Unethical Plants vs. Unethical Animals: what to eat? [OPEN MIC]


So, I have this friend…

He loves documentaries and whenever he find one that is particularly informative, he tells us about it.

If I remember correctly, he may have been the first person from whom I heard about Food, Inc. which challenged our sensibilities about where our food comes from, and the whole notion of factory farming. I was now aware. I started hating Monsanto seed company with everyone else, buying organic food items, and buying my meat at a local farm, even though it was an hour drive and the meat was crazy expensive (I eventually gave this last part up, although I still try to be somewhat conscious at the store)

Then, I heard about King Corn and saw talks like this one and became all the more sure I should stay away from non-organic food purchases and try to cook more. My emphasis became “real” food and ethically grown crops.

But now, my friend sent a few of us an email about Jonathan Safron Foer’s new-ish book Eating Animals, which, as my friend said, had caused he and his wife to be “convinced by the book to drastically reduce the amount of meat we eat regardless of its origin… this book brought me to a point where I couldn’t ignore the problems with factory farming…the cognitive dissonance is too much for me to ignore anymore.”

And I thought to myself, “Crap.”

I am now under the conviction that most fruits and vegetables are grown unethically (with genetic modification, unsustainable land practices, economically irresponsible/unhealthy food subsidies, and corporate seed-patenting and such), and now it seems that the breaking point is coming to meat as well.

So, as a twenty-something without unlimited disposable income, how do I navigate this? As a Christian, I can’t ignore that the Bible talks about these things and talks about how the gospel even has implications for the flourishing of both crops and livestock. We are also to steward these things well in a way that respects that they are God’s creation. And so, I know I should care. But if I have to choose between ethical vegetable or ethical meat, what to do? How do I handle going out?

World, I want to hear your ideas. Help me.

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4 thoughts on “Unethical Plants vs. Unethical Animals: what to eat? [OPEN MIC]

  1. Re: Not unlimited income
    Food Coops are a great source for these (still expensive, but less so then Whole Foods) There’s one in West Philly called Mariopsa.
    A lot of my friends with similar concerns have farm shares. You know where the food’s coming from, and it’s actually pretty reasonably priced. (Esp. in comparison to Whole Foods) They also sometimes sell local meat, and eggs and such that you can add to your share.

    Re: Meat
    If you’re worried about going out, there’s a website (that currently escapes me) that my friend uses who has similar ethical concerns. It list restaurants that publicize where their meat comes from and how it’s grown. It’s more work, but it’s super helpful.
    And as American, we probably do eat too much meat. But I think that the ethics of it is something you should struggle with yourself. After all, it’s going into your body, so really the only opinion that matters is yours.

    Which really should be the guide for all of these choices. It’s your body, it’s your life, it’s your money. The only opinion that counts is yours. If you feel called to stop eating meat, or only eat local meat where you know how it was raised do it. But don’t do it because of a documentary.*

    *It’s a pet peeve of mine, everyone jumping on bandwagons because of documentaries. I mean, did people REALLY need to see “Supersize Me” to figure out that eating McDonalds every day (or even every week) is not a good health choice? Rant over. :)

  2. + Great question Paul and one that Laura and I think about often. I think it comes down to, we try to be conscious about our eating habits. The structure of the US pretty much excludes ethical eating without going to extreme lengths so we have decided it’s impossible for us. I think basic changes such as buying food locally (when it’s not crazy expensive) are small but very helpful changes. Buying special meat sometimes, but not worrying if it’s not always an option.

    I’ve told a few friends before that if they just go in on a CSA it will be a significant adjustment and more than enough to start helping them eat better and more locally.

  3. I agree with Andrew. If we all start doing things slowly that decrease the profits of the big farms that do things unethically the demand will shift and they will likely start catering to what we want. Until now, it’s been them telling us what we can eat and them making huge profits. There is evidence actually that organic farms, when done right, are more sustainable and efficient, and potentially MORE profitable in the long run. But it’s gonna take a huge movement. Education. A real push to get us there. I truly believe this is one of the major reasons for the obesity epidemic. Here we go…big business once again screwing America. We don’t need more food, we need better food.

    Some guys posted on FB about the ethics of eating meat. Such a weak, empty argument though. While the paleo people may be taking it too far, meat in reasonable quantities, and of reasonable quality (apparently grass fed has different omega 3 profiles n what not and is a lot better for you). Anyway, the FB post raises the issue of animals being conscious beings. Yeah, in some capacity, but come on, give me a break. You could seriously argue that plants have feelings too if you REALLY REALLY wanted to go down that road. Animals and plants were made for us to love, yes, but also to consume as part of this beautiful system God has given us. I know, I don’t list any evidence here. I guess it’s my opinion. It can be tied to the bible too.

    Paul, do the best you can do within reason. I’m sure you know the stats about how much less americans spend on food relative to europeans. You may have to cut out certain other things from your life to make room :) Maybe a lil less coffee…hehe :)~

  4. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to this issue. But I think what it eventually took for me to decide to stop eating meat unless it was raised and slaughtered humanely was a few things.

    1. It took being confronted again and again with the fact that the animals we eat are sentient (maybe even conscious), can feel pain, can go crazy if mistreated enough, and suffer when they aren’t allowed to do what God has created them to do (graze, give birth and care for their babies, root, establish social hierarchies, etc.). I think (re: Sarah) that most of us know that there’s something wrong with the factory farm system in America before seeing certain documentaries or reading books, but sometimes being shown the realities of those systems again and again is what it takes for our consciences to catch up with our brains.

    2. It took a quote from Wendell Berry to convict me about the consequences of my choices. He said, “Every time you make a decision about food, you are farming by proxy.” When I looked clearly (for the fourth or fifth time–it certainly didn’t happen the first time: I saw Food, Inc., felt terrible about it and then went and had a meat lovers pizza) at the way the animals on factory farms are raised and killed, I realized that I would never treat an animal that way myself or buy meat from a local farmer who treated their animals that way. So why would I be okay with a farmer thousands of miles away doing the same thing? This of course opens up a new can of worms since you can replace “food” and “farming” in the quote above with “technology/jewelry/any purchase” and “manufacturing/international relations/etc” and all the sudden you’re questioning whether or not you can feel okay about buying just about anything at all. I think that’s a good question to ask yourself, but like the woman in the TED talk you linked to above said, we have to take baby steps.

    3. It took talking to my wife and hearing her say that she felt the same way and was okay with doing a little more work to cook vegetarian meals most of the time since we can’t usually afford humanely raised and slaughtered meat. I think that most people, with a little planning and forethought, could manage to eat a vegetarian diet fairly easily. But since I rarely ever cook my own meals anymore (not because of any gender roles type thing but because my wife loves to cook and I suck at it) it’s hard for me to be sure that I would have jumped into this decision as quickly if the cooking were always up to me.

    So I guess that’s what it took for me to make this decision and why I think just about anyone else should make it. To me, the evils done by the factory farming industry are much more direct than the evils done by corporations like Monsanto. They are greedy, manipulative corporate bastards like the GMO companies, but by their very existence they mistreat billions of animals every year and depend on our willful ignorance of those abuses to profit. And in addition to the direct damages they cause, the factory farming industry contributes 40% more greenhouse gases to the environment than all transportation in the world combined.

    Wow. This comment is long and kind of preachy. Sorry about that. I should probably wait about a year before I talk to anyone about this stuff.

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