Confessions of a former vegetarian

August 6, 2009 | 124 comments

This afternoon at the grocery store I reached for one of the mouth-watering rotisserie chickens they sell at the deli. As I put it in my cart I grimaced a little bit as I recognized its shape and associated it with living birds, turning my eyes away when I saw the headless neck. The thought popped into mind:

If I had seen the conditions under which this animal lived and watched its slaughter, would I still purchase its meat?

I have never been entirely comfortable with eating meat. In my early 20’s I came across a video clip that showed a small pig shaking and scared as it was led to slaughter in a meatpacking plant, and decided at that moment to become a vegetarian. I remained steadfast in my decision not to eat meat for about two years. Then I began to reincorporate a little fish into my diet, in part because I came to the intellectual decision that fish did not experience fear and suffering at the same level as higher animals…and, truth be told, in part because it was getting hard to eat meatless dishes all the time. Then some health concerns related to having a carb-heavy diet cropped up and I started to buy some lean, organic, free-range beef and chicken from Whole Foods every now and then as an effort to get more protein into my diet. Then I began having children and moved to the ‘burbs and found that it was too expensive and difficult to find meat from animals that I could be sure were raised and slaughtered ethically, and it was too complicated to figure out how to make sure I (as a pregnant and nursing mother) and my children got proper nutrition from a low-meat diet, so it all just kind of flew out the window. These days we eat regular grocery store chicken and beef four or five days a week.

What bothers me about this is not that I’m eating meat per se — as I talked about in my post about why I was a pro-choice vegetarian, I’m no longer categorically opposed to the slaughter of animals for food — but that my decision to go back to eating meat was based more on convenience than on careful examination of the facts, and that I’ve taken almost no time to educate myself about what goes on at the slaughterhouses of the meat distributors I support.

Maybe it’s all fine — maybe the burger I ate at Wendy’s or the rotisserie chicken I bought at the grocery store came from animals who were treated well and killed quickly and humanely…or maybe the animals lived painful lives under hideous conditions and were slaughtered in a way that I’d find unconscionable. The problem is that I wouldn’t know. Because I haven’t wanted to know. Because doing a bunch of research about slaughterhouse practices would be depressing and time consuming and one more thing on my already overloaded to-do list, and if I found bad news I don’t know how I’d go about modifying my family’s diet anyway. As I’ve talked about before, sometimes when the search for truth gets inconvenient it’s easiest to just stop asking questions and do whatever makes your problems go away.

So that’s where I am: I eat meat, I feed my family meat, but I’m not entirely comfortable with it. I’m suspicious of my own lack of desire to get full information on this subject, yet I also don’t want to vilify all large-scale meat packing plants since the cheap meat they provide is a critical source of nutrition for low-income families.

I bring this up not because I have any great answers (obviously) but because I want to get advice from you guys: Does anyone else struggle with this issue? Anyone have any solutions for making sure that the meat you buy is humanely raised without breaking the budget? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

photo by Max_xx

124 Comments

  1. Sonia

    I don't have any kids, but totally understand the dilemma. I've done quite a back and forth walk on this subject and now I've decided to at least get the meat or eggs that says on the package that it is organic and farm-raised. You're right, how can we know for sure? Well, for now that's what I've come up with as a solution.

  2. Me

    Hi, I'm new to the blog. In the short term, lentils might be a good thing to try. They have just as much protein as meat and it can easily be swapped out for them. I wouldn't recommend eating lentils on a daily basis, that would be really boring but I'm sure saving a few animals is better than saving none.

    Rice and beans is also really good. Neither independently has the complete set of protein you need but when you cook them together it forms the entire set.

    Most people eat far too much meat already, when they switch to non-meat substitutes they tend to carry this habit over. The classic food pyramid recommends two servings of protein a day, that's about two chicken breasts or about two scoops of rice and beans. Fruit, grains, vegetables and dairy should mark up a lot more food in your diet than meat. I can't speak for most families, but I know growing up it made up about half of my family's diet.

    There's even been a lot of speculation that our meat-based protein overdose might be linked to our high heart disease rate and even some cancers.

    Anyway, if you take two chicken breasts worth of food and swapped them out with beans or lentils three days a week, you could probably cut your meat intake almost in half. I think that's a really good result.

  3. e2

    Oh, wow. YES. This has been a big struggle for me since we began having children. I have no problem with eating meat per se, but the food industry is, I think, a very poor reflection of the human call to God-like "dominion."

    On graduate student salaries (and now just one grad student salary), there is no way I could afford to feed all of us on Whole Foods deli meat. And my husband has some health concerns that make meatless difficult.

    My temporary solutions have been to increase the eggs in the diet (free-range eggs are expensive, but not prohibitively so) as well as have two nights designated for "beans and rice." I'm down to only two or three meat dinners per week, plus lunchmeat.

    But I am dissatisfied with these "solutions." I'd rather not participate at all in the food industry, but there you are. The chilluns have to eat!

    I dream of the small, five-acre farm.

  4. Daniel Cox

    Having always been a omnivore, I've never given much thought to how the meat I eat is slaughtered. With meat as expensive as it already is here in So. Cal, trying to find meat that is humanely slaughtered seems a lot of to do for nothing.

    I realize from an ethical perspective it reflects a higher adherence to stewardship. However, practically speaking, if we had to research everything we use, I'm not quite sure a whole lot of anything else would get done. For me, our budget compels us to find the lowest price.

    A question – if you could find meat that was killed humanely, but it cost substantially more than other meat, would you purchase it for that reason alone?

  5. cheryl

    *raises hand*
    hey I get to be one of the first—-yay!!!!

    This is something I struggle with too, for the reason you mentioned and also another: it's life. Every animal I have as a pet is probably someone else's dinner in some other part of the world –which brings the issue it that much closer to home for me. Imagine caring for and naming pet frogs and then going to a restaurant where they serve frog legs.

    I can't say it's wrong to eat meat, as God allows it and I think Christ ate meat/fish himself. But I can't for the life of me (no pun intended), understand why.

    " 1 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. " -Gen 9

    A blessing? Sounds like a curse to me. πŸ™

  6. Sarah Reinhard

    Jen, my background is in agriculture, so I struggle with this too, but from the opposite end of the spectrum. I have to struggle to contain my eye-rolling, having a pretty good idea of how things happen on farms. In the big slaughter-houses, the "factory farms," I am sure things are done that would make any of us queasy. I no longer know what percentage of things are done that way, because I've been away from the industry a while.

    One thing we do is buy local meat. I know you live in the suburbs, but I'm sure there are farmers around you somewhere. Find them, or find a locally-owned meat market (because there you will probably find locally-grown meat) and buy your meat there. I know it's not convenient (my local grocery store carries this sort of thing, which is a blessing), so maybe it's not a good suggestion.

    You might also consider buying half of a beef or pig through that meat market, which pans out to be much less expensive, though you then have to store all that meat in your freezer.

    Hope this helps. The thing I hate about leaving long comments is I lose my train of thought at some point when the box starts scrolling down… πŸ™‚

  7. Amy

    I so could have written this post (though not as well as you). I tried vegetarianism back in my college days, but found myself tired all the time.

    In my little ideal dream world, all the food (not just meat and poultry) I buy would be raised and processed by local farmers. Animals wouldn't be raised in overcrowded corporate agribusiness facilities. Illegal immigrants wouldn't be underpaid and overworked in hazardous conditions. Our food would be organic, not filled with antibiotics and hormones or covered in pesticides. And of course, all of it would be affordable.

    But I stay home, and while I am happy and confident (usually) in that choice, it means less money than two income families. We have credit card debt that we are digging ourselves out of, and while I would love to spend a little more and get the organic milk and the free range chicken and the locally raised beef, that isn't the wise financial decision right now. Right now I'm thinking about college for the kids and home repairs and whether we will need to buy a new refrigerator or if we can hold out a few more weeks.

    Because I haven't wanted to know. Because doing a bunch of research about slaughterhouse practices would be depressing and time consuming and one more thing on my already overloaded to-do list, and if I found bad news I don't know how I'd go about modifying my family's diet anyway.

    Ditto! I'm glad I'm not the only who feels this way.

    There is so much wrong in the world, but we each only have so much energy. I'm glad people work so hard to inform us of this stuff, it's important that we know, but at the same time I often feel shackled with it. What am I doing personally to change slaughterhouse conditions? What am I doing personally to help eradicate malaria? What am I doing personally to reduce my carbon footprint? What am I doing personally to prevent domestic violence? What am I doing personally to save the world? Do we really need more things to feel guilty about?

    I consider it a great day if I don't yell at my children, if I'm out of my pajamas before 10 am on a weekday during summer vacation, if I serve something other than cereal for supper, if I remember to return my library books on time. And for now, that will have to be good enough.

  8. Anonymous

    Absolutely! It is frequently on my mind, and I've been trying hard to reduce our meat consumption to 1-2 times a week for adults and 3-4 for the children. I'm not always successful and like you, have found that trying to cut out white offenders makes it more difficult. I need to learn more ways of cooking cheese, eggs and lentils!

    You might enjoy an essay by Father Neuhaus about the religious/eschatological significance of vegetarianism, if you haven't read it already. He wrote it toward the end of his life. It was First Things, so I'm sure you would find it in the online archives. And check out Crunchy Con – Rod Dreher's blog. He's a big fan of Michael Pollan & co and mixes all this stuff together with his Orthodox beliefs to come up with some interesting results.

  9. Janet in Toronto

    We are lucky to have access to humanely raised meat (including deli), poultry, and dairy at our local grocer here in Toronto, so we bite the bullet and restrict ourselves to that. Budget? We mainly manage it by eating less meat. We do a couple of seafood or fish meals every week as well as at least one bean-based meal. Our meat meals tend to have a high veg-to-meat ratio, with meat there more for flavour than calories. For example, I will use 1/2 pound of pork sausage in a six serving pot of spaghetti sauce. I have trained my teen sons to NOT eat the deli meat right out of the bag, standing at the fridge, or to have three glasses of milk at a meal.

    Like you, I have been vegetarian in the past so don't have trouble dreaming up veg meals to cook. One of my sons is very much on board with this, and the other one is leaving for university soon, so we've found a happy place, food-wise. My dear husband is completely on board with this, having grown up in Lebanon in a family where meat was a treat.

  10. Jennifer

    I am also a former (and occasional) vegetarian/vegan. I reluctantly eat meat now because my health really suffers when I don't. I have an uncle who raises cattle and doesn't eat beef because he sees first hand the way the beef is processed and I don't think it's as nice and neat as we would like to think.
    My children eat meat. This is my husband's decision and he has to cook it. Whether we buy free range or whatever depends on who is shopping. He goes for price, I go for higher quality.
    So, yes I struggle with this. Daily.

  11. V

    There are LOTS of sources of low cost protein out there. Beans, hummus, yogurt, cheese (also tofu, tempeh, etc…)
    They are also easy.
    Its still dead meat-no matter how it was raised and killled.

  12. mgibson

    Option #1 – Get a big freezer, or a group of friends together. Go to the farmer's market, get to know a local meat providing family and ask them about regularly purchasing a half-side of a cow or a whole cow (or pig, lamb, whatever) direct from their farm. Oftentimes if you trust them, tell them why you want to buy from them, and assure them that you will be a regular purchaser they will cut a deal with you and likely enough by buying "in bulk" you WILL save money in the long run. Option #2 – keep a beefer in your backyard (harder on the kids, but definitely cheaper πŸ™‚ Option #3 – Have your kids join 4-H, even if they're city kids… there are always families to make friends with in 4-H that have farms! That's how we got our meat, eggs, etc while I was growing up, and all I did was show horses and photography!

  13. That Married Couple

    I've never understood vegetarians, but that's because I grew up on a farm that has been in my family since 1818. For all of my life and most of my father's, the only livestock raised was hogs. We never slaughtered them ourselves (just shipped them on down the line), so I can't speak for the slaughterhouses. But I do know that on our farm, they were never particularly mistreated. It's not like they lived in the lap of luxury (they are animals, after all), but they certainly didn't have it bad. And they aren't as smart as everyone says πŸ™‚

    The only problem is, it's less and less feasible for family farms to make it these days, even large ones. The gigantic corporate farms seem to have kind of taken over the little guys. I'm not sure how things work on them. All I know is, my family is getting out of the livestock business. After almost 200 years, the only animals running around the farm will be a dog and some cats. No one in my generation is that interested in farming (except me, and my husband's scientific job requires us to live out East right now), and even if they were, they wouldn't exactly know how to make it profitable (or even livable). To me, the loss of two century old family way of life is a lot more depressing than the loss of the lives of some animals who were raised for the sole purpose of feeding us.

    Sorry for the only semi-related note. Just been reminiscing lately as every time I travel back to the Midwest there are fewer hogs, and next time there won't be a single squeal!

    And all that said, if I had the time and money, I'd totally buy local food every time, organic/free-range or not – because as is obvious, I'd prefer to support the local farming community.

  14. anne

    we are vegetarians. with vegan tendencies (we will only eat dairy and eggs from humane local sources…..eventually we will raise our own chickens for eggs). I cannot in good conscience as a pro-life individual allow myself to participate in a system that causes so much suffering. In this day in age it is extremely difficult to guarantee that meat is raised in a humane way unless you go with a local farmer with an excellent reputation (which is also the cheapest way to get humane free range meat, know that organic meat often means the sick animals in large farms suffer since they are not allowed to use antibiotics to treat them for illness). We eat a lot of beans, whole grains and the like. Its jsut a different way of cooking. I have been a veg for over 15 years now, and would never go back.

  15. Kathryn

    Oh boy did you hit a nerve with me! Yes, I'm currently struggling with this. I do love meat, but I am concerned about the practice of how meat is going from animal to my table. Like you I've not investigated very far because I have 9 children and really I need to feed them.
    I've been inspired about becoming vegetarian by Stephanie Nielson, the mother of 4 who was burned so badly in a small plane crash a year ago. The Dr.'s have been baffled at how she avoided so many infections. I think deep down inside that along with all the prayers going on to protect her, that her very healthy diet led to her bodies amazing ability to fight off all the bad things and allowed her to heal.
    I'm riddled wiht health issues and so I'm concerned that genetically should I be raising my kids with smarter eating habits so that they are not plagued by the same health issues? Does eating todays meat contribute to our overall poor diet? I mean I feed them well, lots of veggies and such but really should I delve further?
    See, a huge can of worms here! Now I've started my own post! Sorry, its just a lot of these same thoughts have been swirling in my head.

  16. SursumCorda

    I hear you loud and clear. I'm not philosophically against eating meat, but know that our factory farming methods (for plants as well as animals) are hurting the environment, nutrition, and taste. I also know that we can't just give it up cold turkey. We would go back to the days — less than a century ago — when people were not only hungry but starving in this country. A hungry person doesn't much care how humanely meat animals are slaughtered, nor that the tomato tastes like cardboard. To fix the problem is going to take clear vision and slow, deliberate action.

    Do you see anyone going along the path of clear vision and slow, deliberate action when it comes to any of the major problems in our society? I didn't think so. Least of all, me. We are all too busy living from one day to the next to take the time to understand most issues, from where our meat comes from to health care to the economy — and thus we generally take what we're served.

    Oh, wait — you wanted ideas, not ranting. How about smaller quantities? Say, lots of healthy, filling lentils flavored with a very small amount of meat? That way the more expensive meat goes further, and even if you use the factory-farmed stuff, you're getting less of it and presumably doing less harm.

    My grandchildren are omnivores, but nonetheless eat and love many vegetarian meals — and are as strong and healthy as anyone could want.

  17. Marie

    Yup, there are ways, and it gets easier once you develop new habits. These days you can usually find someone you can buy a share in a beef cow from (you need access to a freezer). Chicken is harder, because of government rules. There are a couple really good web sites, and I'm sure you've seen books and movies like Pollan's and Supersize Me. The trick to making it affordable (that I'm still working on) is eating less of the expensive stuff. Lots of (brown) rice and beans (on whole wheat and olive oil tortillas, sigh) and going back to the old fashioned "Sunday chicken dinner" idea where meat is special and not the huge center of every meal.
    I'm sure once you've started down this road you'll run with it — it's fun, really. (And, yes, I think if you look into the conditions you'll be unhappy, I'm afraid).

  18. Lovesgarlic

    Hi!

    We buy our meat from a farmer we know, who runs a farm in our area. She runs a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where you pay for a share of her meat and guarantee you will buy from her, monthly, for 6 months in a row. The meat is organic, open pasture, humanely killed – and it tastes better than grocery store meat. I found her after we switched our diet to all organic, after an illness, and were trying to find a way to make it more affordable.

    The nice thing about knowing and purchasing from a local farmer is that you can see the animals (if you want to), you support the local economy and you can escape many of the broader food recall issues that crop up. I have also found that the small farmers are more open to bartering, etc. for the products and can be somewhat flexible about this.

  19. Heather

    Have you tried buying kosher? I'm not 100% sure about how the animals are raised, but I know they're killed more humanely than other animals. You might also try buying from a local farmer. You might have to buy 1/4 of a cow at a time, but at least you know Bessie had a good life pre-steak πŸ™‚

  20. Rosita

    I share your concerns. I was not able/interested in sustaining a vegetarian diet. However, I am very concerned about where my meat comes from. And like you I don't have the budget or the accessability (also living in the suburbs) to by the food at Whole Foods or a similar style store.

    After doing about 1-2 hours of research on the web, I found several local farms that deliver meat in my area. I have visited the farm of the one I order from weekly, and know that the animals are well taken care of and graze on fresh pasture up until their death, which is done very quickly.

    My mother also raises some roasting chickens every year, and I will help her when she culls them (so I have hands on experience on all aspects of the process) and get some meat from that.

    We have a large freezer, so we also will order a whole lamb, or 1/2 a pig at different times, and can get the very good meat at a significant discount.

    I am sure that in Texas there are farmers that are grazing their cattle that would sell 1/4 or 1/2 side of beef the way you want it cut for a reasonable price. It would just be a matter of finding them and making sure you have a place to store it.

  21. Joe Magarac

    My wife and I also struggled to find good and affordable sources of meat. Neither of us was ever a vegetarian, but when we started having kids we started paying more attention to what we cooked, and that naturally caused us to ask questions about how meat animals are raised. A recall of ground beef from a local grocery store helped focus our minds, and books from the library (e.g., Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma) helped too.

    We've found that at least here in Pittsburgh, it's very possible to get affordable meat from humanely raised animals. We live in the city, and there are two weekly farmer's markets within a five-minute drive at which vendors sell pork and beef they raise themselves. There is also a CSA with a "laptop butcher shop" that allows you to order meat from small farms in advance and to pick it up twice a year. I would be surprised if you didn't have even more choices in Austin.

    The pork and beef from these sources are competitive with grocery stores on price, but they taste much better and we feel much better about buying them. The chicken and lamb are very expensive, so we don't have much of either.

    Conclusion: if you have a freezer and are willing to go to farmer's markets, you can feed your family humanely-raised meat without breaking your budget. And if the farmer's market has a lemonade vendor – as ours do – then your toddlers will support your decision to buy local food.

  22. Tomasino

    I've had similar thoughts to yours, honestly less because of the humane or inhumane treatment of the animals and more for nutritional reasons. I'd love someone to walk into my life, hand me a big list of cheap food to buy each week at the grocery store and a packet of "how-to-eat-vegetarian" recipes.

    I'm a meat and carb addict and as great as it would be to break that cycle and eat smarter (at least most of the time), it's just too inconvenient for me to take it on with everything else I'm doing in my life.

    Any vegetarians out there who want to take up the torch and build us shopping lists and recipes? πŸ™‚

  23. Ann Voskamp @Holy Experience

    This farmer thanks you for putting pork on your fork.

    For us, I don't struggle with putting meat on our plates… because I see how animals are raised on our farm, on neighboring farms. Good, ethical farmers care fervently about the comfort and well being of their animals:

    "A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast" (Proverbs 12:10).

    Farmers choose to be farmers because they enjoy animals, are intuitively attuned with their needs,and make their days about keeping animals comfortable, healthy and happy.

    I do humbly and deeply appreciate people's thoughtful reflection on the ethics of eating meat and I believe it is a farmer's obligation to answer the question of consumers and to be transparent about how we raise our animals.

    Might I suggest befriending a farmer, get to know his lifestyle, ask for a tour of his farm… instead of believing second hand information, perhaps go right to the source and see first-hand?

    We're just humble, hard-working, honest folk…

    And, surprisingly, perhaps eating meat isn't the most important issue:

    "He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God." (Romans 14:5-6)

    We are free to eat meat… or not eat meat, each as He is led, and so we respect each other….

    All eating should be done onto the Lord, and with thanksgiving…

    Thankful for thinking with you, Jen…
    (and you're welcome to bring the family and come visit the farm anytime! ~smile~)

    All's grace,
    Ann

  24. Katie

    Absolutely! I'm a single 26 year old who is starting to buy beef and chicken from local farmers because not only do I feel that they are treated badly and slaughtered inhumanely at the big meatpacking places, BUT their meat it unhealthy for us. Cows are forced to stand there and do nothing but eat all day and they are fed grain from corn – which is bad for them. Their stomachs can't handle it and it makes them sick but the farmers keep feeding it to them because it makes them fat fast. What do you think that fat does for us when we eat it? Did you know that cows who are allowed to walk around and have grass only diets provide us with Omega 3 fatty acids? Cows from the big corporate farms only have Omega 6 (bad fat). Also, the whiter a chicken's egg is, the less healthy the chicken was. But the food industry has marketed this all as ok and we've bought into it for convenience sake. And I am STILL guilty for buying chicken and eggs at the large chain grocery store when I could just go to a farmer's market on Saturday morning to get a healthier kind of meat. I told you I was a single 26 year old so you would know that I have no idea what I will do when I become a mother. I have friends who are devout vegetarians and they are very good at finding recipes that are awesome and they aren't afraid to use fake meat. Maybe, if you're uncomfortable with it, the thing to research isn't animal abuse, it's recipes using soy meat. I had a lasagna with some kind of fake meat in it the other day and it was pretty good. Honestly, using it takes some getting used to but it does give you nutrition and the protein can be found in peanut butter and nuts – as well as beans if you can get your kids to eat them. A long time ago I read Being Vegetarian for Dummies and it had a lot of really good and helpful information on how to get nutrition without meat. But if you still want to incorporate meat, go to http://www.greatharvest.org and find a farm in your area that sells free range, grass fed beef and free range chicken (I buy from someone who just opens the barn door every day and if they want to go out and forage they can, but she also feeds them grain. She always calls them "Happy Chickens!"). This kind of beef, chicken and eggs are probably the best I've ever tasted and they're healthier for me. Sorry this is so long but I had been feeling the way you do so I studied up on the nutrition side of it and I was so excited to find someone else who is actually interested in it!

    –Katie
    http://www.frillythinking.blogspot.com

  25. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I'm a recovering vegetarian (for reasons you mention) married to a cow farmer. I try not to think about it, mostly. I know our cattle are treated pretty well, though once they leave here, I don't know anything. I agree with previous commenters – try to by a 1/2 or 1/4 side of beef or pork from someone in your area. We're glad to do it – it makes us a bit of money and is a good deal for the buyer as well.

  26. majellamom

    I would look into buying a half an animal from someone who raises them near you, and having it processed at a local packing plant. This will probably be more expensive than grocery store meats (particularly those you have gotten on sale, for instance) but it is nice to know exactly where your meat comes from (and sometimes what that meats name was…)

    My in-laws raise cattle, and we have a good custom packing plant nearby. We have gotten 1/4 beef and 1/2 pig upon occasion, and we can specify what we would like in our processing (how big of roasts, how many steaks or chops in a package, etc.) I've never done chickens this way, but it can be done (of course, chickens are easy enough to butcher without a packing plant involved.)

  27. Emily a.k.a. Smoochagator

    You asked, "Does anyone else struggle with this issue?" YES, YES, YES. I ate a mostly vegetarian meal for about a year (I did occasionally eat fish) but threw all that out the window when my husband and I started dating and it became clear that if I did not cook meat for him, he would subsist entirely on Taco Bell and Burger King. (Neither of which, in my mind, can be considered "real food.")

    Now, as an omnivore, I enjoy the taste of chicken and beef, but I am often plagued by the thought that my decision to eat meat supports an industry of torture. I'm not opposed to animals being slaughtered for food – I am opposed to the horrible conditions one finds in most American factory farming operations.

    I loved being a vegetarian – it was the least expensive and easiest dietary decision I've ever made, because I love vegetables, legumes and whole grains with a fanatic passion. My husband, however, is a stereotypical meat-and-potatoes guy, and I don't think it's kind for me to say, "Hey, you're on your own meal-wise." He wouldn't eat ANYTHING healthy, and he'd cost us 100s of dollars every month in fast food. And I wouldn't have the opportunity to show love to him by cooking for him. So instead, I disrespect God's creation. Not the best ethical choice I've ever made, but…

    I have often thought that I'd like to buy meat from local farmers, whose ethical practices I can literally witness with my own eyes. The added benefit of such a practice would be supporting my local economy instead of "big business." But, um, that's more expensive, and more time-consuming, than just picking up some shrink-wrapped steaks at the supermarket. Again, my ethical decision making is not so sharp. *sigh*

    Reading your post makes me think this is an issue in my own life that needs some re-examining.

  28. Vicki

    Due to financial issues a while back, I began feeding my family less and less meat. We still eat it, but rather than having a big piece of meat as a main dish, I cut it up and cook it in something, and sometimes we have meals without meat at all.

    We raise our own chickens, and this fall we plan to slaughter and eat some of them. I'm not totally comfortable with that, but I feel like our chickens were able to live a comfortable life and be slaughtered humanely.

  29. Tienne

    Jen-

    I definitely struggle with wanting to eat meat and being unable to afford much of the humane kind! It always helps me in situations like this to remember "Do what you can."

    Can you cut out two meat-meals a week and replace them with veg meals? Can you cut out two grocery-meat purchases and replace them with organic, free range meat? Can you do research on just beef (or just chicken or just pork or just salmon or just tuna) and discover the best brand for that type of meat? Can you pledge to order vegetarian-only at restaurants or buy only vegetarian prepared meals at the grocery store?

    Instead of being overwhelmed with the vast amounts of research necessary, just pick one small thing (I think you had a post about this prayer-wise just a few days ago, actually!) and go with it.

  30. Anonymous

    What works for our family is the following: Once a year, I split a locally-raised pig and/or lamb with another family or two. The animals are slaughtered, cut, and labelled, and we keep the meat in our freezer. My friend and I met the farmers at our local farmer's market. They provide information about their organic methods,and take orders a few times per year.

    WE also order chicken during the summer from the same farmer and freeze some for the winter. This means we need a big stand-up freezer to get us through the winter.

    Check out your local farmers' market and ask around about how to order meat from local organic farms. Look up Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) on the web for your area — they can be good sources of referrals to local farms that sell to the public.

    Good luck!

  31. MemeGRL

    Wow, your readers are early risers (or late bedtimers!).
    We belong to a local co-op, and they source only ethically raised meat. The "without breaking the bank" is the harder part here but I would rather spend more and eat a little less to know I'm getting meat I don't have to worry about.
    And when you come up for air in a few years and have time to read, anything by Temple Grandin on her work designing slaughterhouses is fascinating. She can think like the cattle or livestock can and creates stress free architecture for the slaughterhouses. And Novella Carpenter has a memoir just out this summer called Farm City, about creating a garden/farm in the middle of a transitional neighborhood in Oakland, CA. She raises her own fowl and eventually pigs, and reading her story was fascinating too.

  32. Fencing Bear

    I have been a vegetarian since college (so going on 25 years) and I have never had any trouble with feeling unhealthy or weak. I breastfed my son (also a vegetarian) for two years and he (now age 13) is totally healthy, so I have no concerns about whether raising children vegetarian is a good thing. I think that we worry too much about "getting enough protein" likewise about "eating too many carbs." Much of the current nutritional information with which we plan our diets is based not on an understanding of healthy eating, but on advertising for particular producers, especially beef. "Getting enough protein" is a red herring. You will get enough protein if you eat a balance of different foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, pulses), and no, I don't even think about this much, I just eat what tastes good. If you do want to eat meat, however, I think that you are ethically obliged to eat only animals whom you know were raised and slaughtered humanely. This would include hunted meat (possibly the best, since the animal definitely lived a good life before dying). Sometimes, I confess, I do eat meat (turkey at Thanksgiving), but being vegetarian the rest of the time makes me all the more conscious that I am eating an animal–and therefore all the more thankful for the life that it gave so that I could live.

  33. Jill Davis Doughtie

    I felt like this for a long time. I'd eat vegetarian for a year or so, and then it would be too inconvenient or I'd get tired of not being able to eat what my friends were cooking or what my husband was eating and edge back into omnivorousness.

    The thing that made a difference for me — and this is going to sound CRAZY — was that I started getting interested in raw food. Raw food is so different from cooked vegan or vegetarian food — my energy level is great, it tastes brighter — and often better, especially better than meat-substitute types of meals. I usually eat about half raw and half cooked food in a day, but focusing on adding as much raw food to my diet as possible (instead of on giving up meat) made me stop wanting meat — and white flour and sugar and even alcohol –eventually.

    Also, it turns out that I feel healthier and stronger than I ever have before.

  34. Melanie B

    I'm pretty much with you: concerned about the meat we eat but feel there's not much I can do about it on our limited budget. Not so much because of ethical concerns as about health issues. I think meat raised ethically is healthy meat and unethical practices generally are as bad for the person eating the animal as for the animal itself.

    I tried to do more lentils and beans and stuff like many of your readers suggest but find that it doesn't really satisfy me when I'm pregnant/breastfeeding. (Which is all the time since we got married.) I can maybe swap out one or two dinners a week with non-meat but more than that and I start to feel ill and very low energy. I already stretch the cheap supermarket meat by making stir-fries and putting a smaller amount of meat in sauces and all the other shortcuts people suggest. That's the only way I can keep even that in our tight budget.

    I'd love to find a local source for free-range grass-fed meat, eggs and dairy as many people suggest. It doesn't seem to be as easy in our area as it is in other parts of the country. So I keep looking and hoping to find something and in the meantime grit my teeth and buy the supermarket meat we can afford.

    Sorry no helpful suggestions here, just frustrations as I've already seen every suggestion made here and none of them has helped me find a way out of the dilemma: we don't have enough money for me to buy and cook the way I'd like and there's just no work around that works for us where we are now.

  35. Aubrey

    I have always eaten meat, and used to never even think twice about it. These days, however, I do think more about it. I also have tried to cut down on the amount of meat, trying to have 1-2 days/week without meat, and I've cut meat almost entirely out of my lunches. It's definitely cheaper, but I also want to be a good steward of the environment. Our small town has no nice grocery store with organic/grass-fed/free range anything, but I have looked around into finding somewhere I can get these.

    Another thing I think about too is that it really is healthier and people live longer by eating less meat and more vegetables. So I'm definitely in a similar place in that I am not entirely comfortable getting meat from where I currently get it, but I don't have many other options right now. Maybe one day.

  36. Katie

    One more thing…besides the health thing which I am mostly concerned about. When I found a farmer who raised lean, grass fed cows, I asked how they were slaughtered. If that is a concern to you, and you can stomach the answer, ask! The farmer who cares about his/her animals and the quality of food produced will answer very honestly. I've also heard that when you eat meat, the meat should only cover about 1/3 of your plate and the rest should be fruits and veggies. On MY part, this takes a little extra planning and a some cutting and bagging up when I first buy veggies. So on the part of a very busy mom, I don't know where you would fit this in. Plus there is nothing wrong with flash frozen bagged vegetables and fruit at the grocery store. Big time saver! I think the most fun of trying to incorporate more veggies and less meat is finding new recipes and learning about new ingredients. Don't underestimate the power of seasonings. http://www.whfoods.com/foodstoc.php has a list of foods and what is in them to make them healthy. Spices and herbs are in that list too. The more seasoned your food is, the better it tastes, the less you eat, but the more nutrients you get!

    –Katie (again)
    http://www.frillythinking.blogspot.com

  37. Wonders for Oyarsa

    Hi Jen,

    Don't know how much information you would like, but this is a very thoughtful article on the subject by a Catholic in Touchstone Magazine, whose name (ironically enough) is Christopher Killheffer.

  38. Anne

    The words "humane" and "slaughter" really don't go together. In recent years, it's become easier and easier to be vegetarian (and even vegan). There are many family friendly vegetarian cookbooks out there (Nava Atlas and Dreena Burton come to mind). Once your eyes are opened up to the realities of the use of animals for food, it's hard to go back. I say, "go for it!" and become vegetarian, you and your family will be healthier, you'll be helping the environment, the food tastes so much better, and you won't be contributing (as much) to the suffering of animals. (just my humble opinion, only because you asked πŸ™‚ )
    Good luck!

  39. 4ddintx

    My husband hunts, so a portion of our meat is from that. I know his incredible ethics, and that the deer, fish, or fowl lived a wild life as God intended.

    We also eat other,domesticated meat, as well. Last year we bought a 1/4 of a grass-fed cow from a local farmer. We hope to do the same this year and maybe get a hog, too. Our Farmer's market is selling chickens this year for the first time.

    I have 6 children (9 months to 10 years) and we've learned to stretch the meat that we have. We thoroughly enjoy the steaks in our freezer, but me stretch a pound of burger for spaghetti or chili (we always cook for leftovers). When we roast a chicken, we make the leftovers into a casserole and then crockpot the bones to make stock that turns into veggie soup (little or no meat left). So, we use up what we have. If I get three meals from one chicken, that's a bargain even if it's expensive chicken.

    I can't afford the prices at our health food store, so when we're out of the good stuff, we do buy the factory farmed meat. By planning and buying in bulk, most of our meat is the ethically raised kind.

    If you want to do some easy reading on these issues, I recommend Michael Pollan's books, Barbara Kingsolver's _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_, and _Real Food_ by Nina Planck.

    I do know that over half of the slaughter facilities in the U.S. were designed by Temple Grandin and are designed for a quick, ethical kill. (Reading her books is a fascinating look into autism, by the way.) I'm more concerned about the life my meat lived in terms if its confinement and nutrition than about it's kill because of that knowledge.

    http://www.localharvest.org lists Farmer's Markets and CSA's all over the country.

    You're certainly not the only one trying to come up with solutions to this issue with as little energy expenditure or inconvenience as possible!

  40. Nadja Magdalena

    I was a vegetarian for twenty years, and now we raise our own beef and pork. Our animals do have a nice life before they migrate to the freezer, and I have less guilt about eating them than I do about supermarket meat, which perpetuates very sad/bad practices in raising animals (Don't read Matthew Scully's "Dominion"…) How can we pamper an animal and then eat it? Honestly, I couldn't if I had to kill it myself, although I might bring myself to kill a chicken if my kids were hungry and I had little choice. All I know is that our animals receive kindness, medical care as needed, room to do their thing, and a lot of back-scratches and rubs, even as we keep in mind their ultimate purpose.

  41. Lynn

    I wonder if the paidom.com people are near you? their meat is amazing. Right now we are able to get eggs, beef, lamb, and chicken from a farmer not too far from here. All grassfed organic. We buy the beef by the half, which comes out to just under $3/lb. Eggs are $2.25/doz. I keep telling him he could sell more and charge more, but he's got another day job.

  42. Courageous Grace

    It never really bothered me, but hubby and I have been getting our meat lately from Town & Country Foods and have discovered it's just better meat. It's all natural, organic meat and vegetables and although I don't buy it for that reason, that might be something that other people would like. It costs less than buying it at the grocery store and is not re-frozen like most meats you find at the grocery.

    Now the only meat we buy at the store is deli meat for sandwiches and the occasional hot dog.

    The meat comes vacuum sealed with excess fat trimmed off so you're not paying for lbs of fat. They're also not packed with preservatives or water. And the flavor is good.

    http://www.townandcountryfoods.com/

  43. Monica

    As a former vegetarian myself, I struggle with the same dilemma. When I began eating meat again, I, too, shopped at Whole Paycheck – oops, I mean, Whole *Foods* – and other $$$$ grocery stores for my organic, humanely-raised beef and chicken.

    Now we are a 1 income family living in the expensive S.F. Bay Area, and I can no longer afford to shop at places that charge 5 bucks for a tomato.

    For awhile, I bought regular supermarket meat, and, like you, just tried really hard not to think about what type of life those animals had before they were slaughtered. However, my conscience kept bugging me, and I was never entirely OK with my decision.

    Then, one day, I noticed that our local Costco had begun selling organic and humanely raised chicken, ground beef, and hot dogs. It was still kinda pricey, but *way* cheaper than Whole Foods meat.

    So, that's what we do now – buy humanely raised chicken and beef (and eggs – they sell organic eggs, too) at Costco in bulk. (I stick the meat in the freezer in 1 or 2 lb increments, and defrost when I'm ready to use it.)

    That takes care of most of our needs, but I do still buy regular meat when in a pinch, or for stuff like cold cuts or pork. (No humanely raised pork at Costco yet.) And we do eat at McDonald's and In-N-Out, etc, though we try not to go too often.

    Lastly, if I'm using our slow cooker and the recipe calls for a cheaper cut of meat, I'll just bite the bullet and go to Whole Foods or our local natural foods store. I don't mind paying more for organic pork shoulder or whatever, since it's still pretty cheap, considering.

    Lastly, I'm trying to make it a habit to cook a vegetarian dinner a couple of times a week. It's hard, though, once you've gotten out of the habit! Guess I need to drag out my old vegetarian cookbooks. πŸ™‚

    Anyway, hope this helps. My conscience does still bug me from time to time, but for us, this is a good compromise. We get about 75% of our meat organic and humanely-raised, which is pretty good, I think. It's still more expensive, but for us, it's worth it.

  44. Anonymous

    I just can't in good conscience, spend more for food (that I know I can purchase more cheaply) even if it is healthier or more humane. I work for my church's food bank and see too many hungry people experiencing seriously hard times. Every $10 or $20 extra that more affluent people spend on their own groceries is less money available to donate to worthier causes.

  45. Anne Marie

    Jen you have an uncanny knack for putting your finger on the pulse, that’s a cool gift.

    This very topic came up for us in a big way this year. We are raising beef cattle and meat chickens for the first time. The topic comes into sharp perspective when you’ve met and cared for the animal that will become your dinner. Especially when hubby announces that WE will be slaughtering and dressing the chickens ourselves. SAY WHAT?

    We didn’t, I found a local slaughter house for the chickens and plan to do so for the cattle as well. I’ve also considered offering our grass raised beef for sale in our area directly to consumers who have similar concerns.

    Frankly, the whole issue of slaughtering animals is creepy. I hope to find a slaughter house that follows kosher guidelines, but am I going to sit there and watch to make sure? Well, I didn’t with the chickens, although I saw enough of what was going on that I was comfortable that it was as humane as possible when one is killing another creature, and I had the option of watching if I had wanted to. β€œAh, no thanks guys, I’ll just be over here, thanks though.”

    How does one even go about researching such a topic? We certainly can’t rely on PETA, but am I going to go out and find out for myself? Even if I wanted to how would I do that? So how would I find the info and who’s viewpoint can be trusted? Is there a Ralph Nader of meat farming and slaughterhouse review?

  46. Anonymous

    But … since you are Catholic … are you equally as delicate about enlarging the profits of companies that make money off of and/or monetarily support abortion? Do you even know the donation patterns/principles of the retailers you shop at? Do you buy products made by the big pharma companies that make abortion drugs? Do you care whether the retailers you patronize are giving money to Planned Parenthood? If not, why not? Why aren't you equally sensitive about the small children being slaughtered?

    OK, you get the idea. I don't think it's possible for anyone to be entirely ethically sensitive about everything in our modern lives. There are just too many interconnected components for anyone to keep track of.

    Cut yourself some slack on the meat eating. It's a trendy thing, but it is not nearly the most important thing. Don't you live near Austin, a norotiously left-wing college town? See, you're immersed in that trendy nonsense in a way that most Americans are not — to rephrase, the culture of your area is not a good indicator of America's general culture, not to mention Catholic culture. Try not to take it too seriously.

    Sarah Reinhard has good advice for buying local meat. Her approach gives you that old-fashioned personal connection with the farmer. Sounds like a good approach to me.

    And if you're really looking to live more ethically, abortion is a better issue to eradicate from your life. Life Decisions International keeps a list of companies that fund abortion. Read it and weep, literally.

  47. Kathreja

    I recommend http://www.kolfoods.com

    Granted it is Kosher, but I know the lady who runs it and they are expanding.

  48. Alice@Supratentorial

    Oh, yes, I struggle with this also. I have read the Omnivore's Dilemna and loved it. For awhile I purchased meat from a local farm (Polyface Farm that is highlighted in the book) or from the Farmer's Market. I still like the idea of doing that but it's hard to pass up the convenience and much cheaper meat at the grocery store. Like you I kind of just don't want to know more. I feel like I should know more about where my food comes from and how it was treated…but I'm afraid to open that can of worms even more.

    Probably an issue I should think about more.

  49. J.C.

    It's a cop-out, to be sure, but the way I deal with this issue is to put it in perspective. If I had any extra resources–time, money, etc–I would put them towards stopping the cruelty and mistreatment of baby humans by the abortion industry. These little feeling animals with eternal souls are being painfully deprived of their earthly lives, and without baptism, may possibly be deprived of the beatific vision. I love animals, and it makes me sick to think what some must endure, but when you do get that gnawing guilty feeling, think that innocent babies are experiencing worse in our own backyards. No contest. Until we put right this injustice, animal welfare does not make the priority list.

  50. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer,

    Alright, fessing up here. I really have not been very thoughtful about the whole meat-eating thing, and honestly, don't really know that I will, not in the short term anyway. I grew up spending time with a grandfather who made the best roast beef and gravy in the world; he was a true meat-lover. I guess it's sort of in my blood. I try to be thoughtful and intentional about most things in my life, but I'm afraid that if I were to be judged on the amount of attention I have paid to my meat-eating habits, I would be scorned ruthlessly. Alright, bring on the tomatoes…and could you throw in a slice of roast beef, too? πŸ™‚ (I say this in jest, realizing it might not be a laughing matter to all. Also, I am an animal lover and cry every time I see Charlotte's Web. It's just not something that plagues me, is all. I'd rather worry about feeding the starving people of the world, and keeping my own family fed and healthy. Okay, enough already. Looks like you've gotten some great responses! Hope it's helped.

  51. Meika

    Here's a second vote for hunted meat – I can know with a high degree of confidence that the deer my husband shot was free-range and grass-fed without any research at all! πŸ™‚

  52. AmyRobynne

    Just over a year ago, I decided that cheap food wasn't worth the monetary savings. But we don't have the money to pay $7/lb for ground beef at Whole Foods or whatever. Here's what we do:

    1) Buy 1/4 beef from a local farmer who feeds them on pasture. Cost: $2.10/lb hanging wt plus butcher cost. That translates to $3.50/lb and we bring home between 100 and 150 lbs. We spend a day driving out to the farm, chat with the farmers, then drive to the butcher and pick up the beef.

    2) Buy whole chickens from local farmers who treat them humanely. I can usually find them for $2.10-$2.30/lb from farmers who deliver to a nearby location. If I get a great price, I buy 10 at once. We have an extra freezer and I usually have food stored in my mom's extra freezer, too.

    3) We have suburban, backyard chickens. We just got them in May and spent $500 on the coop and obtaining the city permit, but by October, they'll be producing 3 dozen eggs per week (we have 6 hens). We'll share/sell the extras, which will cover the feed cost. So they'll be free to maintain and supply plenty of eggs after the 6 months' initial set up costs.

    4) We buy dry goods through http://www.clnf.org We order $400+ with friends and they deliver free as far south as Oklahoma. It's a little cheaper than the bulk bins at the co-op and far cheaper than the little packages of organic flour at Whole Foods.

    5) We buy cleaning supplies, soaps, and paper products through Frontier Cooperative. Wholesale prices on Seventh Generation, Burt's Bees, etc, and free delivery with large orders (again, we order with friends).

    It's not as cheap as buying only loss-leaders at the grocery store, but it's far cheaper than buying everything from Whole Foods.

  53. Erin @ Sky Blue Pink Roses

    While I don't have ethical problems with eating meat, I do share your concern about how the animals were raised and killed. I don't know how to deal with this other than buying expensive free-range-type meats, which I'm just not prepared to pay such a premium for. My best response is to reduce the amount of meat (and other animal products) in my diet. A book that may help you find the motivation to do so from a health perspective, as opposed to the ethical perspective, is The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.

  54. Ginny

    Huge struggle for me. I was vegetarian for ten years-very serious about it-even tattooed Liberate across my back. We started eating meat again for similar reasons to yours-a difficult pregnancy food wise for me, a child who needed a special diet, two adopted kids who really need to make up for lost time in the protein dept.
    I never thought I would buy non organic meat, but I find myself doing it because we don't have a infinite grocery budget. However, lately I have been trying once again to eat more bean based meals and go back to eating more organic or at least humanely raised meat. We don't need meat at every meal. We don't really eat beef, mainly chicken. I am trying to buy exclusively whole chickens, because then after roasting or boiling-I can make chicken broth which helps make the expensive bird pay for itself.
    Things to look into: food coops which may make the meat cheaper. We have a couple locally that sell amish raised meet. Organic is not that important to me, but humanely raised is. Organic status is hard to obtain so many small farmers opt for the all natural label which is fine for me. We have a beef farm on our street that sells their meat in bulk-as in you buy some portion of a cow. The cows are grass fed but not organic. I have friends who chip in together and each buy 1/4 of a cow. The price comes out to being as cheap or cheaper than the store bought stuff. Of course you have to have the freezer space. I really want a deep freeze, but don't know where to put it.
    We are trying our hand at raising chickens and if we get the guts to do it, we will try killing some for meat. We will at the very least have eggs from happy chickens. Currently we buy them from a local farmer down the road from us. But long term for us, we hope to grow/raise much of our own food. It's such a personal thing, what we put into our bodies.
    I think you have to evaluate your life and what's on your plate and then decide how important the issue is to you and then take baby steps.

  55. Red Cardigan

    Left to my own devices, I would be a vegetarian about 75% of the time, and cook and serve a little chicken and fish the other 25% of the time.

    With a family that's not entirely practicable, but my husband is very concerned about factory farming, and over the years we've made a few changes to our diet:

    1. We eat no beef. I try to get some lamb on occasion, but honestly, red meat isn't all that healthy anyway and there are perfectly healthy children raised in areas of the world where red meat is not at all a part of the diet, or only served once in a great while as a *seasoning* to a dish. Americans eat entirely too much beef, all things considered; and some of the worst factory farming habits revolve around cattle raising.

    2. We eat pork or ham less often than we used to. I really only buy it during the colder months (as nobody feels like eating pork roast or a giant spiral ham in August in Texas). I might serve a pork roast or thick pork chops as one meal, but then the rest of the meat is cubed and used in stews, soups, cooked for "bbq" sandwiches in the crockpot with ketchup and salsa, or otherwise "stretched." This is in keeping with my choice to use meat as an *element* of a meal, not as the main feature and focus of every meal.

    3. We eat chicken, but again, I'm more likely to cook some chicken and then use it in other things. Last night for some company I had cooked a small pan of chicken tenders, sliced them, and used them in calzone fillings (one big calzone was chicken, broccoli, and cheese, and the other was spinach, tomatoes, chicken, and cheese). The rest of the meal was comprised of salads, none of which had any meat in them. Nobody went away hungry. πŸ˜‰

    4. We don't eat as much fish as I'd like, but that's mainly because my husband strongly dislikes fish. I will cook it for the children and myself on occasion, though.

    5. We eat a LOT of vegetarian meals. I will serve pasta with a homemade sauce (broccoli, tomatoes, onions, garlic etc.), bean dishes (I make "chickpea burgers" and homemade falafel as well as tons of black bean dishes, and we sometimes branch out into other beans–unfortunately white beans are something I can't eat, but split peas are good and I have a good vegetarian split pea soup recipe), I make homemade pizza, vegetarian chili, and so on. Even though I'm not the most enthusiastic cook in the world, I've discovered that I really enjoy making these sorts of meals much, much more than the kind where I used to shove some meat in the oven and serve a potato dish and a second vegetable–vegetarian cooking is way more fun, to me, for some strange reason. πŸ™‚

    I've already gone on too long, but I think the key for us has been to rethink the "role" of meat in our diet, and how much of it we consume. Very few countries in the world treat meat the way we do, or eat the portion sizes of it we think is normal. That said, we all have to do what works for our own families, and some families might find it much harder to think of meat as a smaller, less important part of dinner.

  56. Mary DeTurris Poust

    Jennifer,
    Yes, I share your struggle. I became a vegetarian back in the 1980s before I had children. I did it for a combination of reasons: health concerns (my mom died of colon cancer at 47) and animal concerns. Even though my husband is a meat-lover, we had a vegetarian house until late in my first pregnancy. Then I started craving chicken and decided I should listen to my body.
    Although I still cooked a lot of vegetarian food after giving birth the first time, I started to realize how much easier it was to cook for my family if I used meat. By the time I had three kids, meat-eating became the norm.
    Then last year, Olivia, my middle child who just turned nine, decided she didn't not want animals to die so she could eat. A young vegetarian was born and I went back on the wagon in solidarity with her and because it was something I had been toying with for a while.
    I'm happy I did and now, because of where I am spiritually, I feel that cutting the meat out of my diet can become part of more mindful eating habits. Although I haven't written about it as you have, I struggle with the fact that my careless eating does not match up with the spiritual path I want to be on. It's something I'm beginning to explore in more depth.
    Anyway, sorry for the long comment. Thanks, as always for your thoughtful post.

  57. Living A Liturgy

    YOu should find a theatre near you playing the new documentary "Food Inc." It can answer your questions in a short hour. It is possible to have a high-protein, low meat diet with your family. You just have to make sure you are having plenty of grains and beans and vegetables. These are more filling, too. I am reading a book right now called "Vegetarian Pregnancy" that is very insightful, although I am not a vegetrian – I just have a hard time digesting mammal (as opposed to fish and eggs).

    Check out Food Inc, though, here is a link: http://www.foodincmovie.com/

    It's so sad when eating becomes a confusing trial. I guess that's what happens when capitalism and productivity take priority – we lose touch with reality and the creation that God gave us to be stewards over. That's my biggest thing about this whole "food" thing, being a proper steward. If I am feeding my family OR supporting companies that produce food that I KNOW has poorly treated animals AND workers, I am not being a good steward, and I cannot eat in good conscience knowing that.

    http://www.foodincmovie.com/ Food Inc. πŸ™‚

  58. Katie

    The words "humane" and "slaughter" CAN go together if you buy from the right local farmer. I know the people who raise the cows on grass, letting them roam free and be happy. They are not scared and shaking nor are they abused when it's time for "slaughter." It's not even slaughter really. It's very fast and painless because the farmers care about the cows and the quality of the product from the cows.

  59. Anonymous

    From reading the comments it seems that most have an intuitive sense that causing animals avoidable suffering is wrong. Indeed when engaged in a conversation where treatment of animals comes up, I've responded that we should certainly minimize the pain we cause them. But honestly, if any of the people I was talking to asked "Why?" I wouldn't have been able to answer.

    Would anyone care to offer the basis for their desire to eat/treat animals more "ethically?" I don't mean to be obnoxious, but I truly have no reason other than the fact that it seems like we should.

    I tend to think more along the lines of the last anonymous commenter; I checked out Life Decisions International and noticed Whole Foods Market the first on the list of boycott targets (which I assume means they financially support Planned Parenthood).

  60. Anonymous

    This is a huge struggle for me as well. I have dabbled in vegetarian, vegan, raw food vegan, etc. My family does not do well without meat/on a high carb diet. And the book "Nourishing Traditions" is good at explaining why πŸ™‚ I buy grass-fed/organic/free-range when I can, but current financial circumstances has forced me to buy the cheapest option the last few months. I pray that it is temporary, and do what I can in the meantime. But I do dream of that little farm where we can raise our own food.
    Lisa

  61. Susan

    At the risk of my comment being lost among all these fine other comments, I'll add my two cents anyway.

    I went through the Animal Science program at university and have a degree in Agriculture. I haven't used it much since I've been home raising children but I used to work for veterinarians and gained a firm grasp of how animals are raised & slaughtered in factory farms.

    I don't have a problem eating meat but I do have a very big problem with factory farming. It's one of the reasons that I'm very reluctant to eat store-bought pork, for example. The things these animals are fed are not good for the animal's nutrition or for us as the end consumer. And the conditions many are kept in aren't conducive to good animal welfare practices either, although a good manager can make things much better for the animals.

    We're on a tight budget too but I do make the effort to buy beef from a local producer here who raises their cattle up to slaughter. These cattle have never been grain fed, aren't given antibiotics as preventative medicine and aren't vaccinated either. The beef is FAR superior to what I get at the supermarket. Far leaner and better tasting.

    I understand how tough it is to find but I do believe it's worth the effort. On the other hand, sometimes I wish I didn't know about how our meat is raised. Ignorance can indeed be bliss.

  62. The Burgess family

    I really have nothing much to say about meat. Our family eats it, and like you said I choose not to think about it. I agree that animals shouldn't be treated really cruelly, but it annoys me when people go overboard that way, so I guess I just stay in the dark like you said, because I don't really want to talk about it.

    I actually just wanted to say I really like your blog, and was wondering if you would post (or have posted) about your marriage and how your faith plays into that part of your life.

  63. Jane D.

    I have to say that I became a vegi 15 years ago because my to be husband didn't like kissing me after I ate meat! Maybe not the best reason to do it, however 15 years on and having raised 2 very healthy vegi children I wouldn't change my decision at all. It is in this time that I have had the opportunity to learn more about animal welfare and I also see meat as a way that we 'impose' our greed on Gods creation, we really do not very much protein in our diets. With talking with friends I have also had the benefit of spending about Β£20 less per week on my grocery bill.

  64. truthfinder

    Don't know if you live near any Amish communities (I've read that they are moving West), but Amish free-range chickens are yummy, and grass-fed beef is the best! (Obviously, I'm not a vegetarian.) If you can't access the Amish products, then Kosher is the way to go. As the popular ad says, "no ifs, ands, or butts!"

  65. Anna

    An anonymous commenter asked:
    "Would anyone care to offer the basis for their desire to eat/treat animals more "ethically?" I don't mean to be obnoxious, but I truly have no reason other than the fact that it seems like we should."

    Here's my answers:

    1)That voice inside that makes you *feel* like you should treat animals with the minimum of pain is called your conscience. Although your conscience can be twisted, it isn't arbitrary; it is a link to objective moral reality. In other words, you feel like it's right because it really is right.
    2) Treating animals more ethically almost universally coincides with better quality food (cleaner, safer, more nutrition).
    3) Being cruel or inconsiderate towards animals builds a habit of cruelty or inconsideration; this habit can slide easily into cruelty or inconsideration towards people. This can happen at both the individual and cultural levels, I think.

    Does that answer your question?

  66. Anna

    Oh, and Jen, I am so there too. Our neighborhood farmer's market sells meat and eggs (during the summer) that I think are locally raised and probably free-range. But our family is on food stamps, and the farmer's market doesn't take EBT cards. There's a farmer's market across town that does, but I'm not sure I'm prepared to drive across town every week to buy enough meat to satisfy my meat-loving husband and our 4 little ones. I'm hoping that when my husband finds a job, he'll be making enough that we can afford to do regular shopping at the farmer's market close to us.

  67. Anonymous

    Buy kosher. The End.

  68. Kacie

    I definitely have friends that struggle with this issue, but I don't, and I believe it's because I was raised in the third-world and often DID see the meat I was eating in the before and during the slaughtering process.

    I would be in villages where we'd pet the pigs that the villagers would later chase and shoot with bows and arrows before a pig feast. We would swim in the ocean and catch fish and lobster and then cook them on the fire ourselves. When you bought chicken, you often bought it live and saw it slaughtered in front of you.

    Most of the people I lived around lived hand-to-mouth. They didn't have an option – they couldn't turn their nose up at meat or they would probably die of malnutrition. I guess I came to know the circle of life rather intimately – animals may be cute and … well… alive… but the fact of life was that they also kept us alive.

    Because of that reality, it has never bothered me to eat meat. I did read an article by a food blogger in Chicago who took part in the slaughter of every animal she eats, because she believed that it would be unethical to eat what she was not unable to kill herself. Once she'd taken part in this process she made peace with being a meat-eater.

  69. Elisabeth Black

    Yes to the first, and my only answer to the second is buying organic meat in bulk from a farmer, which is a huge initial outlay, and you have to have a chest freezer, and usually be able to use all the different cuts.

  70. Marie

    If you spend $10 a pound on organic free range beef, instead of $2 per pound on the beef at Costco, have you been a good steward of that extra $8?

    Can not that $8 go to Operation Smile or for a new pair of shoes from Payless for your visiting child or?

    I think you are straining at gnats and swallowing camels on this issue.

    I don't think it is routine to torture animals in slaughterhouses.

    I don't doubt that a pig put suddenly into a slaughterhouse might tremble or act frightened, but I dare say he would act that way if suddenly placed in your living room, too. They aren't people.

  71. Laura @ OurHouseOfJoyfulNoise.com

    Was just led to your blog through the suggestion of a new friend…and I'm so glad I was!
    I read several posts…laughed my head off at you husband's friend and his hotel-room-lock-out-incident! Yikes!!

    I'll be back…I subscribed.
    Oh….and welcome to the LIGHT SIDE! ; ) SO glad you joined us.

  72. ohhowhappy

    (sigh…) I think I did that twice as I was reading as well. I empathize. We have four kiddos and I would love, love to eat organic, free-range, locally purchased everything. But, it isn't within our means. I have been trying to incorporate at least one meatless main dish every week. This Fall, I'm upping that to two. My goal us to slowly cut back our meat comsumption to twice a week, but that's only if I can find things that everyone will eat without too much fuss. I don't know what the answer is, excpet that for me, I am sure that the Lord wants me to be more mindful of how the vast majority of the world eats…

  73. Capital Mom

    I am vegetarian and have been since I was 14. I have no desire to eat meat but I have come to accept that others do (no, I was not so tolerent about that as a teenager).
    I think that if you have the opportunity to buy directly from a farmer that would be the best way to buy meant. I hate to say it but what you buy in a supermarket was probably not raised or killed humainely.

    My struggle is over the fact that I am not vegan. We buy only organic eggs even though they are more expensive because I feel better about the treatment of the eggs. I am tempted to go vegan but my husband loves his cheese.

    There is always some struggle isn't there.

  74. Leighann

    My family goes in with other families to order grass fed beef from a local butcher. We pay about $4.30 per pound. So we break about even on the ground chuck (for organic ground chuck) but make up for it with the other cuts of meat, including filets. for grass fed filets from whole foods or wegmans, you pay almost $30 per pound. grass fed is healthier for humans and more humane for the animal. our butcher also offers other types of meat.
    organic eggs in our area are also cheaper from local farmers than in the stores.
    good luck!

  75. Anonymous

    We were vegetarians for almost 9 years. I was led to it by reading Genesis.

    When God created the world, he offered every tree with seed in its fruit for food to Adam and Eve and the foliage to ALL the animals (Gen 1:29-30). After the flood, he instructed Noah, "Every living thing that lives shall be food for you" (Gen.9:3). I felt that, since the ideal was to NOT eat animals, as a Catholic seeking holiness, I would follow the ideal.

    Then, years later, reading the Acts of the Apostles with my daughter as part of our post-Easter(homeschool) religion program, I encountered Peter's vision when he saw "something like a large sheet" come down from Heaven, filled wiht all sorts of creatures and heard a voice commanding him to kill and eat. When Peter protested because some of the creatures were considered unclean by Jewish law, he heard the voice say, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane."

    During the months before this, I, too, had struggled with having far too many carbs in my diet. I felt that Peter's vision was meant for me to pay attention to. I resisted, but the thought persisted and around that time, was the Resurrection Gospel when Jesus ate some fish before the apostles to prove He wasn't a ghost.

    Okay, I get it. Reluctantly, I went back to eating meat – very slowly bringing it into our diet. I began to waver about a year later when the reading from Acts came up at Mass. Normally, I spend time with the readings before Mass. Not that Sunday. The words hit me hard and we have been omnivorous ever since.

    Your post about duty should help you with the difficulty of how you shop. If spending time researching and searching for "ethical" food is harmful to you, and by extension your family, or will create severe financial hardship and stress, then I don't believe you are called to do that.

    You are called to know, love and serve God in this life so to be with Him forever in Heaven. As a wife, you are called to help your husband in his duty to God. As a mother, you are called to raise your children to the best of your ability to be godly people. You have talent as a writer and probably are expected by the Giver to use that talent to bring others along the way. AFTER you perform these duties, you are free to decide what else to take on.

    Sorry this is so long; hope some of it is useful.
    (your sometimes correspondent about Advent and birthdays) Linda

  76. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Haven't read the comments, just wanted to say "So that's where I am: I eat meat, I feed my family meat, but I'm not entirely comfortable with it." is me EXACTLY.

  77. Anne

    An anonymous commenter asked:
    "Would anyone care to offer the basis for their desire to eat/treat animals more "ethically?" I don't mean to be obnoxious, but I truly have no reason other than the fact that it seems like we should."

    My answer: They feel pain just like we do. They value their lives just like we do. Those are really the reasons for me. In addition, there are many other reasons, meat production is disastrous for the environment (and therefore hurts humans) and is not good for human health. But the one reason that is sufficient for me is that I do not want to cause another sentient being pain or take its life. It's not necessary to eat meat to maintain health.

    Thanks for bringing up the discussion, I appreciate the chance to talk about it and that we have a variety of opinions here. Best of health to everyone!

  78. Bethany Hudson

    I second the eggs suggestion! We do eat meat. I don't personally struggle with it; I was never a vegetarian and don't ever intend to be. But, having MEAT–organic or not–can sometimes break the budget. We have a roast on Sundays (and leftovers worked into other meals, if there are leftovers), then we have eggs once a week for dinner (fritatta, quiche, etc.), and we eat vegetable proteins (chickpeas, lentils, various beans) on the other nights. We also try to stay traditional and eat fish on Fridays. Frankly, it's healthier to vary your protein intake rather than eating meat all the time–especially many modern convenience meats that are pumped up with antibiotics and other harmful additives.

    I can relate to your skepticism of your own lack of desire to research the issue, though. I have noticed that same tendency in my own life, and it's never been a good thing when I ignore that little voice. Fortunately, the voice seems to be persistent, so eventually, I tend to give in!

  79. Christian H

    Yes, I struggle with this.

  80. MariaP

    Hi. I enjoyed this post and all the comments. Lots of good ideas. But I think there is another aspect to this discussion. I think being so particular about food can be divisive and distract us from the mountain path to holiness. Food is meant to sustain us, not to consume us. I don't buy as much organic food as I used to (5 children back), but I cringed when a friend invited me over but cautioned "It won't be as organic as you guys eat, but I hope you'll like it." Did I give her the impression that we only dared to touch organic food? There can develop this "more organic than thou" attitude. I guess my goal is just to eat simply and prayerfully.

  81. bedfordshire

    I struggle with this question, too–we're on a very limited budget and I would love to eat more vegetarian and more organic. I find, however, that my body complains when I eat any legumes besides green beans, and my body and brain just plain work better with meat.

    One side benefit to buying locally: when my husband lost his job, our egg lady said we could have free eggs, as long as we needed. πŸ™‚

    My sister has a farm, and her husband is still trying to figure out why free-range/grassfed costs so much more to buy in stores when the feed costs for the animals are so much lower! As far as he can see their free-range chickens cost MUCH less to maintain than confinement chickens would.

  82. Kelly the Kitchen Kop

    Jennifer,

    Sorry I don't have time to read all the comments, hopefully I'm not repeating 10 people.

    You probably already guessed that this is a big issue with me.

    I'll only make one suggestion for now: go watch "Food, Inc." when it shows near you (or rent it when it comes out.) You'll never buy meat at the grocery store again.

    (More info at my site for finding healthy meat options.)

    Kelly

  83. Rebekka

    I second the other suggestions (or third them, or whatever) about purchasing a half (quarter, eighth, whatever floats your boat) of beef or other animal and freezing it. Sometimes even farms that are focussed on one thing are diversified on a small scale so you can buy eggs and organic veg "at the stall door" while you are there to pick up your meat.

    If it seems like a large investment at one time you ought to be able to find some other families that will split the meat with you.

    I am on the lookout right now for a small used chest freezer so that I can get us an 1/8th of beef, so I totally hear where you're coming from!

    Also, making your own stocks and broth from meat bones is a VERY cheap way to get some very nutritious elements into your diet, you can use the stocks in your other cooking. The prep time is not very bad and you can let the pot simmer in the background while you are doing other things.

  84. SursumCorda

    For a view from the farmer's side, more evidence that the issue is more complicated than we would like it to be, check out The Omnivore's Delusion.

  85. Kerry

    Jen – I was a vegetarian for 10 years. When I was pregnant with my second son I began to really crave meat, so I began eating chicken again. That was 10 years ago. I now eat anything that comes across my plate. πŸ™‚

    There was more to my decision that than, but that is the gist of it.

    I try really hard to make sure it has been raised in good conditions and slaughtered humanely (as much as one can be sure – you have to just read the labels and trust the producers). But we can't "save" animals by not eating them. Otherwise, we need to consider the little field mice that are killed by the farm equipment used to harvest vegetables (corn, wheat, etc).

    I highly recommend you read some of Michael Pollan's books. He especially touches on the ethics of our meals in The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pollan really helped me think through the ethics of food (and the labeling). I spend more on meat and dairy by buying organic/humane products, but it is worth the extra cost.

    So, 20 years after becoming a vegetarian I'm now looking to keep locally-hunted and processed venison (hunted and killed by a friend) in my freezer this winter. (Hey, the deer lived quite happily!)

  86. Rock Star Ma

    I just finished reading Fast Food Nation and I HIGHLY recommend it. I've never had a problem eating meat but I do have a problem with the gross and inhumane way slaughter workers, food service people and animals are treated. Not to mention how contaminated our meat actually is due to companies trying to save a few pennies.

    Especially as a Christian I feel I should be changing my buying habits and speaking up for those who can't do so.

    The problem is, I haven't figured how to break out of my old buying habits. I've cut back a little but I'd like to do more.

    If you get some good suggestions please let us know!

  87. Anonymous

    Thanks for your answers (re: why we should treat animals ethically), Anna and Anne.

    Anne, I think my questions was actually prompted by a strong feel against using sentience or ability to experience pain/pleasure as a measure of value. Sort of as Jennifer mentioned–it is that sort of world view (that value and dignity are based upon our abilities, or that pain and pleasure are the end all be all) that justifies abortion. If, however, we accept that all human life is worthy of respect because we all have eternal souls, how do animals fit into that?

    Anyway, not to get too abstract, I suppose I probably will be just accepting that our conscience on this issue is not misleading us. Also in line with what my conscience is saying, I'll probably continue to put promoting respect for human life and human rights from conception first.

  88. Anonymous

    I am all in favor of treating animals humanely. I also think, however, that we moderns have a somewhat exaggerated idea about what constitutes cruelty. Here's just one example. I watched a video in which Mike Rowe (host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs") was discussing his experiences with castrating lambs. According to the Humane Society, the proper way to do it was to place a band around the testes that would cut off circulation. After a week or so, the testes would simply fall off. Mike Rowe was working with a farmer who removed the testes in a truly disgusting way: cutting open the sack and sucking the testes out. It was bloody. But the lambs that were castrated this way were back on their feet and running around within minutes. The lambs that were castrated the Humane Society way just laid down and trembled. They would not run or behave normally. I just don't think the Humane Society always knows best.

    Someone commented that animals value their lives just like we do. This attitude is absolutely false. Yes, animals value their lives, but they do not have reason or free will. They do not feel as we do. We should not cause them unnecessary pain, but they are here so that we can use them. That's what they are for.

    Someone else already provided a link to The Omnivore's Delusion. Great Article. The issues aren't as simple as some would argue.

    –Elizabeth B.

  89. Kelly @ Love Well

    You've already gotten a ton of good advice here. I'm just going to echo that you read "Real Food" by Nina Planck. It will resonate with you. She started life on a small family farm, ended up vegetarian and vegan (it was the only way to rebel against my reasoned, gentle parents, she explains) and eventually became an omnivore again. There's a ton of science in the book, and while she's not a Christian, she makes many points that should concern Christians, given that God set us as stewards over His creation.

    I read it about a month ago, and I'm starting to shop very differently these days. I've got a post brewing; I'll let you know when it's posted.

  90. Katie

    Those large-scale meat packing plants that animal rights activist vilify also provide people (like my husband) with jobs. Meat production is not pretty, it's gruesome by necessity. But being gruesome doesn't necessarily make it "evil."

    Frankly it's not something that bothers me because 1) I'm not wealthy enough to be particularly picky about the food that I eat, anyway, and 2) animals have no immortal souls (sentience has nothing to do with it), so I don't feel I need to treat them like human beings, or "semi-humans". Of course pointless, intentional cruelty is very wrong, but there's no "nice" way to kill an animal for food.

    I think supporting local food producers is great and do it when I can, but I buy supermarket beef and chicken, etc, and I don't feel guilty about it in the least. We also eat a lot of beans and "vegetarian" meals for health and economic reasons.

  91. Addie

    I don't have any advice really, I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to hear that other people struggle with these things too. I am teaching a small group this summer on living out the gospel in our simple daily lives, and I honestly have reaised more questions than answers the whole time. What was supposed to be a practical supportive journey has turned into another "it's the spirit that counts" We read the gospel and it is obvious that God is radical and uncompromising about Justice, but when we really look into how entrenched we are in this global system where do we even start?

  92. Anna

    Anonymous,

    I'm with you on not losing the distinction between animals and humans. (I don't like, for example, to use "humane/inhumane" to refer to treatment of animals). But treating animals well, for me, is ultimately about treating humans well. Like taking care of the environment in general (and animal issues have quite a bit of impact on the environment), we are called by God to be good stewards.

    It's sort of like cleaning a house. Human beings are more important than a clean house; but keeping your house clean is often an important aspect of treating humans well.

  93. Mary

    okay, there were 94 notes before I wrote this, but it's been one of those weeks.

    You may want to look into
    "Eat Right for your blood type" by Dr. Peter J D'Adamo For the science/experiential information.
    different people have different responses to diferent foods.

    Perhaps eating the protiens you body responds to would help resolve some questions.

    If you think this would be a good method I suggest buying "Diabetes; fight it with the Blood type diet",
    I got this book for my husband and it has helped
    BUT I found that the Charts are Great! Much more up-to-date, detailed, five catagories instead of the original three.
    Things I couldn't eat in the lists in the books available 10 years ago I actually can like mushrooms , Just not the one kind which actually makes me break out when I touch them and some things I ate a lot of because they were "neutral" are actully just "occasional" and it dones seem to make a difference.
    πŸ™‚

  94. Ginkgo100

    I just want to point out one misconception. One commenter said that the whiter a chicken egg is, the less healthy the chicken who laid it was. Egg color actually has to do only with the breed of chicken. The color comes from pigment deposits that happen in the oviduct. Darker chickens lay red or brown eggs, and lighter chickens lay white eggs. The health of the bird has nothing to do with it.

  95. Living A Liturgy

    "Would anyone care to offer the basis for their desire to eat/treat animals more "ethically?" I don't mean to be obnoxious, but I truly have no reason other than the fact that it seems like we should."

    We are stewards. It may be a little old school, but God told the Israelites to kill animals in a certain way – slit the throat to allow the blood to flow out. Now, for them, blood defiled. But we understand today that when an animal is killed, and the normal production means is by bonking them in the head, not slicing the throat, all that blood gets soaked in to the muscles (what we eat). But not just the blood, also the diseases they had in their blood.

    The cows that we get meat from (unless you buy local or organic – for the most part) are not grass fed but corn fed (something they can't actually digest) and stand in the their own crap all day long. Many are diseased an slaughtered anyway. Chickens are raised in coops that don't get any sunlight so that they get fatter quicker – many can't even stand up. The works of those factories? Many are illegal immigrants who can be hired (and exploited) for cheap. But when the government finds out, they don't punish the company that refused the law (by illegally importing those workers) they punish the workers.

    Stewardship. If not because we are basically shepherds over these animals, then definitely because PEOPLE are hurt, exploited and cheated by these companies.

    Go see "Food Inc," If you can.

  96. Anonymous

    Life Decisions International's list shows that Whole Foods is a contributor to Planned Parenthood, the largest single killer of unborn people in America. Whole Foods … healthy/ethical foods/farming … abortion. Of all the donations they could be making, why does Whole Foods find it necessary or fitting to donate to Planned Parenthood? Oh, do they agree with that notion that humans are a virus on the earth? Where does any of this fit in with a Catholic world View?

    And Whole Foods does not stand alone. Do the digging and you'll find that most of these environmental groups are pro-abortion. Time for a little perspective.

  97. Anne

    Hi Anonymous,
    Thank you so much for responding to me. I didn't really mean to imply that sentience is what gives "value", but only that we share the ability to feel pain with animals, so at least on that level, the physical suffering they feel is something that I can relate to.
    I agree very much with you on the value and dignity and importance of respect for all human life, without exception.

    I am very appreciative of the respectful tone of this conversation. We are all trying to bring more compassion into our lives as much as we are able according to our own circumstances. And there is no way to perfectly get it all right. It is only something we can hope to continue to grow into.

  98. Andrea

    Great topic and one that has generated a lot of discussion!

    I'm a vegetarian married to a non-vegetarian. This has meant movement in both directions in food. Me: I now periodically eat some shrimp and fish (eating out is hard as a vegetarian). He: eats WAY less meat than he used to, mainly because I cook dinner (or we cook together) and it's not that practical to make 2 separate meals all the time.

    Here are some solutions that have helped us both and might work for your family:

    1. Protein is put into proper portion at our meals. The 25% protetin, 25% carb and 50% vegetable rule that dieticians recommend to cover your plate works for us. This is also how more of the world cooks, using protein more as a condiment or flavor rather than the star.

    The challenge I find economically with regard to food is to find decent vegetables and salad at a decent price. We don't buy organic vegatables on purpose, but we also shop farmer's markets or even get shares in a CSA to get the best prices on the best vegetables.

    2. We often will buy "fake" protein in the form of tofu-based hot dogs, chicken nuggets, Gardenburgers, sausage, hamburger, bacon, etc. Walmart carries the Morningstar brand and Trader Joe's has a vast array of fake meat (brauts, Italian sausage, etc.). This helps with the convenience factor and gives us a marginally more healthy and more ethical version of meat. Making Sloppy Joes with tofu crumbles is a seamless substitute and not that expensive.

    3. When I do buy and cook meat (yes, I do this for my husband, even if I don't eat it myself), I spend the money to buy more expensive, humanely raised meat (this sometimes correlates with organic, but not always). This is rare, frankly, as he generally takes the outlet of eating meats as a treat when we go to restaurants. However, when we do buy meat, I feel like I have the wiggle room in my budget because we've done #1 and 2 above.

    I've been a vegetarian since I was a teenager and it boils down, to me, with how much more violence I'm willing to add to in the world. Christians are called to be peacemakers and to know and think about our actions. As a Catholic, I feel as though my diet is one way where I can make a daily difference in how much violence and suffering there is in the world. While I can't leave a 0% footprint overall (I contribute to violence and suffering in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do, after all), I can significantly reduce this footprint by making easy, delicious and budget-conscious decisions.

    Good luck to you all!

  99. Meredith@MerchantShips

    I buy organic meats when they are comparable in cost to regular. Other than that, I don't worry about it.

    It bothers me that the trend toward animal/social conscience comes from liberal writers and filmmakers who share so few of my core values on life.

  100. Jennie C.

    I'm raising and homeschooling seven kids on a soldier's pay and so we stick to a pretty tight budget. I know how those animals we eat live and die. I have done the research, but I can't afford to buy organic, pastured meat. I just can't. So I moved to a farm. I'm buying cheap meat, but I'm also raising a flock of chickens, twenty or so of whom are about to become meals. Next year, we'll raise beef cows, too. I'll know they lived happy lives and died humane deaths and that they never consumed anything that wasn't fit for them. Not everybody can move to a farm, of course, but that's my answer to the problem. πŸ™‚

  101. Carrien

    I grew up on a farm half of the time. My children have watched my husband slaughter goats and chickens. I think that the people who have the most problem with eating meat or how it's produced are those who are the most removed from the process. It has always been, it will always be visceral. We make sure our kids know where their meat comes from, so they won't have girly squirmish freakouts when they first realize that those cellophane wrapped packages once bled and pooped and lived.

    It's the visceral insulation we are allowed to grow up with that creates such a squeamish culture in the first place.

    I highly recommend Jennifer that you take the time to read this article the omnivore's delusion I heard about it from Beck

  102. monica_divineoffice.org

    I admire your sincerity, this is way I find your blog so captivating. Your issues with the way this animals were treated is understandable but I don't have solutions. Only if you are committed to be a vegetarian again and you are ready for the everyday battle, go ahead and good luck! God bless you and may He show you the way!
    Liturgy of the Hours

  103. blog nerd

    Jen: your position on eating meat (and your vegetarian past) is identical to mine.

    I was vegetarian for 15 years (and vegan for part of it) and I've come to the conclusion that locavorism is not only the best community and economic solution for America–it is the solution to the issue of humane treatment of animals.

    However, it is very, very expensive to eat like a locavore and in terms of produce, in the northeast, the amount of freezing, drying, preserving etc. just isn't possible unless I give up everything except that practice. It might become easier as my kids get older but for now, I do what I can.

    We take small steps–and if we increase our income we'll definitely be moving to grass-fed pastured beef and free range insect eating chicken (free range corn fed chickens are not eating a natural diet and are not as healthy—same with grass fed beef.)

    And see that's really telling you something isn't it? Humanely treated animals are healthier for you than inhumanely treated animals.

    There is a kind of perfect symmetry in that.

    We (meaning my family and I) do the best we can in the presence of social sin, but it would be vanity and pride to think that we could solve it all.

    To impose an extreme routine with an extreme economic burden is not the reasoned choice.

    But small steps toward the ideal would be great.

    Have you read "Real Food" by Nina Planck?

  104. Anonymous

    This comes late in the discussion, but I thought I might add a few thoughts.

    I think that it is important to have meat in our diet, but small portions and not every day. It is expensive. You realize the value of it when you raise it yourself.

    When we work to take care of a flock of chickens every day, several times a day for two months, and we slaughtered them (you might start by looking into the difference in the way kosher meat is slaughtered; it is healthier and more humane) we realized the value of each chicken that we eat.

    As a result, our portions are smaller and, as someone mentioned, we reserve that meat for special occasions – going back to Sunday dinners (with leftovers).

  105. Elizabeth@Frabjous Days

    Haven't read the comments, so apologies if I'm duplicating. Another former veggie here. Our compromise re meat is to serve it only about twice a week — Sunday and one other day — and choose good stuff. Direct from the supplier if possible (there are various organic box schemes here) or at least organic meat from this country. It's not essential to eat meat every day. Pulses, nuts, dairy, eggs, fish — all good stuff.

  106. The Farmer's Wife

    I was raised on a ranch, and now live on a ranch, where we grow grains and raise black Angus cows.

    Please consider the fact that much meat comes from farms and ranches that take excellent care of their animals, and they take great pride in that. I'm the fourth generation rancher, here, and my husband is a fifth generation rancher, so we've grown up with a sense of responsibility to both the animals and the consumer.

    I do think buying locally is very good, but I understand not everyone has that luxury. I would encourage you to buy American, if you have the label to inform you. The US has the cleanest meat and the most stringent regulations, regarding the grade and source. We put source tags on our calves that can track them from when they hit the ground to when they hit your plate.

    You're so brave to write about something that stirs up such passion and controversy! Bravo!

    Sending best wishes from a ranch in Montana.

  107. Dianna

    Wow! Lots o' comments!
    Yes this is something I am concerned with as well. Our solution: we buy our meat from a local farmer that does a CSA. It's like getting a side of beef (and pork, chicken, and lamb) without having to invest all of the freezer space at the same time. We do a pick up twice a month. My goal is to use only this meat, and anything else we will do vegetarian meals. I love knowing EXACTLY where my meat comes from.
    Anyway, this may be something to google and check out.

  108. Amy

    I have to say I am stunned at the mass of responses, mostly all saying the same thing, to this post, and even more stunned at my gut response to them, what with being the recycling, cloth-diapering, left-wing leaning, Obama supporting, homemade cleaning-solution making person I am.

    You've certainly gotten tips on how to purchase meat people see as humanely raised, which to me seems an oxymoron, because humans aren't "raised" with the sole purpose of being slaughtered and eaten, so I'm not sure what is "humane" about the process at all. It's like a pride of lions getting together and discussing how they can kill the water buffalo more "lionly."

    I was under the impression that even local farmers send their livestock to slaughterhouses to be processed, rather than doing it themselves (which is what my uncle and grandfather, both small scale, family farmers, used to do), so I'm not sure how buying locally solves the "humane" issue. How can slaughter be done "humanely?"

    Someone commented about how this seems to be a "trendy" topic, and someone else mentioned "straining at gnats," and I can't believe I'm saying it, I have to agree. It seems people get on a bandwagon about something after hearing or reading a bit about it, but don't really consider the big picture (mainly because everything is so interconnected that it's downright impossible to see the big picture).

    The truth is, for us to live, things have to die. People have jumped onto being "humane" to animals because they're cute, and they have big eyes, and they seem more "like us" than plants. But how can we really know what animals feel, and conversely, how can we say that animals are sentient but things like insects, which we have no problem killing if they are are in our homes, or viruses, or plants are not sentient? How do we know if they are sentient or not? Say we all stopped eating meat and became vegetarians. What if groundbreaking studies in the future confirm that plants do indeed experience pain when they are harvested? Will we stop eating plants? Why is causing pain and suffering to plants or viruses or cockroaches (or scorpions) okay but not to animals?

    And this doesn't even speak to the issue of animal by-products, which are in all kinds of things, from clothing to food to fertilizer (used to grow all that yummy "vegetarian" food) to medicine. I wonder if all of those who insist on buying only locally grown meat also buy only shoes made of locally grown leather, or avoid medications for their sick children that are made of animal by-products from the same slaughterhouses they think they're avoiding supporting? Do they all avoid restaurants? Do they avoid buying other foods, like say, pasta, from mega companies that also own meat divisions that support "inhumane" farming practices? Do they know whether or not every item of clothing they buy was made by decently treated employees rather than children or overworked, poorly treated people in what basically is a type of slavery? Are they aware if the investments in their 401K or other retirement plans support these businesses?

    It just all seems so hypocritical to me. But then we are all hypocrites. What do Catholics call it when you focus too much on your sins? Scrupulosity? That's what this reminds me of.

    Be a good mom. Be a good wife. Be a good Catholic. Continue being the wonderful blogger you are. Don't heap guilt on yourself for all of the things you can't possibly know and control in this world. Buy the food you can afford to buy, and at the dinner table, pray for all of those whose hands brought the meal to you–the farmer, the slaughterhouse employee, the truck driver, the grocery store clerk, the factory worker, the receptionist at the corporate headquarters, etc. Then enjoy the meal, savor it, whether it's meat or beans or grains. Be thankful that you have food to eat.

  109. 'Becca

    I think that by focusing on animal suffering, you and many of your commenters are missing several issues of human suffering that are entwined in the question of whether to eat mainstream meat:
    1. Animals raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, especially cows fed corn, produce meat that makes humans more prone to heart attacks, cancer, and diabetes.
    2. CAFOs use lots of antibiotics, breeding antibiotic-resistant bacteria that attack humans.
    3. Pollution from CAFOs and cornfields (much of which corn is fed to CAFO animals) is fouling drinking water in the Midwest.
    4. Food poisoning, caused by the routine practice of having animals stand knee-deep in their own feces and not cleaning them before slaughter, can be fatal, especially to young children.
    5. The corn fed to CAFO animals could feed many, many more people than are fed by the meat.
    6. The artificially low prices of CAFO meat (maintained by government subsidies, poor safety standards, and exploitation of illegal immigrants) encourage low-income people to eat at McDonald's instead of eating fresh wholesome foods; the problems of that diet for their health go beyond meat to excessive sugar, trans fat, inadequate fruits and vegetables, etc.

    it was too complicated to figure out how to make sure I (as a pregnant and nursing mother) and my children got proper nutrition from a low-meat diet

    Your vocation as a mother must come before your convenience in caring for your own children's health, if nothing else. Don't fret about humane slaughter as a form of holiness that comes second to your duty–protecting your children from eating infectious cow manure is your duty!

    http://www.vegfamily.com is full of free, helpful resources for getting proper nutrition from a vegan diet. If you're only cutting back on meat, that's MUCH easier than cutting out all animal products!

    My site has lots of recipes for vegetarian foods. Protein comes in all sorts of interesting packages! I particularly recommend nutritional yeast flakes (dissolve in any type of fat) as a source of protein and B vitamins (which are often lacking in vegetarian diets and may be the reason you feel tired) and the type of yummy flavor many people miss when not eating meat.

    We gave up meat for Lent in 2002, and that was highly informative as a way to start understanding and changing our habits.

    We don't eat fake meats much. Not only are they pricey, but they're highly manufactured and thus don't strike me as something God really designed us to eat. They're tasty and convenient, but mostly we eat beans, nuts, eggs, yogurt, whole grains, and sunflower seeds for protein.

    An Anonymous wrote: I just can't in good conscience, spend more for food (that I know I can purchase more cheaply) even if it is healthier or more humane. I work for my church's food bank and see too many hungry people experiencing seriously hard times. Every $10 or $20 extra that more affluent people spend on their own groceries is less money available to donate to worthier causes.

    You've got a point. However, those hungry people will be far better served by your refusing to buy into the system that offers them only heart-clogging, germy meat that fills their stomachs today but may kill them tomorrow. If you keep supporting that system with your money, nothing will change and people will keep suffering.

  110. just

    I agree with Becca. This isn't just about money, or about humane slaughter. Factory farmed meat is a whole different animal (pun intended!) from locally raised stuff, organic or not. Reading Fast Food Nation was really eye-opening. To know that processors have to cut their speed in half to end up with meat clean enough to export? And we get the dirty stuff? Gross.

    I don't feel like I have to bleach my entire kitchen after preparing beef from my local farmer.

  111. stephanie

    Wow – a lot of comments – let's see…what was the question, again?

    "Anyone have any solutions for making sure that the meat you buy is humanely raised without breaking the budget?"

    I have to agree with the others who think "humane" treatment of animals is silly and are generally opposed to all forms of anthropomorphism. Although animals feel pain, (and there are methods of slaughtering animals that are less painful than others), I don't believe that animals experience fear or suffering in the way that we do anymore than I believe that God made us – literally, physically – in His image.

    I appreciate your statement: "…sometimes when the search for truth gets inconvenient it's easiest to just stop asking questions and do whatever makes your problems go away." because we do need to consider our food choices in the light of our primary vocations as mothers – providing healthy food for our children's development. This gets tricky because there are so many ideas and "fads" about the healthiest way to eat.

    I have come to the conclusion that we can't get to the point where we say, "we can't afford another child because food is too expensive." I'm also not going to go "Hillbilly Housewife" and feed my kids hot dogs on a regular basis because it's cheap protein. We try to discern what we are to do with the resources God has entrusted to us as best we can.

    Respectfully, I think the focus should be on how the choices we make about what we eat are in line with Catholic social teaching rather than animal rights.

  112. Michelle P.

    I am completely in the same situation as you. I was a veg for almost 10 years, although there were some periods of time where convenience won out. I feel that its near impossible to go meatless with kids, especially when your husband is as carnivore as they come. I've done tons of research and agree that eating meat is just wrong…but I can't seem to give it up again. I've even tried to substitute meatless things (crumbled veg burgers into a ground beef recipe for ex.) to no avail. I struggle with this often and wish I could give you better than, "I know how you feel." lol!

  113. Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

    I am amazed at how many comments you have! A friend emailed this post to me because I have a food blog about taking baby steps to better stewardship of our resources, and I'm going through a "conversion" of sorts, transitioning from regular albeit "healthy" foods to much more "real" food and conservative nutrition. It is a budget stretcher, but we've found a local farm with organic, grass-fed beef for $3.19/lb of ground beef, and $2.50/lb or so for whole chickens. I'm just learning to make the meat streeeetch for many meals and cutting the budget in other places. Finding like-minded people in your community (through the blogosphere or otherwise) is a great place to start. I learned of a local meat market that has reasonable prices for reasonably healthy, humane meats. I asked for a gift certificate there for my birthday!

    I'd be honored if you'd drop by Kitchen Stewardship and see what you think – but it looks as though you're keeping rather busy just reading your comments over here! πŸ™‚

  114. Anonymous

    I recently read a book called "Eat to Live" by a Dr. Joel Fuhrman. It challenged my beliefs about protein needs, first of all, and diet in general. I'm a SAHM of 3 under 5. We have tried to buy organic as much as possible. Yes, it's expensive, and we're now leaning heavily towards vegetarianism. I've also struggled with hypoglycemia and junk food addiction. And food addiction, in general. Actually, Jen, I took a break from reading this blog when you started tackling the subject of food addiction, b/c I felt so guilty…. Anyway, I recommend the book. It has helped me tremendously.

  115. Neoptolemus

    Hi Jennifer!

    I've given some consideration in the past to eating vegetarian/organic et al., but ultimately I couldn't reconcile my conscience with it.

    Sounds weird, right? Eating organic meat as unethical? Well, it strikes me that every dollar and cent spent extra on organic/free range etc. meat is spent for *our* intellectual convenience, to make us *feel* better, like what we're doing is righteous in some way, meanwhile each and every one of those dollars and cents could be given to provide for someone else's *necessity*. I just can't abide paying more money for meat that was raised "ethically" (whatever that means) when I could be given that same extra money so that other people can eat, period. It just seems to me that we need to get everyone on the planet food and clean water, and maybe some small minimal level of health care, before we start worrying about the animals.

  116. Anonymous

    Neoptolemus, have you considered that when you buy standard supermarket meat, only pennies of your purchase makes it to the little guy, the farmer who does the work and needs the money? I expect the same goes for organic from big companies. But if we buy direct from a grower, we get fresher food, raised more humanely, *and* every cent we pay goes right to the producer rather than a series of middlemen.

    I will no longer pay extra for big brand organic for the very reason you cited.

  117. ekbell

    I've been poking around your blog and am a bit late to this discussion but I find myself wanting to comment on the definition of humane some commenters have as it differs on a fundamental level from the meaning I always read into humane.

    I've always thought that humane treatment was the treatment that humans should give.

    We should be humane not because a cattlebeast deserves more when we humans eat it then when a lion eats it but because we are human capable of doing so.

    That said as a farmer's daughter I second the recommendation to check out local farmers.

    If you need a freezer first, I've found that they can often be found second-hand, as students we found a $75 freezer and more then paid for it by being able to buy a quarter cow cheap from the local farmer's market. I then learned to make soup stock so as to be able to make use of the soup bones included in our meat order πŸ™‚

  118. Cheryl

    I hate to add something to a post that's already old and cold, but this is definitely something I struggle with all the time, and I find myself wishing frequently for a group of Christians where we could talk openly about our grocery shopping habits and really work on what is the Christian way to shop in our time.
    My own very inadquate solution is currently to by organic when it's local (here in France we have a lot of organic stuff coming from Italy and Spain and even farther away sometimes…) and local when it's not organic. But I am not good at budgeting, etc. so I'm very inconsistent in how and what I buy. I would love to be a part of any ongoing discussions on this topic. However, I'm thinking that I'll need to seek this out on my side of the Atlantic, as the laws and products are quite different from those in North America…
    Thanks for putting words on what I so often experience.

  119. Anonymous

    Your story is pathetic. You are lazy & uneducated & just wanted a quick fix to your inconvenience. Your consciousness (God) was telling you about the inhumane side of meat. Then you gave in to society & a quick fix. Vegetarian families do exist, you didn't need to be extreme. Maybe if you really learned how to cook & choose healthy foods from a regular store you could have been successful.
    Every vegetarian can choose convenience over what is right. You know eating animals is wrong, I've been vegetarian for over 12 years now, I just didn't get too extreme & live 'normal' drinking beer etc. & not acting like a total health nut, only difference is excluding meat, I use eggs & cheese. There is a balance. Animals are just as important to God as humans.

  120. CaraCakes

    You might try reading "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer. I'd read lots Michael Pollan, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and wasn't really convinced that ethical slaughter or vegetarianism mattered until reading Foer's novel.

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