I recently finished reading The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend — it’s an easily digestible memoir/self-help/environmental activist book centered on American meat consumption. Friend and her partner (FARM LESBIANS!!!) own and operate a sheep farm in Zumbrota, MN using sustainable practices, such as pasture rotation and unconfined lambing.
As a former vegetarian, I really had to do a lot of soul-searching when I decided to eat meat again. In Carnivore, Catherine Friend articulates that struggle really well, and presents a persuasive argument for being a conscientious omnivore over ethical vegetarianism. This summer I had to live right next to animals that I was going to eat — their imminent demise became a confrontation that I had to work through. However, it was also reassuring: I knew what the animals had eaten, the conditions in which they lived and the way their fur or feathers felt to the touch. I could be thankful when I finally prepared and consumed their meat, and I could feel assured that they lived lives that many others of their kind could not. Knowing that I’m eating Daisy and Bessie is, morbidly, refreshing.
Because the lives of meat livestock are always cut short by violence, I think that it’s important for consumers to ensure that the animals they eat didn’t suffer at the end. Most people have probably read Fast Food Nation, so you know what I’m talking about. I think reconciling oneself with the inevitable violence of food consumption is essential to appreciating good food. Friend offers up an anecdote of a chef who took his team out to a farm to see a goat slaughter; after the event, kitchen waste was drastically reduced. Even vegetables require some amount of violence to grow: wild animals are routinely killed off by farmers to protect vegetables that also thrive on dead animal compost.
More power to you vegetarians, but the ethical argument just doesn’t jive with me. To me, (and this relates to a quote I read by Van Jones, the former green jobs “czar” of the Obama administration) the model of vegetarianism as a critique or attack on the meat industry does much less good than Friend’s reconstructive approach. Compassionate carnivory is a creative solution to the problem of factory farming and cruel slaughterhouse practices that may result in real change. Giving your money to a livestock farmer whose name you know is a step toward that change. Vegans and vegetarians are, in a sense, leaving the bargaining table to the consumers who don’t care. Personally, I would rather help humane farmers and their philosophies thrive. If I’m not giving them my business, I’d just be leaving all the meat consumption to Tyson and Smithfield! They would have no motivation to change their practices without competition. The real deal is that many, many people eat meat without caring where or how the animals died. Luckily, The Compassionate Carnivore has been gaining popularity in the U.S., and maybe more people will come around.
The farm interns all went down to the Elbow Lake library last week to meet Friend, who was doing a reading there. She’s the more reticent half of the couple, and she recounted her initial ambivalence toward farming in an earlier book called Hit By a Farm. The most striking part of the event actually occurred after she spoke (though she was interesting in her own right), when the farmers present in the room (library basement) were called upon to introduce themselves and their work. I also got my book signed, and Friend and I talked about how there needs to be a queer farmers’ union! All in all, a very cute happening.
Amanda (our coworker), Chris and I met Melissa (Friend’s partner) at a Slow Food Minnesota event on the Callister chicken farm this past weekend. Melissa drew us a diagram of a ewe’s uterus/eweterus in the dirt and made a llama face at us. Chris frightened a barn of Poulet Rouge Fermier chickens and an Italian chef cried for his mother. Amazing.
I would love to hear counterarguments to this whole meat thing, though. Any vegans/vegetarians want to throw any out there?