Monday, October 15, 2012

Eating Mercifully in practice

A few months back I wrote a post about eating--more specifically about the creatures that provide us with meat, how they are treated, and why we should care. I think it's safe to say the average American consumer today is totally disconnected from the process that brings him food: we simply go to the store and bring home some meat. In this system, animals are really nothing more than a commodity, there to meet our demand for 99¢ hamburgers or discount chicken. The problem with this is that animals are not a commodity; they're creatures, just like we are (Job 40:15). They were fashioned by the Creator who called them "good" (Gen 1:20-25) and whom they worship in their own ways (Ps 96:11-13; 98:7; 148:7-12). Christians ought to acknowledge and reflect this truth in the way we relate to animals, especially the animals we eat. This isn't an issue of animal rights; they have none, and so it is entirely up to us to exercise our power over them in appropriate, merciful ways.

[The video from the Humane Society of the United States that inspired the first post, "Eating Mercifully," can be viewed in full on their website here.]

But how do we 'eat mercifully'? How can we practice being more gracious and grateful eaters--doing right by these fellow creatures that sacrifice their lives to sustain us?
These are questions I hoped you might come away from the first post considering. Now I want to offer a few suggestions. Emily and I are still new to all of this ourselves. But, we have learned a few things in the months since we started thinking seriously about what kind of food products we wanted to consume, and what follows are four of the most basic and most important things that we've learned along the way.

1) Go to the farmer's market. Almost every community has one, and this is a fantastic way to making sweeping changes to your patterns of consumption. At farmer's markets you get to support local farmers, you have access to meat from animals that lived in more natural settings--away from the oppressive mechanization, apathy, and terror of the factory farming system--and you can learn about your food, how the animals lived and were treated, straight from the people who raised these creatures and cared for them. The advantages are enormous. You can also find eggs and dairy products at the farmer's market, again, with knowledge of the source, instead of the milk that comes from who-knows-where and only God knows what animals that we find in stores.
Make no mistake: the food will be more expensive. Sometimes the difference won't be as much as you expected; sometimes it will be substantial. That's unavoidable if you want to get meat or eggs from chickens that don't live short and painful lives in a space too cramped for moving, standing (if they can stand at all) on trembling legs that were not designed to hold the growth-hormone fueled bulk of their bodies. That's the reality for most chickens we eat. The extra expense is unavoidable if you want to be a more gracious consumer and avoid these kinds of situations.

2) But you don't always have to go to the farmer's market to get more conscientious meat or dairy products. Certain chain stores will also carry some local products. The most obvious example is Whole Foods, though not every community has access to a Whole Foods. That's fine. The local Kroger in Durham, NC carried glass bottles of milk from local dairy farms, the same stuff you get from Whole Foods (not to mention the local strawberries, honey, and all sorts of other things). Check your normal grocercy stores; find out what they have. You may have more choices than you realize.
And local is hardly your only option! There are all sorts of meat companies that are concerned about their animals' well-being and can be found at stores around the country. Dakota Beef is available at Targets and Harris Teeter stores in several states. One of the gems that has turned up at our local Walmart in Natchez, MS is Promised Land milk, that comes from free-ranging Jersey cows. Again, this stuff is more expensive--the milk will usually cost twice as much as the Walmart brand--but that just comes with the territory.

3) A number of meat companies have begun to provide convenient information on the sources of their products. Dakota Beef is a good example: their website has information on the standards for their cattle and the ranches they live on. Other companies go further. Applegate Farms features "Barn Codes" on their meat products which you can enter online and will take you to a video about the source of the meat you purchased. (And you can order Applegate products directly from the company online!)
Opportunities for informed shopping are becoming more and more common. Take advantage of them!

4) The most important practice for eating more graciously that we have learned is also the simplest: reduce the amount of meat that you're eating. Americans eat more meat than we need. On average, we each eat 75 additional pounds of meat a year now compared to 40 years ago--that's about an extra pound and a half a week. It's just unnecessary.
Reducing the amount of meat you're consuming will also help off-set the price of buying the more expensive, more conscientiously produced meat and dairy products. Of course you'll still end up spending more every week on groceries, buying whatever it is that will replace the excess meat you're consuming now, but no one said eating mercifully would mean eating cheaply. Not that these changes have to be expensive! You can get a complete protein from eating beans and rice, and these are two of the cheapest things you can get at the store. And I speak from experience when I say that, with some extra seasoning, red beans and rice is none the worse without sausage.

These four points are only a handful of the things we have learned in the last few months. But rather than going on and on about our own discoveries, I thought I'd leave you with an article from the Huffington Post Emily and I have found extremely helpful: "Avoiding Factory Farm Food: An Eater's Guide." It's a couple of years old now, but this piece is still chock-full of tips, wisdom, and good information. Check it out!

1 comment:

Emily said...

I don't have any particularly insightful points to make, but I had a thought and figured I might as well make a brief comment out of it.

When I was (re)reading the part about reducing meat eaten, I did a little math. We eat an average of 1.5 lbs of meat a week--together. The statistic you have about "75 additional pounds of meat a year"... you and I, combined, only eat 75 pounds a year. (Obviously this wouldn't included occassional eating out.)

This isn't to flout some sort of self-righteous "look how little meat we eat!" flag..but because I just realized how it doesn't even feel like we eat "meat light." Lasagna doesn't lose anything in using half a pound of beef rather than a pound, and I don't need to eat a whole (industrial-sized)chicken breast in one sitting anyway, y'know?

Anyway.. I was just musing about that. Hadn't thought of it before.