JILL RICHARDSON: Why you should meet your meat
A beloved organic farm in San Diego recently canceled a gourmet dinner it had planned to host. Guests had already paid $150 for a local, organic five-course meal prepared by several top chefs from the region.
The dinner was called Death for Food.
Whose death for whose food?
The farm’s website promised that guests would witness the humane slaughter of a lamb, followed by a demonstration of how to use all parts of the animal. Those who wished to (and paid for it) would then try their own hands at killing their dinner (a chicken or turkey) to take home with them.
This didn’t sit well with over 2,400 people who signed a petition asking the farm to cancel its event.
“Killing animals is exactly what is wrong with our food system on so many levels,” wrote the petitioners. “It is not something that should be celebrated…especially at a farm that prides itself in providing what our food system needs more of: local, organic vegetables.”
For Americans who choose to eat meat — the vast majority of us — our food has become entirely disconnected from its animal source. And that’s the way we generally like it. Killing makes us uneasy. We don’t like to think about it.
Did this cow suffer to make my burger? Was it fed disgusting hormones, drugs, or other additives? Ugh, don’t tell me. Not while I’m eating!
The food industry is only too happy to oblige. Meat rarely even looks like it came from an animal. We buy boneless, skinless cuts, pre-wrapped in plastic from the freezer case. Or we’re presented with a juicy steak, seared to medium rare, at a restaurant.
“You don’t want to know where that came from,” the industry seems to say.
In some states, they’ve even made it illegal to take photos on factory farms. Consumers increasingly have no way to meet their meat in person, or even see a picture of where it came from.
I’ve made an extra effort to learn more. I’ve visited farms, large and small. I’ve raised my own chickens. I’ve toured a beef feedlot and a hog confinement (a.k.a. factory farms). I’ve smelled the piles and puddles of excrement of thousands of animals in overcrowded conditions.
I’ve also cared for pigs, chickens, sheep, and cows on a small family farm. I’ve bottle-fed day-old piglets who were rejected by their mother. On every one of these forays, I’ve known that each of the animals I met would someday end up on a plate.
It’s a hard reality to confront, but it’s important. Intellectually, I understand the reasons for eating meat. In practice, I couldn’t bring myself to slaughter and dine on my chickens. (I do eat meat on rare occasions, if I know the animal was raised humanely.)
For those who wish to eat meat, seeing the process up close is an honorable way to take responsibility for the lives taken to produce our food. Opting for a local, humanely raised animal makes your dinner less anonymous than buying a plastic-wrapped, factory farmed cut from the supermarket.
Those who object to the cruelty embedded in the modern business of converting farm animals into meat ought to embrace events like the one canceled in San Diego. Every single person who confronts the slaughter up close will come away with an increased sense of responsibility and awareness about the lives they’re taking to eat meat.
Perhaps they’ll also choose to pay more per pound to avoid some of the worst aspects of factory farming and slaughterhouses. Maybe they’ll even eat less meat altogether.
If all consumers had this opportunity, I bet the movements already demanding a more humane system for raising and killing animals would start to gain the power they need to turn things around.