Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My Meat-Eating Crisis

I’ve never been a big meat-eater. When I was a little kid, I was moderately grossed out whenever we had a dinner that involved bones or skin. It took me quite a while to get comfortable cooking with meat, and I am still squeamish about handling raw meat if I think about it too much. I need psychological distance from my food; the less like an animal it looks, the better. For example, my all-time favorite meat source of protein are those big sea scallops. Besides being delicious, they just look like nice, neat abstract cylinders of protein. And one of my most dreadful meat memories is from my sophomore year in college when the slightly odd boyfriend of my slightly odd roommate cooked her dinner in our house and made some kind of tiny bird (quail? partridge? I can’t remember...) that he had killed himself while hunting. Seriously, it just looked like a tiny decapitated bird was sitting on each of their plates.

However, my first serious meat-eating crisis came when the U.S. had its first mad cow disease scare back in 1996. You remember, right? When Oprah said we should all stop eating beef and got sued? Sure, there was the scary degenerative neurological disease with no cure, but the biggest deterrent for me was the media coverage of cattle feed lots. The pictures and videos of even the healthy cows were pretty horrifying to me; they struck me as showing unhealthy and inhumane living conditions. I couldn’t quite face ground meat for quite a while after that, and don’t even show me any pictures of poultry farms...

Lately I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the environmental impact of eating meat. It makes perfect logical sense that it is less energy efficient to eat an animal that had to eat other agricultural products than to eat a plant-based diet yourself, and then there’s all the environmental havoc that our current system of factory farms wreaks. Then earlier this year, the Humane Society released that video of cruelty to cows in a California slaughterhouse. So now not only do we have to worry that the meat we eat might not be safe and is not environmentally responsible, but also that the cows themselves suffered unduly to get that cheap hamburger on my plate. I’ve been feeling pretty convinced about these issues surrounding what we as individuals eat and find myself averting my eyes from the giant packages of ground beef at Costco.

The thing is that I don’t think it is morally wrong to eat another animal. You see lots of examples of it within the animal world and I am ethically fine with a responsible, fair, respectful use of animals for meat. I am growing convinced that the meat I can buy at my local grocery store does not fill this description, though. Rob and I have decided to pretty much cut out meat from our home-cooking, just having it once in a while when we can afford to buy something good like the beef they sell at the farmers’ market down in New Haven.

In all honesty, it’s not a really big sacrifice for anybody in our house to mostly cut out meat. Rob was a vegetarian for several years during college and like him, I don’t miss meat when it’s not in a meal. And Grace certainly refuses to eat any meat! We like tofu and tempeh and beans and vegetables, and really I would prefer that on a daily basis. Probably I wouldn’t be thinking about these issues at all if Rob or I were serious meat-and-potatoes types who feel there MUST BE MEAT or it is not dinner. (I am sometimes troubled that the issues I spend time pondering are the ones where I am already practically convinced...) Because of our recent eating habits, I picked up this book and do highly recommend it. It’s a very thorough, comprehensive compendium and the recipes have a minimalist/easy but slightly sophisticated style that is a great match for how I like to cook. So far I’ve really enjoyed trying out some soups, stir-fries, quiche, and pizza dough. The introduction on how to think about the vegetarian table was helpful to me as well. On tonight’s menu? Ricotta and red pepper quiche. Mmmmm...

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