19 February 2008

The Heart of the Meat-er

The other week, the other editors and I had to do stories about a recent recall of millions of pounds of beef that may be unfit for human consumption. According to the information we received, a video had been released showing cows too weak to move being tortured into getting up for inspection.
As I wrote this story, my stomach began to turn – how often is it we eat something without realizing where it comes from? How often has this happened before without anyone knowing it? The seeds were planted for my latest experiment – and the fodder (or is “cud” more appropriate?) for this next column: I’m thinking of becoming a vegetarian.
Oh, I’ve considered it before. During a phase when I was heavily into the Smiths and Morrissey, I debated becoming a vegetarian as a way to lose weight (as I was 220 at the time). Over the course of an afternoon shift at the Starbucks I was employed at, I steeled myself for what I knew was to come. Of course, my resolve shattered when I got home and found juicy cuts of steak waiting on the table for me; medium rare and dripping in juice, just the way I like them. This time, however, it’s different. I’ve got plenty of reasons for making this decision – but it boils down to this: I’m doing it for me, and for my future.
Reason One: Walk through any grocery meat aisle and look at what you see. Most of the products in those aisle (especially hamburger, pork, etc.) are pre-cut and wrapped in plastic. There is absolutely no indication of where they came from, what they were, etc. All of the dirty work has been taken out of them. It’s not like the old days, when a farmer would take his meat to market and have it be sold in town. No, meat like this comes from factory farms in God-only-knows where, treated God-only-knows how, and subjected to God-only-knows what. In addition to this, who even knows what gets pumped into these poor suckers before they are sent to the slaughter lines. I’ve seen footage of this – of the factory type lines where the animals are killed and processed – and you know what? I want no part in it. There are plenty of alternatives. Besides, I don’t trust the system that brings this stuff from pasture (if that even exists) to my table.
Reason Two: We live in a tainted world. As I mentioned before the meat we get these days doesn’t come from Farmer Smith’s back yard. We don’t know where it comes from, frankly. Why does this bother me? Well, a few reasons: Mad Cow, E coli and Salmonella, to name a few. Call it what you want, but I don’t hear any pinto bean or broccoli recalls going around. That says something. After we did this story, it later developed that nearly 143 million pounds of ground beef was being recalled around the country for these concerns. I’m not comfortable with that. While everything that grows takes in many of the same pollutants, I can’t help but think that higher-end creatures like bovine (who eat plants and such) absorb more of the same pollutants that some people deny even exist in the first place.
Reason Three: Studies done by the American Cancer Society indicate that in some cases, vegetarian diets may reduce the risk of cancers (http://www.cancer.org/docroot/ETO/content/ETO_5_3x_Vegetarianism.asp). My mother had breast cancer, my father had prostate cancer, my grandfather had lung cancer, and my great-grandfather DIED of lung cancer. Who is to say I am not at risk for any of these? Frankly, if there is anything I can do to prevent seeing myself in a hospital bed drugged out of my mind after surgery (as I’ve seen many others with cancer), I am all for it.
Reason Four: Meat is expensive. I make a very entry-level wage. I don’t have money to spend on expensive grocery items like steak and salmon. I barely eat any meat as it is (at home anyway) simply because I choose not to spend the money on it. If we can reduce the meat consumption by half (as I have no intention of making my wife follow me in my decision), it will save us money in the long run.
Reason Five: I can get protein from dairy, nuts and beans. I eat plenty of those as it is. There are alternatives to getting protein from meat. The vast majority of the world eats far less per day than the average American eats during one meal, so if they can do it, so can I.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t going to give me any reason to turn into one of those snobby, egotistical vegan types of bawl about the animals. Nope. Not going to do that. No, I plan to be a quiet vegetarian. If someone wants to eat meat, fine, enjoy it – it’s quite tasty and I know I’ll miss it. However, I’ll choose to abstain. My plan is to avoid poultry, fish (because of how polluted the oceans have become, to mention rivers and lakes), pork (I’ve never liked pigs anyway – they disgust me. I think the Muslims and Hebrews might have been on to something in calling them “unclean”) and last but not least, red meat (as stated above). I do this not to set myself apart or make others uncomfortable, but to do what I see is the right thing. If I can avoid participating in a system I see as unhealthy and cruel, I will do that.


Anonymous said...

There are reasons why I don't eat meat! I'm actually considering going all-out vegan. We'll see. Let me know if you have any questions about the switch!

Heather V. said...

Have you ever thought of joining a cooperative farm? Some people I know are starting one in Wisconsin and will be making weekly deliveries to the Twin Cities area full of fresh, organic, hand-grown veggies and farm-raised, tenderly-loved beef and pork. I mean, they give the animals NAMES and stuff - they really care.

We get most of our meat from Adam's dad, whose neighbor raises cattle on about 25 acres in central Minnesota. Grass-fed meat with the name of the local butcher shop on every package. No question where it came from.

You should look into these options. I realize they might be a little more spendy than you'd like, but it really is a nice compromise between plastic fantastic pseudobeef and raising your own herd in the backyard. Which is not to say you wouldn't make a terrific rancher...