I categorise myself as a considerate and conscious eater. I try and buy organic, ethically sourced and sustainable produce, I never let food go to waste and I make good use of my kitchen scraps. But something I struggle with is my affinity for meat, or more specifically, my hesitation to eliminate it completely from my diet, considering how little of it I actually consume.
Although I find myself at this ethical juncture quite regularly, it was actually a conversation raised by a friend of mine just the other day, that propelled me to write this post.
He had felt this inclination to revert back to vegetarianism after a lengthy sabbatical in which he was eating meat at what started out sporadically, but had morphed into quite frequently.
“I asked myself the other day, why am I still eating meat? I am conscious of the ethical implications, I’m an advocate for environmentalism and the impact meat consumption has on global warming, and I know how much it improves my mental clarity and spiritual awareness when I refrain from eating it…”
“So what’s the problem?” I replied…
“Well, I like the taste.”
I instantly resonated, and I’m sure many of you do to.
So, is it possible to be a conscious carnivore? Or does a true commitment to conscious eating mean having to sacrifice our spot at the head of the food chain*?
I believe, and I’m not alone, that it is possible to be both:
1. Be super picky about where your meat comes from: Let’s not kid ourselves, there’s a world of difference between the life of an animal raised on a farm, living outside and grazing on grass, and an animal raised inhumanely on a factory farm in cramped conditions being fed a diet of grains and corn to fatten him up, and being pumped full of antibiotics just so he can survive long enough before slaughter.
I’m sorry to use such evocative language but it’s important that you get the difference.
The digestive system of a cow is made to eat grasses, they were never designed to eat soy, grains or corn (or in some factory farms ground-up animal parts). But to keep up with the over consumption of animal products it is more efficient and cost effective to be able to feed them the two most globally dominant crops, corn and soy (with wheat a close runner up).
So if you’re keen to eat meat, it’s important that you’re not supporting the factory farms and instead giving your dollar to the ethical farmer doing his bit. Buy organic, but ensure that it is also sustainable. Unfortunately these two things aren’t always mutually exclusive, and it’s also important to note that sometimes non-organic is still chemical and antibiotic free. The best thing you can do is chat to your farmer or local butcher. Always buy grass-fed not just grass finished and where possible try and buy as local as possible.
2. Reduce your consumption: Makes sense right? It’s a lengthy debate, but it’s our increasingly high consumption of meat that is the biggest ethical issue a carnivore is faced with (see factory farming above). It would then seem that the next logical step would be to reduce our intake. Depending on your level of consumption now, a reduction might mean a few times a week, once a fortnight, or whenever you feel the urge. Personally I eat red meat a couple of times a month and chicken and fish 2-3 times a week. The rest of my meals are plant based.
3. Eat with intention: To eat consciously, is to be mindful and this all starts with the right intention. This is often a hard one to get your head around, and it’s perhaps the thing I struggle with the most. It doesn’t matter how much I dance around the subject, an animal was harmed in order for me to enjoy my meal. I sometimes avoid the thought process that surrounds it, and it’s the reason I struggle to eat a cut of meat that looks like the animal itself, eg a whole fish, quail, offal etc. But owning up to the sacrifice that has been made and the part that you play, by choosing to eat meat is the burden you must bare as a carnivore. Own it. The Dalai Lama ( a carnivore) sums it up well.
“ It is always dangerous to ignore the suffering of any living being, of whatever species, even if we think it necessary to sacrifice an animal for the benefit of the majority. To deny the suffering involved, or to avoid thinking about it, is a convenient solution… sympathy and compassion always end up proving beneficial.”
Which brings me to my next point…
4. Be thankful for the sacrifice: I spoke about the ritual of saying grace at mealtimes and showing gratitude for the food we eat in a previous blogpost. In this case, it’s giving thanks to the animal for sacrificing it’s life. Recognising any suffering they may have endured, thanking the animal for the gift of their life and then, this is the biggie, not absolving yourself from the act in which you are partaking. There is a worthy argument in the vegan camp that suggests that merely saying thank you to the animal is for nobodies benefit but your own. And I agree. There is no sense romanticising it as anything else. But a huge part of conscious eating is awareness, and I believe being thankful is an integral step in this process.
5. Eat the whole animal: I cannot stress this enough, eating the whole animal is the ultimate ethical food choice. After taking an animal’s life, the least we can do is use all of it. Buy less fashionable cuts of meat like cheeks, kidneys, shanks, ox tail and marrow bones. This also means if you roast a whole chicken , then consider using the bones to make a chicken stock.