Recently Mark Zuckerberg (creator of Facebook for any of you that aren’t geeks or Justin Timberlake fans – although there is a surprising overlap between the two groups. Venn diagram anyone??) announced that he will henceforth only eat meat that he has killed by his own hand. Each year he takes on a new personal challenge (last year he learned Chinese… I know, it boggles) and this year he says,
“My personal challenge is around being thankful for the food I have to eat. I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat, so my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have. This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian since the only meat I’m eating is from animals I’ve killed myself. So far, this has been a good experience. I’m eating a lot healthier foods and I’ve learned a lot about sustainable farming and raising of animals. I started thinking about this last year when I had a pig roast at my house. A bunch of people told me that even though they loved eating pork, they really didn’t want to think about the fact that the pig used to be alive. That just seemed irresponsible to me. I don’t have an issue with anything people choose to eat, but I do think they should take responsibility and be thankful for what they eat rather than trying to ignore where it came from.”
Zuckerberg also makes it a point to eat all parts of the animal including the organs and even used chicken feet to make stock.
Have you ever killed an animal that you then ate? Other than a few fish as a kid, I haven’t. Honestly I don’t know if I could. I remember my dad deciding one day that he wanted to hunt a deer, kill it, skin it and butcher it (my dad’s big on survival skills). He was successful – a fact I discovered when I came face to face with the dead animal hanging by its feet under our deck as I tried to sneak in past curfew late one night (saying I screamed like a girl does not do justice to that scream. or girls.) – and it took us an entire year to eat all that venison which he insisted we do because it would be inhumane to kill an animal for sport and not nutrition. This is the house I grew up in.
You know who has killed a cow? Gym Buddy Krista. And not with her car, either. (I’m telling you, this girl has got stories. And they come out at the most random times in the gym.) As a practicing Muslim, she can only eat “halal” meat which means it must be slaughtered in a particular way with specific prayers. “Ḏabīḥah (ذَبِيْحَة) is the prescribed method of slaughtering all animals excluding fish and most sea-life per Islamic law. This method of slaughtering animals consists of using a well sharpened knife to make a swift, deep incision that cuts the front of the throat, the carotid artery, wind pipe and jugular veins but leaves the spinal cord intact.” You catch all that? Big knife, throat slitting, lots of blood – and she’s done it. When I looked like I might faint she told me to stop being such a baby. And I think she’s right. While it sounds awful, I think that it is a powerful way to connect people with what they are eating. Most of us who eat meat like to pretend it magically appears on store shelves in shrink-wrapped irradiated (there’s another issue for another day) packages. But every time we have “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!” or “Pork, the other white meat!” or even “Chicken, we don’t need no slogan ’cause we make tasty nuggets!” we are, in effect, causing the death of another living being.
I take that very seriously. Even after examining all the health issues and research, this still weighs heavily on me. I know some of you are going to think I’m nutty (not that you need another reason) but for me when I decided to eat meat again, I also decided to stay as connected to the animal as possible. I’m not going to go slaughter my own cow – Krista, I’m getting pale again – but I can say a prayer of thanksgiving both to the animal who gave up its life for me and to the God who made it (the same God who notes the fall of every sparrow is surely going to miss something as obnoxiously flatulent as a cow). It also means that I sought out a farmer who cares about his animals and raises them in ways where they thrive, even if I have to pay more for it and drive home with a minivan stuffed full of bloody cardboard boxes like the dumbest serial killer ever. (Although price wise I’ve found it pretty economical when I buy 1/4 of a cow at a time.) Bob – yes he is Farmer Bob and I adore him – probably thinks I’m unbalanced but I always ask him how the cow was doing, what it weighed, if it was happy and if it had a name. (For the record, he does not name his cattle.)
Hippy-dippy feelings aside, a lot of people are very concerned about the economic and environmental impact of raising animals for food and rightly so. Animals, but beef especially, are very inefficient food sources and therefore take a lot of natural resources like water and grain that could be used to help a huge number of hungry and thirsty people. In a world where millions, including 15 million children, die of starvation every year it seems we should be focusing more of our attentions on how to best raise enough food and the most efficient ways to get it to where it needs to be. (Often, sadly, the issue isn’t so much a shortage of food but an issue of politics and logistics that keeps the available food out of needy mouths.) The environmental cost is also large. Pasturing cows is awesome as I pointed out yesterday but just like conventionally raised cattle, they take up a lot of land, contaminate water sources and – I swear I’m not making this up – cow farts (methane) account for 18% of global warming. In addition we accrue environmental costs in the methods we use to farm animals, butcher them and transport them not to mention the antibiotic resistances that we’ve introduced by injecting our food sources with antibiotics.
These reasons are exactly why I will never ever tell someone they “should” or “need to” eat meat. The larger ethical questions of whether it is humane to eat meat and whether it is acceptable to do that kind of damage to the environment will have to be answered by each person in their own way but for me I need to eat some meat. And I will do it in the kindest, cleanest way that I can. It’s an uneasy compromise.
Have you ever killed an animal? Do moral/ethical concerns change the way you eat?
And just in case you don’t think fish are cute enough to warrant existential angst, check out this adorable vid of a toddler catching his first fish. (He names the fishy “Free” because he’s “beautiful” and then asks his dad “Does it like me?” The father wisely does not answer, “Well you put a hook through his mouth and are now suffocating him with air so he probably hates your guts right now.” because that would not have been adorable.)