It took a lot to admit that I was no longer a vegetarian. A year after tinkering in the eating of chicken, I finally had to admit to myself that I was now an omnivore.
Being a vegetarian for 17 years ingrained a certain set of principles and behaviors in my day to day life. Like, I am still possessive of the tofu hot-dogs that are in my fridge, even though I may be cooking a beef stew.
I still get squeamish at the idea of killing animals so that I can do something petty like put them in a stir fry for one measly meal and I try hard not to think of it as a waste of a life. Now, on a whole new level, everyday is thanksgiving.
One stronghold on why I was vegetarian was for the sake of the environment. The environmental and ethical costs of eating meat are sky-high. Methane emissions are one of the main contributors to the effects of climate change and cows are a principle emitter of this gas, for starters.
The other mainstay of my vegetarianism was the treatment and consideration of the animals themselves. How dare I, or anyone, participate in a system that degrades life itself to the extent that it is no longer considered a form of creation?
Livestock. No longer even referred to as animals, completely stripped of their dignity and most of the time clean air and sunlight. Spending a lifetime knee deep in a cesspool of your own excrement in close quarters with hundreds of others is not an ideal situation, therefore making it suck to be a cow, pig, or chicken. I wanted nothing to do with this.
Can we put a face to the type of animal we are eating? Chicken are now grown so that they mature within a month, their breasts four times the size of a normal gallinaceous bird. In most cases, their legs have not been given the same genetic modifications and they can no longer stand up on their own two feet.
Eating meat again threatens to undo all the potential environmental good that I assumed to be participating in for more than half of my life. Is it possible to be an environmentalist and a meat eater? I used to think not, but now I am one.
In recent years, I have been made aware that being a vegetarian does not necessarily mean a healthier environment, or body. Sure, the amount of grain it takes to feed cattle could feed a village, but the pesticides used on the soy crops that produce my tofu has poisoned countless birds, rabbits and insects, notwithstanding the land that had to be cleared to meet the rising demands of tofu.
A vegetarian diet just means that one less animal was purposefully taken. Many vegetarian foods are highly processed and hard for our bodies to break down. Both sides seem a dishonest way to get a meal when the environmental costs are so high.
The answer I keep coming back to time and again is to eat locally, as much as possible. If I can’t find something local, it at least must be organic and fair trade, like bananas, which still largely use slave-types of labor for harvesting.
Like many people, eating organic, fair trade and local is a costly option. I hardly have the budget for it and can’t always maintain my moral consumption code. This can easily turn into the criticism that to be an environmentalist is to be rich, which is a hard nut to crack.
So why does organic meat cost so much more? The first thing to get straight is that you are paying for a life. The next most important thing to consider is what these animals are being fed. It is more expensive because they are not being subjected to the following:
It is much cheaper to feed animals with what will bulk them up quickly and cheaply. The less spent here, the more return you will get per pound. What feeds the millions of pounds of meat that is shipped to your grocer is corn. They have even begun feeding it to fish.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but corn is not an aquatic plant and fish aren’t native to pasture land. Fish should not be eating corn and neither should cows or chickens. This creates problems in their digestive tracts and has been the cause of e-coli outbreaks and countless meat recalls. Vegetables have even been recalled because of manure runoff onto crop land. Boo poop.
Going back in time, it is ironic that the main reason our intellect expanded as it did was due to the consumption of meat during the early stages of human evolution. When it comes to our food system, it doesn’t look like that intellect got us very far. Sure, we have developed systems of rapid production, but it is at the cost of the foundations of the very system it depends on.
There are obviously no easy answers and no silver bullet that will fix the problem of agriculture tomorrow. Huge corporations like Monsanto that run small land holders into the ground will continue to operate because they have money to burn and a vindictive goal to be the sole supplier of corn and other money making crops. The disconnect between us and the food we eat is huge and insane.
Go, right now, to your fridge and cupboard and see who manufactured your food. Can you trace the seeds that made it back to its country of origin? Different parts of a single box of cereal may have traveled hundreds of kilometers to get to your plate, which just doesn’t make sense. Buying your meat from companies whose farming practices you don’t know also makes no sense.
Since I have begun eating meat again, I am only comfortable eating it knowing where it came from, what it was fed and how it was treated before it was sacrificed for my supper table.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to shake the Buddhist, culturally loaded composure I have towards meat, but as a born-again omnivore, the least I can do is to eat responsibly and be a vegetarian ally. Many groups of young spirited people are helping us by starting small organic farming businesses, like Ferme Tournesol, so it’s getting easier to eat normal, healthy food all the time.