Me Eat Meat, by John Ostrander
So there I was, in my car, tooling along, headed towards my eye doctor appointment, listening to my public radio station, WNYC, and one of their talk shows – the Brian Leherer Show. The segment was referred to as “Can Meat Be Ethical?” The guests were Joan Gussow, professor emeritus of Nutrition and Education at Teachers College Columbia University, and Gidon Eshel, Bard Center Fellow and a geophysicist at Simon’s Rock College.
I could already tell we weren’t going to be on the same wavelength for this segment.
Here are my basic ethics about meat: if it hasn’t eaten me, I can eat it.
Professor Gussow seemed relatively reasonable. She said grass fed cows are eminently preferable to grain fed and that one should shop locally for everything – meats, grains, fruits, vegetables – as that reduces the amount of fossil fuel for transport. And that we should reduce the amount of meat that we consume and treat it more like a flavoring or a condiment as many cultures do around the world. That would be healthier.
Professor Eshel would have none of it. I should probably try to separate his snide, patronizing tone from his message. The tone probably comes with his turf; Simon’s Rock, up in the Berskshires in Maine, is – according to its website – “a small, selective, supportive, intensive college of the liberal arts and sciences” whose “400 students come to us after 10th or 11th grade in high school.” The few, the proud, the elite.
Professor Eshel maintained that grass fed beef is worse than grain fed beef. Why? Because, as bad as cow shit and cow farts may be for the environment, cow belching is worse not only in volume but in kinds of gases being released into the atmosphere.
Maybe the solution is to introduce Beano or Gas-X to what the cows eat. Actually, I’m not kidding. You can read about the whole problem here. Among other things, it says that: “Higher-protein fodder or feed as Soya can reduce the gastric fermentation that produces these gases, and fecal waste can be put in a closed silo that traps the methane, which can then be burned as a biofuel.” Wait. That means they’re not grass fed and Professor Gussow won’t be happy. Professor Eshel won’t be happy in any case. In his stated view, there is no ethical meat meal. I’m guessing that the Professor is a vegan. Proudly so. Really proudly so. Annoyingly proudly so. Sorry, folks, this cow fart reduction concept is not an ethical solution, either – just a practical one.
So maybe I should give up red meat and just eat chickens. No, wait, Chickens also are treated barbarically and contribute to pollution. Same for pork. Well, maybe fish. No, wait, that’s not ethical or healthy or environmentally sound, either. The oceans are over-fished, farm-raised fish aren’t PC, and there’s too much mercury in fish anyway. Well, maybe I can get my protein from peanut butter. No, wait. Dr. Hugh Sampson of Mount Sinai School of Medicine said on another WNYC talk show that peanut butter can cause peanut allergies. Well, he admitted that he didn’t have any data for proof but the fact that the three countries that have the highest consumption of peanut butter also have the highest incident of peanut allergies was “suggestive.” Well, case closed!
The fact that higher consumption of peanut butter may simply mean that more allergic people come intocontact with PB or the possibility that we simply report it more is undoubtedly coincidental! And pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
So – the solution to this is to stop eating meat? If we stopped eating cow tomorrow, what would become of the herds? What would be the ethically responsible thing to do? Let them live out their lives as they continue to eat and shit and fart and belch? Or should we withdraw all food and drink until they drop dead? My suggested solution is to eat more meat and do it faster than they can breed. You laugh, you sneer, but it seems as reasonable as the other solutions.
And seriously – do we want to live in a world where Mike Gold cannot get barbeque beef brisket? I tell you emphatically, sir and/or madam – we do not! Do we want to live in a world where I replace meat with beans? I tell you emphatically, sir and/or madam – we do not. I’d fart more than any ten cows. The atmosphere for a half block around me would become like that of the planet Venus.
Despite how I try to paint myself, I’m not entirely insensitive to the issue. I do try to buy locally when possible. I try to buy cage-free eggs, organic chicken, even free range beef when I can find it and when I can afford it. (What they don’t often mention is that it costs more – sometimes significantly more – to eat this way. A half gallon of organic milk can cost as much as a full gallon of plain old milk.)
There are some vegan restaurants I actually like although, again, the one I like best costs a bit and involves a drive which, of course, expends fossil fuel, which is another no-no. Most vegetarian restaurants, in my experience, are simply not very tasty. The texture of the food is often a character-building experience. The entrees often taste like someone grilled up the soles of their Birkenstock sandals. I suspect many of the bakery goods use sawdust in place of flour.
I’m also very aware that slaughterhouses are inhumane. Upton Sinclair revealed that 102 years ago in his novel, The Jungle, which in turn led to the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act, both of which the current Administration has eviscerated like… well, cattle at a slaughterhouse. The recent horrific video of slaughterhouse conditions may reflect that the number of meat inspectors are fewer because of budgeting cuts in the agency by the current Administration. The Bush Administration is “business friendly” and government oversight simply creates problems and cuts down on profits. A few corners need to be cut – right? It’s all a matter of priorities.
Can conditions be improved? Absolutely. Are they ever going to be “humane?” It’s an abattoir, folks. It’s designed for a ruthless efficiency. It’s never going to be a nice place. Slaughtering a dead animal is messy work; ask any hunter who slaughters their own deer. It’s part of the price paid to eat meat and if that really bothers you, you may need to look at being a vegetarian. I don’t have that problem; it’s one of the dirty jobs I pay other people to do.
If someone wants to be a vegetarian or a vegan, fine. That’s their choice. It’s the Veginatics that I have problems with. (I won’t use the term that some do – veggie-nazis. I know what Nazis are and were and I prefer not to diminish the loathing I have for them by applying the terms to those who simply prefer to eat nuts and grains.) It’s the “moral superiority” that some Veginatics have that bugs me. Some seem convinced that they are a better, more evolved, persons than we carnivores.
Professor Eshel struck me as one of these. There is no compromise with a Veginatic. Meat is murder. They have a gleam of truth in their eyes that I see in every fanatical True Believer. What they believe is of less importance that the intensity in which they believe. Choose a position: Meat is murder. The only way to heaven is through Jesus. Death to all infidels. Han Solo shot first. (Well, okay – that last one is True and Death to those who do not agree!) It’s not enough that they have found the truth for themselves. No, brothers and sisters – they have The Truth – whichever version it is that they got – and they have their dogma and you better accept it. They’ll stuff it down your throat for your own good.
It happened back in the Twenties. Alcohol – Demon Rum – was E-Vil and the fanatics in this country forced a Prohibition on its production and sale and consumption. They knew the Truth and they were going to impose it on the nation. The nation said, “hooey” and started getting their booze wherever they could. Crime became Organized, run on the corporate model. The net result was a lot worse than letting people drink some hootch. I think the Veginatics are capable of doing the same thing as their Prohibitionist predecessors. I’m hoping they learn from that example and don’t go that route.
I can learn, too. We eat mostly chicken in our household these days, more pork than beef, and rarely fish. Changing my approach might not be a bad idea; I need to change some of my eating habits anyway. The concept of making meat more as a flavoring in a dish than the center sounds intriguing and would probably benefit our household both economically and health-wise.
But cut out meat entirely? Not in the cards, kiddies. I love the taste, the aroma, the textures. This time of year nothing beats a good pot roast or beef stew. What’s summer without a hamburger right from the grill? No way you can make tofu taste like a really good gyros. I smell bacon and I drool like Homer Simpson. And don’t even get me started on the glories of barbeque or the delight of different regions’ approaches on the subject.
I’m not the only one. For example, the Chinese get 65% of their protein from pork and they’re having a serious pig shortage that had led to swine-napping. I’m not making this up; you can read it here. It’s so serious that the Chinese government is dipping into their Strategic Pork Reserve. (I wish I could make stuff up as good as this!) They fear a general uprising if the people are denied their pork – it might get as ugly as keeping Gold from bbq beef brisket.
Bottom line. For those of you who might not have heard, you’re going to die. Absolutely guaranteed. Something will kill you. It could be old age, it could be the flu, it could be a small blood vessel popping in your brain, it could be a natural disaster or an elected one like our current President. If your best hope is that you get to pick your own poison, why not make it a tasty one? For all their smug assurances, the experts don’t all agree and, despite what they tell you, are not always right.
Me, I’m going to go ahead and have me a bbq beef sammich and if that means somewhere a cow farts, then so be it. Just so long as they don’t fart next to me while I’m eating.
I’m gassy enough on my own.
John Ostrander writes GrimJack: The Manx Cat, new installments of which appear every Tuesday here on ComicMix, and much of Munden’s Bar, new installments of which will reappear anon here on ComicMix. Both for free. His new Suicide Squadmini-series is out there from DC Comics, and his Star Wars: Legacy is out there from Dark Horse, both at finer comics shops across the galaxy.