(photo by Jill Goodell)
Meat is murder on the conscience, as this week’s appalling recall of 143 million pounds of beef reminded me. The meat was recalled because the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company was processing cows too sick even to walk to the slaughter and treating them unbelievably cruelly them on the way. I couldn’t even stand to watch the video taken by the Humane Society, so there won’t be a link.
Meat is murder on the environment, too, at least the factory raised kind. Mark Bittman, who does a food column for the New York Times called "The Minimalist," wrote a fantastic piece a few weeks ago comparing meat to oil in terms of its environmental costs and suggesting it’s time to shed the "meat guzzler" as much as the "gas guzzler."
(photo by John F.)
Bittman points out that the world, getting richer as a whole, is eating more and more meat. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce meat industrially. While manure is the best gift you could give a vegetable gardener, industrial feedlots turn it into a hideous pollutant, just because of their inhuman scale. The methane produced by cows is a major greenhouse gas. And with intense competition for grains from fuel producers and meat producers, the losers are the world’s poor, who need cheap grains to feed themselves.
Bittman’s not a vegetarian and neither am I. He suggest pasture-raised meat as part of the answer to the environmental quagmire. And since the world cannot produce as much meat on grass as it does in factories, Bittman recommends that we all eat less.
Apparently, I’ve got sustainable tastes. I haven’t bought a package of hamburger in a supermarket for the last ten years at least–the grass-fed meat from my local farmers tastes a million times better. And the food I like best is peasant food that uses meat as a garnish in a stew of vegetables and/or grains. Give me four ounces of bacon, and I will give you dinner for six.
But I’ve got other qualms that moderation doesn’t answer. All of my contact with birds convinces me they are scarily intelligent, so what am I doing, regularly boiling them up for stock? And science seems to be knocking down that Chinese wall between human intelligence and animal intelligence block by block. So let’s not flatter ourselves that the cow soul we see behind those cow eyes is so very different from our own.
I don’t flatter myself. Clearly, for the pure of heart, eating no meat at all is the answer. But I love to cook, and frankly, could hardly bear the narrowing of horizons that would occur if I had to give up meat entirely. So moral ambiguity is the country in which I dwell, and I suspect that this has been true of humans as long as we’ve lived on the planet. We like the sizzle, but not the killing.