When I was a teenager, I gave up eating meat for seven years. At the time, it was a simple decision born from a conviction that eating animals wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. And with meals in my family, meat rarely took center stage so figuring out what to eat back then was easy. Yogurt and a handful of nuts or salad and a slice of whole grain bread worked fine for a meal. But as life always goes, we grow and change, and being a vegetarian began to feel confining for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel the same compassion for animals, it had more to do with feeling that eating small amounts of meat worked better for my body.
So it was that on a trip to Europe, under the shadow of the magical castle Neuschwanstein, I chose to end my meat ban with a bite of savory Bavarian sausage. At first it was a strange feeling, the texture, the idea of eating an animal again, and it wasn’t instant love for sure. But I was headed to Spain where I wandered through huge markets filled with counters of glistening seafood and whole pigs hanging in rows from the ceiling. There was no doubt where the meat came from–no plastic-wrapped ambiguous cuts of meat that people didn’t connect to the animal. Did I have some doubts about the animals’ welfare and right to life? Sure I did. But for me it felt like the right path, and I dove into the culture and tried the meat there in Spain that had a flavor I’d never tasted growing up in the states. Thus began my journey to add meat back into my diet.
Fast forward to today: feeding a family, especially filling a teenager whose idea of dinner is meat and bread and potatoes every day. And not just any meat, we’re talking beef. If he could eat a thick steak every day, he probably would. Now, I’m not a beef eater. I’d never choose to eat it on my own. But you know how it is as a parent–you want to stop the growls coming from your fast-growing kid’s empty stomach. But as I bought more and more meat, I began to think about where it came from, how the animals were treated, and the way the meat industry processed, first the living animals and then the meat.
In this country, it’s not a pretty picture. But so many of us are unaware of the way the meat industry is run. Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the movie, Food Inc., is an eye opener for all of us who eat meat. It’s not easy to take in the way animals are caged and abused and tortured so that we can have endless supplies of chicken tacos, hamburgers, bacon, undefinable meat for hotdogs, and so on. Awareness of this abuse of animals and the environment is the only way to change things. If we can open our eyes and take an unflinching look at the few mega corporations that run the meat industry in this country, I think there would be more of an outcry for change.
As always, educating ourselves is the best way to make change happen. Michael Pollan’s book and the movie listed above is a good way to get started. The Meatrix site has a short video and lots of information on the health and environmental cost of factory farming. And for new ways to buy and eat meat, we can start with small steps. Meatless Monday gives us ideas on how to cut back on eating meat daily by going meatless for at least one day a week. Buying meat from local sources is the best way to know what you’re getting–find your local farms through Eat Wild. Here in the Portland area there are lots of sources for buying meat. Right now, I don’t have enough freezer space to buy quarter or half of an animal, so I look for farms that sell meat by the pound. The closest one I’ve found (five miles up the road from my neighborhood!) for pasture-raised, certified organic beef is Malinowski Farm. They can be reached by phone: 503-297-9398.
For pasture-raised lamb by the pound, contact Nuts About Berries Farm. Jon and Debra also raise chickens and turkeys on their twenty acre organic farm. I was lucky enough to get a tour of their gardens and fields where they move their turkeys and chickens from one area to another to let them graze and replenish the soil naturally with their waste. Gorgeous farm, fabulous tasting meat.
Another farm that sells a variety of meat by the pound is Full of Life Farm south of Portland. If I can, I’ll be taking the pasture walk and tour they’ll be offering on Dec. 10th. Getting to know the animals and seeing their environment is the best way to make meat buying decisions. I really can’t imagine anyone choosing to buy meat from a factory farm if they were able to see the plight of the animals and how those mega farms are run. It can be difficult, especially when eating out, to completely avoid factory farmed meat, but the more we buy local, the more we help each other, the animals, our communities, and the planet.