Life as a carnivore used to be simple. Our choices were straightforward: Original Recipe or Extra Crispy? Pork Ribs or Beef Ribs? Chicken Pot pie or Turkey Pot Pie? Today, however, in the Brave New World of increased awareness of environmental impact, health concerns, and animal welfare, the choices are no longer just between specific dishes, but between different ways to raise, feed, and butcher the animals that become the meat in those dishes. The choices are so dizzying that, as Dr. Emilio Lazardo said in The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai, ‘It’s enough to make the ganglia twitch.’
At the grocery store, do I pay $.99 for the regular eggs, or $4.00 for the cage-free eggs? How can I eat out if I can’t find a restaurant that serves meat raised the way I want it raised? Do I spend time finding farmers who raise meat animals humanely, or do I close my eyes and buy the stuff at the store that’s been raised in a factory because I don’t have time to look for anything else? Should I buy grass-fed or grass-finished meat? Corn-fed? Pasture-raised or feedlot-raised? No antibiotics? No growth hormones? Do I buy organic meat shipped 1,000 miles, or non-organic meat shipped 60 miles? Should I buy meat from a small but conventional farm? Heck, should I even be eating meat at all?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe there are clear answers to any of these questions. For example, researchers have found that most of the food we eat has traveled at least 1,500 miles before it reaches our plate, and because that transportation consumes a great deal of fossil fuel and emits plenty of carbon dioxide, the conclusion is we should all eat locally. But an op-ed piece in the New York Times raised the opposite idea. New Zealand researchers now claim that the process of raising lamb on a clover-rich New Zealand pasture and shipping it 11,000 miles to Great Britain emits much less carbon dioxide than the process of raising a lamb on grain right in England.
I can feel my ganglia starting to twitch already. On my cynical days I wonder if there are any truths about becoming a more compassionate carnivore that I can trust.
On my less cynical days, I know there are. As I waded through what it means to be a carnivore today, I kept coming back to the one thing that I know to be true: the animals themselves matter. Treating animals with respect and consideration is an act that sends out ever-widening ripples into the world.