You are what you eat

I struggle with the whole meat-eating thing. I really really like meat - I'm a foodie in every way. I watch countless hours of cooking competitions on TV where budding chefs concoct delish things from every kind of meat and fish, and my mouth waters.  But there are two big things hanging over my head. 

Firstly - I love animals. I love them in a big way. If I am able to donate to charity, then animals will get it every time. I sympathize with humans, but my heart lies with those who are furry, feathered, scaled and finned. So the killing thing is a big problem for me - I'm completely aware how hypocritical I am when I savour a mouthful of pork leg soup. I think they probably changed the names to beef and pork for a reason - somehow cow and pig just sound bad for marketing. Anyway... I could never kill anything myself to eat it - I'd be an instant vegetarian at that point.  It's not like I haven't seen the documentaries about fast food and the mass industrial production of food... the terrible things that happen to animals. I can't even stand to think about it - but then - I am still eating meat. To be absolutely honest, I eat more fish than meat, which might be good for me, but sure isn't good for the depleted fish populations. What is a sushi lover to do when you hear the truth about the oceans? Bad news.

Secondly, the environmental damage caused by our consumption of so much meat. It's not new - we've known about it for a while, but it's something we in the West just have to accept at some point. Mark Bittman puts it pretty clearly.

It's not hard for me to imagine eating vegetables and grains almost exclusively. In fact, although I love meat and fish, and live for the days I am well enough for us to go out, just so we can have a fantastic meal.  A great meal is a great meal - I don't have any requirements.  In fact, I actually *crave* vegetables.  I can definitely imagine having meat as a once-in-a-while treat. The bigger question is how you make a lifestyle (or foodstyle) change like this when you're living in another part of the world.

Thailand has more food than I have ever seen anywhere, but it is a seriously meat and fish obsessed country and it's not easy to eat a lot of veges (unless you can stomach a lot of extremely spicy food, which makes me very ill).  It would be better if we had a kitchen and could cook at home sometimes, but with only a simple microwave and nothing else, we aren't able to, though the supermarkets are well stocked.  So I am always always always wishing for more vegetables. I do love Thai food, but much of it is laced with MSG which is terrible, and when you can't get out too much the choice is limited.

Until we get to a country where we have a kitchen, and can control what we eat in a meaningful sense, I guess we're stuck with our horrible carbon footprint for the foreseeable future. It'll be wonderful - buying from farmer's markets again and making very clear decisions about what we eat. I'm sure fish and meat will always appear on my plate sometimes, but at a much reduced rate and, I'd like to think, from healther and more humane sources.

Meanwhile, here's some food for thought. In the distant future perhaps we won't need to farm animals for meat at all.  Who knows - according to Wiki "Many biologists assert that this technology is ready for commercial use and simply needs a company to back it". Perhaps it is like alternative fuels to the oil industry - bad for business ;)  I can't see too many of those giant industrial meat producers backing the idea anytime soon.



11/23/09, 1:08 AM

Off the point, but I was told that the reason that it's called "beef" and "pork" when you eat it and "cow" and "pig" when you don't is historical. The French were the rich people and the Germans were the poor ones. So as English evolved, "rich" kinds of words were French in origin, whereas "poor" ones were Germanic.

In short, the Germans raised the animals and the French ate them. ;)

Same idea: the word "house" comes from the German "haus" whereas "mansion" comes from "maison". Each means "house" in their language, but they have very different meanings in English!

[On the topic, I struggle with exactly the same issues. I have reduced my consumption of meat significantly (partly because my wife is a vegiquarian) but I think I've come to the conclusion that I will never give up meat 100%. I try to be at peace with helping the situation as best as I am able. Do what you can.]



11/23/09, 9:15 PM

Ooh... nice! Thanks for the excellent info Keith. Etymology is so fascinating. I figured I was probably wrong... after all - what can be cuter than lamb ;)

Yes, do as much as you can. We eat a lot of soup and tomato sandwiches! Ah... dreams of a kitchen :)


1/5/10, 8:41 PM

I am in sync with your ambivalence over eating meat, but I am blessed to be have said kitchen and the farmers market and all those things you miss, so I can mitigate my guilt by having the ability to make better choices and support those people who do not end up being part of the giant meat industry of today.

One thought though - the argument about giving up meat ignores the fact that the industrialisation of vegetable farming is probably just as damaging as the meat industry...


1/11/10, 3:38 PM

Hmm... I'd definitely be interested to hear more about that, Juan. I haven't heard that vegetable farming on the super industrial scale is as harmful for the environment as meat production (the negative greenhouse gases, and the amount of corn etc. it takes to produce the meat). Not that I doubt it's not *good* per se... but I'd be interested to know some details. Palm oil is certainly a huge problem with deforestation, loss of habitat and greenhouse gases.

Really when it comes down to it we need to rethink our farming methods. There are some great TED talks about it - planting multiple species together to reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals and to maximize the potential for output etc. Getting back to what we 'used' to know combined with what we know now.


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