Despite my well-earned reputation as an omnivore, I’d been very picky with my meat choices (especially for things to cook at home) for several years, leaning on pasture-raised or otherwise ethical meat and animal products.
Then Dime (RIP) sent me to a boucherie, a Cajun cultural artifact where they slaughter a hog and then cook the entire beast, nose-to-tail, that same day. It was a really powerful experience, and for the first time I had a firm grasp on how serious a thing meat-eating is. I realized I wasn’t being very consistent with my choices, trusting the restaurants I patronized to put the same care into their sourcing as they do into their cooking. This is hardly ever the case.
So for the sake of simplicity and a clear conscience, I got off meat altogether. I still eat a fair number of eggs from free-range, pastured chickens. On very rare occasions I’ll eat wild-caught seafood*, especially smaller critters like oysters and shrimp. I’m not as strict with dairy as I should be; hoop cheese makes an occasional appearance, but it’s 80% organic and/or locally-sourced stuff. I don’t see this becoming a slippery slope back to full carnivore.
I don’t think there’s anything immoral about eating meat, in itself. Responsible hunting and fishing is cool with me. Death is part of life, and a cow might be happiest living in a fenced pasture, fat and safe from predators, until it’s humanely slaughtered. BUT:
1. That’s totally not how we do it. Food animals live horrendously miserable lives, and their suffering is real and significant and unacceptable.
2. Environmentally, we can ill-afford foodways that are up to nine times more resource-intensive than simply eating vegetables. The petroleum and water inputs it takes to grow chickens, pigs, and (especially) cows are far too costly. If energy were cheaper, from a sustainable standpoint, we could re-evaluate, but for today eating meat is a luxury that’s putting humanity in jeopardy.
3. Restricting your diet to “ethically” raised meats is specious. First of all, their provenance is often murky. If you haven’t visited the farm AND the slaughterhouse, you don’t know for sure what you’re getting. And that does little to address #2, the environmental impact.
This hasn’t been about personal health or wellness. Excluding any quantity of an entire category of foods from one’s diet makes it harder to be healthy, not easier! Depending on your dietary and lifestyle goals, vegetarianism can result in some pretty weird culinary contortions. In order to get sufficient protein (1+g/lb of body weight/day), I’m drinking multiple protein shakes daily and eating some combo of legumes, dairy, and eggs at every meal. But if there are vegans out there squatting 750lbs, fitness goals are a poor excuse for eating meat.
It feels kinda weird to go from reading books on whole-animal butchery to disavowing bologna. But it’s my responsibility to behave in a way that lines up with my opinions. If I think Wal-Mart is a destructive monopoly, I shouldn’t shop at their stores. My past meat-eating made me complicit in the suffering of the animals I claimed to care about, which is hypocritical and self-defeating. Not eating meat isn’t about being morally spotless — it’s about making my actions match my words.