for recovery.

    This time of year, with the garden bursting at the seams, I LOVE the critters. I don’t feel badly if
    the zucchini gets away from me, or the cukes. Nor need I feel wasteful about the huge pile of leaves and stems left on after I harvest the beans for drying. The cattle love them all. The chickens adore those corn ears that are a bit more starchy than sweet. The cows come running for the succulent green cornstalks. Just when the grasses in the pastures are slowing down, I can toss loads of turnips over the fence and the girlies (cows) are pretty sure they’re in heaven.

    On our place, we have a couple of acres of great flat land with a rich layer of deep topsoil. That’s where the gardens grow. The rest of the place is hilly pastures. Bed rock is close to the surface, there’s just enough top soil on them to maintain a good swarth of well established grass/clover. Were we to plow the pastures for produce, we’d just create a big erosion problem, and still couldn’t grow deep rooted stuff there. Without the cattle to maintain this grassland, we’d have to fire up the diesel tractor to mow it. Instead the cows keep the grass healthy, while they turn it into food. Not to mention, beef sales are what pay the taxes to keep this green space open for all the other critters who share it with us. It takes a lot of zucchini, eggs and string bean sales to match the return from a single package of Filet Mignon. And, Organic produce is a highly labor intensive operation. It’s rather convenient that the cattle pretty much take care of themselves most of the time in the summer, when the gardens demand every working moment. When the cows are in winter pasture and need hay every day, the garden needs nothing.

    For me, it’s a given that the well being of the critters is the first thing I think of in the morning, and the last thing at night. Given that, I don’t feel a single ethical qualm about having bred the cattle for meat, nor for turning the free range laying hens into chicken stock at the end of their laying life.

    I guess where I come down on the ethics issue, is that I hate waste. And, the longer I farm, the more I am certain that Mother Earth likes diversity. A lot. My gardens are more productive because the critters consume what we and our customers don’t. The pasture is more productive, because it is groomed by the cattle. The eggs are much lower in cholesterol
    and higher in vitamins because the chickens free range on green pasture , The wildlife thrives because the Organic farm maintains healthy open free space.

    I suspect that Michael Pollin has it about right. Eat everything, but in moderation.

  15. missy. September 4, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Erin- I’m glad to hear you know people who have gone veg after reading OD. I know a lot of people who finished the book feeling committed to only buying local/organic/whatever meat, but within a couple of weeks they had realized how difficult it was and were back to their same patterns. Sometimes I feel like humans have a hard time sustaining moral indignation, so you have to give them something radical to do in order for it to stick. (But this is related to your point, nat– having grown up with the Word of Wisdom, which is an extremely immoderate document, it is hard for me to believe in moderation really at all!) So in that spirit: I can’t teach you how to use a whole chicken, but if you’re interested I can certainly teach you how not to cook with chicken at all 🙂

    Mika- OK, but let me push you a little bit on this. If we all genuinely want to eradicate factory farming, I think we should talk about what approach actually has the potential to do that. The abolitionist perspective (which Andrew is referencing above) would argue that as long as the property paradigm persists–as long as the enslavement and use of animals is viewed as morally justified in ANY context–that paradigm will be socially sanctioned in virtually any context. Would slavery have been eradicated if Abraham Lincoln had signed a Only Rural Folks Can Hold Slaves And Only If They Promise To Be Nice To Them Proclamation?

    By the way, the plant question is a question I’ve been asked flippantly for as long as I can remember –“but what about the plants? they’re alive too, don’t you care about them?”– but I know you are not asking it flippantly and Keith takes the question seriously in her book. I have a lot of respect for plants and I feel sad when I think about dwindling plant biodiversity and the loss of entire groups of plants to monocrop culture. Even if I felt the same way about eating plants as I do about eating animals, I would have to run up against the fact that if I eat a plant, I eat a plant, but if I eat an animal, I eat an animal who has eaten lots more plants than I would have (so more plants are being eaten on the balance). But I don’t feel the same way about eating plants as I do about eating animals. I’m willing to consider the possibility that I am prejudiced about plants… but if you hand me a blender, a baby chick, and a bunch of spinach, I know what I’m willing to do and what I’m not willing to do.

    Betty Jo, I think you summed up perfectly well all of the different perspectives on eating animals. It is indeed an amazing range of attitudes! I’d like to ask you a followup question, if you check back in. I love the vibrant picture that you paint of a diverse, blossoming organic farm. I understand that you use beef sales to pay the bills, but if that wasn’t an issue, would you prefer to let the animals live? And logistically, is it possible to run a functioning flowering organic farm without killing animals? Lierre Keith seems to think it’s not, but I’ve been talking with my brother and he feels pretty sure that it is perfectly possible. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  16. Robin September 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    So many thoughts, and yet I find myself hesitant to respond because I know my writing/debating skills are nothing to most of the people in the group. But this is something I am so passionate about that I have to say something. Here’s hoping it matches my intent.

    First, I haven’t read this book so I can’t really comment on that. Although I’ve heard plenty of people who have a problem with it, both veg*ns and meat eaters alike. From your review and what I’ve head, there are some major flaws. But it sure has spawned a great debate, right?

    Like you mentioned in your review, I think it’s a shame that so much time is spent pointing fingers at a group (veg*ns) who are, for the most part, trying to do their part in bettering the world. With that said, however, SO OFTEN I see that same group of individuals pointing their finger at ALL meat-eaters with the same sort of scorn. Yes, I eat meat. And I will probably always eat meat. But I definitely DO NOT eat meat the same way I used to.

    I don’t have the resources to slaughter my own meat, grow enough vegetables to sustain my family, or raise my own chickens to eat my own eggs. Believe me, I wish I could. I hope to someday. But I do spend a lot of time, energy, and money doing my best to make a difference. I buy my milk, eggs, and meat from a local farmer who I can visit and see how they raise their animals. I think there are a lot more conscious meat eatin’ folks than you’d like to think.

    I don’t just buy organic, I buy local whenever possible. I don’t just buy grass-fed beef or pastured chickens, but I use as much as the animal as possible. I always say a prayer of gratitude for the sacrifice is represents. I eat it sparingly and fill my plate with as much plant-life as possible. But I personally think animal products are essential to our diet. There are numerous ways to go about it–it doesn’t have to be through the actual “meat.” And despite what veg*ns often like to assume, it’s not because I think being a vegetarian is hard (although, like missy pointed out, being a vegan is definitely more difficult in our society). I tried the whole vegetarian thing out. For the first month or so I felt great (but who wouldn’t feel great swapping out processed garbage for real food?) But after a few more months my health was suffering. I had no energy. My immune system was down. I felt lifeless and pale. And trust me, I was eating a variety of plants and nuts and all those other things that are supposed to help. But for my body, it just wasn’t working.

    I’m not saying that it can’t work for other people. But I have read plenty of personal stories of people who experienced the same thing as me. These were die-hard veg*ns who believed mind, body, and soul that if they just tried hard enough, ate enough supplements, or believed with all their might that they could make it work. But in the end, they found that eating real food in the form of both plants and animal products (in moderation) restored their health.

    I take huge offense of being grouped with pedophiles or rapists because I eat animals. I do believe that all living creatures have a right to a good life. But many, many, MANY animals eat other animals. Chickens live best when feeding on a diet that includes bugs. What about the bug’s life? Should we teach every creature to eat only grains/plants even if their bodies can’t handle it? Of course, I know that we are different from other animals as we have a consciousness to complexity of the food chain that other animals don’t posses. That’s why I can choose to find animals that have been treated properly, offer sincere thanks for their sacrifice, not be wasteful with that sacrifice, and eat a variety of the bounty the land offers as the majority of my diet.

    I guess my point is, as a few other have pointed out, there are a lot of people trying to do their part to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, we live in a world that thrives on categories and names that often puts us up against the very people who are just trying to do their best, too. I don’t suspect we will change our deeply cored beliefs, such as what we choose to eat, when we feel we are doing our best for both the world and our health. So instead of trying to always prove that one group is doing better than the other, shouldn’t we spend that energy on something better?

  17. bettyjo September 4, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    Missy:

    First, Thank you so much for allowing me a different perspective than yours, without demonizing me for it. Civil discourse is such a good thing. I appreciate it.

    regarding your question – “would I prefer to let the animals live if I didn’t want the money their meat brings in?”

    Well, if the critters didn’t make food, I wouldn’t keep them. It’s not that I love to kill chickens, I just hate to waste anything.

    Beef money is important, but mostly I really like the notion of Cow turning Grass (of all things), into good nutritious food for ourselves and our community. I like the notion of the chickens turning bugs,greens and grain into really healthy protein for us, all year round. Every one pulls their weight, even the critters. That feels right to me. We don’t keep pets. That said, I am very partial to the brood cows (who live here year after year). And, there are a few chickens that give me a laugh most everyday. Not that either emotion would give me the smallest pause when the time comes to eat them. Sorry, it’s just not an issue to me.

    What is an issue, is that food like beef and salmon are high up on the feed chain. It takes close to 2 years to raise either to eating size. So a little bit ought go a long way. Mary Kate’s goats are a more efficient choice ecologically. If my fences were tighter, and if I could learn to like goat milk as well as I like cow milk, then,….

    regarding your question – “And logistically, is it possible to run a functioning flowering organic farm without killing animals?”

    Well, are you counting killing varmints? If you don’t count killing gophers and ground squirrels, then I think the answer is yes. The key issues to consider are 1)the kind of land you have, 2)your proximity to market, 3) your intended source of nutrients for the soil, 4) availability of farm labor (and what you are willing to pay for it.), and finally, 5)your tolerance for risk.

    If you want to support a farm on only produce (veg, fruit, nuts), you need enough of the right kind of space, sun, soil and water for that.

    1)Land that is fairly flat to make working it easier and keeping erosion to a minimum.

    2)IMO, you cannot make a go of a small Organic farm by competing at the commodity level. You HAVE to include some high value product. Which, in the case of produce, usually means highly perishable. Proximity to reliable market is therefore crucial.

    3)Used to be, farmers could use bone meal from the slaughter house to add calcium to their soil, blood meal to add nitrogen. You can get other sources of these nutrients though, – just depends on what you want to haul in. I inter-plant clover in the pasture to fix nitrogen for the grass. The produce and trees are kept under heavy mulch of pond weed from the irrigation ponds. It’s a pain to harvest, but man, pond weed grows great in the heat of the summer, and it’s nutritious and weed free. Some say pond weed is a good source of whatever chemicals plants like to use to get access to more soil nutrients. I don’t know about that. I just know the plants love it and it’s homegrown. I get ambitious enough to cover crop the produce field with vetch and cereal rye about every other year. Turning that under in the spring makes for a lot of good nitrogen and organic matter. Whether I get to the cover cropping always depends on the weather and how lazy I am. The bottom line is you need some reasonably priced source of mulch and nutrient for whatever soil amendments you can’t grow.Home raised soil nutrients are more work but cheaper than buying in, so if you have more money than time, you won’t miss the chicken sh*t.

    4)Raising produce is a lot more work than livestock. Labor is a big deal. Farm labor is shamefully disrespected. The most vicious cost of our “cheap food” paradigm isn’t the factory farm feed lot (bad as that is). It’s how we treat the folks growing our food. We make them work in an unhealthy environment filled with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, poison after poison. (A big reason why my farm is Organic because its my work environment too.) Then, not often enough are farm workers even paid minimum wage. We could grow a lot more produce if I hired in more labor, but, I refuse to hire work I can’t pay a decent wage to, so I’ve kinda balanced my farm output what we can do ourselves with only hiring in maybe 20 hours a week spring and summer. Its an ethical thing.

    5)Risk tolerance varies a lot between people. You’ve heard the expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. When it comes to farming, oh yes that is so true. We just never ever know when late frosts will wipe out all the blossoms on the fruit and nuts. Every year it’s a big question whether the butternut squash will turn tan before the first frost of the fall. We don’t know from one year to the next what the irrigation water situation will be, and adjusting herd size to accommodate less grass is a tricky proposition since it takes 20 months to raise a steer to market. More than once, some critter has gotten into the chicken house and wiped out the entire flock. It takes close 6 months to raise new chicks to laying age. I’m pretty risk adverse, so I like have diversity in the food sources I’m growing.

    hope this answers your questions.

  18. missy. September 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Robin and Betty Jo, I will get back to your points… but I just saw that an op-ed I wrote (had to write for a class, actually) went up today on the Logan Herald Journal website. Let’s just say that that conversation is unlikely to be as civil as this one 🙂

    Here’s the link if you want to follow the unpleasant conversation!
    http://news.hjnews.com/opinion/article_47041720-d6a6-11e0-a701-001cc4c002e0.html?success=1

  19. nat kelly September 4, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    “The most vicious cost of our “cheap food” paradigm isn’t the factory farm feed lot (bad as that is). It’s how we treat the folks growing our food. ”

    Bingo.
    This is where my real interest in the issue lies. I just can’t can’t can’t make myself care about animals to the same degree I do people.

    But workers getting exploited really pisses. me. the. hell. off.

  20. missy. September 4, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    But nat, I strongly believe that all these issues are connected. If we believe that our appetites must be satisfied at any cost–if we believe that there are whole classes of sentient creatures whose rights and interests are less important than “ours”–if we are capable of objectifying and commodifying and exploiting anyone–then it is very easy to apply that paradigm to other groups too. The factory farm system is set up to exploit, exploit, exploit. Everything about it. We can’t care about the workers without caring about the animals, and we can’t care about the animals without caring about the people, because they are all victims of exactly the same paradigms: of Othering and of boundless consumption.

  21. Mika Alden September 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Missy- I think we disagree about what approaches have that possibility. People have been pastoral for even longer than we have used agriculture. I don’t think abolishing animal ownership has any possibility of working, the level of responsibility we’d have to put on animals at that point would be unfeasible. Are we going to do something about ants farming aphids? Wolves corralling and killing sheep? Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand and I don’t know how we are going to communicate that to our newly freed animal brethren. I think it’s possible to have symbiotic relationships with animals that are mutually beneficial, and I think we can find a balance between treating animals like meat growing farm machines and holding them as responsible for their actions as we hold other people. I’m not sure exactly where that balance lies, but I don’t think it lies in total rejection of all animal husbandry.

    As plants go I am not flippant at all. As we learn more about them we find they are quite alert and aware of their environments, with some species of trees even enslaving ant colonies for protection. It’s much harder for us to empathize with plants, but I do not think they want to live any less than anything else. I really wish people wouldn’t use the argument flippantly, and be so dismissive of even the idea that plants have a damage signalling system (pain). Another area I don’t know where the proper balance is, but I suspect it lies somewhere between the frutarians goal of only eating fruiting bodies and industrial monoculture of plants that can’t even reproduce on their own.

  22. bettyjo September 5, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    re: Missy
    “If we believe that our appetites must be satisfied at any cost–if we believe that there are whole classes of sentient creatures

    whose rights and interests are less important than “ours”–if we are capable of objectifying and commodifying and exploiting

    anyone–then it is very easy to apply that paradigm to other groups too.”

    I understand your point. There are slippery slopes everywhere, especially within ethical issues. However, I suspect you are further

    along on the enlightenment path than I am. I”m probably fated to a thousand lifetimes coming back as a slug. I do not believe that

    our appetites must be satisfied at any cost, but I do indeed discriminate not only between sentient creatures but individuals within

    different species.I trap and kill ground squirrels around the chicken house and garden. They consume vast quantities of chicken

    feed, and dig huge holes that just set there waiting to trip us and the cattle. The squirrels can have 3 or four broods in a

    season. They are not in danger of extinction, no matter how often I bait the traps in a day. And, I’m ok with the ones hanging about

    in the ravine or the woods, I know the hawks need to eat too. On the other hand, I transport any fox or fisher, I catch near the

    chickens.There’s a nice spot on the other side of the river where I’m happy for them to make a good life for themselves away from my

    birds. If I encounter a rattlesnake in the corn field, I figure that’s ok, it’s my job to lookout for him. If I encounter a rattle

    snake just outside the back door of the house, he’s toast (so to speak).

    The other thing, is I suspect you have more reverence for life than I do.. I honor you for this, but I don’t have so much. Well, I

    do rever life, but I don’t see an ethical problem with death. I mean, when I get too old, or sick or weak to run from a fox, I’d be

    perfectly fine with someone picking me up, cooing and scratching me under the chin while they haul me out behind to barn to do away

    with me. There are worse ways to die, I also support assisted suicide and right to death laws. And, more to the point, had I been

    one of the folks in that tragic Donner party, caught through the winter in the High Sierra, I’d have prob’ly been the first to say:

    “hey guys, if I go first, chow down. The meat’ll be tough, but it might save your life.”

    re: Mika Alden

    Plants: “Another area I don’t know where the proper balance is, but I suspect it lies somewhere between the frutarians goal of only

    eating fruiting bodies and industrial monoculture of plants that can’t even reproduce on their own.”

    Plants are amazing aren’t they! Daughter just told me about the Acacia trees in Africa. When the giraffe herds move through, they
    can dinner on the branches of a few trees, for a little while. then, the tree under attack, sends out a warning through the root

    system (I think they are a cloning tree (like Aspen). The other trees change their body chemistry to make the leaves taste really

    bad. The giraffes give it up and move on. That’s so cool.

    Your comment “…industrial monoculture of plants that can’t even reproduce on their own.”

    raises a whole different ethical issue. I first encountered this with the birds. There is, as you know, a big push to try to
    force poultry operations to provide more space, access to natural sunlight, etc. The purpose is both better treatment, and healthier

    flocks requiring less medication, with fewer disease outbreaks. These are ALL good reasons. But, the reason I bring it up, is that

    proponents said “chickens like to scratch, and forage. The ability to do their natural behaviors make them healthier and happier.”

    The opponents said, “huh?” Our birds, when given a choice, sit beside the feeder and wait for it to be refilled. We can
    open all the doors to a sun porch you want, but most of the birds wouldn’t care.”

    I looked out the window at the chickens foraging far and wide in the pasture with the cows, and said, “OK, guess I know which side

    of this discussion is the true one!”

    Then last year, I bought some broiler (meat bird) chicks.These Cornish Rock crosses are the dominant bird raised for the US market.
    It is by far dominant because these birds have been bred to grow extremely large, very very fast. They can dress out at 5 lbs in 6

    weeks! Well, I had 6 of these, and a couple dozen other layers and old fashioned multi purpose chickens. The Cornish Rocks were
    a different creature altogether. Their breasts grow too big for their legs to support, so it’s really hard for them to get around.
    Only one of the six even ventured down to two shallow steps from the roost house to the screened nesting area. While the other birds

    were all leaping up and down, practicing their flying, being young chickens, this poor bird struggled to scramble up and down the

    steps. The rest just sat next to the feeder, Their growth homones had been bred up to burn so fast, they had no energy left for

    anything but eating, growing and pooping. Their metabolisms were running so high, they were always hot, they got a lot of lice. AND,

    they were stupid. I mean, when the old flock was busy establishing who was boss with the new birds, they almost immediately left the

    cornish rocks alone. They weren’t even fun to tease. Even the other chickens soon realized that these meat birds weren’t trying to

    decide whether to flee or fight, Heck, they didn’t even know those were the choices! It was so pitiful. It was so sad.

    BUT, of course, it taught me that those “idiots” who’d challenged my view of ‘natural chicken behavior’ were quite right. They were

    just talking about a different kind of chicken – one bred exclusively as a meat machine.

    So, here is the ethical question. IF we are going to eat animal protein (eggs, meat), AND we’re not going to pay enough for it to
    permit free space ranging behavior natural to a natural chicken, is it actually an ethical or ‘humane’ solution to breed a bird that

    doesn’t even have those traits, and doesn’t notice his conditions and doesn’t care? I cringe at the thought, but heck, maybe it’s

    better for the bird than the alternative.

    Slippery slope indeed.

    anyone–then it is very easy to apply that paradigm to other groups too.”

    I understand your point. There are slippery slopes everywhere, especially within ethical issues. However, I suspect you are further

    along on the enlightenment path than I am. I”m probably fated to a thousand lifetimes coming back as a slug. I do not believe that

    our appetites must be satisfied at any cost, but I do indeed discriminate not only between sentient creatures but individuals within

    different species.I trap and kill ground squirrels around the chicken house and garden. They consume vast quantities of chicken

    feed, and dig huge holes that just set there waiting to trip us and the cattle. The squirrels can have 3 or four broods in a

    season. They are not in danger of extinction, no matter how often I bait the traps in a day. And, I’m ok with the ones hanging about

    in the ravine or the woods, I know the hawks need to eat too. On the other hand, I transport any fox or fisher, I catch near the

    chickens.There’s a nice spot on the other side of the river where I’m happy for them to make a good life for themselves away from my

    birds. If I encounter a rattlesnake in the corn field, I figure that’s ok, it’s my job to lookout for him. If I encounter a rattle

    snake just outside the back door of the house, he’s toast (so to speak).

    The other thing, is I suspect you have more reverence for life than I do.. I honor you for this, but I don’t have so much. Well, I

    do rever life, but I don’t see an ethical problem with death. I mean, when I get too old, or sick or weak to run from a fox, I’d be

    perfectly fine with someone picking me up, cooing and scratching me under the chin while they haul me out behind to barn to do away

    with me. There are worse ways to die, I also support assisted suicide and right to death laws. And, more to the point, had I been

    one of the folks in that tragic Donner party, caught through the winter in the High Sierra, I’d have prob’ly been the first to say:

    “hey guys, if I go first, chow down. The meat’ll be tough, but it might save your life.”

    re: Mika Alden

    Plants: “Another area I don’t know where the proper balance is, but I suspect it lies somewhere between the frutarians goal of only

    eating fruiting bodies and industrial monoculture of plants that can’t even reproduce on their own.”

    Plants are amazing aren’t they! Daughter just told me about the Acacia trees in Africa. When the giraffe herds move through, they
    can dinner on the branches of a few trees, for a little while. then, the tree under attack, sends out a warning through the root

    system (I think they are a cloning tree (like Aspen). The other trees change their body chemistry to make the leaves taste really

    bad. The giraffes give it up and move on. That’s so cool.

    Your comment “…industrial monoculture of plants that can’t even reproduce on their own.”

    This raises a whole different ethical issue. I first encountered this with the birds. There is, as you know, a big push to try to force poultry operations to provide more space, access to natural sunlight, etc. The purpose is both better treatment, and healthier flocks requiring less medication, with fewer disease outbreaks. These are ALL good reasons. But, the reason I bring it up, is that proponents said “chickens like to scratch, and forage. The ability to do their natural behaviors make them healthier and happier.”

    The opponents said, “huh?” Our birds, when given a choice, sit beside the feeder and wait for it to be refilled. We can open all the doors to a sun porch you want, but most of the birds wouldn’t care.” I looked out the window at the chickens foraging far and wide in the pasture with the cows, and said, “OK, guess I know which side of this discussion is the true one!”

    Then last year, I bought some broiler (meat bird) chicks.These Cornish Rock crosses are the dominant bird raised for the US market. It is by far dominant because these birds have been bred to grow extremely large, very very fast. They can dress out at 5 lbs in 6 weeks! Well, I had 6 of these, and a couple dozen other layers and old fashioned multi- purpose chickens. The Cornish Rocks were a different creature altogether. Their breasts grow too big for their legs to support, so it’s really hard for them to get around. Only one of the six even ventured down to two shallow steps from the roost house to the screened nesting area. While the other birds were all leaping up and down, practicing their flying, being young chickens, this poor bird struggled to scramble up and down the steps. The rest just sat next to the feeder, Their growth hormones had been bred up to burn so fast, they had no energy left for anything but eating, growing and pooping. Their metabolisms were running so high, they were always hot, they got a lot of lice. AND, they were really stupid. I mean, when the old flock was busy establishing who was boss with the new birds, they almost immediately left the Cornish Rocks alone. They weren’t even fun to tease. Even the other chickens soon realized that these meat birds weren’t trying to decide whether to flee or fight, Heck, they didn’t even know those were the choices! It was so pitiful. It was so sad.

    BUT, of course, it taught me that those “idiots” who’d challenged my view of ‘natural chicken behavior’ were quite right. They were just talking about a different kind of chicken – one bred exclusively as a meat machine.

    So, here is the ethical question. IF we are going to eat animal protein (eggs, meat), AND we’re not going to pay enough for it to permit free space ranging behavior natural to a natural chicken, is it actually an ethical or ‘humane’ solution to breed a bird that doesn’t even have those traits, and doesn’t notice his conditions and doesn’t care? I cringe at the thought, but heck, maybe it’s better for the bird than the alternative.

    Slippery slope indeed.

  23. bettyjo September 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    sorry for that post. I don’t know why it duplicated and got all weird format.
    sorry

  24. nat kelly September 5, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Missy, I agree. And that’s why I’m super interested in environmental justice. And obviously, humans are dependent on the earth, and come from the earth, and owe everything to it. I have lots of sacred feelings regarding the earth. And I do care about animals. On an intellectual level, at least. I just don’t feel it screaming in my gut like I do other things.

    But I am totally on board with you on the interconnectedness thing, so I do want to eat more responsibly and eat less meat. It just so happens that when I avoid eating factory farmed chicken, I am more likely doing it out of solidarity with the former small chicken farmer who was put out of business by the big corporation, or for the people who are working in toxic conditions in a chicken processing plant.

    It’s good that everything is so interconnected, because that allows us to actually build a movement – people can be inspired by whatever it is that moves them, and work with a diverse, broad group of people to create change. Yay!

  25. Mika Alden September 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    bettyjo: The Acacia does far more than that! They have ants attack the giraffes if they continue to eat, and even use the ants to cut leaves of other plants competing for sunlight by feeding them different cocktails of mind controlling substances. Truly an amazing tree.

    I feel bad about breeding animals into total human dependency, just like the gene-modding of plants to the same, I think it is far worse than killing/harvesting some of a natural population, or even caring for and controlling a subset of the population. That’s a slope I think we’ve slipped down a bit too far.

  26. Nicole I September 6, 2011 at 9:52 am

    Missy, I love the perspective you bring to this blog but feel compelled to respectfully disagree. I’ve only skimmed the comments but wanted to chime in because I do feel that it is possible to eat meat ethically. Granted, I live in the PNW where sourcing (in both groceries, CSAs and restaurants) seems a bit easier, but we’ve done it (to a lesser degree) in middle America too.

    As I mentioned in previous post comments, we are a meat eating household. I’ve personally raised, had butchered at a small scale, and eaten my own pigs as a teen; I grew up deer hunting. I am comfortable with the notion of animals serving as a food source. (No judgement for those that feel differently.) Still, we are grossly uncomfortable with commercialized meat industry. We made the decision nearly 10 years ago to switch over to humanely raised meat. Once we got over the shock to the pocket book, it was a pretty easy adjustment. Today, we eat meat sparingly and ethically. It is not ironic in my world and, frankly, pretty doable.

    On our city lot, we have our own chickens for eggs (and are thinking about the transition into raising meat birds) who free range and eat local, pesticide free feed plus all of our kitchen scraps. We are also contemplating a pair of dwarf goats for milk; as soon as we can find a family to share the milking burden and coordinate vacations with, we will be adding those to our urban spread.

    We are lucky enough to be able to purchase 90% of the time humanely treated meats. For instance, we purchase 1 or 2 whole, free range chickens per month. I know the place they came from (Hello Portlandia!) and the fact that they are provided whole also reflects a humanity in the actual butchering process (when chopping up a chicken, the bruised parts can be discarded or put into sausage). One chicken makes it into 3 or 4 meals and provides broth for a couple of near meat free meals. We eat one or two portions of grass-fed, grain-finished beef per week… again, from a local company I trust; I make sure we eat both good and economy cuts as to do my part in using the whole animal. I start each day with a small 1-2 oz portion of pork sausage – locally raised and ground in a humane manner with a whole grain complement. We try to eat local fish once a week (and again, yay for me that I live in the PNW and this includes wonderful trout, sardines, and salmon). Most lunches for the adults and 3 evening meals a week for the entire family are meat free. We eat so little meat that when I’ve contemplated doing a meat CSA, I come up against the problem of envisioning our small family actually going through that much.

    Finally, I do think that significant protein in some form is required for some bodies. Animal proteins cannot always be easily substituted; for instance, I have a medical condition that requires very limited soy in my diet. I am also sugar sensitive, particularly in the morning. Starting the day without a protein in my diet (and yes, I’ve tried all sorts of grains to attempt to go veg*n) is a recipe for a sugar high and subsequent crash within 3 hours. This is super amplified during pregnancy when I cut out almost all grains (certainly anything processed) and all fruits/sugars before 3pm in order to stay on right side of diabetic. The protein portion doesn’t have to be a lot (1 oz seems to do it when I’m not pregnant), but it has to be there.

  27. missy. September 6, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    I wrote a lengthy response to all these posts earlier, and then my internet connection crapped out and I lost the whole thing 😦 And now I am in the throes of homework, so my second try at responding will need to be briefer, by which I mean more general.

    I first want to thank everyone for the consistently respectful tone of this conversation. But at the same time as I think the conversation has been pleasantly cordial, I also think it has demonstrated what I was trying to say in the OP, which is: When we start from a “of course factory farming is evil but…” perspective, and end up instead debating the nuances of ethical meat, multiple realities get obscured in the process. I know that all of you are thoughtul and conscientious, but… you are so in the minority. (So am I.) Something like 95% of the meat Americans eat comes from factory farms. The vast, vast majority of Americans are not getting their meat from the idyllic sources that you are describing here. The vast, vast majority live in places where they don’t have such options, or they haven’t been educated about what goes on behind the walls/fences of factory farms, or they don’t know how to cook without meat, or (I’m sad to say this but I’ve run up against it just this week) they actually don’t care that animals are tortured for their fast food hamburgers.

    So when we don’t talk about these realities because we are too busy talking about ethical brightlines, we are actually re-entrenching all the same old ideas about “natural” relationships between humans and animals. And what’s left is justifications for meat-eating. When we don’t explicitly talk about the harms that come from meat-production systems, what’s left is a sense that “all is well in Zion.” And all is not well, friends. BettyJo’s biodiverse farm is an anomaly. The factory farming system is brutalizing animals, exploiting workers, and destroying the environment. I am not exaggerating here. And I don’t think that talking about “happy cows” is fair to the predominant reality. When we obsess about exceptions, we are not talking about the rule. And I don’t want my speech to leave any room for people to interpret that I am OK with the status quo. Because I utterly, unequivocably am NOT.

    I also wanted to offer a counterpoint to the nutritional anecdotes that have been shared so far. Several commenters have written about how their health suffered when they cut out meat–and of course I take each of you at your word, but I’d hate for any casual readers to walk away thinking that’s what always happens. So here’s my counter-anecdote: As a child/teenage/college-aged vegetarian I often struggled with anemia due to my diet that was overly reliant on refined flour, pasta and cheese. When I was found to be severely anemic during my first pregnancy, my careprovider–instead of offering me good holistic nutritional advice–recommended that I start eating meat again. [Tangential sidenote: After that same care provider gave me an unnecessary c-section, I learned to be more careful with who I trusted to give me health advice.] So I started eating some meat again, but the anemia did not improve and I developed several health problems that are a bit too sensitive to talk about in this public forum. Soon after my baby was born, I went back off meat and the health issues disappeared. My second pregnancy was entirely vegetarian, but more nutritionally careful, and anemia was not a problem. Since then, I’ve seen that whenever I am following the plant-based nutritional advice I’ve found in “Disease Proof Your Child” and “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman, I feel great. Any readers who are thinking about trying a veg*n diet, please check out books like these to learn how a veg*n diet can provide you with optimal health 🙂

  28. ashsanders September 7, 2011 at 2:10 am

    Okay, I so wish I had been involved in this conversation since the beginning, because it is a topic I obsess about constantly, and Missy and I have had many a discussion on these issues. The bit of my rational mind that is still alive at 3 am is telling me not to subject you to my incoherent ramblings, but I wanted to just get some thoughts out there and compose more tomorrow.

    First, I want to say that I have read Lierre Keith’s book, and that I found it really enlightening and profound–so much so that I have thought of it weekly since I finished. I have been both vegan and vegetarian for most of my adult life, but am not right now, and so it raised a lot of very important questions for me. This brings me to my second point, which is this: I am very confused about what I think about this topic, and my sentiments run in many directions. This is actually kind of refreshing, because it means I am open to seriously consider a lot of different arguments and think hard about the implications. And I love Missy for asking hard questions and defending a group (non-human animals) that gets such little defending.

    To answer your first question, Missy, I think the intended audience for Lierre’s book is probably vegans and vegetarians who are trying to live responsibly but–in Lierre’s opinion–are moving in the wrong direction. It is interesting, because you mentioned that her tone felt accusative or judging. I have heard that from many people, and I can see why. The weird thing is, I didn’t feel that way at all when I read it. I think this is because my personality is one that often fears a well-intended belief with bad consequences more than a bad belief with obviously bad consequences. (Think the difference between Obama and Bush.) I am not saying that vegetarianism is that well-intended bad idea, just that I actually really relate to a person (in this case, Lierre), who is trying to push a small subset of good people to think harder. For me it makes a lot of sense to write a critique of vegetarianism so that people who are trying to be good do it in a way that is actually helpful (once again, no comment yet about whether it is or isn’t.)

    For me, I found Kieth’s ideas very important because of her critiques of suburban or post-industrial ethics. I think she makes some very important points about people who grew up with no real relationships with the natural world and then try to live ethically in that vacuum. I have known so many vegetarians (including myself) who knew so little about natural processes that they didn’t even think twice about where soy products come from or if eating a processed Boca burger from some huge factory somewhere really solved for the crisis of species destruction and abuse. I also know that I didn’t know how to think about what soils and plants and bodies really need because I had no relationship with those things–not really. So I think Keith’s book is super important because she tries to talk about what we would act like if we did have enough of a relationship with the natural world to know how to act in it.

    I also think her ideas about death are very important, particularly this idea of wanting to sanitize the reality of death in the natural world. That being said, I agree with you very much that animals love their lives and don’t want to die, so I think the facile comments we make about this “cycle of death and life” ring super untrue because no one is advancing toward me with a knife so they can eat me for dinner. It is not the same to have worms eat me when I am dead and gone as it is to be murdered so someone else can make a sandwich. I think you are trying to push us to ask that question, amongst others, and it is one reason why I anguish so much over what to do and how to eat.

    I also think you are asking something that is extraordinarily important: Are non-human animals and humans different and therefore responsible for different ethics, or are we similar enough that we should be held to similar behavior? Let me try to explain what I mean about that. Some people, for example, say that NHA’s (non-human-animals) and humans are the same, so we should kill animals because animals kill each other. I think that is dangerously misrepresenting power in our world: humans have the ability to deliberate and a whole civilization that they use to dominate the natural world, so their killing is not the same as, say, a cougar killing a deer in the wild. Other people say that NHA’s and humans are different, and conclude that humans are way more important than animals and therefore deserve to eat and dominate them. I find this opinion incredibly arrogant. Still others think that NHA’s and humans are similar, and so humans should refrain from eating animals. And still others think that animals are so similar to human animals that we should not own or exploit them at all.

    I guess what I am trying to point out is that every regime of discrimination that has occurred in world history persisted because of at least one argument: that the beings in the discriminated group were lesser beings, and so deserved to be dominated, manipulated or used. I think Missy is pushing us to ask ourselves this question: Are animals the hated group of our generation, the invisible, throw-away beings who we believe we can eat because they are lesser? If so, what must we do to change that terrible opinions and practice? Or, are animals sacred and worthy of respect, but different enough from us that the lessons from past abusive systems do not apply (at least not to “humane” meat-eating)? I think everything turns on this question, and it is confusing to me because I believe that animals are radical equal to me and deserving of their own, stand-alone experience and existence, but I also believe that animals do necessarily kill each other and participate in death in order to create new life. I guess then, my question is Missy’s question from earlier: How does this apply in the 21st century? Because for me, a suburban kid in Salt Lake, I have power over the fate of whole ecosystems and face no threat of being eaten by one of my equals when I go outside. Therefore it seems very facetious to me to say that I am equal when I choose to kill an animal in my “respect” for the circle of life. And yet many parts of me believe that the world is healthier with that cycle of death and that vegetarianism is not the right approach. And then another part of me thinks that this whole question of personal eating choices is distracting us from taking down the whole factory system, which must be done.

    Okay, I need to sleep, but one last thought. I very much appreciate the tone of this comment discussion, but I find it interesting that there is a big emphasis on the lack of judgment and the imperious attitudes that vegans sometimes have about their choices. I am confused by this (although I have met imperious vegans) because of the question I asked earlier: is this a rights issues, and animals are our contemporary untouchables? Because if so, it is not judgmental or imperious to fight doggedly for their right to live and be adamant about that. I think it helps if we put this into perspective: Would we urge an abolitionist to be less judgmental about plantation slaveholders and slavery? No, because we recognize what was at stake in those arguments was a real, human life that was at the mercy of terribly power. I think Missy feels the same way about animals, and–confused as I am–so do I. So while I don’t encourage petty judgments, I think that arguing passionately about the end to a system of abuse is not the same as a judgment. And even if it were, I find the arrogance and judgments of the status quo (that animals are dispensable and humans are consumer gods) a far, far worse affair.

  29. bettyjo September 8, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Missy –

    re: my farm. Yes, I know we are extremely lucky to be able to grow
    so much of our food in a fashion we find both ethical and healthy.
    And, I do understand your abhorrence of factory farmed livestock.
    In truth, the very thought of eating mcnuggets and big macs makes me
    slightly queasy. It didn’t used to. I hate to think how many mcnuggets I
    handed to the kids and grandkids back in the day.

    Trouble is, there is just so darn much of the Industrial agriculture model
    that makes me sick, it’s hard to know where to start or which battles to
    pick. Since I’m lucky enough to have that choice, I prefer my beef to
    GMO soybeans. Not just because the soybeans are genetically engineered, that is, after all,
    just a process. What I resent is the extent to which all our food is laced with
    herbicide and pesticides, and such farms are unhealthy work environments. What I most despise about Genetic Engineering, is that
    “Round-up Ready” GE products are the key enabler for monoculture, factory farming,
    loss of diversity, destruction of soil habitat, and yes, increasing levels of poisons
    in our food. Gotta tell you, it near broke my heart when GE Sugar beets were approved.
    At Monsanto’s request, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “increased allowable levels of herbicide residues [glyphosate] on GM sugar beet roots by up to 5,000 percent when USDA approved the crop for planting.”after the first tests
    for of of course, as root crops, those sugar beets just sucked right up all the
    Round-up poured over those fields. OK, so maybe what I once knew as the Utah Idaho Sugar business has to change with the time. But shoot,doesn’t mean it had to start marketing poison and calling it sweet. AND THEN! to add insult to injury, the damn stuff isn’t labeled, and it goes right into Hersey bars! Messing with our CHOCOLATE is a step too far for me.

    I think a lot about what are the best responses to big Ag.and the bad things it engenders. I’m pretty sure that your right, there are a lot of good responses, everyone of them a lot better than just ignoring it. Choosing to not eat meat, or not eat dairy, or not eat eggs, or not eat conventionally grown produce, or not eat farmed fish, or not eat imported, or not eat Hershey’s chocolate, or whatever, is for sure one way to not support what you disagree with, and also a way to protect yourself from unhealthy stuff, but I’m getting the feeling that avoiding thises and thates is gettin’ pretty hard to do – we’re running out of stuff we can still choose. And we’re kind of over a barrel here, cuz we’ve gotta eat somethin’. So I think we need passionate advocates of EVERY idea that might make an improvement one or another parts of the system. As you say, there isn’t just one source of the sorry state of affairs in Industrial Agriculture. It’s important to care about what we eat. And it’s good to have a kind heart for animals. So I think you oughta pursue your passion for animals. My passion is about herbicides and unlabeled GMO and Organic and support for local food production. . If we’re all successful, then we’ll have lots more healthy choices for feeding our kids and ourselves.

  30. Pingback: Who wants to make some Cheese?! « NutriSue Nutritional Consulting

  31. nat kelly September 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    Missy – this post, and a few other things going on in my life, have renewed my interest in attempting vegetarianism, and I thought I’d let you know that I haven’t eaten meat for a whole week. 🙂

  32. Chandelle September 23, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been said, but I just wanted to say, though I have turned away from veganism for some of the reasons Keith outlines in her book, I agree with you that it makes no sense for conscious omnivores to get down on veg*ns. I wrote about that here, if you have any inclination to read it: http://www.chicken-tender.com/2011/04/call-for-civility.html Personally I’d rather consider us on the same side, working for very similar goals even if we go about it in different ways.

  33. missy. September 23, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    ash- Of course I love, love, love your comment, and I want to thank you for seeing through to the heart of what I want to say: “Are animals the hated group of our generation, the invisible, throw-away beings who we believe we can eat because they are lesser?” I didn’t talk about speciesism in my post–and I often don’t, even though I think it is such an important question. We have talked many times about this but I often feel like I am actively bargaining when I talk about non-human animals. (Just like I do when I am talking about feminism or imperialism or any other thing for which my feelings are so strong that I feel my blood heating up inside of me when I talk about it.) So for instance, I know that if I bring up speciesism or tell certain (true) facts or express the full range of my thoughts and feelings, I will be dismissed– so I make little jokes and maintain a cheerful tone and try not to make anyone feel judged. And there is some amount of authenticity in that, because I really do think non-judgmentalness is a virtue, but there is also a lot of inauthenticity in it. And so what do I choose: to be completely, totally honest, or to lose my credibility in the eyes of the person I’m talking to? It’s a crappy choice, and yet I feel like I make it all the time, on all different issues.

    bettyjo- Totally, industrial ag terrifies me. I think your comment is a lot in line with the link in Chandelle’s post; you should read it, if you haven’t already!

    nat- I know you’ve talked before about how you have any easier time feeling sympathy for people than animals, but if I know you and your bleeding activist heart, it’s just an issue of doing a little more reading about factory farming 🙂

    Chandelle- I actually think I’ve read that post before (I check in on your blog from time to time–actually, once I forwarded an especially brilliant post to Ash, which I think led to you two getting in contact with each other!) There is a lot that I agree with in this particular post. I think the vegan/WAPF-type clashes that you describe occur because the majority of Americans just don’t have the inclination/time/resources to do the research and think hard about what they’re eating. So people who HAVE done a lot of research and put a lot of thought into it, and come to different conclusions about the best or most viable answers, are the ones who end up battling it out on the internet. But I agree with your call to civility. What I find myself wondering is if there is a way for all of us to be really emotionally honest about our choices (like I was talking with Ash about above) and STILL disagree civilly. I know it can be done with people that I know well and feel safe with, but what about strangers? What would a dialogue like that look like?

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