Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Ethics of Meat

Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Pescetarian, flexitarian or omnivore? Don’t even get me started on meatatarians. Maybe you’ve gone paleo?

When it comes to food politics, the divisions can be just as contentious as regular politics. And we all know how that is these days.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading an exchange on a local Facebook page devoted to sustainable food issues. Someone posted information regarding an event where pork was being served. Someone responded with a passionate denunciation of the event because of the presence of meat and advocated for strictly vegetarian events.

While I understand passions run high when discussing such matters, what struck me was the tone of the conversation. The person who posted the event was very diplomatic in pointing out this was a forum for all sorts of sustainable food issues – vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. The anti-meat person was basically shouting down anyone who disagreed.

I'm not suggesting that all vegetarians are zealots with poor communication skills, but it did make me reflect on my own journey with food choices.

Almost ten years ago, I started changing my food-purchasing habits. Thanks to an increase in local sources of humanely raised meat and poultry, my shopping options were more diverse.

At the same time, I was reading more and more about the horrific conditions in major meat and poultry farms and processors. Finally I made the decision not to participate in supporting that system.

Occasionally I’m in a position where I need to eat food of unknown or unsustainable origin. That’s part of life. Unless you’re growing and foraging all your food, you’re most likely eating something that exploits animals, people, or land.

When it comes to meat, I’d be most comfortable eating abundant game animals like deer, which desperately need to be culled. But due to local regulations prohibiting the sale of venison and my lack of friends who hunt, that’s not an option. So, I buy all the meat, poultry, and seafood we eat from the best sources I can find – usually local, small farms and fisheries.

All that being said, I still struggle with the ethics of eating meat, especially farmed meat. Some day I may decide to stop.

But what I will never do is lecture other people about their choices.

If you’d like to ask me about my decisions or have an intelligent conversation about your food politics, I’d be happy to engage you. I welcome the opportunity to hear different perspectives and consider alternate points of view.

This is what gives the sustainable food movement the opportunity to make real changes in our food system. By involving vegans, farmers, meat processors, fishermen (and fisherwomen), and people of all eating persuasions, we can move common concerns into the mainstream while having respectful conversations about our individual concerns.

And conversely, scolding people rarely accomplishes anything. So let's keep the conversations civil.

The same goes for politics.

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