A Vegetarian Looks at Raising Meat Animals

I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years. (Right now my parents are counting years and thinking, that can’t be possible. When did the numbers get so high?) When I quit eating meat, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I didn’t have a solid reason why. Everyone asked, why would you do this? There were no other vegetarians in our family, it didn’t make sense. It especially didn’t make sense to quit right before a holiday that focused on eating a particular, and particularly unlucky, animal. I had a canned answer that involved something about poor furry animals that would rather be cuddled than eaten. Over the years I have developed a much more involved rhetoric that focused on health, kindness and environmental issues.

The health issue is a tricky argument. There are unhealthy vegetarians and there are exceptionally healthy meat eaters. I don’t argue that just because you eat meat means your diet is unhealthy. I generally focus on what we put into commercially raised meat animals: antibiotics and crap feed. Most animals that are raised and slaughtered for meat. We grind up animal parts and re-feed them to animals that were designed to live on grass and foliage. In doing so, we create an unhealthy animal. Then frequently, we house animals in small quarters with too many animals per square foot. In order to house unhealthy animals with other unhealthy animals, we pump them full of antibiotics that are fed to animals until their very last day. When the animals are slaughtered, we dip their carcasses in ammonia in order to further kill bacteria. Then we dine on that delicious USDA Prime steak and think nothing of the grossness we can’t see. To me, eating a steady stream of antibiotics and ammonia dipped animals is just not that healthy.

Then I talk about kindness. Animals that are commercially raised are not raised with kindness. There are many places you can travel in this country and pass by feed lots were cows are standing on gigantic mountains of manure. Those sprinklers you’ve seen are not there to “cool off the cows,” they are there to keep that mountain of manure from spontaneously combusting. Ever seen a mountain of cow crap catch fire? I have. Chickens have to have their beaks cut so they don’t peck each other to death in close quarters. Smaller animals are expendable and larger animals are kept alive even when they are half dead in order to get a return on the rancher’s money. The way the animals are slaughtered is also not kind. Even though people like Temple Grandin have worked to make the process less stressful for animals, there is a fair amount of animals that go through the slaughter process before they are fully dead. There is an allowable margin of error that runs around 5%, which says not every animal is going to be fully dead before it’s processed. That’s 5 out of every 100 cows. That’s a lot of cows if McDonald’s is serving a billion burgers every year. That’s a lot of animal torture. I’m not OK with that.

Then we run into the environmental issues. Mountains of antibiotic filled manure means poisoned water supplies. Over grazing strips the land. And have you ever passed a chicken house or a pig farm? The small travels for miles.

I won’t go on. there are whole book dedicated to the above arguments and they are written by people who have done far more research than me. As I really started to explore my feelings about meat I realized,  none of my arguments involve the feeling that eating animals is in and of itself inherently wrong. I know, PETA disagrees. And I likewise disagree with PETA. Humans are on the whole omnivores and that’s OK. I’m alright with people who eat meat, even though I choose not to. I’m not alright with how most meat is raised. So how do I make peace with all of this? I convince my husband we should buy 36 acres and raise some meat animals. We raise the animals in a responsible way that stewards the land and makes it healthier, stewards the animals and makes them healthier and makes the people who are involved with the farm healthier.

I’m developing a philosophy about raising meat animals. There are many questions I have yet to answer for myself like, is organic really the answer for meat animals? I don’t know. And of course the biggest question everyone has been asking is will I eat the meat I raise? Again, I don’t know.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by husband on December 24, 2010 at 08:52

    Well I know coercion, intimidation or begging doesn’t work. Besides the smell of cooking flesh the best way to encourage you to try all you grow is to tell you “you can’t”.

    After that we are gonna try beets.


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