Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Ethics of Eating Meat

One of the things I've been noticing this month is that by not going out to restaurants as often, I'm also eating less meat.

I don't cook very much meat. In fact, I probably cook 1-2 lbs of meat, if that, every month. That's it. This is a hold out from my vegetarian days. I was a vegetarian for four years, and even when I stopped, cooking meat still freaked me out. Besides that, on the rare occasion I cook, I usually choose to make the foods I grew up on: daals, sabzis, etc. As a result, most of the dishes I cook are vegetarian. By contrast, when I eat out, anything goes. And because most menus feature a considerable amount of meat, meat it usually is.

Thus, lately, I've started to worry that along with my bad restaurant habit, I've developed a bad meat habit. Growing up, my family ate meat, but given that we are Indians, meat was never a daily presence at the dining table. When I was 15, I gave up red meat, mostly for health reasons. When I entered college, I ended up giving up all meat for reasons I was never able to fully articulate to myself. I think part of it was that I didn't enjoy eating meat at the time. And part of it, honestly, was because being a vegetarian gave me a sense of identity. As an eighteen year old trying to negotiate college life in the Midwest, I think it was very important to me to be able to label "who I was." But it didn't last. By the time I turned 22, I had decided that my reasons for being vegetarian were pointless and arbitrary (which they kind of were.) And so I decided to start eating meat again, except for beef which my ever-vague association with Hinduism forbade. At 24, I decided that because I'm not really religious, I might as well eat beef. So now, I eat everything, though I still eat very little pork and beef, and mostly eat chicken, turkey, fish, and now bison.

Interestingly, it's only now, as a little eco-freak, that I have real reasons for laying off the meat. But by this point, I've developed a taste for the good stuff. I don't want to give up sushi or Korean barbecue, or bison burgers. But more and more, I'm starting to question if my eating meat is particularly ethical.

Michael Pollan makes good arguments for eating meat in The Omnivore's Dilemma, and for a while, I clung to his arguments. To briefly summarize, Pollan argues that vegetarians who eschew eating meat because they care for animals are putting a pig's interest ahead of Pig's interest. Meaning, that by eating domesticated animals, we, ironically, ensure the species survival. And indeed, demand for bison meat has enabled American ranchers to grow the bison population to the point where bison will probably never be endangered again. This argument makes good sense.

Except that, the truth is, while I care about animals to a certain extent, I don't care about animals more than I care about humans. My priority is always people first, then other species. I am aware that it's a selfish belief system, but, there it is. Given this, it follows that I should lay aside the questions of pig or Pig and instead focus on the questions of man and woman.

Is meat consumption good for other human beings, particularly those in the third world? Not really. Raj Patel writes on his blog, Stuffed and Starved, "The amount of grains fed to US livestock would be enough to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet. The number of food-insecure people in the world in 2006 was, incidentally, 854 million."

Now, I know that the problems with food insecurity have more to do with distribution than production. I know that even if everyone in America suddenly became a vegetarian, that doesn't mean that hunger would be eradicated. But it gives us perspective, doesn't it? We Americans may feel like we have a "right" to meat, but don't those food-insecure people have more right to food, period?

Michael Pollan's other argument was that in certain areas of the country, the land really wasn't suited for vegetable growing, and thus, meat eating WAS the most energy efficient use of the land. While that might be a fair argument in New England, it really doesn't hold water here in fertile California. Just because SOME people's land is best suited to animal raising, doesn't mean that we all should get a free pass, meat wise. In that case, it seems that, yes, meat eating should be acceptable in areas where meat is pretty much all that's available, or where meat eating is energy efficient. But in areas where the land is perfectly suited for vegetation, we have no excuse.

And yet, even with all those arguments in favor of vegetarianism, I can't bring myself to abjure completely. Why is it so hard to give up? Raj Patel hypothesizes that societal taboos against vegetarianism (i.e. the belief that "real men" eat meat) make giving up meat more difficult.

But, I'm a woman, an Indian, an environmentalist, AND a Californian, for crying out loud. Plenty of people already assume I must be a vegetarian. Besides, if I could buck society as an 18 year old in the Midwest, surely I could buck society now.

Alas, I can only admit that I enjoy meat too much. I'm also, strangely, much healthier now that I eat some meat. My cholesterol is lower, and I weigh less than I used to. So, for the time being, I plan to continue my omnivorous ways, but I intend to watch my meat consumption much more carefully than I have been. Because, I believe in good things in moderation. And I think, for me, eating a little meat here or there, is defensible. But meat should be seen more as a privilege and treat, and less of a right or daily rite.

34 comments:

knutty knitter said...

All these things happened to me along the way too but I was raised in a farming community that relied on the sale of meat and wool for its existence. Animals are really the only reliable things that can be farmed in our area as most veges just don't flourish well but grass and lucerne do. All our animals were raised on grass and hay as grain was mostly too expensive and not generally available, so I have decided that perhaps all meat is not so bad. (I had to look up what everyone was talking about because factory grown meat is rather alien here.)

I think if your food is produced in an ethical and natural way all should be well. .that goes for veges, fruit, grains and meat.

viv in nz

Claire said...

Great post. I find myself in a similar position. I feel better for eating a little meat, but don't eat much of it at all. Interesting read, and I've been hearing a lot about that Pollan book.

Cxx

Burbanmom said...

Nicely said, Arduous. All things in moderation, right? Why is that such a difficult concept for us Westerners to get?

Hollywood ideals? Media? Personal Insecurities?

I dunno. But if we could all just stick to that credo, it would improve the health of our bodies, our minds and our planet.

Heather @ SGF said...

I was a veggie on a off for years - mostly because, at least in general, I don't really like the tastes of most meats. I have to cover it in sauce to make it palatable. After I read Pollan's OD, I went all veggie again but recently found some local, well cared for, grass fed beef sausage. I tucked some in the freezer for soups, etc. I think the key here, as in all things, is being mindful and as burbanmom says, all things in moderation. Eat it, but make your choice based on an awareness of how your consumption affects the world around you.

abbie said...

I've wrestled with the same thoughts. The conclusion that I've come to is that I will eat meat, and by doing so, I will vote with my dollars for sustainable, humane, antibiotic and hormone free practices. If I were to go vegetarian, I would not be able to support what I believe in (theoretically, at least, because I know my husband would still eat meat).
I am always OK with eating wild- fish that we caught or deer, caribou or moose that my husband hunted.
My in laws are getting some pigs to raise for meat, and one will be ours, so I'm excited about that because I know they'll be well-cared for.
In an ideal world, I would raise all of my own animals for meat. But that's just not possible.
But then again, I grew up on a farm, so my view is very different from a majority of people. They can't comprehend eating an animal that was a pet. I'd prefer to eat an animal that I raised. That's hard to articulate, especially in a comment!

Joyce said...

I've never contemplated going vegetarian, but I do understand the argument that feeding grain to livestock means it's less available and more expensive for human consumption. But it appears to me that the people who don't have enough grain to eat are unlikely to be able to afford it, especially if it has to be shipped a long way. And, if everyone quit eating meat, a lot of grain farmers would go bankrupt. It certainly is a distribution problem! Having said that, I think the majority of the meat we eat should be from livstock that convert grain to meat most efficiently, meaning poultry. So if we were to eat meat say five times a week, and three of those times it was poultry, we could change the equation gradually. Does that make sense? The other thing to do is eat smaller quantities per serving. We've practiced this way of eating for years for budgetary reasons, so I may be making a virtue of necessity, but it makes sense to me, both for my family, and as a way to ease the strain for those less fortunate

eco 'burban mom said...

I beleive in the "everything in moderation diet". I grew up as part of a large farming family in the midwest where meat (ethically raised on our own farm) was part of every meal. That really wasn't how I wanted to eat, today I am just as happy with gnocchi and fresh tomato sauce as a meal or a nice steak on the grill with freshly dug potatoes and shelled peas. And the big secret? After college, kids and being in my 30's for awhile - I weigh what I did in high school. And yes, I eat butter, I eat meat, I eat veggies, fruit and cookies. Just not more than my fair share.

I feel that if every person make a conscious effort to choose ethically raised meats, organically farmed vegetables and watched their food waste, hunger would slowly start to subside. Of course, it's a small first step, but it's staggering the amount of food that is simply thrown away when many go hungry.

Melissa said...

this is a great post (it happens to reflect a lot of how we eat as well). I'd be interested to look more into the social taboos surrounding vegetarianism. I think a good question to constantly ask ourselves too is exactly what moderation means. For me, it started off meaning meat only once a day, (rather than at 2 or even 3 meals) and working to the point I'm at now, which is meat when we're in a restaurant, (maybe once a week, or a bit less) and me cooking it about once every 2 months. What's interesting is that my husband & his friends have all said when they were growing up in India, they ate meat about once a week (on the weekend) and that was the norm, because meat was too expensive to eat it more often. I think it's probably partly a function of confusing what we can afford in this country with what we should have / deserve. I wonder if there's a social stigma linking vegetarianism and lack of affluence?

Chile said...

Thank you, Arduous, for mentioning that the idea of eating meat to preserve domestic animal species and raising livestock on poor land came from Pollan. I haven't read that book and have wondered where those ideas came from. He's an influential writer evidently as many people have accepted that as gospel truth.

I'm glad to hear your restaurant ban is helping you become more introspective. ;-)

Green Bean said...

I am a lifelong vegetarian so I've never eaten meat. That said, my husband and boys eat it every now and then. If it comes from my kitchen it is pastured. Sometimes, though, my husband and more rarely the kids will order meat at a restaurant, some of which do not specialize in happy meat. Pick your battles, right?

As to me, I've tried to go vegan but it is just too dang hard for me. For the record, milk production is just as bad as beef in terms of environmental impact. I buy local, pastured milk and eggs and cheese but, yes, I do go get ice cream sometime or order something containing a dairy product at a restaurant.

It isn't hard at home, though, to put a little less cheese on the pizza, eat scrambled eggs less frequently. I think it is reasonable to (1) eat responsibly produced animal products at much as possible and (2) cut back a little on animal products.

Bobbi said...

Nice post! I only cook chicken and fish for my family with the rare exception of beef maybe once or twice a year. But I have tried to wean my hubby off his chicken to no avail. He doesn't want to be a vegetarian and he says he's already given up red meat, so I'll keep trying. I do, however, buy only organic, free-range chickens from a local farmer.

Rosa said...

I am really weirded out by cooking meat, too. I had gotten into the habit of doing it about once a week but, ew.

The cost of local, grass fed meat & butter has cut our consumption considerably. Which is good for us.

The thing about the restaurant habit is that only eating meat in restaurants means pretty much only eating CAFO meat, which is the opposite of what I'm trying to do.

p.s. one thing I have given up completely is squid & octopus. Which I *love*. But, one, there is absolutely no such thing as sustainable seafood in the midwest, and, two, I found out how smart octopus & squid are, and it totally freaked me out.

scifichick said...

I switched from supermarket meats to buying all my meat at the farm, so that it's grass-fed and pastured. I read "Real Food: What to Eat and Why" by Nina Planck and it made a lot of sense to me to switch but not to eliminate meat completely. And voting with my dollars also makes sense to me. I can't control what other people are doing, but at least I can try to be responsible myself. We don't eat much meat in any case. It's so expensive at the farm, that I try to make every little thing last. We only eat meat maybe couple of times a week for dinner.

Little Green Blogger said...

I am slowly transitioning my diet, not to vegetarian, but to ethically farmed meat only. So, only vegetarian in restaurants and only pastured meat. The result is that while I'm still eating meat, like you, I'm eating a lot fewer meals with meat in them. I think I would find it hard to give up meat completely, and moreover I don't really want to give up meat completely, but I do want to give up the industrial meat industry.

CAE said...

I hear you - I became a piscetarian (is that a real word, or just how my fish-but-no-meat-eating friend describes herself?) when I was 13 or 14, and would have given up fish too if my mum had let me! However I realised that I was doing it for the wrong reasons (i.e. because my then-best-friend did it) and started eating free range chicken and pork again a couple of years later. I was almost completely veggie through university, thanks to two of my flatmates, but started eating gradually more and more meat after that.

Now that I see the environmental impact of meat, I'm trying to cut back down again, but it's hard when you're married to a big burly carpenter who is not yet convinced that he doesn't need lots of meat! I try to cook at least one veggie meal a week (plus we eat fish at least once, usually twice a week and try to do so sustainably) and avoid meat at lunchtime. It's a start and I'm working on it. I even occasionally get the veggie option when eating out - I'm a sucker for portabello mushroom burgers!

arduous said...

Viv, yes I agree with you. Especially in areas where vegetable crops dont flourish well, eating meat makese sense. I wish I lived in a place where factory grown meat was alien, but alas!

Claire, thanks. I think moderation is the key here.

Burbs, everything in moderation is my mantra! I think moderation is a difficult concept for us for evolutionary reasons (I would suspect.) When you live in a food insecure and resource insecure world, you load up when you can. We're lucky to live in a world where food and resources are (for now) abundant, but we still seem to instinctively load up. Anyway, that would be my best guess.

Heather, I'm with you. Except for a few exceptions, I don't love the taste of meat so that's another reason to eat less of it!

Abbie, you make an excellent point. By eating humanely raised meat, we ARE voting with our dollars. And that is why I will continue to buy my grass-fed bison on occasion from the farmers' market.

Joyce, you make some excellent points, and I totally agree that this is more of a distribution problem than anything. Though, I don't think grain farmers would go bankrupt if people gradually tapered down meat eating, the danger would be if everyone stopped at once. The other thing to keep in mind is how much of that grain is now being tapped for biofuels. If the demand for corn for biofuels continues to increase, at least the grain farmers will be protected, but the food situation in the third world might well get worse.

EBM, I agree with you. Even if people ate one less meal with meat once a week, it would make a big difference. Moderation, moderation, moderation.

Melissa, great point. What does moderation mean? Obviously it means different things to different people. I've never been a red blooded meat eater that eats meat with every meal. In fact, I can go for days without eating meat by accident. But then I might cook a pound of meat with some veggies and stuff, and then I'll eat meat for four days straight (though in the end, I'll still only have eaten a pound of meat.) I think the point is to just be conscious of your meat consumption, and go from there.

Chile, well, that's certainly where I learned those arguments. I'm sure Pollan got them from someone else, but I can't remember who he cited in his book. You are right though, that Pollan is incredibly influential and the likelihood is that if you've heard these ideas from someone else recently, that person got them from Pollan.

GB, yeah, I think there are very good reasons to go vegan, but it's not something I'm ready to do. But you are right, we CAN simply eat less meat and meat products.

Bobbi, it's hard isn't it. We have to compromise with our family members. And hey, giving up red meat is huge!

Rosa, you are right. With few exceptions, eating restaurant meat means eating CAFO meat which is why my bad restaurant meat habit is doubly bad! There are a few restaurants that I know that do serve ethically raised meat though, and I hope more follow.

Scifichick, thanks for the book rec. I agree that voting with your dollars is pretty smart.

Little Green, like you I would like to completely give up CAFO meat. It hasn't quite happened. I have a penchant for those hole in the wall ethnic restaurants where no one speaks English, and it's hard to figure out what's even IN the dishes. I'm sure though that they just use whatever is the cheapest meat they can find i.e. CAFO meat. I don't eat at those places particularly often, but when I do, I like to be adventurous.

CAE, pescaterian is a real word, yes. It means that you only eat fish, and no other meat. It seems you've traversed the meat-eating/non-meat eating world as much as I have! Sounds like you're doing pretty well though, and you are right, portabella mushroom burgers ARE delicious!

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

I believe in full disclosure, and you may or may not know this, so before I continue on with my comment, I eat a vegan diet. I do out of environmental concerns, and do not expect anyone else to live the way I do. Now that you know my bias, I can move on with my comment.

I actually really relate with you, meat has always "freaked" me out a little, when I was still eating it, I didn't mind cooking it, but always wanted Brett to cut it up for me (I HATE touching meat). But the majority of our meat consumption came when we ate out. At home, we would have many vegetarian meals, and the ones that DID have meat, it was always a minimal amount. Something called for 1 lb of meat, we would use 1/4 lb. That kind of thing.

It's hard, even as an environmentalist, to look at your own diet and eating habits. They are just, so, I don't know, personal. At least for me, when I started learning about meat production and the environment, I felt a level of cognitive dissonance that was quite uncomfortable.

Whether it is ethical or not is all a matter of perspective and what "ethic" you are referring to. Factory farming is good for no one, not the animal, the farm worker, the environment, or the person consuming it. However, small amounts of meat, locally and humanely raised, to me, is not an issue.

My reasons for being eating a vegan diet are as follows: I am allergic to dairy, it makes me stuffy. And meat, well once I began to look at the environmental impacts, I vowed to cut back, we never liked me too much anyway. Then we basically stopped making it at home, only having it when we went out to eat, which isn't too often. Then, at some point I noticed it had been about 2-3 months since I had eaten meat, I didn't miss it, and I didn't want to get sick from eating it after having gone so long, so I just decided, hell, I guess I won't eat meat anymore, and thus, for a little over a year now I have been a veg.

Michael Pollan's works are wonderful. I agree with him too, places like Polyface farms, where animals are cared for properly, people SHOULD eat that meat, that is the type of animal husbandry we need to promote. And he is also right that many of the creatures we eat as food now wouldn't survive without us.

And I also agree, my ties are more to people than animals and Patel's book gives us good reason to not eat nearly as much meat as we are now - that land could be used to grow grain to feed people, that water could be used to irrigate crops, and so on. But as is noted in many books, animals are necessary, they provide vital resources (labor and poo), food (milk, eggs, etc), and even company. Goats will even cut your grass for you, chickens will eat your veggie scraps, they are vital.

I don't think you should feel bad about eating meat though, even as an environmentalist. If you are conscious about the meat you do consume, and how often you do so, you are doing well, and simply being conscious about these things is so important.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
djc said...

I know what daals are, but what are sabzis?

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

I meant "we never liked MEAT too much" not me :-)

Rosa said...

one other thing about grassfed meat and dairy - this is only about the Mississippi watershed, but I've lived most of my life in it, and it's *big*, so.

We *have* to slow erosion in the Midwest and we *have* to cut the amount of farm runoff and soil going out into the Gulf of Mexico. It's killing off all the oxygen-producing life there. The dead zone just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

CRP & WRP helps with that (though this year lots of CRP land is getting plowed because commodity prices are so high). Establishing riverside parks does that. But the one market mechanism for protecting the watershed is making grazing pay. We're not the arid West. We can grow a lot of grass and raise a lot of animals on it and build the soil at the same time.

I know it doesn't really apply to you, arduous, but my lil bro just called from Cedar Rapids, so I was thinking about the river.

arduous said...

Jennifer, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you. I think simply being conscious is an important first step. And, I kinda figured you were a vegan from your user name and blog. ;)

Djc, good question. Sabzis or sabjis basically just means "vegetables." Indians tend to have a lot of vegetable and lentil dishes in our cuisine, as many swathes of India are vegetarian (like my Dad's homeland of Gujarat) and because even in the meat eating areas, people are generally not wealthy enough to eat meat every day.

Rosa, good point. There are places where eating ethically raised meat is not only a good choice, but an important choice.

Jennifer said...

Hi Arduous, I am giving up pork, and trying to do way less meals with meat. Having a hard time with reducing dairy. I have three kids who slug the milk down (have to admit, I love a cold glass of milk, too). I'm also going to miss Mom's carnitas. It's all about gradual, baby steps for me. Any suggestions on reducing milk/dairy? I also hate those big, lugging plastic containers they come in, but milk in a glass bottle is tres expensive. Great post! Jen from Huntington Beach, CA!

Student Doctor Green said...

especially with the high cholesterol you mentioned the less meat you eat the better. Except for meat high in omega-3s like fish but then you have to worry about mercury levels. Ah, I love the American food supply.

Debbie said...

"And I think, for me, eating a little meat here or there, is defensible."

I think you've managed to rationalize it, not defend it. Your argument is basically "I don't do it much" and "I like it" and "some people say it's not so bad."

It's certainly your choice to make and I won't argue it further (though I do think you're wrong), but I really do think it's important to see it for what it is.

I don't really understand the argument "I care more about human beings" -- is it not possible to care about both animals and human beings? How does my being a vegan diminish my feelings for human beings? It doesn't really seem to me that there are conflicting interests there.

At least you are making an informed and, to your satisfaction, a reasoned choice, and that's better than most people do.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

:-) Sorry about being so obvious. Let me explain a bit, my "handle" used to be just "Jennifer". Well obviously there are a lot of Jennifer's out there and it was getting confusing. So I added the "(of Veg*n Cooking)" part very recently, I haven't got used to having it. When I read your response I started laughing, I didn't realize how redundant I was being. ;-)

arduous said...

Jennifer, I wish I had better advice, but honestly, I am not a huge fan of milk and ... it spoils too quickly for me. I tend to just buy soy milk to avoid the waste! Keep truckin, I have faith you'll figure it out!!

SDG, yeah that's why I try to avoid the beef and pork. Though the bison has as much omega-3 as salmon! Crazy, huh?!

Debbie, thanks for your comment. You're totally right. I didn't defend my meat eating. I actually didn't mean my post to be either rationalizing (I actually shot down Pollan's arguments) or defending, but more as a personal exploration. When I said it was defensible, I more meant, that I could defend it to myself. I didn't choose to actually defend it though, because I believe we all have to make these choices our own way, and that what's right for me may not be right for someone else.

As for whether it is possible to care about animals and humans, of course it is. All I was saying is that, I personally prioritize humans over animals. Meaning that, when I make my decisions, or when I determine my personal belief system, my first question is, how does this affect people? Again, it's just my personal belief system, and I certainly wouldn't argue that it's right or better or the only possibility. Absolutely, you can care about humans and animals.

arduous said...

Debbie, just to add, I guess I wasn't clear. You asked how your being a vegan diminishes your feelings for human beings, but I was actually arguing that Michael Pollan's "pig versus Pig" argument is concerned with the survival of domesticated species, and while that is important, my first question, according to my belief system, should be the welfare of human beings. So my argument was more that, from an animal species survival standpoint, Pollan's argument for eating meat makes sense. But from a humanitarian standpoint, eating meat makes less sense. Hope that clears up the confusion.

Debbie said...

I think I get it. A little "arguing amongst yourself out loud" perhaps?

We had an episode recently here in Iowa during the floods -- many of the pig farmers were able to evacuate their animals but some were abandoned anyway. At one particular location the pigs started swimming toward the sandbag levees that had been built. Instead of helping them, the local law enforcement officials began shooting them so they couldn't climb up on the levees and damage them, thus endangering -- something. (Property, I presume, but the implication was that it was endangering people's safety.) Most people around here are of the opinion that of course this was the right thing to do, those animals were only meat anyway. And insured. Even some vegetarians thought it was the right thing to do, after all it probably only shortened their lives by a few days or weeks. It broke my heart, though.

On the other hand, being shot in the head probably did save them the horror of ending up in a slaughter house, so who's to say this wasn't better for them?

Okay, this little story had really nothing to do with yours. Sorry. (But some of the pigs were rescued!)

arduous said...

Haha, exactly! A little arguing amongst my selves. That's an interesting story about the pigs ... I would assume that the pigs that got shot in the head weren't eaten? I think getting shot in the head is very likely more humane than industrial slaughterhouses, but it also seems tragic that the pig's lives were ended, and then didn't even provide nutrition for a person. I guess that would be the difference between meaningful and meaningless death, to me?

mollyjade said...

I actually went vegan for environmental reasons, too. It seemed like one of the easiest big changes I could make. (Public transportation in my town is horrible.) Like you, I started drinking soy milk even before I went vegetarian because cow milk just went bad too soon. And I never did the grass-fed,etc thing because, frankly, I'm too lazy. To do it properly I feel I'd have to visit farms and reseach farming techniques and all kinds of things. Since no one regulates this stuff very well, I can't jus trust the happy cow image on the package. To go vegan I just had to sit on my butt and read a bit about nutrition and cooking, things I was already interested in. It also seemed easier than explaining to friends and family why I could eat MY meat but not THEIRS.

arduous said...

Thanks for your perspective, Mollyjade. I agree with you. It is tricky the explaining why your meat is okay, but their meat is bad!!

green with a gun said...

That was an interesting read. My concerns about the use of animals are three: environment, social justice (food for everyone, as you wrote) and animal welfare.

In terms of animal welfare, I've written before that our current Western meat & fish consumption of 100+kg a year makes factory farming inevitable - there's just no other way to get us that much meat. So if you're concerned about animal welfare, eat less meat.

And in terms of the environment, we get the same thing. Mixed farms with several kinds of crops and several kinds of animals are more productive, and productive for centuries, than farms with just one kind of thing on them; and if we have the animals, sometimes we'll have more than the land can handle, and have to kill them - may as well eat 'em. But again that kind of mixed farm can't give us 100+kg of meat each a year.

It's easy to make similar arguments about fishing. Fish-farming doesn't get us out of it since about a third of all wild-caught fish are used as food for farmed fish, so we can't have fish-farming without overfishing the wild ones.

So I concluded that 0-20kg of meat and fish a year is about right, an amount that lets us have mixed farms which are sustainable, and which gives a decent life to animals. And coincidentally, that's about the amount doctors tell us we need for health - about half a pound, a quarter kilogram, weekly. And of course that makes perfect sense, that the proportion which works best for the Earth works best for our bodies, too.

That's the intellectual rationalisation bit, the ethics. The gut feeling is a bit different.

Over the last few years my woman and I have reduced our meat and fish consumption, in the first year it was 48kg each, in the second 24kg, in the third 18kg, in the fourth 12kg - maybe a bit less this time. I find I'm gradually losing my taste for meat. If I have a big chunk it doesn't settle well in my stomach, sometimes when cutting meat in bulk (I'm a chef, so I have to) I feel a slight revulsion.

I've not discussed this with my woman recently, but she might feel the same - when I've offered her meat meals spare from my catering, she's often refused.

It's a funny thing. I guess it's really about what you're accustomed to. We've changed our customs.

arduous said...

GWAG, thanks for your insightful comment. I think your philosophy is a good one. For myself, I hope that cutting down on meat will mean that I will eventually crave it less and less. I may never officially go back to being a vegetarian, but I think your guidelines of 0-20kg per year sound right.