I’m not one of those people who used to be a vegetarian, but that’s not to say I haven’t thought about it sometimes. I read one of those Best American collections—I wish I could remember which one—in grad school, and there was an essay about an American living in the U.K., maybe in Ireland? For the summer, he worked on a lambing farm, where he took care of the lambs and helped with births and, also, watched them be killed, which was devastating. I sobbed. Reading his experiences, I thought for the first time about the ethics of eating animals. Since, I’ve read about the poor conditions in meat-packing plants or the way animals are bred in dark, overcrowded buildings where they can’t move around and seldom see grassy fields or sunlight. (I wish I could’ve seen Fresh when it came to Milwaukee and will plan to watch Food, Inc.—If you’ve seen either, I’d like to hear your thoughts.)
So far for me, though, the enjoyment of a steady diet of poultry, with red meat thrown in once or twice a week, still trumps the alternatives, both because it’s such an easy way to get protein and because, honestly, it tastes good and is convenient.
This internal conflict is probably why I was so interested to read Susan Bourette’s book, Meat: A Love Story, sent to me by its publishers over a month ago and which I’m just finishing now. Marketed as a response to ethical questions like the ones I face (i.e., How can a person who likes eating meat do so without guilt?), it got my attention.
And, turns out, there are a lot of good things about this book: a window into many different aspects of the meat industry; the raising of questions many of us (meat-eating or not) may ask; encounters with diverse characters, from cattle ranchers to Inuit whale-hunters in Alaska. But what I’d hoped would be a reasoned approach towards responsibility/action turned out never to cross the line of personal story. It’s interesting, yes. Full of information, yes. You learn new perspectives. But what it isn’t, and this is worth mentioning, is anything beyond that.
Anyway, here’s where I’m at right now with meat: (1) I’m sure I want to take, with open hands, whatever food is given to me by friends, free of special demands, because I love them more than controlling what I eat. (2) And when I cook, rather than cutting meat out of my diet, I am looking for better sources of it—Whole Foods, for example, which has a cruelty-free policy; or, a C.S.A. that could give me the option to buy meat directly from farmers in Illinois.
I’d by lying if I said I didn’t buy ground beef or stew meat at Dominick’s when it’s on sale, like it was last week, but I am trying to move towards better choices, slowly, while still enjoying myself.
This stew, cooked overnight in a crock pot, is the perfect example of why I am still, happily, a carnivore. Marinated with Country Bob’s All Purpose Sauce, covered in chopped vegetables, it practically makes itself. When I pulled out a Tupperware container filled with it for lunch on Tuesday, reheating it in the microwave and bringing a forkful to my mouth, I literally exclaimed, out loud to the office, “Mmm, this is good,” one hand hitting the desk and the other frozen mid-air.