Instead of a recipe I thought I would have a post that elaborates on a resolution that my family decided on, and that was a strict commitment to ethical meat. “Ethical” may mean the same thing as cruelty-free to some people, but to us it means meat that comes with respect to the animal, environment, farmer, and purchaser. My relationship with meat has been, and in some ways continues to be, quite dynamic. It all began at a young age, when I first learned what meat was.
To give you some kind of idea what meat meant to me as a child, my family nickname was “Raptor”. I loved meat, and all that came with it- the sauces, the rubs, the casseroles! Steak and asparagus, chicken divan, pork roast…it was all fast-tracked into my stomach via grabbing little hands. Then, around the age of five, I very suddenly understood what “pork is pig” meant. I sort of had a concept that that the pig was somehow giving us pork. but I wasn’t quite sure how it did that up until that point. I assumed it was a gift from the pig, that maybe it foraged throughout the woods all day and came back, surprise, with bacon! It was the same sort of realization when I noticed my little brother wasn’t actually a doll- shock, and then…disappointment. Disappointment that my parents had knowingly let me eat some of my favourite animals (though that had explained the process repeatedly) and mostly the disappointment that two of my favourite things had now collided- eating meat and animals. Determined to find a loophole, I decided that the only solution was to eat meat without eating animals. Mommy, can I be a vegetarian that eats meat? Turns out, the answer to that is no. Meat and animals are one of the same, and it broke my heart. I loved animals, really loved animals.
My first real go at vegetarianism began when I was fourteen, and lasted up until I was three quarters of the way through eighteen. Though I am happily an omnivore now, this stint of vegetarianism was what really got me interested in my food. Anything that makes you step back and change your diet in a drastic way can really be a wake-up call for what food means to you. i started reading cookbooks like they were novels, a practice I keep to this day. Food blogs became a place not only to drool, but to delve into. Our family diet changed as well- both my little brother and I were vegetarians, so we rarely had meat in the fridge. My brother had always been a picky eater, so we had stuck to a pretty regular meal plan that involved revolving things like beef stroganoff, spaghetti, and a variety of chicken. Now, we all had to think a little more about what was going on the table, and it led to a bit of a kitchen revolution. Artichokes on weeknights? Beefless borsht? Huevos Rancheros? It’s not that we had been unadventurous eaters before, but a quake had set us loose and we were enjoying it.
Now, by the age of fourteen, my reasons not to eat meat were a little more sophisticated than “But I LOVE pigs!”. The meat industry is a 140 billion dollar industry that occupies a third of the land on the planet, so even if we don’t eat it, it’s of interest to all of us. The accounts of factory farm life are hopefully something that everyone has seen (Food Inc.) or read about (Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer). We understand that there are horrors that happen in factory farms, to the animals, environment, and workers. Being a vegetarian was a way to completely remove myself from the world of factory farming. Which is more socially acceptable, telling a host you’re a vegetarian or saying sorry, I don’t eat meat I don’t know the source of? In a lot of ways its easier to be vegetarian and say hey, I’ve done my part.
Two things changed this. One, I started to crave meat. Not necessarily the actual physical meat, but the history that went with it. Turkey feasts and lamb roasts, two things that had been something to look forward to all year, no longer existed. Spending a lot of time on food blogs showed other people very happily and ethically raising their own meat. Further reading into biology illustrated beautiful and complex relationships between animals and plants, living in an environmentally neutral, if not friendly, symbiosis. I wanted to be part of this movement towards slow, ethical food, and meat was a huge part of that. Two, I understood what it meant to respect animals while causing their death.
As I mentioned, I volunteer in a lab at UVic. I work with rats. I also have two pet rats, beautiful little boys named Cam and Mitchell (seen Modern family?) who provide entertainment and always show me lots of affection. The study we work with, though I won’t get into the details, requires a lot of rats, specifically, a lot of rat brains. The first time I had to kill a rat, it turned out to be something like fifteen rats. I cried when I drove home. The first time I had to cull a litter, my stomach turned. But I kept on doing it and somehow…it felt okay. It didn’t feel cruel or uncalled for. I loved to learn about the inside of their bodies, and knew that each result pushed the study forward. I had so much respect for the rats we worked with, just like I have for my own pet rats, and knew that they lived a relatively good life. We did what we could to make them comfortable, and made sure they had a quick end that showed respect for their life. It was a perfectly modelled relationship for meat, one of utmost respect. If my meat can be treated the way I know I can treat these rats, then I can justify and enjoy eating meat.
I have now been enjoying ethically raised meat that is good for me, the environment, and the local farmers, for nine months. The whole mystery of the culinary world of meat is lain at my feet. If you haven’t already looked into where your meat comes from, if you eat meat, understand that it is important that you do. The meat you buy is a choice, and a big one, so make sure you have all the resources to be happy with the choice you make.
Again, Happy New Year, and I hope those resolutions are stay with everyone throughout the year!