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nolnacs

The untroubled omnivore

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This topic has been percolating in my head for awhile, but has been brought to the surface lately by the Vegetarian for the Week thread and a recent article by Josh Ozersky. Over the past few years, it has become fashionable for those who eat meat to be deeply concerned about the ethics of eating meat to the extent that meat eaters (such as Fat Guy and Josh Ozersky) start the conversation by conceding the questionable ethics of eating meat. I find this to be interesting because I have absolutely zero guilt or concern about eating meat - even that which comes from a factory farm (I do have quality concerns but that is another matter entirely).

I know that many Americans do not feel any guilt either but I think that is more from never considering that matter rather than a conscious position. I have read Singer and Pollan; I have watched Food Inc and I have slaughtered a pig (incidentally, rather being some sort of transcendental experience that made me want to thank the pig for the sacrifice that it made, I just found it to be interesting). In short, I have thought about it, I have read the arguments and I remained wholly unmoved. Am I the only untroubled omnivore out there? Or do the others simply not bother entering the conversation?

I think that sharing my background might help explain my position a bit further. I grew up on a farm that raised pigs (~750 head) commercially and chickens for our personal use. We engaged in a number of practices that "ethical" eaters might find objectionable. For instance, we used farrowing crates, castrated piglets without anesthetic and once weaned, the piglets were put into what is now referred to as CAFO before being finished in outdoor lots. Looking back on these experiences, I do not find them particularly troubling. Did those pigs live perfectly idyllic lives until they met their end? No, but neither were they particularly horrific in my estimation either.

Perhaps my lack of concern about eating meat comes from being desensitized to the suffering of animals from a very young age. Yet, I still feel sad when I see a dead dog lying by the side of a road (although perhaps that sadness is from the thought of someone losing their pet rather the suffering of the dog). In any case, my point in starting this topic is less to argue the ethics of eating more and more an exploration of those who have considered the vegetarian/vegan/ethical eater case and remain unconvinced.

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I have been struggling with all of the "where is my food coming from" issues. The farming from the plant end I find as horrific as the animal end in some cases, and all of it impacts the environment. I am far far from any kind of cohesive plan of action. I grow some of my own without chemicals - but....when I get a 6 pack of plants from Home Depot I shudder to think what chemical and other wasteful measures they have gone through.Even seeds are an issue. I have not even explored the meat and dairy choices. I want to, but life intervenes. Not an excuse, just how it is. I will admit to craving meat (or seafood) when I do without. I no longer crave sweets, and I know how to make chewable tasty subs for meat, but - the satisfaction is not there. I will forego all kinds of indulgences for a nice piece of grilled meat. So I am saying nothing other than that I am sure that things are not right in my current food picture, but equally sure that I am clueless as to the best avenue.

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Nope, not concerned about the ethics of flesh-eating. I'd prefer animals to be treated humanely before they're slaughtered but I don't exactly lose sleep over it.

However, I'm deeply concerned about the environmental effects of flesh-eating, particularly the depletion of wild fish populations.


This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I am an unapologetic omnivore as well. I went with my father hunting from a very early age( 4 yrs old) the first time he took me along duck hunting. I would help with cleaning and gutting the catch when I was older . As a child I would help to make salami and sausage, standing on a chair to help mix in the seasonings . Later on helping to break down the pig and cut the meat into chunks to feed the grinder.

I think for many the only interaction they have with animals is as pets or in zoos, and this leads to a disconnect in their feelings about livestock. This leads to a slightly unsettled feeling (or more so) when they think about the ethics of eating meat.

Speaking for myself , I have an understanding that livestock is raised to be eaten , and I have no problem with that. Most game that is hunted needs to be. The natural predators that would keep those populations in balance, are often ones that humans cannot abide to live too closely for safety reasons.


"Why is the rum always gone?"

Captain Jack Sparrow

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When I went vegetarian in college c.1990 it was more for environmental reasons than about the cute little animals. I started eating meat and fish again about 10 years later because I was tired of being so limited, plus I started working in a restaurant and the salad prep station next to me was always cooking bacon.

Lately I feel I have become lazy about cooking, it is so easy to saute a piece of fish or a pork chop instead of do a bunch of veg prep and I do aspire to cut down on my flesh-eating, again primarily for environmental reasons. I tend to eat more wild fish than land animals, so the factory farming is less of an issue there. In my mind I value the whole local and sustainable thing but in practice I am lazy about it. I do my best to stick to sustainable seafood, as defined by Monterey Bay aquarium, go for the local 'natural' chicken but not necessarily organic, and the pork I buy doesn't seem to have any distinctive label so it must be industrial. I keep telling myself I need to buy more organic everything but price is a deterrent. I don't care much for beef, and so only eat it when I go out for pho. I do believe our food animals should be as happy and healthy as possible, free range, no unnecessary antibiotics, not sure I could kill one.

I guess I don't worry about the killing aspect so much, it is what it is, as long as someone else does it. Sustainability is more important, and i think humane treatment of animals is part of that. But I did just have some foie gras at dinner, so apparently I don't care much about ducks. I lived in a primarily Buddhist country for two years and it seemed like at least half the people ate meat, despite the belief in not harming another sentient being. There were guys who would do the slaughter, then once the animal was dead people figured it was OK, no blood on their hands. Maybe hypocrites or maybe just poor people eating what they could find. I watched a yak get killed and it was not as dramatic as I thought it would be.


Edited by pastrygirl (log)

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No guilt here either. Like nolnacs, I also grew up on a farm and witnessed death from a young age, along with the processing of meat for consumption. I don't lose any sleep over it at all.


There are 3 kinds of people in this world, those who are good at math and those who aren't.

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I certainly don't have any guilt about eating animals, but that's not to say I have no concern for their welfare. I never have a problem eating game, but when it comes to farmed animals I'd prefer to pay extra for "happy chickens", etc. Of course, there's a quality consideration there too so it's not purely altruistic. I also accept to an extent that not everyone has the means to make such choices.

I don't feel any guilt for eating meat per se, and I'm honestly surprised when it's portrayed as an ethical issue. I've never thought of it in such terms.

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Eating meat certainly isn't an ethical issue for me. I'm not bound by someone else's conscience or beliefs. Having said that, certainly the animals should be treated humanely before I eat them.

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While I have no guilt about being an omnivore, per se, I am the sort that feels wary of the way animals are currently raised. I grew up in Iowa, used to seeing hogs in fields with huts spread out in the fields. I see the current recommendation is about 15 huts/sows per acre http://www.port-a-hut.com/pasture-farrowing.cfm.

And I grew up with many people who had chickens, and while I recognize that they have a tendency to peck at each other, and removing beaks might not be that cruel, certainly confinement to battery cages, with the cages stacked is both cruel and disease-prone. And that, to me, is the biggest offender in my reasoning why much of current "conventional" agriculture is not acceptable to me. Whether or not it is cruel to confine generally docile cattle, or peckish chickens, or piggish pigs to a confined space is not something I can really judge as cruel or not (and I'm a biologist, though molecular/computational in specialty). It is, however, a method much more likely to spread disease, especially when the source of feed, as it is now, is largely supplemented with biproducts from other industries rather than the animals' natural diet. While of course some of this biproduct recycling is admirable and supported by history, such as diary whey to pigs, much of it is disgusting, such as the bone/blood meal that lead to the spread of mad cow disease and the continued feeding of grain/spent grain to cattle who's stomachs are not designed to deal with such materials.

Not to mention the environmental impacts of any CAFO. Overproducing meat involves feeding more than the land it is allowed to roam can produce. This is largely a waste of energy, not to mention a waste problem. When in proper balance, the manure from your farm animals can produce fertilizer for your crops from forage areas and crops that need little/no additional input. It is definitely possible and prefereable to have a system where the animal output and the vegetative output are in balance and feed each other, but this is not possible in the current environment that values cheap meat and uses government-sponsored commodity crops to feed that meat.

So, in summary, what it comes down to for me is cruelty? I don't know, animal behavior generally goes through too many anthromorphic filters. But, practically, the current predominant system of raising chickens, eggs, beef, and pork is highly prone to disease outbreaks and wasteful of agricultural resources.

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When in proper balance, the manure from your farm animals can produce fertilizer for your crops from forage areas and crops that need little/no additional input. It is definitely possible and prefereable to have a system where the animal output and the vegetative output are in balance and feed each other,

We've found a supplier in Toronto who started out raising healthy beef because he didn't what to eat feed lot meat. After years of cattle raising, he's started growing heritage grains on the land that is now rich from all that good manure. His chickens also deliver really delicious eggs.

That's the way it's supposed to work.

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Do I feel guilty about eating meat? No. But I used to. I was a very strict vegan in my early 20's because I thought the whole meat industry was just nasty. Then I started working in a hotel where the chef made my lunch for me as a benefit of my job. She would complain about me not eating meat, and would leave bacon on my desk. Needless to say the aroma of that bacon got me. I have to say I think there is something evolutionary about eating meat. Humans are at the top of the food chain, therefore, we are omnivores. (my opinion) Now this is not to say I want to ever see an animal abused. We can figure out a way to eat meat, and do it humanely.

I no longer feel guilt over eating meat...


"I eat fat back, because bacon is too lean"

-overheard from a 105 year old man

"The only time to eat diet food is while waiting for the steak to cook" - Julia Child

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Am I the only untroubled omnivore out there?

No. Most people I know (including myself) should probably eat less animals. When we do, we ought to be ethical but we have to be practical. We're seven billion and counting. Honestly, I'm more grateful for the choices than I am troubled about the consequences.


Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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It's a complex issue.

Factory farming is deplorable not only for the way the animals are treated, but also for the clear lack of quality. That said, in my mind, animals are now, have always been, and will always be a food source. They should be treated as best as possible, not only from a humane point of view, but also a quality one.

However, the demand for meat is at a level where the sort of farming that results in premium quality is unattainable, so I guess the best way forward is for the demand of quality produce to go up, which will hopefully result in fewer factory farms as farmers begin to realise demands have changed, although prices will rise.

It's very much a scenario where every step in a positive direction results in a bullet to the other foot. Bottom line, I'd prefer my meat was not factory farmed, but it is unrealistic to expect that we can be rid of it. When I have a choice, I will always choose the better option. I guess that makes me slightly troubled, but utterly unapologetic.

That's the way I see it anyway.


James.

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We eat a lot of meat and I'm a completely untroubled omnivore... but only because I've taken steps to address my previous ethical and safety concerns by raising, slaughtering/butchering our own animals.

We breed and grow beef, pork, goat, chicken and duck, sometimes rabbit etc for personal consumption. I know what they eat (no growth hormones, antibiotics etc), how they live and eat (mostly free-range), I know how healthy and well treated they are (we are Certified Humanely Raised and Handled for our dairy works and apply those standards throughout our operation).

As far as environmental and sustainability concerns, we live in an arid high-desert region where it is a much more sound practice to raise animals on the range than it would be to try to grow crops or vegetables.

I have a big kitchen garden and it is probably the least sustainable part of our lives (we're even off-grid and generate all of our own power mostly from solar and wind sources) because of the large amount of water we have to regularly apply. While our few heritage-breed cattle are out on their own, living modestly off the range, the amount of horticultural production necessary to replace their food-value would be infinitely more damaging to the land.

Nope, no regrets. As a matter of fact, it feels pretty good to have the high ground. Now if the Prius only came in a 4-wheel drive, 1-ton truck version I could REALLY be smug!


The Big Cheese

BlackMesaRanch.com

My Blog: "The Kitchen Chronicles"

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"The Flavor of the White Mountains"

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I don't feel the least bit of guilt about eating meat. Of course, I live in cattle country and we enjoy hunting, as well as fishing. I've read all of the aforementioned articles and books arguing for humane treatment of food animals and I have come to the conclusion that it is rather a conceit of the author(s) that somehow, a "happy" beeve or chicken meal is purer than a factory-raised animal. It's still dead and it's still on my plate.

As anyone who lives in the country or the 'burbs knows, Bambi is an antlered rat who likes to wreck cars and destroy ornamental vegetation. Get in the freezer!

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Nope, not concerned about the ethics of flesh-eating. I'd prefer animals to be treated humanely before they're slaughtered but I don't exactly lose sleep over it.

However, I'm deeply concerned about the environmental effects of flesh-eating, particularly the depletion of wild fish populations.

This pretty much sums up my feelings on the issue too.


Cheryl

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Many cultures eat dogs, cats, horses as well.

Many animals are meat eaters.

Animals die in nature in excruciatingly horrible ways. A deer killed by a hunter is a very lucky deer. Most butchering methods by humans are extremely humane.

A free-range chicken is a happy chicken, but a caged chicken is not a miserable depressed chicken.

I respect vegetarians, I think vegetarians should respect meat eaters as well.

dcarch

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I'm a meat-eater with no guilt. My parents raised rabbits for food and I grew up LOVING fried rabbit for a Sunday dinner. We also fished and ate our catch. When I added upland game hunting to my life some 20-odd years ago I did make one specific decision. I only hunt those animals and birds that I will eat. I remember once bringing home a rabbit that I had hunted. That was the one game animal my daughters would not eat. Since I have a long-standing pit against fixing different food for different family members (something I still am not willing to do - I adjust menus if there are food related issues to deal with) I stopped hunting rabbits. My daughters are grown now but the areas where I used to hunt rabbits are now neighborhoods full of houses so no more rabbit hunting while I still live in southern California.

As an aside, I was listening to a comedian just yesterday who said "I've never heard an ex-vegetarian order a steak and ask the chef to make it taste like tofu." Don't hate me. I have plenty of vegetarians friends - it just made me laugh.


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I'm good with being an omnivore. I personally believe that humans evolved to eat meat. I personally feel better when I consume regular amounts of animal protein. And I have never been one to anthropomorphize - I'm not sure that I really even believe in the idea of animal rights. So I'm beyond unapologetic, and decidedly pro eating meat.

That said, I am interesting in eating high quality, healthy food. It's harder to do when you're as analytical as I am and can't rely on labels like "organic" or "free range" or various health claims to tell you what's healthy. So I've come to some general conclusions. I believe that more sustainable, humane methods of raising animals produce better tasting, healthier meat/eggs/milk. So I make an effort to seek it out, and to pay extra for the privilege as my budget allows. If I end up in a debate with a vegetarian, I can usually deflect by pointing out that I have made the conscious decision to eat meat (a la Peter Singer), and that I make attempts to source most of my meat from happy, constantly hugged animals. Saves me from having to explain that I don't really give a care about how the animals are treated.


"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I love meat, and eat plenty of it. When I was living in the US or UK, however, I tried to eat meat from sources where the likely treatment an animal received before slaughter was better. That is a little more difficult in China, but I still eat meat. I have few qualms about the type of meat I am served (i.e. have eaten dog, though would not go out of my way to look for it) but I do have concern for other living things. I don't hunt, but again am not really bothered by those who do. I can see the arguments in terms of the environment, and do not eat anywhere near as much meat as some people do in part due to this.

In fact the ethics of food are a complicated business. What about the vegetables you eat, in particular the labour issues regarding those picking them, global shipping (or, alternatively, energy-intensive growth), developing countries in regards to trade policy and protection measures/dumping etc. etc. The animal rights lobby has a very powerful voice, so tends to be the strongest in terms of generating a reaction from the general public, but in our globalised, corporate, seasonless world today, they are only the tip of the iceberg. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to try to at least understand these general issues and use them to inform your day-to-day decisions in whatever way you choose. I don't like to preach, but I am not afraid to talk to others about my choices, or point things out in a constructive way if appropriate.

I have to say the people who scare me the most are the ones who say they just don't care as long as they can get whatever they want, whenever they want it.

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I wish that people in this country (USA) would eat more animal parts like the rest of the world.

If we did, the need to farm animals would be drastically reduced.

Animal parts are delicious. We have learned to eat chicken wings only recently.

dcarch

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I wish that people in this country (USA) would eat more animal parts like the rest of the world.

If we did, the need to farm animals would be drastically reduced.

Animal parts are delicious. We have learned to eat chicken wings only recently.

dcarch

This is true. There is a massive amount of waste that goes into those styrofoam trays of boneless skinless chicken breast cutlets that cost $7.99/lb. Of course, all those "mechanically separated, partially defatted chicken pieces" have to come from somewhere, right? :wink:

But seriously, I was thinking about this point. About how many more calories could be wrung from an animal if we weren't focused on eating the prime cuts. The farm I buy a meat share from said that they don't even regularly sell the livers from the chickens they process, because there's not a big market for them (and livers are like the training wheels of organ meat).


"Nothing you could cook will ever be as good as the $2.99 all-you-can-eat pizza buffet." - my EX (wonder why he's an ex?)

My eGfoodblog: My corner of the Midwest

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I wish that people in this country (USA) would eat more animal parts like the rest of the world.

If we did, the need to farm animals would be drastically reduced.

Animal parts are delicious. We have learned to eat chicken wings only recently.

dcarch

This is true. There is a massive amount of waste that goes into those styrofoam trays of boneless skinless chicken breast cutlets that cost $7.99/lb. Of course, all those "mechanically separated, partially defatted chicken pieces" have to come from somewhere, right? :wink:

What is your basis for claiming "a massive amount of waste" regarding styro-tray boneless/skinless breasts? Very very very little is wasted in a poultry factory; mechanically separated chicken is just one of the "recovery" products generated (including proteins used in animal feeds). Many arguments can be made against factory farming of poultry, but inefficiency is not one.

The North American demand for breast meat opens up a huge secondary market in dark meat, frozen & shipped abroad.

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The North American demand for breast meat opens up a huge secondary market in dark meat, frozen & shipped abroad.

Not to mention chicken feet, which are not very popular here.

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I have a big problem with the way animals are treated on factory farms. I live near a town that has a huge number of feed lots (not close enough to smell them every day, though, thankfully!), and whenever I see the way those cows live it disgusts me. They are at a minimum a foot deep in muck, without shelter of any kind, and so crowded they can barely move. Sickening. There is also a turkey processing plant in my town and I've seen turkeys shoved tight into tiny cages and stacked 15-20 high in the middle of 90+ degree heat with no shade. They were sprayed with water to keep them alive. I don't know how long they were kept there, I was only nearby for an hour. I suspect it was a long time. I don't know how anyone can NOT have a problem with that sort of treatment of animals.

I grew up raising sheep, cows, and goats, and we ate the ones we didn't keep for breeding, so that aspect obviously doesn't make everyone immune to "omnivore guilt". I avoid some of the guilt by buying only free-range organic chicken and 100% grass-fed beef from a local ranch where the cows graze on national forest land. My kids and I don't eat meat every day, either. I just think it's better for our health to go veggie-heavy.

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