Meat eating has lately been harshly criticized by many vegetarians and vegans with a demand to abstain, period. They are indeed right to condem supermarket meat, by which I mean meat that has been raised and processed in big-ag CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). Meat that comes from such operations is sad and sick meat, not only because the poor creatures live and die in horror movie conditions (no exaggeration – read Jonathan Safran Foer and others), but also because of the major adverse environmental impact of these types of facilities. This meat cannot possibly be healthy for our bodies and the “production” method is an environmental and moral catastrophe. Why do you think CAFOs are closed to the public and the press? Because the uproar would be such that it would signal the beginning of the CAFO’s demise.
A happy compromise to the meat eating quandary, however, and a sustainable one at that, for those of us who do eat meat (and I am one of them), is to buy grass fed and pasture raised meat from local farms. When the process is transparent and the operation open to visitors you know there is nothing to hide. Here, the animals graze outside in a natural environment and feed on what their systems are meant to digest (unlike the sickening corn and grain fed diet of CAFO animals). Here, the animals’ manure is reused sustainably as fertilizer. Here, the animals have room to roam. We are so lucky to live in a place with many such sustainable farms.
On the surface this sustainably raised meat is more expensive than supermarket meat. But supermarket meat has so many hidden costs that are passed on to us through the back door, costs to the environment, to our conscience and to our health. Moreover, our meat consumption has skyrocketed to unhealthy levels over the past few decades precisely because meat has become so cheap. Lastly, coming from Europe I am used to eating all parts of the animal, from kidneys to pigs tails and pigs ears, to liver and sweetbreads (a true delicacy in France), which I find respects and appreciates the life we are taking for our own nourishment, rather than wasting many of the animal’s parts. Better therefore to eat (much) less meat but from a sustainable source. As food advocate and author Marion Nestlé says, we should be eating meat in “condiment quantities.”