How Can I Eat Meat Ethically?

A lot of people are expending a great deal of energy arguing about what other people eat.  Since I’m a people and I eat stuff, it’s important to put some thought into what I eat and why.

First of all, I eat meat.  I don’t just eat it- I cook it, I butcher it, and on a few occasions, I’ve personally killed my supper.  I like to eat meat, but I generally don’t enjoy the grisly parts.  If I was good with blood and guts, I could’ve been a doctor.

Even so, I require myself to participate in the entire process from time to time to be very clear and up front with my conscience about what I’m doing.  Does that make me better than a vegan?  Absolutely not- I disagree with many of the arguments for veganism, but I have a responsibility to acknowledge that it is the proper lifestyle for some people.

Indeed, if you don’t like vegans or even if you do, I challenge you to watch the film Earthlings, which was made by an animal rights group.

Many of the images you will see in Earthlings are cruel, gruesome, violent, and even perverse.  Unfortunately, they are also real.  If, like me, you are committed to eating meat, then you are also accepting that your dinner may have been treated inhumanely.  As a participant in the global grocery grid, you are condoning this behavior.  Someone is doing this work on your behalf, and you are paying them to do it.

I forced myself to watch Earthlings.  It was not easy.  It was, however, necessary.  We cannot do anything ethically in a vacuum.  We need to face the truth, the reality of a situation, before we can engage in any meaningful review of our own behavior.

I continue to eat meat.  I do this in part because it is easy.  Despite the Internet rumors about humans being unable to digest meat, the truth is that our bodies are better able to break down proteins and fats than complex carbohydrates.  The cellulose in plant cells is so indigestible that we generally call it “dietary fiber”.  Other plant-based chemicals, like some oligosaccharides and polysaccharides are similarly indigestible by humans and are instead are fermented by intestinal flora (“beans, beans, the musical fruit…”).

However, instead of simply going with the flow and eating meat because everyone else does, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are consciously choosing to eat what we eat.  I still eat fast food, even from the dollar menu.  Of course, my waist line (and my insides) are paying the price for it.

Look at it this way-  I’m choosing to take the easy road (in the short term) by purchasing and eating a cheap hunk of meat that was probably mistreated from birth to death.  In return, I am exposing my pancreas, liver, intestines, gall bladder, lymphatic system, heart, and arteries to toxic levels of fats, salt, and who knows what else.

This is a natural consequence of not taking more responsibility for the meat I consume.  When I kill a game animal, gut and butcher the carcass, and cook it and eat it- I have almost complete control over what’s going into my body.  Sure the meat could be contaminated or infected in some unseen way, but buying food from the MegaMart or McTaco is no guarantee either.

If I had enough time and space, I would probably kill more of my meat, but I’m not there yet.  Honestly, I stink as a hunter because I wasn’t raised to it and have not spent enough time practicing.  If I had super self-discipline, I would eat no meat but what I kill.  Of course, that’s not realistic for most people, especially in our world of 7,000,000,000 or so people.

How then do we eat meat ethically?  Well, the first thing is to take responsibility.  I’ve often said that responsibility is the key to freedom- well, it’s also the key to living ethically.  When we ignore the give and take, when we ignore the downside (or the upside), we surrender our freedom to others.  In this case, we are yielding it to the giant agribusiness conglomerates.

If, like me, you’re not ready to try to like tofu, then try being picky about where your meat came from.  I’m not suggesting that you have to buy “organic”, “free-range”, or “cruelty-free” food- especially since many of those terms are unclear or misleading.

Instead, try this cost-neutral way to start eating more ethically- just once this week, find out where your meat came from.  Ask the butcher at the store or the cook at the restaurant.

That’s it.  Of course, if you have the resources and the money, by all means, buy “grass-fed” beef or pick up some local sausage from the farmers’ market.  Do what you can, with what you have, and resolve to do better.  Set today as a benchmark and set your course towards more involvement with your meat and the animals that surrendered it to you.

Here are some other suggestions:

  • Thank your dinner for its sacrifice.  The dead animal probably won’t get the message, but you will.  I don’t always do this, but being thankful for your meat and not wasting it are important parts of ethical carnivorism.  I need to do it more.
  • Cook your own piece of meat.  If you’ve never done this before- buy a chicken breast or a pork chop or a piece of steak and ask the butcher how to cook it.  Examine the cut of meat closely before you cook it.  Notice the “grain” where the different muscles pulled.  See if you can notice any blood vessels or fat.  Remember, this was part of a living animal, study it as such.
  • Buy bone-in meat and butcher it yourself- raw.  If you’re not ready for the full experience, try deboning an already split chicken breast, pork chop, or t-bone steak.  Just be sure to use a sharp knife, lots of care, and to keep everything clean!
  • Take a hunters’ education class.  These are usually free and you can often find out about them from your state wildlife agency or by asking at a store that sells hunting licenses.  Even if you never hunt, many of these courses have whole sections about responsible and ethical hunting, safety, and conservation.
  • Raise your own chickens, rabbits, etc. and slaughter them yourself.  This is a step that I haven’t yet taken.  I’m not comfortable with raising animals on my 0.175-acre lawn, but I’m looking for more land.  I want to do this because every animal that I raise myself humanely and dispatch quickly and respectfully is another animal that doesn’t have to be squeezed through the global grocery grid.

Oh, by the way, just in case you want to feel better about not eating tofu…

Tofu is manufactured from soy milk, which is produced via a manufacturing process designed to inactivate natural “trypsin inhibiters” (mild toxins that block protein digestion).  Once you have soy milk, you have have to coagulate it by adding a caustic or acidic chemical to the mix, traditionally gypsum.  Gypsum, still used today in tofu, is the basic ingredient of Plaster-of-Paris and the crumbly stuff in the center of drywall.

Oh, and tofu contains high levels of the phytoestrogens Genistein and Daidzein, which can act like the hormone estrogen in humans.  In some cases, this is a good thing since we all normally have some level of estrogen in our blood.  However, for breast cancer survivors or those with a family history of it, added estrogen can be harmful.

There you go.  Now you don’t have to feel compelled to eat tofu.  Unless you want to, in which case- enjoy.  I’m contemplating a chicken sandwich instead.

Liberating My Life