In which I reply to Suzette about being an omnivore with a soft-spot for vegan recipes.
So, Suzette. Eating meat while loving a good vegan recipe. It’s a big topic for this small space, but let’s give it a go. Here’s the way I see it. A person can go one of two ways with minimal hypocrisy food-wise: responsible omnivorism and veganism. Why not just be a vegetarian with a side of smug self-satisfaction? Strap in and try to hear what I’m about to say.
Let’s start with the ugly truth of dairy and egg production:
- The animals that create these products don’t produce these food products forever. When they are no longer laying eggs or giving milk, they aren’t put out to pasture with a pat on the ass and a hearty Thank You For Your Service. Farms do not continue to feed cows and chickens during their remaining years out of gratitude. There is no retirement cow pasture or chicken coop. These animals are butchered and sold as beef and poultry products and by-products.
- Dairy cows must give birth in order to begin and to maintain a milk supply. By doing this, they also conveniently generate new heifers (females) for eventual dairy production. Since cows produce male and female offspring at roughly a 50:50 ratio, half of the calves produced will be bull-calves (males). That’s basic biology. Those calves, having no useful purpose on a dairy farm will either be immobilized for veal (a truly deplorable practice) or raised as beef. Therefore if you eat eggs and dairy products, you personally contribute to — as you put it — the murder of innocent animals. I’m going to be blunt: I think you already know this. You might ignore it because it makes you feel better, but you know it.
- Leather comes from the hide of animals – primarily cattle. The hides of retired dairy cows, beef cattle, and veal (e.g., silky calf-skin gloves) become the leather that we use on a daily basis. I’m always surprised by the number of ardent vegetarians who have no qualms about buying and using leather shoes, boots, belts, briefcases, saddles, gloves, wallets, purses, chairs, car seats, and etc., and yet are bold enough to lecture others about meat consumption. If you wear or use leather products, you’re participating in the death of animals for human consumption.
So, is veganism the best way to show our love and appreciation for animals around the world? Should we make that an international goal? You bet, unless:
- You also value diversity in the animal kingdom and the continuation of most domesticated animal species. With no market for animal products, the 250 distinct breeds of cows worldwide would largely disappear. The same for the more than 500 breeds of chickens. Without a financial motive to raise, feed and care for them, most farm animal breeds would quickly wither away. Piglets are cute when they’re small, but they grow up big and powerful and require a prodigious amount of food to maintain. For convenience, I’ll ignore all other farmed animals such as rabbits, goats, bees, spiders, and sheep (if honey, silk, and wool harvesting was also abandoned).
- You believe we should attempt to limit or reduce our dependence on oil, both foreign and domestic. Without the use of leather, wool and silk for durable goods and clothing, we will be wearing and using even more products made from petroleum and coal derivatives than we already are. And that’s not considering the huge variety of items that currently use some type of animal by-product in their production. E.g., beer, condoms, bagels. Sure we can get 100% non-animal and non-oil/coal work-arounds for some things — wood, rayon, linen, cotton, hemp — but not everything.
- You’re concerned about the increasingly large monocultures of thirsty corn, soybeans and wheat that is blowing away the topsoil, draining the aquifers and polluting waterways with ever-increasing amounts of pesticides and fertilizers.
- You’re ready to relocate and financially support the thousands of people worldwide who currently live in areas that aren’t amenable to significant crop farming and rely on locally raised animals for sustenance.
- You’ve found a solution for people that don’t properly digest many grains and therefore find it near impossible to get complete proteins without meat or eggs.
Am I suggesting that meat-eating is without harm or blame? Of course not. The current state of typical dairy, egg, and meat production in the North America and Western Europe is often horrific, barbaric, and I don’t want anything to do with it. So what’s the solution? Well, here’s what Jeff and I do:
- We make the effort to think about what we’re eating, how much of it, and why.
- We research local food production options and purchase from farmers and companies we know something about and feel we can trust.
- We pay more. Treating animals well and caring for them as creatures worthy of respect isn’t cheap. The increased expense reduces our meat consumption in a natural way and makes us more cognizant of the choices that we make.
- We buy eggs, chicken and vegetables from a local farm cooperative where the chickens are allowed to run free, play in the dirt, eat bugs, etc. The chickens are butchered individually with care and gratitude.
- We order grass-fed beef from a local farm that allows their cattle to roam across many lush acres and has a relationship with a local butcher they trust and respect.
- We buy pork from a farmer with similar values and views regarding animal care at the local weekend market during the summer.
- Dairy is a particularly sticky issue at the moment, so we look for companies that label their products as having raised their animals in a way we can support. I’ll continue to look for local providers whose farms I can visit in person.
In short, my ultimate goal is to only eat meat, eggs & dairy from animals that only have had just one bad day in a life that was quite well-lived.
Does everyone have the flexibility to make the choices we do? No, and I know that. That’s why I supported legislation to allow people receiving food assistance to use their vouchers at the weekend farmers’ market. That’s why I always vote against the expansion of large-scale animal operations and mass butchering facilities and for legislation that makes them more accountable and ethical. That’s why I visit the farms that I buy from, unannounced and more than once.
This, Suzette, is why I make an effort to include a large number of vegan dishes in my weekly menu planning. Traditional vegetarianism while using mass produced (CAFO) eggs and dairy seems to me a convenient way to hide the role that we play in animals being raised cruelly. I’d much rather eat an omnivorous diet that I can be honest with myself about, interlaced with a large number of plant-based meals.