Thank you for being so incredibly tasty. I’m truly sorry (what does it mean to be truly sorry, anyway?) that you had to (well, YOU didn’t have to, I guess) die to put meat on my plate. Thank you for being oblivious enough to the lethal intent of humans that you failed to hide from them all. I’m also sorry that apparently your mom witnessed your death, as did your twin brother. I heard that she’s running around with a broken leg right now but seems healthy otherwise, still eating and all. Shay, who shot you, said he recognized her by the bald spot on her rump, plus your brother was with her. And the other night we fed three people on your backstrap, which was cooked medium rare and covered in portabellas and onions sautéed in butter and deglazed in red wine.
The months I spent in the Red River Gorge this year doing canopy tour construction meant a good bit of time around deer. Every day we were out in the woods, rain or shine or sleet or snow, and often young deer would wander up to my crew to check us out. A woman who lives nearby takes in hurt or orphaned deer, meaning they become accustomed to humans being a source of food and scratching. This also means when they wander off the property, and thus off of “wildlife preserve” space, they are easy targets. Sad. I still can’t imagine killing an animal myself unless I’m in dire straits. I think of a lot of you meat eaters feel the same way, and I’m not saying that attitude is or isn’t okay, but it’s just reality.
Being an animal-loving meat eater is difficult (poor us, right?) because you can feel hypocritical a lot of the time. I kill other animals to feed my cat (though to be fair, his meat comes from the King Family Farm in Ohio, and is happy chicken offal that most of us probably wouldn’t eat, anyway, but he loves it). I will go far out of my way to help a dog or cat or hell, even a cow or pig or chicken, who is in pain or lost or separated from its owner/protector. I do this because I believe that no animal should suffer. Nothing that can feel pain should be made to feel it if at all possible. And here’s where it gets complicated. Even the tiny fraction of food animals that come from farms that care to ensure that their charges are healthy and comfortable still have to have their animals slaughtered, and this is where it can get ugly. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals last year and it made an impression, and a pretty nauseating one at times. Foer is a vegan whose wife was pregnant and who wanted to know if he could conscionably raise his future kid as vegan, so he went out to make his research (not “do” because he went out on the front lines, finding activists who would help him sneak/break into massive factory farms that have a policy of NO OUTSIDERS (warning sign #1). He learned that even those farms who care about happy animals still have to have their animals slaughtered in inhumane ways, because the more humane mobile killing units (that bring a trailer to your property and take the animals in there for the process) are fewer and farther between because they can’t afford to stay in business.
Foer tells us that about ten percent of pigs are assumed lost from the beginning because they are so consistently terrified that they drop dead before they can go to slaughter. Another ten percent is written off because the pigs that almost drop dead, but just make it long enough to be loaded in the truck and shipped out, have such intense and sustained adrenaline surges that their muscles turn into inedible mush.
Sounds a little incredible, right? Well, two days after I read that I was digging through my fridge and I saw a big grocery store-labeled pork loin. I asked my boyfriend where it had come from, because he and I hardly ever buy meat, and when we do it’s from sources we trust, and he surprised me by saying that he had bought it for the ten guy friends of his who had crashed at my house the previous weekend to go to our local climbing festival. The weekend had been so full he’d never gotten around to cooking it.
Well, I said, we better cook it or it will go to waste. As far as I’m concerned that’s one of the ultimate sins – meat thrown away and an animal dead for no reason. So I called up a couple of our buddies and invited them over for a pork dinner that night. And it was really good. So good, in fact, that I went back for seconds. I sat back down on the porch swing, took my first bite, chewed it, furrowed my eyebrows, swallowed, and looked down at my plate. There was something wrong with this pig. I smelled it, and it had a fragrance faintly reminiscent of blue cheese. But that wasn’t the most disturbing part. The consistency of this meat was like paté, soft, and um…mushy. Oh, no. This was the very thing I’d read about. I had just ingested the meat of a tortured animal, who lived a life in fear and no doubt died in pain. And now, not only was I a part of that hellish cycle, that sad energy was now going to play a role in shaping my cells. The first part of the loin we’d cut into was normal, but an entire third to a half of it was not at all normal.
I feel like when I tell people that the energy of the meat that goes in your body is important, that they think I sound like a hyper-spiritual hippie, that the bad juju of factory farming will somehow curse my body and my offspring for seven generations. But here’s what I mean. The emotions animals have, just like the ones we have, cause chemicals to be released. These chemicals cause real physiological changes. For example, the release of adrenaline triggers the fight or flight response by causing particular blood vessels to constrict and other ones to open in order to facilitate survival (an interesting side effect: ever get scared and have to poop? – adrenaline causes smooth muscles to contract, meaning your body wants to drop the poop in order to lighten the load and even potentially distract a predator) (so maybe a good cure for constipation – besides more fiber, of course – is a quality scare). If a constant onslaught of adrenaline can cause muscle to eventually turn to mush, imagine what other chemical damage is going on that we don’t even know about.
Also makes you wonder what four cups of coffee and its resulting adrenaline surge could do to you after a couple of decades, right? Not to mention what kind of damage consistently taxing your adrenals can do…anyway, sounds like a good subject for another day.
So, though I wasn’t really intending to go in this direction when I started writing today, here we are. I believe there are a lot of us who can’t really do all that well without meat. Sure, there are some people who do just fine, but everyone is different. I tend to develop muscle easily, and I crave meat. I feel like a million bucks after a plate of sashimi. Not so much after a plate of pasta (particularly once I realized that I needed to go gluten-free). One of my favorite references is Sally Fallon’s incredible cookbook Nourishing Traditions, which bases all its premises about what’s best for human development on the studies of a dentist who traveled the world studying bone structure and tooth decay in isolated cultures. These isolated cultures, who were deprived of the brilliance of processed foods, had no cavities, wide faces, straight teeth, and easy births. Their diets were composed of meat and organs from healthy animals, oily fish, full-fat unprocessed dairy, and fermented foods, and were high in saturated fats. Without fail, as soon as processed foods and vegetable oils were introduced into a populace, bone structure in the following generations seemed to literally cave in. The most obvious sign of this was a narrow palate (the space between your upper teeth) resulting in teeth that were crowded. What does this really mean? It means that the rest of the body fails to fully develop, too. Hips are narrower, meaning more difficult births. Skulls are smaller, meaning less room for developing brains. All internal organs have less room to grow.
It came as a relief to me that a lot of the foods I already ate were on the good list, like salmon and sardines, eggs and saturated fats from healthy animals. However, there were plenty on the bad list. Not only that, I’d been missing out on all of the incredible benefits of eating fermented foods, which make your digestive system super-functional and capable of absorbing all of the good stuff you need from food, and soaked grains and legumes, which are FAR easier for your body to take advantage of.
So, though I’m an animal lover, I come first, and so do any potential offspring I might have in the future. I want to be sure that I’m shaping myself into the best person I can be with whatever resources I have (and I still have a long way to go, for sure), and that I give every potential opportunity possible to my children. I don’t want kids with shrunken heads and puny brains. I also want to make sure that the animals I eat have gone through as minimal an amount of suffering as possible, because when I eat them or what they produce, I become them. I get the majority of my protein from eggs, and after that, sardines (yep, I love them). I eat a lot of beans, soaked overnight, and lots and lots of vegetables. I try to eat kim chee and miso and drink kombucha and kefir whenever I can. I take fish oil that’s certified PCB-free. If I eat meat, it comes from the local farmer’s market, or local shops that stock meat from local farms, or, like deer, it comes from the wild, or I buy it from local restaurants who promise that they source local meat.
So, as long-winded as this post may be, I know it’s just scratching the surface. Let me know where you stand.