Quick Thoughts on Dietary Choices

It struck me as I was finishing up yesterday’s post on my recent bulk purchase of beef that somehow my post about being excited at getting a great deal on some fantastic, responsibly-raised beef somehow twisted itself into a lament about the paucity of meat-free dining choices at many eating establishments. Rather an odd conclusion, I thought, but that’s the direction my thought process took me.

I’m pretty sure that’s because I’ve been doing a lot of reading about our food choices and where our food comes from as of late, and I spent much of last summer making visits to small scale farms that do things properly. In case you’ve missed it, I’m opposed to the wholesale factory production of animals for slaughter, though I do enjoy eating meat in moderation. Therefore, I make every attempt to locate and purchase responsibly-raised meat and dairy options.

Because there is so much more meat (and dairy) produced in an irresponsible manner, the items I purchase sometimes cost more than the bulk of similar products on the market. I buy them for several reasons:

  • Environment: animals produced on a massive scale produce massive amounts of waste that go untreated into our water supply.
  • Health: though many sources state that there is no difference in quality between products from animals fed hormones and animals that are fed a natural diet, I don’t buy it. The hormones wind up somewhere—chances are in our bodies. Thus, there are documented reports of children undergoing pubescent changes while they’re still toddlers.
  • Taste: there is a definite taste difference between meat from animals that get to move around and that from animals penned in cages. There are two main reasons why this is so: the animals get to move their muscles, thereby excercising them and leading to a difference in texture and flavor; and the animals eat a natural diet. Beef from grain-fed cows has more marblization (intramuscular fat). This quality is rewarded by USDA grading standards, but is indicative that the animals have been artificially fattened through diet. I prefer the heartier flavor of beef that has eaten grass.
  • Justice: I’ve got no problem eating animals. It’s a natural thing to do. Same with dairy products… even if other species don’t drink milk into adulthood (as goes an argument I’ve heard against ingesting dairy), humans have evolved doing so and the presence of digestive enzymes to handle the dairy is evidence that it’s part of our natural diet. That having been said, abusing animals whose lives you will take for food is wrong. I have a hard time believing that anyone who has seen documentation of factory farms would support them, let alone own and run them.
  • Economy: It being a given that humans do and will eat meat and dairy, it is up to those of us who have examined the issues surrounding the industry to speak with our dollars. Persons who don’t support well-raised meat and dairy products are, whether by actively purchasing factory-raised products or by passively denying dollars to responsible, small-scale farmers, supporting the status quo.

I’ve gotten heat sometimes for disparaging those who chose a vegan lifestyle, but it remains a choice that I can’t understand. Sure, limiting intake is reasonable, and consuming exlcusively well-raised products is something I support. Even not to eat meat because one can’t condone the slaughter of an animal seems reasonable.

But to cut from your diet anything related to animals–even, in extreme cases, honey—for reasons unrelated to health or allergies boggles my mind and I can’t fathom why people would deny themselves entirely products that don’t harm anyone—like eggs from chickens not penned in cages, or milk from pasture-grazed animals. It makes no sense to me.

5 Responses to “Quick Thoughts on Dietary Choices”

  1. edenz Says:

    I agree with you on that aspect of veganism - although I feel compelled to point out that dairy cows have a much shorter lifespan than non-dairy cows b/c of constantly lactating. So it is theoretically possible to feel that consuming dairy is harmful to cows.

    There is however a worse reason to go vegan than avoiding animal products b/c you don’t want to possibly harm an animal - doing ‘b/c that’s what all my friends do’. A reason actually given by a vegan I’m aquainted with (only one out of many vegan - I’m not suggesting this is common!).

  2. jwsharrard Says:

    Dairy cows can easily live for 20 years in the right environment–no hormones, living on pasture. I visited a small farm where the milk produced is used to make farmstead cheese and the average age of their cows was in the teens. Mass-production dairy cows are taken out of the rotation after 2-3 years because their output drops thereafter, though smaller farmers don’t necessarily feel compelled to cull their herds in that manner.

    Beef steers, on the other hand, are slaughtered usually at less than 2 years of age.

  3. kari Says:

    jesse - I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about the miracle health benefits of raw (unpasturized) milk. apparently it can cure eczema, asthma, and even hep c. I can’t get it in NJ (until I cultivate some black market raw milk farmers) so might be planning a raw milk pit stop on my next trip to albany and/or pgh.


    AND: right on with your points. I respect my vegan friends and their commitment to nonviolent food, but I am personally more concerned about the environmental costs of factory farming (both animals and plants) andof long-distance transportation, as well as the social impacts of an industrialized food system. I used to say I’m a lazy omnivore because I don’t really like to cook meat (because it’s so much harder than cooking veggies, honestly, not b/c I can’t stomach the fact that it’s flesh) but this year I’m going to say instead that I’m a conscientious omnivore.

  4. beth Says:

    It’s not exactly true that humans have evolved to drink milk. There is a mutation that allows some of us to digest lactose; Many Europeans have this gene, but most people (for example Asians) don’t. Wikipedia has a sketchy map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:LacIntol-World2.png

    It’s also worth noticing that milk is a complex chemical concoction (as all foods are) and that the gene in question (which is a recent mutation[1]) makes it possible to digest milk, but doesn’t necessarily make it the healthiest thing to eat.

    My suspicion - I don’t have citations to back this up - is that milk and meat have historically helped humans out by being a survival food, but that they don’t make good staples in our diet; we’re better off eating mostly plants, with meat and milk an occasional thing. [2]

    By the way, I’m saying this as an omnivore who loves milk, cream, and especially cheese. No offense meant to dairyphiles; I’m one too.

    [1] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/science/10cnd-evolve.html?ex=1323406800&en=6576a01a1bb4ce31&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss
    [2] Check out the section on the 1977 Dietary Goals: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?ei=5090&en=a18a7f35515014c7&ex=1327640400&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

  5. Bernard Brown Says:

    I like the theme running through the post and these comments in favor a thoughtful approach to animal products consumption even if one doesn’t cut them out completely. At the risk of annoying promotion, check out http://www.pbjcampaign.org, a site about approaching the environmental and animal welfare effects of animal product consumption one meal at a time.

    Bernard Brown

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