18,000 cattle were killed in a dairy farm explosion and subsequent fire in Texas on Monday. That’s … mind boggling, but according to that article, that’s around 20% of the cattle who are slaughtered every day in America.
Now, I’ve never been huge on the moral quandaries associated with eating meat. I understand that the meat industry is shady as hell. I understand that male babies are often killed because they’re not as useful as females. (I’ve seen the baby chicks being put in the grinder, thanks.) I’m not sure how you can decouple eating meat with knowing how animals are slaughtered. There was that whole thing a few years back about teaching kids where their chicken nuggets come from, but I think most teens and adults understand slaughter. In fact, more often than not, rural communities understand slaughter way more than urban ones, because they deal with it first or secondhand.
I’ve never lived rurally enough to experience slaughter firsthand, but my family did live relatively close to a now closed slaughterhouse and when I would drive to college every morning I would pass by it and the conveyor belt plopping steaming intestines and other internal parts into a big truck. Man that place stunk.
Truthfully, I think the consumption of animals is crucial for human development. Specifically, it’s theorized that the cooking of meat is what jump started human brain development, tens of thousands of years ago. Cooking breaks down tough fibers into more easily digestible ones, which meant that prehistoric humans suddenly were getting more nutrients from cooked meat than from raw. Plus it was easier to chew and probably tasted good as hell to homo erectus.
That said, at some point our brains got big enough that we became self-aware and empathic toward the thing that got us here in the first place. The moral and ethical issues involved with eating meat, to me, are more entwined with cruel-free practices of raising and slaughtering animals than they are with the eating of animal meat itself. Cows are an animal meant to be eaten. If not us, then wolves or other predators. We’re just very good at killing animals, and, more recently, much more interested in consuming as much meat as humanly possible, it seems.
So, when I see 18,000 cattle dead (and ranchers lamenting about how they’ve lost around $2,000 per cow) due to, arguably, poor living conditions for the animals, it makes me take stock in my own meat, dairy, and byproduct consumption and how possible it could be to make it more ethically and morally appealing in the future. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism, but perhaps I can lessen my impact.
I’m not here to make any promises, but here are some thoughts on forward progress:
- Reducing meat consumption.
This one is a no-brainer, obviously, but is also worrying for me mostly because it was meat (I think) which helped get me out of a depressive slump. More specifically, I think I was lacking iron and/or B vitamins that we can only get from animal consumption, and then one day a coworker left and we went to a Brazilian grill for her last day and I ate all the meats and felt better than I had in months afterward. Another friend of mine was basically prescribed a weekly meat meal by her doctor to combat low iron.1I know you can get iron in plants (what up spinach) but heme iron is supposed to be much easier for us to absorb. For me, then, I would prefer to find locally sourced meat once or twice a week, and supplement the B vitamins (B12? Is there another one?) with the multivitamin I already take.
I expect this will be way more expensive than the meat I buy at Safeway, but if I reduce the amount I consume in the first place, it should even out.
- Ethically sourcing dairy and animal byproducts.
Again, this is like the above point. I’m slightly less concerned with some byproducts, like honey, which I don’t think is as unethically collected as, say, eggs and milk. But I like eggs and I like milk and I’d like to get them both from local sources. Especially eggs–factory farmed eggs are so shit compared to fresh, free range farmed eggs. Gotta get that orange yolk. Milk is the same. Honestly I think I can fix this by taking trips to Market of Choice instead of Safeway; their commitment to animal welfare page makes me feel more comfortable with purchasing meat and dairy there.
- Ethical consumption and/or vegan consumption outside the home.
This one will be tougher. Portland restaurants are pretty good about letting you know where their meat comes from, depending on the quality of the restaurant. But in the end you just never know. So I think outside of my home I’d like to try to consume less or no meat at all, and maybe go vegan entirely. I don’t know if this will stick; obviously I want my restaurant experience to be better than my home cooking, and for me that includes dairy and/or meat. YES there are excellent vegan foods out there and I will absolutely go that route if I see something I like. But I am not a vegan or vegetarian really so I don’t feel the need to limit myself as much there.
- Giving back to the community?
If I’m going to eat another animal I feel like I should at least use that energy to better myself or the community. I don’t know if this will be financial or actual volunteerism (I am terrible at volunteering), but I want to try to put the energy I receive from another living being into bettering the world as a whole.
Again, I live in Portland so these things should be easy to implement. At the very least though, having a clear concept of the impact I am having on my environment and how I can adjust it to be more ethical and conscious is a good start.
- 1I know you can get iron in plants (what up spinach) but heme iron is supposed to be much easier for us to absorb.