Food for Thought: Beef with the meat industry

Almost every student subscribed to The New York Times has had at least one brief stint as an herbivore. One day you try General Gau’s tofu, and suddenly, you find yourself saying things like “living in touch with my values” and “exploring ethical veganism.” Every Meatless Monday is an ego boost and seasoned wedges are vegetarian — what’s not to love? Still,  vegetarianism isn’t suitable for everyone and can often be unsustainable among busy schedules and limited food options. While vegetarians spend on average $750 less per year on food, they pay the price of inconvenience and often less appetizing options. One study shows that over 84 percent of vegetarians return to eating meat, and another survey found that one third of vegetarians morph into carnivores while under the influence of alcohol.

Why? Simply put, tofu will never be a rotisserie chicken. Folks find themselves preaching sustainability and also craving a turducken, and thus begins the hunt for a happy medium that satisfies both.

The American relationship with meat is both complicated and oversimplified. Food, particularly meat, has a long history in American culture and media. It’s paired with sports, special occasions and family traditions to be a big part of the ‘Merican experience. While the United States is the second largest consumer of meat in the world, it is rare that the average U.S. citizen will see where their barbecue actually comes from. While we may worship the product, we often do not respect and appreciate the animals that allow for its availability.

The majority of households have pets in the United States, but at the same time, we lag far behind the United Kingdom in terms of protection laws for farm animals. Most people can agree that there’s nothing that makes you question whether you’re going to hell quite like accidentally stepping on your dog’s paw. This kind of treatment often prompts vegan/vegetarian activists to accuse pet parents of hypocrisy — how can we so easily dote on our pets but support commercial farming? Many take issue with this stance because eating meat is not inherently evil or wrong. You can respect animals and still use them for consumption. You can be grateful for what they give you without allowing them to curl up at the foot of your bed.

Part of that respect comes in awareness. When meat makes it to your plate, it has been washed, trimmed and disinfected.  There is no trace of slaughter or mistreatment and nothing that would indicate that both animals and workers might have been exploited in its production. In viewing our meat aesthetically, we see it only through a consumer’s lens. Factory farming is about creating the most of the tastiest product, and treatment of animals often gets lost in translation.

Humans don’t just have sharp teeth for kale. Meat consumption is normal and natural, but it’s tricky to balance with sustainability. To be a conscientious carnivore you can look into local farmers’ markets and essentially recreate the chicken sketch from the pilot episode of “Portlandia.” All of these options are, you guessed it, very expensive! What a shock! So you, eco-friendly reader, might find yourself backed into the same rabbit-food corner that encouraged you to seek moral hamburgers in the first place. Isn’t caring about the earth fun?