Meat Free Monday: How Much Does Meat Really Cost?

Although animal products are often cheap in the store (99 cents for a big pack of hot dogs, 49 cents for a box of mac n cheese), there are a lot of external costs that get pushed off onto the taxpayers, and are hidden from view.

While there are hidden costs to everything, the hidden costs of animal agriculture tend to be a lot higher than those of most plant based foods.

For more information, look at David Simon’s book Meatonomics.  the video below also gives a bit more info. 

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7 Simple Steps to Combat Animal Cruelty (Wrestling the god of the Gut, Part 3)

Free Range Egg.  Photo by Borb, Creative Commons

Free Range Egg. Photo by Borb, Creative Commons

As I wrote here, I’m boycotting factory farmed meat and eggs, because of the cruel treatment of the animals.  So far, people have been pretty supportive.  Some have even been curious, though it’s awkward, because the conversation always comes up around meal time, and my southern courtesy upbringing makes me reluctant to talk about battery cages, gestation crates, animals that aren’t properly killed, and so are alive while being dismembered, and so on.

I’ve come to realize that I took a pretty big step.  Eating at restaurants is hard.  Finding the meat is expensive and difficult.  I live in Mississippi, which is just about the least conscience-eating-friendly place in the country.

Despite seeing tons of cows grazing in open fields along the highway, finding locally sourced beef is all but impossible – even the free-range stuff I have found is from the Midwest.  Katherine was able to find a farmer in Lucedale who sells pork and chicken (she got me cruelty-free bacon.  I love that woman!).

Needless to say, I haven’t made any “converts.”  But it’s been a big jump.  Maybe if I had a few “small things” people could do without radically altering their lives, it would help.  So here are a few suggestions:

1) Buy “cage free” eggs. 

They’re about $1 a dozen more than factory eggs, available at Winn-Dixie or the local farmer’s market.  They also taste much better. Just dedicate a couple more dollars a week to eggs, and you’ll gently push the industry toward more humane treatment.

2) Eat one meatless meal per week. 

The average American eats 200 pounds of meat a year.  That’s more than the average American weighs.  We all know that’s too much.  Make one more meatless meal per week than you usually do.  It doesn’t even have to be vegetarian.  Try fish or seafood.

3) Reduce the proportion of meat in a given meal, without removing it entirely.

Next time you barbecue, include some roasted vegetables, baked potatoes/sweet potatoes (cooked on a charcoal grill – YUM), and roasted onions (cut an onion, fill the cuts with butter and garlic salt or Italian dressing, wrap it in charcoal, and roast it).

Don’t forget the meat, but alter the proportions.  Steak is good, but steak with baked potatoes and roasted vegetables is better.  Pan-fried chicken is good, but a pan-fried chicken salad with cranberries, mandarin oranges, and walnuts is better.  Okay, I’m making myself hungry now.

4) Request free-range/cruelty-free meat at your local grocery.  Talk to the manager.

 Corner Market gets its free-range meat on Fridays.  By Saturday, it’s gone.  I don’t know why they keep under-ordering.  If it sells out in one day, you’re not ordering enough.  Winn-Dixie always has something, but almost never chicken, and the selection is always thin.

5) Ask where your local restaurants get their meat.

Just knowing that someone cares enough to ask can help raise awareness.

6) Reduce your use of dairy.

In the U.S., dairy pretty much comes from the same uncaring agribusinesses that provide beef.  In fact, the conditions are arguably worse for dairy cattle than for beef cattle (though most of the time the dairy cattle do end up slaughtered for their meat after a few years).

I’m working on this one myself, but it’s not easy around here.  Wal-Mart used to carry soy cheese (cheaper than regular cheese, and it melted better, too), but I haven’t seen it lately, and there’s not a Whole Foods within shopping distance.

7) Spread the word.

“American farmers” conjures images of people like my grandparents in the minds of most people.  In the past, American farmers were small farmers, who cared for their animals like Psalm 12:10 says.

But now most of the farming in American is done by a few large corporations, subsidized by our tax dollars (10% collected 75% of the subsidies between 1995 and 2011, almost $208 billion).  Nanny Jet and Pa Clarence no longer represent the face of American farming, and they haven’t for a long time.  Let that be known.  Speak the truth.

If you want to do something, but aren’t ready to “take the plunge,” try implementing a few of these.  They’re relatively easy.  They’re good for your health.  And most of all, they help nudge American agriculture back in a saner, more humane direction.

Why Bother? (Drone Strikes and Child Labor and Factory Farms, Oh My!)

Chickens Stuffed into Battery Cages

Sunday, I had someone ask me what I was trying to accomplish.  She was specifically talking about boycotting factory farmed meat and eggs, but I suppose the same could be said of several of my “causes,” including: Voting for a third party candidate in protest of the two major party candidates use of, and approval of, continuing drone strikes that kill hundreds of Pakistani civilians. Boycotting Hershey’s chocolate until they institute a plan to stop using cocoa farmed using forced child labor. Or, to go way back, making sure the diamond on my wife’s engagement ring was not a conflict (“blood”) diamond.

And I stuttered.  I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer.

What I finally came up with was this (and I hope I can phrase it more eloquently here than I did then).  Many of the evils we encounter in this day and age are systemic.  They are clearly above our pay grade, above the area of influence we have any power over.  And I’m talking real evil here, not policy differences (the argument whether the current welfare system helps or entraps the poor is not “good versus evil.”  Both sides have concerns for those who need assistance, they just don’t agree on how it’s done.  That’s not what I’m talking about).

When I encounter such an evil, when I become aware of it, I have a choice.  I can ignore it, pretend I didn’t see it, and by doing so, give it my support.  Or I can do something, even something small, to push back against it.

So what am I trying to accomplish here?  I want to preserve whatever shreds of my integrity still exist by not being blindly complicit with known evils.  I want to let the people around me know that these things are going on, that people (and animals) are suffering terribly.  I want to let people know that our disposable consumer culture comes with consequences, often for the weakest and most vulnerable.

And most of all, I want to remind myself.

Ayn Rand was wrong about a lot of things, but she was right about at least one.  If you can do nothing else, call evil evil.  Say it.  If you have no power to do anything else, name cruelty.  Name theft.  Name murder.  There is power in just saying the truth.

 

Factory Farming (Wrestling with the god of the Gut)

 

Pigs Confined in Gestation Crates

Pigs Confined in Gestation Crates

I started this blog to talk about the questions, about wrestling with the angels, struggling with things I don’t know and things I do know, but don’t quite want to accept.

I’ve gotten a little off-course here.  I’ve been distracted by some important things going on: Emily Maynard’s post about modesty and the controversy that followed, including my two posts (here and here), Mark Driscoll’s slut-shaming of Esther, Hurricane Isaac, and more.

Well, during this month a new struggle has begun within me, a struggle with cruelty to animals … specifically, the animals that make up such a large part of my daily diet.  Kurt Willems’s “God of the Gut” article sent my mind down paths my belly really wished it hadn’t.   Greg Boyd’s “Compassionate Dominion and Factory Farms” sealed the deal. Modern American factory farming is not humane. It just isn’t.  (Warning, the videos are not for the faint of heart).

Let me say that I’m neither a vegetarian nor even a pacifist right now.  I have no problem whatsoever killing and eating animals.  I even hunt a couple of times a year with my uncle.  Any animal living in the wild has to worry about getting eaten.  Herbivores have to worry about predation, and even predators have to worry about being eaten from the inside out by disease or parasites.  So the death of an animal for food is not a problem in my mind.

But I will not abide torture.  And the practices in factory farms, where animals are held in tiny crates (sometimes for their entire lives), are castrated or de-toothed without anesthesia, and are slaughtered sloppily, leaving some alive for the slaughtering process?  That’s torture.

This isn’t an example of something I’m not sure about.  I wouldn’t treat my dogs like that, and pigs are roughly as intelligent as dogs.  I know, I’m not planning to eat my dogs.  But I wouldn’t treat a deer like that, either.

Every hunter has ethical standards, trying to take only shots that are sure, that will kill quickly, that won’t make the animal suffer unnecessarily.  Yet, when it comes to factory farming, there are no such considerations.  Like so much in corporate America, the bottom line is king.

So like I said, I’m not struggling with whether this is right for me to do.  I’m struggling with what a deep-seated pain in the neck it is. I can’t back-check restaurants, so guess who’s a pescetarian when he eats out?  And guess who used to be head-over-heels in love with Rosie’s Barbecue, Strick’s Barbecue, Mug Shots Burgers, and just about any version of chili cheese fries?  Guess who’s got to convince his wife to pay twice as much for meat and 50% for eggs?  Thankfully, she’s been very supportive.

Essentially, my struggle is to not be a wimp.  I’ve read the horror stories.  I know what I have to do.  Now, the struggle is to do it.  Funny how that goes.