My New Year's resolution this year was to curtail my consumption of MOUO (Meat Of Unknown Origin), for environmental reasons, for ethical/karmic reasons, and for health reasons.
I declared that I would worry only about cows, pigs, and chickens and turkeys, since they represent most of the meat eaten in the US, and they endure most of the suffering. In all likelihood lambs are languishing, ostriches are oppressed, and ducks are done wrong; but these are a drop in the bucket compared to the 9+ billion chickens that are raised each year in the US, most of which spend no time outside of their barely-chicken-sized cages. So I'm spending my money, energy, and thought where it can make the biggest difference.
[Which brings me to one of my pet peeves: anti-foie gras activists. Foie gras is the liver from a duck (or goose) that has been force-fed in a specific way for a few weeks prior to being killed. The ducks raised for foie gras likely live far better lives than most domestic chickens. And these ducks are a minuscule population. Wouldn't an activist's time be better spent addressing the plight of the billions of chickens? For instance, working towards legislation like California's 2008 Proposition 2, which requires that chicken, sow, and calf cages be large enough for the animals to stand up and turn around. Even if it hadn't passed, simply having it on the ballot would have made many people aware of the plight of factory animals. And it passed. I suspect many of the anti-foie gras activists are motivated by undeclared anti-elitism; I would have less of a problem with them if they would admit that this was their motivation. Disclaimer: I myself love eating foie gras. The history of it is actually fascinating.]
I decided that the test for my happiness with a piece of meat would be whether or not I knew the name of the farm it was from.
This is quite a severe test. In the supermarket, for instance, it is not enough for things to be labeled "organic" or "free-range". I've noticed that some Whole Foods stores in different parts of the country have more Meat Of Known Origin than the stores here in Boston. In Portland, Maine, for instance, the steaks were labeled with the names of farms. In San Francisco, I was able to get turkey from a known farm. Boston doesn't do well in this regard. The meat I've been eating recently has come from local farms (Stillman's, Austin Farm, etc.). During the summer, you can find local MOKO at farmer's markets; during the winter, you can get it as part of a meat CSA, you can get it straight from a farm, or you can get it from a market that does explicit sourcing, like Lionette's Market in Boston.
My meat options when dining out are often limited, making me a functional vegetarian at times, or a pescetarian at least. Some higher-end restaurants these days annotate their menus with the origins of their meats. You can always ask the server where the meat is from. If enough people ask often enough, restaurants' purchasing may adapt. I miss some Asian foods, like pho and dim sum. I broke my vows in a Vietnamese restaurant the other week; I had a cold-flu, and took some pho as therapy.
I am prepared to allow myself some other exemptions, besides illness. If someone has slaved over the stove all day to prepare me some Meat Of Unknown Origin, I'll probably eat it. Likewise, if I'm traveling and have no reasonable options, I might declare an exemption, although this hasn't really happened yet. (I keep some buffalo jerky in my backpack.)
What if I'm in Europe? They treat their animals better, sometimes. Does it make sense to worry about MOKO there? If it comes up, I may start asking folks where the meat is from.
What about meat that is not from the US but is sold in US stores? Maybe that could fall into the same category? I saw some nice dry sausages at the store the other day…but I did not buy them. For special occasions, I may make an exception. Etc.
I view all of this as a starting point, and as an exercise in consciousness, rather than as any kind of dogma. Finally, just to make my eating more complicated, around the beginning of February, I started following a Traditions-based diet (based on the work of Sally Fallon and Weston A. Price), which calls for a lot of animal products: specifically meat, animal fat, animal bone broths, organ meats, and so on.
I can't in good faith complain, because I am blessed and lucky in many ways, and have access to an abundance of good food to eat; but it is way harder getting MOKO in 2009 Boston than it should be.