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.
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