Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Carnivore



Vegetarians are weird. Vegans are even worse. All those earthy tones they wear with their socially active bumper stickers. Hippies. People weren’t meant to eat like that. My daughter would prefer to not eat meat...she could subsist on noodles alone. But because we’re teaching her that it’s sinful to not eat meat, we withhold things like cookies and love if she doesn’t eat her steak. We’re gonna learn her good. My son is different. He’s a good carnivore through and through. A steak and potatoes boy with shovels for hands. Seriously...you should watch this kid put it away. It’s amazing. I have lived my entire life subscribing to the belief that meat is a necessary, desirable and sizable part of my diet. After all...why did God create cows if He didn’t want us to cram them shoulder-to-shoulder in a feedlot while they wait to be shot in the head, skinned and have their muscles shredded and chopped into small pieces. Right?

I heard this week that in the 1960’s, the average American family ate meat (of any kind...beef, fish, poultry...whatever) twice a week. Two times. Out of every 21 meals. Most Americans today eat it about twice a day. Meat used to be expensive. When cattle and chickens were raised in pastures on grass, eating the way that they were biologically designed to eat, it was expensive to produce meat. It took a lot more space to raise the animals, and they were a lot leaner (smaller) when it came time to slaughter them. This resulted in significantly higher prices for meat, so it was reserved for Sunday dinners and other special occasions. When the food revolution began, some smart person somewhere realized that we could force these animals to eat a corn diet if we pumped them full of antibiotics to offset their digestive system’s natural rebellion. Corn was a lot cheaper than grass and clover. Then we learned that if we actually cram thousands of these animals into one small place, the feeding and growing became a lot more efficient and required much less space. All this continued making it cheap to produce meat. Finally, we figured out that by genetically engineering different species and using growth hormones, we could get a lot more meat off of each animal, driving costs down even more. And that, more or less, is how we came to eat meat twice a day.

I’m not even going to discuss the ethical implications for how we’re treating these animals raised for meat (though I think there are a lot of them). Nevermind...yes I am. That’s messed up. Watch any one of the dozen or so documentaries out there on our food system, and you’ll get to see how these animals are raised and it will make you want to slap a greenpeace sticker on your car and become a vegetarian. In addition to the stress and torment that these animals are subjected to, there are health implications too.  For example, a feedlot raised steak has about 9g of saturated fat while a pasture raised, grass fed and finished steak has less than 2. The protein content is higher in the grass steak too, as are several other vitamins and nutrients. And it tastes better (subjective, I know).

I have a friend who is from Kenya and we talk about food a lot. Incidentally, I have never seen any human being go after any type of food with the ferocity that he goes after my wife’s lasagna. Like a dog on a bone. He was telling me the other day that when they have feasts and celebrations (birthdays, holidays, etc.) they will sometimes slaughter a chicken or a goat. It’s a special occasion when meat is on the menu. For something really special, like a wedding, sometimes families that can afford it will slaughter a cow for the feast, but it is a rarity. I couldn’t relate.

Here’s the upshot...if animals were raised the way that they were designed to be raised, the meat produced would be healthier and significantly more expensive. The increased cost would drive our culture back to eating meat a few times a week instead of virtually every day. We would all be better for it, as would the animals.

We’re having company over for dinner tonight. My wife wanted to make chicken. We decided to get locally raised, free-range chicken breasts. It cost us $16. That same amount of chicken at Meijer would have cost about $5. This last fall, we got our hands on a chest freezer and bought 1/4 cow (about 90 lbs of meat) from a local farmer who raises his small herd of cows on grass. We now have all the beef we’ll need for the next 6 months (FYI...if you’re able to do it this way and buy in bulk, getting the good stuff doesn’t cost any more than buying it at the store). I recognize that these are small steps, but I like the direction that we’re headed. It feels right that meat is costly. After all, some living thing had to give up it’s life for my dinner. That shouldn’t come cheap.

Off to apologize to all my vegetarian friends...

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