Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Inspired By A Friend: Meat Of Known Origin, Revisited

I've blogged lots about Meat Of Known Origin. For some time I was strict only eating Meat Of Known Origin. Then I found myself working in an office where meals were delivered every day. They weren't always MOKO, and they were often hard to resist. And I didn't resist.

Recently, I've watched my friend Mike become aware of the problems with the modern food system. His horror and astonishment at how we make our food reminded me of my reaction when I started paying attention—and reminded me that nothing has changed. All the reasons I had for avoiding factory meat are still valid.

Mike recently made the following declaration on my Facebook page:

I'm turning selective carnivore here on out; I will strive to know where my meat came from and how old it was when it was slaughtered (no more growth hormones thank you very much) and what it was fed while it was alive and hopefully happy running around in a large field with just the right number of friends. I may starve…

Pretty inspiring.

Well, that was all I needed. I'm back on the wagon. "What he said."

To be specific: chicken, pork, and beef. Chicken and pork must be from a known small farm with known practices. Co-ops (like Niman Ranch) will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Beef should be from a known farm, but if it's not it must be grass-fed (ideally 100%). If I'm at someone's house, I may or may not eat to be polite. (Jonathan Saffran Foer discusses this specific conundrum quite thoughtfully in Eating Animals.)

The problems with other land animals are much less dire than the problems with chickens, pigs, and cows.

The problems with seafood are a whole other story. If we can avoid farmed ocean fish and eat low on the ocean food chain most of the time, that's a good start. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has some good reference material on their website, and Taras Grescoe wrote a great book on the subject called Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood.

Does anyone have stories about their reactions when they learned about modern meat production?


Unknown said...

Interesting post. Our reaction has been to produce more and more ourselves, to the point where we provide all our own beef and chicken and know a nice farmer who provides our pork. Fish is difficult, we don't buy farmed fish and try to only eat what we can catch ourselves - aquaponics will be our eventual solution to this one. The only trouble, as you mention, is eating out and eating food cooked by other people. I find it very hard to choose from a menu when I know that we have better meat in our freezer at home (better tasting and better ethically!) and I have had to eat to be polite on a few occasions, which is irritating, particularly when some guests at our house BOUGHT CAFO chickens, when we had plenty of our own delicious roosters in the freezer! And I had to pretend to enjoy eating the tasteless mushy meat of these poor chickens!

Alex Lewin said...

Hi Farmer Liz,

Nice blog! ( http://eight-acres.blogspot.com/ )

Your point about restaurants is well taken. Being particular about meat takes most of the joy out of going to cheap restaurants--as it should. I do sometimes eat lamb and duck, for instance, without knowing much about it; I've done a little research to convince myself that these are way better than pork and chicken and beef, but I need to do more research.

Some high-end and even mid-priced restaurants are doing a good job with meat sourcing these days.

As far as the "other people" issue goes, one plan is to bring up the meat issues casually with all of our friends. Then perhaps when they come over with stuff to eat, they will know that we have beliefs about meat, and will be sensitive enough to ask. This may work better with some friends than with others, and might be tough with acquaintances.

On the other side, I will say that when I've shown up at people's houses with heritage turkeys for holidays, they've always been very appreciative, and I've generally explained where I got the turkey...

Anyway, here's to a future of real meat!

wsa said...

Wonderful blog, Alex! Social interaction vs activism is always an interesting dilemma. When I was (misguided but) vegetarian for many years, I made a contract with myself that in potentially difficult situations like corporate luncheons and friends/family social interactions, if it qualified as vegetarian, I would eat it without calling attention any discomfort I might feel in order to comply with my definition of manners: making the other person comfortable.

I am now of the same mind mostly (about other people’s comfort, not food, I am now a traditional foods advocate and educator.) But I do admit that I plead “allergies and sensitivities” in social situations for a lot of items I simply can’t make myself eat. Yes, “allergies and sensitivities” is a little white lie and it makes me uncomfortable when I think about it that way; but in reality, I cannot make a social interaction my soapbox and remain friends with my friends. What each of us calls “food” and the act of eating, especially in fraternity, is such an intimate issue... there’s so much cultural heritage, racial identity, childhood abuse/nurturing, politics, religion, etc. etc. involved that it really falls under the guideline of your grandmother’s old “never discuss politics or religion” doctrine of polite interaction, IMHO.

I am an outspoken, walking-the-talk, activist and educator about food and sustainable ag and animal welfare and supporting family farmers and locality and, frankly, a lot more, but I choose to remember that I have changed vastly in my lifetime and still continue to evolve and change---remembering stagnation is death.... but there are many, many people who grace my life that would certainly drift away should I focus my food/farmer/local/sustainable activism upon them more often than I do... yes, I admit, I gnash my teeth and clutch my soapbox banging it like a drum occasionally in the presence of my loved ones, even those that don’t agree with me; but they know I love them and they know that I only want their benefit so they put up with the discomfort of the occasional impassioned lecture to the-Universe-at-large whilst in my presence. (and... shhhhhh... sometimes, once in a great while, they come a bit closer to my position ;-)))