My struggle with(out) meat

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As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m vegetarian. Or, “fake vegetarian”, as I often call myself, as I’ve always eaten fish. Technically I guess I’m a lacto-ovo-pescetarian (dairy, egg, and fish). And while fish has remained a part of my diet, it was only recently that I started eating it fairly regularly. I  kept fish partially because then I’d always at least have *one* option when going out to eat with friends, who often picked steakhouses or other places where veggie options were hard to come by. I kept fish in when I later became obsessed with sushi.

I’ve been veggie since I started at Purdue in 2000 – so we’re nearing the 10 year mark. It’s still a bit hard to process that it’s been nearly 10 years since I first moved away to school, but that’s another topic…When I first became vegetarian, my reasoning was primarily selfish. As in, for my own health – not for animal rights. Sure, the animal rights mattered to me, but that wasn’t really a strong enough reason to make the switch when I was 19. But then, in my last year of high school, I had a dear uncle suddenly die from a heart attack. That hit me hard, and I suddenly felt like the risk of heart problems was a real concern in my family, and I wanted to do whatever I could to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with that as I got older. The more I read about general health benefits of vegetarianism, the more it seemed like “the solution” for me: lower heart disease, lower cancer risk, general longer life expectancy. Sign me up!

I knew about vegetarianism at that point, as my high school boyfriend’s entire family was meat-free and I had a few vegetarian friends. I was already sort of phasing meat out of my diet when I decided that moving away from home for the first time was a great chance for me to try something new. So I picked a dorm that catered to vegetarians (in that they always had at least one veggie option – which was not always the case in the midwest nearly 10 years ago) and that was that. Quite frankly I never thought I’d be able to stick with it. I was a big steak lover. My family ate meat most meals growing up. But much to my surprise – it really wasn’t so bad. And eventually… I stopped even thinking that meat was an appetizing option. Beef in particular just started to look… gross. I also found a whole world of awesome vegetarian food that I never would’ve liked before. I discovered a love of spinach, black beans, beets, hummus, and many other veggies and grains that I’d just not bothered to try before.

I remained vegetarian through my 4 years at Purdue – including a semester in England with travels through Europe. I wasn’t tempted even by the promise of my mom’s chicken & dumplings (my one time favourite food EVER) or BBQ Ribs. I remained vegetarian when moving in with Adam, and we made the decision to cook meat-free at home and have become pretty good and innovative cooks.

But somehow, in the past year or so, I’ve been craving meat again. I think this may have happened when Adam and I started talking about what we’d want to do long term with the potential prospect of future children. I read up a bit about pregnancy and vegetarianism, as well as raising kids meat-free. I learned a few important tidbits… #1: It’s totally possible, and can be perfectly healthy. But also that #2: It kind of seemed like a lot of work. And I wasn’t entirely sure I was up for that. We ended up coming to the decision that we wouldn’t raise our kids meat-free, and that I might be ok with introducing meat back into my diet when I got pregnant.

But then that got my mind going. If I’m going to start eating meat eventually anyway – what’s the point in waiting? I’m big into food, and I’m more and more feeling like I’m being left out of some of the fun food opportunities. If we’re going to a gourmet dinner, I don’t want 75% of the menu to not be an option for me because of my dietary restrictions!

My reasoning for being vegetarian has also kind of morphed over the years. I don’t really believe that being vegetarian automatically equals being healthier. I think it’s all about moderation. Don’t eat a steak for dinner every night, and you certainly don’t need a big hunk of meat at every meal, or even most meals.

On the other hand… I have learned more about factory farming and how awful it is, and don’t really want to participate in that. That said, I don’t really have moral objections to eating animals per se – but I do have moral objections to causing undue stress or pain to those animals. I think there really isn’t a point to that – and reducing the cost to the consumer is not a good reason. So bottom line: If I’m going to eat meat, I want it to be as humane meat as possible. Free range, local, and from smaller farms with humane policies for how they slaughter.

That’s why I researched a lot before purchasing our Thanksgiving turkey this year. I still wasn’t quite comfortable with eating it… but, at least I knew it was something that I wasn’t morally opposed to. As with most big decisions I make and new things I do, I’ve researched lots. Read articles, blogs, other people’s experiences etc etc etc. One of the more interesting blogs I found was that of The Ethical Butcher – a guy who at one time was (in his words) a “militant vegan” who now is a butcher. His perspective is that he can do more to help the meat industry from the inside it than he ever could as a vegan. Very interesting perspective for sure – and one I sort of agree with. Perhaps it’s an easy out for me, but I’ve also come to the conclusion that I want to support local farmers – with meat and veg. I want these options available for me and for others – and the  more money that goes towards these more ethical farmers, the bigger message is being sent to factory farms to rethink their ways.

So where does all of this leave me? I think… I think I’m ok with eating meat again. At least in theory. The practice side… I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll try a bite here and there, I think, and see how it goes. I have to make sure I don’t get sick, at least, and a big meat meal would certainly do that.

I also want to ensure that any and all meat we eventually buy to cook at home is local and as humane as possible. This will probably mean that by default we’ll never cook that much meat, as local tends to equal pricey. I’m cool with that. I also want to seek out restaurants that do the same – though at this point I have no idea what (if any) options there are for that in Toronto.

So… I guess this means I’m not even a fake vegetarian anymore. It means I’m a meat eater who isn’t sure she even likes meat. I’ll just have to see where that takes me…

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15 Responses to “My struggle with(out) meat”

  1. Ankle Says:

    I still like you… perhaps.

  2. Elise Says:

    I’m with you in that I don’t have a moral objection to eating animals, per se, but the factory farming situation is heartbreaking to anyone with a heart, and revolting to anyone with a stomach. (I don’t think I would ever eat meat again, though, no matter how humanely raised, and I am not planning on ever feeding my hypothetical children meat.) Once you go back to eating meat, though… it’s not like you actually know anything about the origins of the meat you order in restaurants. And i hate to say it, but only eating organic, locally raised, humanely treated meat is a huge luxury that is not feasible for feeding six billion people who just want their damn burgers. It’s a thorny question; I’m not necessarily saying you shouldn’t eat meat (though I don’t think you should give it to your kids until they can understand what it is), just that we need to think about all the implications of our actions. Even with smaller farms, a lot of the environmental arguments for vegetarianism (the resources, especially water, that go into raising livestock vs. those for crops) still apply. I’m also a little baffled as to why all this was stirred up by the prospect of pregnancy… is it not fairly simple to satisfy your nutritional needs with veg? Maybe you just want to eat meat again.

    • Cari Miller Says:

      Thanks, Elise – for the thoughtful reply. Trust me, I’ve thought about most of this already and I’m with you on most of it. I agree that I’m extremely lucky to have the option of knowing where my meat comes from, and I get that any time I’m eating anything outside of my own kitchen, the origins will be iffy at best. I’ve not quite worked out my thoughts about all of that. I guess we’ll see where I end up in the coming months/weeks.

      As far as why thoughts of pregnancy/kids brought this up? I’m not even really sure. Big conversations with Adam, I guess. About what kind of parents we want to be and what kind of choices we want in our house moving forward. And somehow, we both found ourselves being ok with meat being a part of it. Who knows, that may change (again), but for now, that’s where I am.

  3. Carina Neuman Says:

    They opened up a new Rowe Farms on Bloor West. I haven’t checked them out yet, but I’ve been meaning to.

  4. Shane McDowell Says:

    This is an excellent read Cari and I like your outlook. I wish I could afford to eat locally regularly.

    On that note, I do have business interests in local food as I’m hoping to make the niche a focus of Casual Cook. If you’re ever off exploring a farm, or checking out an ethical butcher let me know, I’d love to tag along.

    • Cari Miller Says:

      I will indeed, Shane!

      I know local is pricier – but I see that as meaning that I just won’t eat it as often. And I’m good with that. A luxury item, really.

  5. Matt Says:

    Good on you for staying flexible in your philosophy. No sacred cows (pun completely intended).

    It’s no replacement for fresh, organic & local, but you may consider looking into kosher meat as a good transition point. That extra step of meat processing means they have to be more aware of how the animal is treated and how the food is handled. That may mean more ethical handling (though still not perfect) and also meat that contains less bacteria (though nothing guarantees that like cooking past an internal temperature of 160 degrees).

    Good luck with those first few steps, and let me know if I can help!

    • Cari Miller Says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Matt. I’ve not really figured out the Kosher meat part – but I have read a few places that, unfortunately, Kosher meat really doesn’t mean humane at all. All that it really changes is how it is killed, and while that’s important, it sounds like many kosher animals come from the exact same factory farms as most other meats, it’s just killed differently. Seems pretty backwards to me in terms of what kosher is *supposed* to mean, so I’m hoping what I’ve read so far isn’t necessarily true. So… we’ll see I guess. I have a bit more reading to do 🙂

  6. AWA Says:

    Enjoyed reading your post.

    I would like to bring your attention to Animal Welfare Approved, the high-welfare label that the World Society for the Protection of Animals calls “the most stringent” of all of the food labels regarding humane treatment of farm animals.

    The Animal Welfare Approved program audits and certifies family farms that utilize high-welfare methods of farming. Farmers benefit from having a third-party affirmation of their practices and consumers benefit by knowing that the label means what it says.

    What Does the AWA Seal Mean for You?

    Animals are raised outdoors on pasture or range on true family farms with the “most stringent” welfare standards according to the World Society for the Protection of Animals in both 2008 and 2009 reports. The standards have been developed in collaboration with scientists, veterinarians, researchers and farmers and incorporate best practice and recent research. Annual audits by experts in the field cover birth to slaughter.

    http://www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org

    Visit the website for a searchable database of where you can find AWA products across the US.

    • Cari Miller Says:

      Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately it looks like this is primarily US-based, so it won’t help me in Canada. It is good to know that such an organization is out there, though – and I’ll look for something similar here.

  7. AWA Says:

    We actually are recognized by the Canadian government and will begin certifying farms shortly! Keep looking back in early 2010 for Canadian farms and shops.

  8. mom Says:

    I’m going to check out that AWA website. So far I’m buying cage free eggs….
    We also eat much less meat, especially red meat than when you were growing up. I can remember having hamburger meat as a base of many menus – cheap, quick and kid friendly.
    Keep up the site – it is very good!

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