The belief I’m about to argue — that eating meat is ethical — has been, for me, 25 years in the making. For much of this time, paradoxically, I was a vegetarian because I thought eating animals was morally reprehensible.
What a self-righteous twit I was.
At my in-laws’ traditional Thanksgiving dinner, I recited graphic details about industrially raised turkey. (Do you know what debeaking is?) At the counter in a fast-food restaurant, I’d loudly order a cheeseburger with no meat. (I want a bun, cheese, pickles, lettuce and onions…but no meat!) At a neighborhood pig roast, I asked the host if he had ever read Charlotte’s Web. (You would never be able to eat pork if you had.)
Thankfully, the stridency of my earlier years has given way to a more balanced and humble approach to food. My evolution from militant vegetarian to “selective omnivore” (kudos to Jonathan Safran Foer for coming up with that term) began 10 years ago, when I learned I was pregnant with twins.
My only other pregnancy ended five years prior to this, with the mid-trimester miscarriage of my one-pound son. My new obstetrician — a “multiples” specialist — was very specific about what I should do to minimize the risk of pre-term labor: don’t exercise too rigorously, gain 50 pounds, get lots of sleep, and “eat at least 130 grams of protein per day.”
What? I’m a vegetarian! How am I supposed to do that?
His reply: “Simple: Just eat meat.”
That night, I had a steak for the first time in 15 years.
I’ve been eating meat ever since, because I feel stronger and more resilient when I do. Small amounts of meat a few times a week re-stocks my energy reserves and stabilizes my mood, both of which improve my ability to be a good mom to my twin daughters, who, by the way, were born just one week shy of full term.
Therapeutic meat eating is a common protocol of Ayurveda, a 5,000 year-old system of holistic medicine. According to Dr. John Doulliard, a Colorado-based Ayurvedic practitioner, “… the Dalai Lama and many of the monks in Kashmir eat meat… to rebuild protein and stabilize blood sugar.”
So if even the most devout Buddhists concede that small amounts of meat are necessary for optimal health, then isn’t it ethical to eat it? Only if, as Dr. Doulliard puts it “this medicinal program… is implemented with great respect and gratitude for the animal that gave its life to help yours.”
But it doesn’t end there. There’s an additional responsibility that comes with ethical meat eating; meat eaters must take action to end animal suffering in factory farms. Here are three ways to do that:
1. Eat only as much as necessary. For some, a three-ounce serving a few times a week is enough. Others may need a little more, or a little less. Learn what plant-based foods are good protein sources. And minimize waste; respect the animal’s sacrifice by not tossing it in the trash.
2. Buy meat only from verifiably humane and sustainable sources. Ask specific questions at supermarkets, restaurants and social gatherings, but be polite and gracious. No one wants to listen to a self-righteous twit.
3. Get involved with local politics. State governments have a huge impact on how farm animals are treated. (For instance, read up on the recent spate of “Ag Gag” laws making their way through numerous state legislatures.) Connect with an animal advocacy group that will keep you informed about legislation that effects farm animals.
Please keep the conversation going by letting us know what you think about the Ethics of eating meat.
Editor's note: this was an entry into the NYTimes contest. The criteria was, "600 words about why it's ethical to eat meat."
Shari Manolas Danielson is a food writer and contributor to Simple, Good and Tasty. You can follow her on twitter @shutupmama. Check out her hotly debated post: Marler vs. Gumpert: A Raw Debate About Milk.