Eating locally and cruelty free; personal hypocrisy

Posted on 24.04.2011

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25 April UPDATE: I just read this article from Time magazine that says ultimately the exact same thing: Can Eating Meat Ever Be Humane?

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A few articles and a conversation with a student have really forced me to r(e)consider my thinking on the whole ‘eating ethically’ topic lately.

The articles were ‘When Class Meant Brie and Pears’ and ‘Lessons from the Organic Rednecks’. The conversation with a student came first, and came out of my admission that I was searching for toothpaste that wasn’t tested on animals.

It got us onto a whole discussion about where food comes from, and what I might be doing to perpetuate world hunger while trying to buy food that was less cruel and better for me.

In my own mind, as I’ve said before, we need to choose our battles. I understand that I need to take my Copaxone injection every day, which has undoubtedly been brought to me by animal testing. While I’m unhappy with ALL animal testing, I think that in some cases (such as the case for medicine), it’s harder to live without than any of us would care to believe. In other cases, there is no reason something like shampoo should be tested on animals when there are plenty of humans that would take money to do the same. Possibly not enough to fulfill all of the cosmetic industry’s needs, but enough, I’d think, to make a dent.

So there’s already a certain level of hypocrisy in my everday life, since I’m choosing to shower and clean myself with products NOT tested on animals, but I have to take a medication that was most likely tested on animals before it was tested on humans.

This discussion led us, as it always seems to, onto the topic of ethical eating. I mentioned that whenever possible, I try to buy locally, and that there are many places nearby that produce and sell ‘happy meat’. Then, of course, came the ‘if you’re so concerned about animals, why aren’t you a vegan?’ question, which I had to answer with my ‘disease and dietary restictions’ form response, which is that eating gluten, milk and legume free = eating meat for protein or spending my entire life prepping substitutions, and that I happen to like eating meat and won’t deny the nature of humans.

And then, of course, came the question that comes up so often: so you’re more concerned with the animals you eat being treated properly than ending world hunger?

It’s a loaded question, and I’ve heard it plenty of times, but that was the first time where I really thought about my answer for a week. In my own honest opinion, even if I did go back to eating UNhappy meat and farm produce in an effort to curb world hunger, it wouldn’t change a thing. Why? Because the corn and grains I’d be saving by eating things from a factory farm rather than on a happy farm (animals that live on bio/organic farms tend to need more food and obviously more space, therefore more water, than those crowded into pens) would just be going somewhere else, and it wouldn’t be into the mouths of hungry children in Africa.

The US produces enough corn each year to feed the entire world (with a surplus), and yet people are still starving. That corn is being turned into biofuel and food for animals that are being farmed, among other things. The most environmentally friendly thing we could do (aside from just killing ourselves) would be to go vegan, but to go vegan would be denying what we are. I give major respect to my awesome vegan friends, but I can’t do it. I really do love meat. Could we re-train the general population to hunt? Yes, but it would take too much work and time and no government is up to that challenge. Also, I don’t think the environment could support large-scale hunting like that immediately. We’d have to repopulate the forests and world with wild animals first and set some more stringent hunting laws.

Eating wild-caught and locally is at least a way to stimulate our local economy, from my perspective. Cutting down the amount of farmed meat we consume is a way to help the environment and our wallets, and the world hunger issue. Can you stretch the same amount of meat that you buy each week to last two weeks instead of one? Three weeks? How much meat (read: protein) do we really need to consume in order to stay healthy?

Animal welfare is a huge issue for me personally, because I think a lot of the issues are built around a separation from the idea that we’re animals, just like the rest. Sure, we have more highly developed brains than our closest cousins, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted. With the growth of technology we’ve disassociated ourselves from our local environments and begun to see them as there FOR us rather than WITH us, and it’s going to bite future generations in the ass if we don’t change that thought process.

By choosing to eat meat from a farm that treats its animals well and feeds them naturally (grass, corn, etc) I’m at least choosing to put more natural food in my body (which is tantamount, even without the disease) and sending a monetary message to those farmers that I support their practices, rather than supporting the despicable treatment of animals in mass-production farming centers. Yes, more people can eat for less because of those centers, but they are eating far worse for less and I can’t see that as a good thing. I’d rather eat canned vegetables for the rest of my life than put contaminated crap into my body or eat McDonalds every day. And while that’s not MY decision to make for the rest of the world, it’s the decision I can make for myself.

It was so easy to eat ethically in Baltimore, where you could talk to the farmers at the farmers markets and know their practices. Some of that is lost here, because of the language barrier and also because of the fact that the local stuff is sold at the supermarkets right next to the farmed stuff. As an American from the land of good advertising, it’s hard to believe that the labeled ‘happy meat’ is, in fact, healthy, when it’s sitting next to the storeĀ brand. So you buy from trusted sellers, who can tell you where and when instead. It’s a lot harder to find workers for the hunger foundations on the street to engage in conversation.

Does the fact that I enjoy eating meat but don’t want to buy animal-tested make-up make me a hypocrite? Maybe. Am I taking control over what I am able to? Absolutely. Does it mean I care any less about world hunger? Not at all. If I could buy food and fly it to starving people, I would. In the same way that we find a good butcher or farm to buy from, we should find a good organization to donate money and food to.

What is ‘class’ these days, when it comes to eating? Why do we even have to associate eating with class? As the ‘Brie and Pears‘ article states, it used to be Godiva chocolates and Perrier, and now you can buy that stuff at the local drug store. Is it classy to eat locally, or ethically, organically? There’s definitely a bit of snobbery associated with some forms of eating. Or, more specifically, some decisions about where and what we buy. Once we have a choice, then the discussion of class comes into the ring.

There was a year or two while I was a college student, when I couldn’t afford food, period. I was at the mercy of my friends, their parents, their meal plans and my waitressing job. There was nothing classy about it, I was in pure survival mode. A lot of people have that issue far past the college years in the first world, for their entire lives in the third world; there’s only so much help you or I can afford them if we’re even aware. I couldn’t afford to be environmentally conscious then like I can now, and I’d never begrudge anyone for not having that choice to make.

Ultimately, it’s an environmental issue as well as an animal welfare issue. Farming animals, period, is bad for the environment, as are non-organic food production practices. Food transport is also bad for the environment, as is overpopulation. The world can’t support many more people. Being a vegan that eats seasonally and locally is really the ‘best’ way to be, if helping the environment is the goal. But if you have to eat meat, doing so locally and organically/naturally is the best that can be done to work towards helping the environment. We can only do so much, and it’s impossible to be perfect.

All of this, apparently, means I am more concerned about the treatment of animals and the environment than about my fellow human beings. On the other hand, I know where my money goes when I buy the happy meat. Donating to world hunger organizations, or any organization for that matter, is always tricky. You never know how much is going where. You have to choose the organization like you choose your doctor or butcher. Kind of like our taxes… do you know how much of your US tax dollars fund the wars we’re fighting? Do you support those wars?

Choose your battles. Think globally, act locally, all of that stuff. Do what you can, when you can. Every little bit really does help.

I’m still a raging optimist. And I guess I’m also a hypocrite.