MEAT

MEAT
Yes, Meat.
Meat.
Meat.
Meat.
This is my swansong
(I never even tried swan!)
This is my goodbye.

That’s me, a couple summers ago in beautiful Karlsruhe, about to tuck into a delicious Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) with sauerkraut and a potato dumpling, all covered in a gravy sauce. That pork knuckle was so good, guys. I couldn’t even finish it in one go, so I took it back to the hotel and finished it forkless for breakfast, and then I washed my hands/face/arms up to the elbows. Not pictured: The lard for the bread provided while my brother and I waited for our meals. My brother has not eaten mammals since he was a little child, and I HATE to see anything go to waste, so I finished the whole dish of lard myself.

I’ve always had a taste for blood and fat. Ribeye: rare. Leg of lamb: Bleeding. Burger with pink? Yes, and bacon on top. I love Popeye’s Fried Chicken most of all, when it comes to guilty pleasures. I’ve had (and loved) raw kobe beef. Beef tongue is awesome. I am a master chicken-roaster and can make a mean duck in red wine and orange sauce. Liverwurst sandwiches rock, as does pate, on a similar note. Braised oxtails are manna from heaven. Prosciutto could bring me to tears. Seared tuna, people! Giblets are the highlight of the holiday season, and BBQ is where it’s at, from the back yard to Woo Lae Oak. I could go on.

Anyway, my point is that if this were a matter of personal preference, you can guess what I would prefer!

My mom has an anecdote she likes to recount: When I was a little toddler, I met some fuzzy lambs, and soon after we were having my favorite meal: Roasted Leg of Lamb. Suddenly, I made the connection, distraught. “Is this like MY lambs?” I said, or something to that effect. “…Yes…” my mother confessed, and she started taking the bleeding, mint-jellied, fat-ringed slab off my my plate. I grabbed her hand and stopped her. “Lambs are cute,” Lil’ Anna admitted, “But they’re SO delicious.” (I’ve heard this story, with one or two variations, about other little children, too–apparently it’s hard to take meat from a child’s plate)

And that was that, for the next two decades! A twinge of guilt if I thought about it, but that’s easily amended with a little less thought and a little more A-1. But now, alas, I’ve been doing my research for a few months and come to the conclusion that I must end this sordid affair. #1 factor? Environmental. An industry that contributes more to greenhouse gasses than all forms of transportation COMBINED? And there’s me with my little bike and canvas grocery bag. Additionally: too many studies showing that non-human animals have much more sophisticated brains than I feel okay with, and the industry is a lot worse on the suffering front than I knew. I’m not a dualist, even, so I don’t buy that we have a divine spark so much as particularly developed mental abilities.

If you want a solid, informative, non-propaganda (but no punches pulled) piece of work to read on the subject, I recommend EATING ANIMALS, a book by Jonathan Safran Foer. Load of footnotes at the end you can check yourself.

Luckily, I am so un-picky I love almost all vegetables too. And I can eat oysters and lobsters and some other seafood with low impact/bycatch (NOT SHRIMP). It’s just a shame my favorite foods list is like a half its old size.

I want to end on a positive note! Here is a video:
EDIT: Apologies to everyone who clicked on the link I originally posted here and watched a horrible little dog with buggy eyes! I had meant to link THIS video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brdkeccSJPw

Also, check out my YouTube channel, if you haven’t already! It’s all singing, really, between Pirates of Penzance clips and me singing along to karaoke tracks: http://www.youtube.com/user/worseandworse

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10 responses to “MEAT

  1. Some shrimp is okay to eat. This site has a good listing of various seafood and what kinds are ethical to eat: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_factsheet.aspx?gid=20

    • Yeah, but I can’t go to a restaurant (unless it’s really fancy, maybe) and ask to know the background of all their menu items, or assume their shrimp basket is an exception to the 65% bycatch figures. A great link though, which I will use!

  2. I liked your rhapsodizing about meat. It made me really want to eat lamb, which probably wasn’t what you were going for lol.

  3. Don’t the greenhouse gas figures really only refer to BEEF production? I find it hard to imagine that goats and lambs and bison really contribute that much to the greenhouse effect, if the effect is measurable at all. Giving up beef ain’t no thang. As the meats go, Beef is probably the least delicious of those included in the anglo-saxon common diet.
    As for animal suffering, dualist or non-dualist position really should have no decision making weight in the matter. If we live in a dualistic universe, animals are more than likely P-Zombies. If we live in a purely material universe, then our highest moral duty is the continuation of our genetic lineage, and morals would not cross the genetic boundaries of species (self evident in that no one could reasonably say a lion is “wrong” to eat a gazelle). In a purely material universe, self-determination is really just a quirk. Logic based moral systems (the only ones that apply in a material-only mindverse) apply moral laws to the lowest common denominator (i.e. animals without apparent self determination) so the argument “ahh, but unlike a lion, we can choose not to eat meat” doesn’t really hold water since the having or not having of free will is not a factor in the calculation of one’s moral responsibilities. If you do want to go down that route and say that having freedom of choice is a factor in calculating one’s moral responsibilities, the counter argument would be that there must also be corresponding moral rights that come with freedom of choice that are not afforded to those without. Animals without freedom of choice are disqualified from the Right not to be kept and eaten as food.
    TL;DR:
    It is the environmentally sound choice to forego beef. No argument there.
    Eating meat is morally jusitifiable, even if their consciousness differs only in quantity (but not in quality) from ours.
    Meat is delicious.

    • “WHY? WHY WAS I PROGRAMMED TO FEEL PAIN?”

      Apologies in advance for an extremely long response! I don’t want to evangelize, but I /do/ want to be 100% clear that my decision is not a fit of sentimental whimsy, nor the outcome of pop culture bullying!

      First off, the figures also account for poultry and pork, not just beef.

      Motives for eating meat:
      -The pleasure we gain in consuming it
      -Habit
      -Its artificially low cost, due to current (unacceptable) production standards, a ton of subsidies, and hands in var. govt. pockets
      -Vitamins and minerals are a poor argument–there is no evidence that vegetarians in this day and age suffer protein deficiencies as they did before nutritional science had gotten very far. Just wanted to hit that point before it came up!

      My #1 reason for forgoing it, as mentioned, is environmental. The industry is broken to the point of being irredeemable, for some reasons I will list below! They have absolutely no motive to improve their practices as long as I–as long as people in general–keep paying them for their services. What it boils down to is that I am using my power as a consumer, as small as I am, to affect change, and to draw my line in the sand. We beat the hole in the ozone layer by changing the products we choose to buy and manufacture, and we can beat global climate change–but not if we shirk from our duty to our fellow and future humans whenever something smells really delicious.

      The hypothetical grass-fed bison and goats are essentially a non-factor. A full 99% of the meat consumed by Americans today is produced on factory farms. This shift has happened rapidly, within the last two generations. Maybe Martha Stewart can get away with having clover-fed lambs and heritage chickens at every meal, but neither I nor most consumers have the opportunity or income to maintain the standard diet, using eco-friendly meat–what’s more, it would be impossible for good farming practices to meet current demand, even if we were all wealthy and conscientious. (Keep in mind that most stuff labeled free-range and organic is just greenwashing and its production is negligibly different). The more people of all stripes who drop meat from their diet, the more acceptable the choice becomes and the more profitable it is to cater to it.

      The industry is currently operating at egregiously unsustainable levels. What’s more, the global demand for meat is rising, even as world hunger explodes. China, which currently faces severe water shortages, is funneling a preposterous amount of their potable water to livestock, which only accounts for 16% of their current caloric intake (rising in the more wealthy parts of the nation.) It’s criminal how much food energy goes into meat production. Here, China, everywhere. Like 200 feed calories for every one meat calorie or something.

      Fecal management is another sobering issue. Straight-up, old-school pollution. There is more of the stuff than we could ever, ever use for our crops (in a day, more is produced in these farms than in most major US cities combined), and it is too potent anyway. It is kept in vast, under-regulated pools. It leaks out, and many companies have a distressing practice of disposal via spraying it into the air, which causes myriad health issues for people already unfortunate to live near a hog farm. They can afford to get away with it.

      Speaking of health issues, another fun aspect of the industry: across the country, billions of animals are packed into warehouses. The animals in these warehouses are more or less genetically identical. They are all, to varying degrees, unwell, between extreme emotional stress, unnatural diets (cows need a cocktail of meds to digest corn, for instance), filth, and a lack of exercise and clean air. Lame and dying are mingled with the living, especially in poultry houses, but also hog factories–hard to spot, because they are so close together, or kept in cages which preclude collapse when unconscious. Animals don’t tend to be treated on an individual basis, as that is not cost-effective, so all are fed a steady stream of antibiotics, whether or not they are sick. As you would expect, many important antibiotics–not just important to these beasts, but to people–have lost their potency due to this overuse. Most epidemics (an exception being HIV) can be traced to livestock, especially to poultry and to swine–Avian Flu and H1N1 (swine flu) being two obvious examples. Recent research has revealed the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic most likely originated in poultry, then passed on to swine (which are more susceptible to avian strains than we) and then, tweaked by this exposure, moved onto us. Don’t forget this flu, in the comparatively under-connected turn of the last century, infected roughly a third of the world’s population, killing–at the very lowest estimate–3% of ALL PEOPLE ON EARTH. Most of them were young, otherwise healthy people in the prime of their lives like you and I, not elderly and newborn. What we have currently is a crazy card-tower of stupid, and the industry’s solution is more cards. It is not absurd to be wary.

      The laws regulating these companies states that “common practice” dictates what is acceptable. Animal welfare laws do not apply to food animals, so whatever can still turn a profit is acceptable. I get really very sad when Valletta and Dogmatix see me packing to leave DC. I don’t think I could pull the legs off a live frog if you paid me. I killed a surprise bunny with the van a few months ago, and my instant response was horror and tears. The animals raised in factory farms are unarguably suffering for their more or less their entire lives, even putting aside the ham-fisted moment of death (a distressing proportion of beasts are skinned and dismantled alive!). A pig is at least as smart as–and possibly smarter than–a dog. They are personable, social creatures, and quick learners. I would act if I found out someone kept a house full of dogs locked in little cages all their lives, or even one dog–why should millions of pigs get the cold shoulder from me? Because of bacon? There is no doubt that pigs, cows, and–yes–even poultry experience suffering much as you or I. It is inconsistent, at the very least, for me to save endless snails from the sidewalk and then pay an industry to abuse animals with central nervous systems and the ability to maintain best-friendship between themselves.

      I’m not sure I understand your argument about agency. People in comas or who are severely mentally handicapped would also be exempt from non-food-status if it came down to what amounts to might-makes-right. A sucker-punch argument, but applicable. Human status doesn’t make sense either, or else (thanks for the example, Rory!) a sentient-but-delicious alien child would be okay eats. Sure, we’ve eaten meat for a long time, and other animals also eat meat, but we don’t have to.

      On a side-note, I disagree that our highest moral imperative, in a purely material Universe, would be to pass on our DNA–I’ve afraid we have no intrinsic purpose whatsoever, whatever our inborn inclinations may be! All reasons for everything come from behind us, not ahead. That aside, we DO have the power to shape our world, and it is best to contribute to a world in which most if not all people are well fed, and safe and healthy for centuries to come. While I am my #1 priority, I am not actually worth more than some kid in Bangladesh. None of us asked to be born, after all.

      I have more reasons besides. My point is that I don’t see flavor as a fair tradeoff. However many ways you can spin eating meat to be okay, the only real motivation is flavor and maybe cultural weight, which I can still get plenty of if I forgo the turkey and pile on the green bean casserole. The impact upon the planet we’re all trapped on, mounting health risks, awful treatment of livestock/slaughter workers, destruction of sea life, and terrible abuse in the face of modern studies into how lesser animals experience their lives…the stuff is now ashes in my mouth!

      TL;DR: Words words words

  4. Why bother shaping our world one way or another if we have no intrinsic purpose?
    The environmental thing gives me pause. Mo matter what I feel about free market economics, the writing’s on the wall RE: Our environment. This is a survival issue and we all have to pull together or our world will be uninhabitable within our or our childrens’ lifetimes, and Humanity will die out before we can ever taste that sweet, succulent alien steak!
    My personal leaning is toward eliminating uneccesary electrical and transportation demands by shutting down the internet and shifting to an insular, agrarian society, but that is ridiculously long term. Everyone has to do their part. I guess eating meat is your way of saving scrap for the war.
    Personally I think everything will sort itself out once the Greenland Ice Shelf slides into the sea and NYC is under water. Aside from being a wake up call to all the idiots who denied global warming, The eeire scene of all those high rise towers jutting out of a shallow lake as makeshift gondolas flit about in the newformed canals below will be pretty sublime.

    • Aye–as mentioned, the environmental writing on the wall is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the issues; my #1 reason for changing my consumption. Sam was just talking about how the silver lining re: running the world at 170% is that we’re going to have to hit the brakes and regroup really soon. I am glad we can agree on the most important front!

      As to the first question, that is another story! I would highly recommend “The Moral Landscape,” by Sam Harris, an in-depth exploration of what would go into the creation of a functional system of ethics which best serves humanity and is not reliant upon supernatural propositions.Don’t worry–it doesn’t rely on old philosophical chestnuts! It looks at neuroscience, absolutes, etc. It’s a really compelling read, really solid, and I would be interested in your take on it. I personally do not feel conflicted over trying to do the Right Thing without belied in an intrinsic purpose, in the same way that I would not devalue the hypothetical love of my life by acknowledging it was not fate that we met, and that if circumstances had been different I could have fallen for someone else to an equal or greater degree. On that note, a fun song by a fun-if-scruffy entertainer! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeZMIgheZro

  5. *not eating meat is your way of saving scrap for the war

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