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Not quite your Vonnegut
February 1, 2008 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Undercover video (warning: very graphic) released by the Humane Society reveals abuse of animals on the slaughterhouse floor and other code violations.

In comparison, some (also graphic) documentation of cow slaughter under Certified Humane standards, and hog slaughter conforming to USDA guidelines (both from chef Chris Cosentino's blog, previously posted here)
posted by casarkos (75 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
...posted at lunch time. Boo.
posted by Pecinpah at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2008


The moral of this story? Increase and enforce restrictions within USDA guidelines.

I don't know how anyone can feel otherwise.
posted by koeselitz at 10:04 AM on February 1, 2008


This needs more exposure for sure.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 AM on February 1, 2008


Not to start a flamewar, but there *is* an alternate (or additional) moral: Don't eat meat.

(I do, but I'm just saying.)
posted by DU at 10:11 AM on February 1, 2008


Although the inspector's office says they wished the Humane Society had given this to them directly, I wonder if in some way they're glad to have their hand "forced." This way hey'll be able to blame public reaction for any "draconian" changes they start making industry-wide.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:12 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


The moral of this story? Increase and enforce restrictions within USDA guidelines.

But that might mean taking funds away from Defense?!?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:15 AM on February 1, 2008


DU, that is one way to be sure, but it's throwing the baby out with the bath water.

When they discover that pesticides cause cancer and deformed babies in farm workers the answer isn't to quit growing vegetables.

If you believe that there IS no way to humanely raise and butcher animals, and you don't want that on your conscience, then yes- quit eating meat. I don't subscribe to this point of view, but I understand it. (sort of)
posted by small_ruminant at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2008


When they discover that pesticides cause cancer and deformed babies in farm workers the answer isn't to quit growing vegetables.

No - the answer is to grow organics.
posted by item at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


small_ruminant writes "If you believe that there IS no way to humanely raise and butcher animals, and you don't want that on your conscience, then yes- quit eating meat. I don't subscribe to this point of view, but I understand it. (sort of) "

I still eat meat, but it's all organic, humanely raised. Taste is a huge factor, as this sort of farming makes a big difference with meat. But there is also the issue of conscience. It's actually a lot more expensive (though organic boneless chicken breasts are around $4/lb. right now where I live, lamb steaks around $8/lb., buffalo is cheap), but it's worth it.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:27 AM on February 1, 2008


Didn't I read somewhere that scientists were working on a way to clone meat? Not as in "whole animals" but just pieces of meat. Prime rib in a vat. I wish they'd get on with it.

I hate this. I've got to stop eating meat.
posted by Kloryne at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


No - the answer is to grow organics.

Or to just use pesticides that don't cause cancer and deform babies.
posted by 1 at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2008


DU: Not to start a flamewar, but there *is* an alternate (or additional) moral: Don't eat meat.

(I do, but I'm just saying.)


No flame here, it's an interesting question. I've been a vegetarian before myself, and I think it's a viable option. Sometimes I wonder if maybe I should be one. I do believe that there is a way to kill animals that is humane, thoughtful, caring, and respectful, but I'm not prepared necessarily to defend that belief at length; it's somewhat tentative. However, even if you do believe that eating meat isn't necessarily intrinsically wrong, it's pretty clear that causing large-scale pain and suffering is. I can't see any way to defend this kind of torture, carnivore or not.
posted by koeselitz at 10:32 AM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Didn't I read somewhere that scientists were working on a way to clone meat? Not as in "whole animals" but just pieces of meat. Prime rib in a vat. I wish they'd get on with it.

See, the problem is, people won't eat it. It's very difficult to market something like that. My uncle was working on that in the 80s, and it just freaked the hell out of people.

People still don't even want to eat regular cloned animals, which are just plain copies.
posted by zennie at 10:33 AM on February 1, 2008


A hamburger doesn't taste as good when I'm crying. : (

Disclaimer: I eat meat pretty seldom these days, thanks to the boyfriend.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:36 AM on February 1, 2008


See, the problem is, people won't eat it. It's very difficult to market something like that. My uncle was working on that in the 80s, and it just freaked the hell out of people.


That's too bad. I would really go for something like that. I suppose it is freaky, compared to what we're used to but, damn... it just seems so reasonable to me.
posted by Kloryne at 10:39 AM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Having just eaten a delicious veggie burger I just wanted to say that those of you that are considering vegetarianism (and lord knows I sat on that fence for a while myself) should try it. Try it for a couple days. Stock up on faux chicken or faux burgers if you really have a taste for meat. It's honestly not that hard.
posted by brevator at 10:39 AM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


the current state of so-called "enforcement" of usda restrictions is laughable at best, and tragic at worst.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:43 AM on February 1, 2008


I don't think eating downed animals is wrong. As long as they are cleaned off beforehand and the butcher makes the cuts properly (cutting out from the inside instead of in) there should be no real threat of E.Coli.

But given the way that many of these slaughterhouses work, I doubt that's the case. Eat organic or buy from a locally-owned slaughterhouse at least. Vegetarian? Meh... I'm almost as frightened of my spinach as I am of meat. The problem is in the mass production of food with high tolerances for pathogens and sketchy enforcement of regulations. We saw it in the spinach scare, we see it in meat.
posted by kylefreund at 10:53 AM on February 1, 2008


I buy Niman Ranch beef because the animal is theirs from birth to slaughter, so they're more likely to know if there's a problem (and they also treat their animals well).
posted by zippy at 11:01 AM on February 1, 2008


Just for the future reference of anyone who wants me to watch any video link you post... If you put "very graphic" and "Humane Society" in the same sentence, me and my cats ain't-a-gonna link to it.

(Disclaimer: UNLESS it's "Here's Summer Glau performing a sex act in a very graphic video whose sale proceeds go to the Humane Society.")

Just sayin'.

Bible still needs fixing. (For "Firefly" Glau fans.)
posted by Mike D at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Another "solution": go kosher. But not everybody agrees. Also, there's no such thing as kosher bacon. Unless it's for your dog.
posted by monospace at 11:07 AM on February 1, 2008


It wasn't just animal abuse though. If I understand it correctly, they're doing this to force downer cattle to not be downers anymore.

Downer cattle are the ones that are too sick or dying to walk to the slaughterhouse. To be blunt, they're also the ones that are most likely BSE+.

They are not supposed to enter into the human foodchain.

But it costs the slaughterhouse money if one whole cow can't be used, simply because it's too sick to walk.

So they jab it with shocks, water hoses, prods, etcetera to see if they can motivate it to not be so sick anymore.

Yeah, it's horrific treatment of animals... But the cynic in me also thinks that it was directly encouraged to save a buck.

I wish we would follow one single rule when raising and breeding animals.

"Don't be an Asshole"

If someone sees you doing whatever you're doing to the animal, they shouldn't say " Man.. You're an asshole"

Feeding cows to cows?

Asshole

Feeding chicken shit to cows and cowshit to chickens?

Asshole

Selling E-coli infected meat as cook only to schools?

Asshole

Shocking animals to make them look more lively so you can slaughter them?

Asshole.
posted by Lord_Pall at 11:14 AM on February 1, 2008 [7 favorites]


Whole Foods doesn't carry much kosher meat because it doesn't qualify as humane, by Whole Foods's standard. It MIGHT be cleaner, but it isn't more humane.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:18 AM on February 1, 2008


I don't think eating downed animals is wrong ... there should be no real threat of E.Coli.

They're not downed because of E. coli -- that can indeed be dealt with via appropriate processing.

No, they're downed for any number of other reasons we don't want into the food chain.

I'm a meat eater. But this is old-school Upton Sinclair bullshit.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:21 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


See, the problem is, people won't eat it. It's very difficult to market something like that. My uncle was working on that in the 80s, and it just freaked the hell out of people. --zennie

McDonald's seems to do pretty good business. And their hamburger meat is, well I don't really know what it is... All that's really needed is corn syrup and marketing I imagine.
posted by Bugg at 11:22 AM on February 1, 2008


I don't know, I think when you're evaluating the legality of a slaughterhouse technique, you really have to weigh the heinousness of doing it, the cruelty of doing it balanced against the value of what information you might get. While the techniques in this video might shock the conscience, and the law does in fact prohibit cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, I have to conclude that some of these techniques might be permissible in certain circumstances. As to the specifics of those circumstances, though, I'm reluctant to say, as it could constitute telling our enemies, um, our cows, rather, exactly what they can expect in those eventualities - and of course, those eventualities might never occur.
posted by nanojath at 11:27 AM on February 1, 2008


Everybody: read The Ominvore's Dilemma. Just read it. If you are a person who is politically minded and are interested in how your choices affect the ecology and economy of the nation and the world, then I would hope you will start eating grass-fed pastured beef; free-range chickens; and pigs that don't live in cages. You will seek to discern where the animals were slaughtered. You will ask questions as to how the animals were raised and what they were fed. Knowledge is power...for REAL! (/Jack Black eyes) The repercussions of sustaining the factory farming of animals negatively affects us morally, ecologically, and economically. There has been a sustained effort by the operators of this system (including the USDA) to prevent American citizens from knowing where their food comes from and how it is raised and slaughtered. I was heartened to see that the Farm Bill got a lot of press in the last year and I hope that it continues to be a big issue in American politics. Eating meat is not wrong. But raising livestock in the manner in which we do it in America is reprehensible. Seriously, just read the book. It's way less preachy and lot more entertaining then my little rant here.
posted by billysumday at 11:39 AM on February 1, 2008


I get confused when all the meat eaters come out to say that you shouldn't eat meat.

Why do you not go vegetarian yourself? I was on this fence for a long time, until I realized my only reason for eating meat was that it tasted good, and that just wasn't good enough to justify that a living thing would be harmed. I'm not trying to be preachy, because I know that it doesn't work, that you've heard it all before, and also that I don't think it's a decision I should be trying to make for anyone else. I struggled with going vegetarian for a long time, so believe me, I know it's a very personal decision.

I'm just curious what reasons other people have come up with for eating meat. Are there other reasons than "It's just normal" or "It tastes good"? There has to be some reason why so many obviously caring people are resistant to the idea of going vegetarian. Because it really does reduce suffering in the world. Unless you believe that animals don't feel pain, I suppose. But I think that many of the meat eaters here would have trouble killing animals themselves, or seeing them in pain, even if they eat those same animals daily.

Not trying to point fingers, by any means! Just interested in how the people here have considered this question in their own life.
posted by dosterm at 11:41 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm just curious what reasons other people have come up with for eating meat. Are there other reasons than "It's just normal" or "It tastes good"? There has to be some reason why so many obviously caring people are resistant to the idea of going vegetarian. Because it really does reduce suffering in the world. Unless you believe that animals don't feel pain, I suppose. But I think that many of the meat eaters here would have trouble killing animals themselves, or seeing them in pain, even if they eat those same animals daily.

That's a good question. Personally, I do it because I like the taste of meat and because in small does meat provides more concentrated and varied nutrition. Also, meat raised correctly is better ecologically than no meat at all. There are certain areas (hillsides, areas with little rain) where cows can graze but crops/machines cannot grow/harvest. The cows convert energy that we cannot use (grass) into energy that we can (meat). Also, livestock is domesticated. Chickens and cattle rely on us and have been bred by us to coexist with us. If we let all those chickens in the world roam free - go little chickens, go! - they would not last long. Cows would certainly be a nuisance if not contained to pastures and farms and in many climates might not survive the winter. So there is more to it than just the pain of the animals, there is the health of the species. Raising livestock humanely is the way to go about it, in my most humble opinion.
posted by billysumday at 11:52 AM on February 1, 2008


(small does = small doses)
posted by billysumday at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2008


I'm an 11-year vegetarian who started eating meat a couple months ago. I want to eat ethical meat, but I'm not entirely sure how to get it. There are farms way outside Baltimore City--but I don't have a car, and I don't have the freezer space necessary to, say, buy a cow and store the meat. There is a farmer's market nearby, but it doesn't always have what I need and, again, I don't even have the freezer space to store a week's worth of food (I share the freezer with five other people).

I've heard there is little difference between the meat you find on the butcher's counter and so-called "organic" meat, and what you really have to worry about is giant companies like Purdue and the packaged, frozen stuff that gets shipped in from all over the US. Does anyone know if there's truth in this? Does anyone have suggestions on how I can eat ethically?
posted by schroedinger at 11:55 AM on February 1, 2008


I've tried to go veg, but msg (in high doses) gives me some killer headaches. And all those faux-meat products are loaded to the gills with msg.
So I switched to tempeh, but then I discovered that when you fry it in olive oil a hole in the clouds opens up and a chorus of angels begins to sing because you've discovered the most delicious food on earth. And then I gained a bunch of weight because I was eating fried tempeh every damned day so I just switched back to jerky, coffee and eggs and I'm back where I started.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:56 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


dosterm- when I don't eat meat I get depressed and have no energy. I could go a year without eating a grain and be happy, but no meat and no veggies and I am suicidal in a month. Then I eat meat, and the next day I'm myself again. (It doesn't help that soy makes me sick.) I grew up hippie and I'm in Berkeley, California. I know how to do vegetarian correctly, but it does. not. work. for me.

And you know what? Even if the above were not true, I don't think we should have to give up eating meat. Don't give up something that's part and parcel of our traditions and culture, and that generally makes you happy. I am super lefty, but I really dislike how this stuff turns into a religion for how to feel holier-than-thou. If you want to get all Puritan and deny yourself pleasure, give up breeding.

And I'm really really tired of people telling me my bad vegetarian experiences are just because I'm not doing it right, and what a bad environmentalist I am. Thank you, Mr./Ms. Self-Righteous with the 3 resource-guzzling kids and yearly, resource-guzzling trips to Bali. /rant
posted by small_ruminant at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2008


I've heard there is little difference between the meat you find on the butcher's counter and so-called "organic" meat

I would imagine that that is not true. How they are slaughtered may be similar but how they are raised and what they are fed is not.

Does anyone have suggestions on how I can eat ethically?

Check out this site and try to find a farm you like. I live in Ohio which has a good selection of organic farms that are relatively close by. What I did was find a few farms that were close to me, called them and asked them about how they raised their animals and how they were slaughtered, and where I could purchase them. Turns out many of them sell at farmer's markets on weekends. So now, every two weeks I go to my local farmer's market and purchase from a lovely old couple who raise the best grass-fed beef ever. I imagine that the farms in MD would want to tap into the Baltimore market, and so would make the drive to a farmer's market in the city. Just start making some phone calls, I'm sure you'll find something that works.
posted by billysumday at 12:02 PM on February 1, 2008


That makes sense, billysumday. I've often made this argument to people too: that I'm not so much opposed to the idea of eating animals as I am concerned that I have no way to personally verify that those animals that I eat did not suffer for my sake. I just don't have enough faith in any organic farmers or the people that oversee them to guarantee to myself that I'm not causing suffering. And I certainly don't have any illusions that cows and chickens are wild animals that should be set free. They're some sort of genetically engineered class of weird beings that wouldn't last in a natural world. So that bothers me too, I guess. To have made creatures that only exist to die under our care. The argument of "where would all the cows go if we stopped eating them?" doesn't hold much water to me, because we shouldn't have made them so messed up and weak in the first place... but I know what you meant. I don't expect instant change.

Anyway, I feel like I'm so removed from the process of generating the food that I eat that it just is far easier to cut out meat entirely and not worry about making a leap of faith that someone else treated the animals well.

On preview: small_ruminant, that doesn't sound like any fun. I could see how if your body is used to eating meat, it could throw off your system. And I too don't go much for the preachy holier-than-thou crap. I don't think anyone is a bad person for eating meat at all. I just think maybe they haven't thought about the issue enough? But if they have and they made a solid, conscious decision about it, it's all good to me.
posted by dosterm at 12:13 PM on February 1, 2008


If anyone in interested in slaughterhouse practices I highly recommend Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.

It's about a whole lot of things, but one of the most interesting aspects to the book, for me, was how the author used her experiences with autism, which enable her to identify with animals, in order to help slaughterhouses kill more "humanely." It's a really fascinating paradox.
posted by miss tea at 12:19 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am concerned that I have no way to personally verify that those animals that I eat did not suffer for my sake. I just don't have enough faith in any organic farmers or the people that oversee them to guarantee to myself that I'm not causing suffering

The current industrial food system is deliberately set up to deny us from knowing these things. There is an amazing section in The Ominvore's Dilemma that talks about how customers travel to Joel Salatin's farm and watch the workers kill and dress the chickens. They also send their cattle to a slaughterhouse with glass walls so that customers may be allowed to watch the process. Additionally, there is a woman named Temple Grandin who has devoted her life to developing ways to reduce the stress and suffering of animals being slaughtered. So, I guess it's a matter of knowledge and of wanting to seek out that knowledge. There are people who are cognizant of these issues. Hopefully more people begin to realize that something is inerrantly wrong with the current system of factory farming and hopefully more people will choose to support a newer, better system.
posted by billysumday at 12:20 PM on February 1, 2008


dosterm, I am pretty sure that different humans need different diets. I don't know how you can predict what your perfect diet is, but the one diet fits all approach just isn't realistic in my experience, even if we are all the same species.

My guess is that whatever your ancestors ate probably fits you pretty well, but how you make that work in multicultural America is a mystery. I don't even know where my ancestors came from, except most of them must have been European. And what do you do if your ancestors' traditional diets clashed? Who knows. It's just a theory.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:25 PM on February 1, 2008


It's nice that some of you want to become vegetarians to remedy the problems of the meat industry (I am one myself), but I think it would be more effective to look at the problem closer to the source. If we diverted half of the corn subsidies to organic subsidies, it would make much more of a difference.
Get your letter-writing pens out rather than your corn and soy product veggie burgers.
posted by rmless at 12:38 PM on February 1, 2008


I wonder how many people who are concerned about the animals they eat suffering pay as much attention to ALL products they buy - I've known many people who are extremely concerned about the animals but regularly buy products (and don't we all?) that are very cruel to humans, sometimes children, in other countries.
posted by agregoli at 12:43 PM on February 1, 2008


I think our biology is all pretty much the same when it comes to nutrients we need. At least I don't think it splits easily along "racial lines". There's probably some small variations (an obvious one being lactose toleration), but a biologist or nutrionist would have to speak to specifics. I know if I ate like my ancestors (German/Irish) I'd be pretty screwed... my blood pressure/cholesterol would be through the roof. So it's probably a very personal thing, like you said. Eating a healthy range of things seems to be best.

rmless, I agree, corn subsidies are a big honkin' problem - the elephant in the room in all discussions of diet. Especially here in southern Illinois. Every field is freakin' corn, with the exception of a few soybeans. Almost all of it goes to animal feed or HFCS.

When there's too many people to feed, it causes a lot of problems.
posted by dosterm at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2008


Amen to those encouraging agitation for improvement and enforcement of USDA rules about animal handling from birth to slaughter.

I'm also in absolute agreement with those who are buying organic meat raised and slaughtered humanely.

It's not cheap, but most folks should be eating way less meat, anyway.

On soy as protein replacement.

I have family members who consider themselves vegetarians and "health food proponents", yet 9/10 of their meals consist of soy junk food.

Be wary, those who are considering the switch: everything in moderation, even soy.
posted by batmonkey at 12:53 PM on February 1, 2008


I wonder how many people who are concerned about the animals they eat suffering pay as much attention to ALL products they buy - I've known many people who are extremely concerned about the animals but regularly buy products (and don't we all?) that are very cruel to humans, sometimes children, in other countries.

Two things that make this problematic: 1) one of the reasons why people eat organic/hormone-free/grass-fed and etc. meat is because of the health benefits - so there is a direct personal positive for eating that kind of meat beyond just political or moral reasons; and 2) though it may be difficult, one can still attempt to ascertain the chain of production when it comes to eating meat, especially when choosing local producers - however when it comes to buying a plastic toy made in China, one cannot know the process of that item's production.

All in all, I think it's good if people start to become interested in the means of production of their food - inevitably it will lead to a curiosity into the means of production of other things.
posted by billysumday at 12:59 PM on February 1, 2008


What they need to do, see, is separate the D from the FDA and include meat and dairy in the F. Oh, and include them in the second A of the ASPCA, too.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:00 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


agregoli, I try to do my best with checking other products too. It's getting really hard to know what exactly went into the things we consume. It extends to so many things now.
That said, I don't think being concerned about one problem implies neglect of another. Are a lot of people really being that hypocritical? I can't speak for others, but I've not met many vegetarians who believe in ignoring human rights violations.
There's all sorts of abuses of living things. Humans definitely included.
posted by dosterm at 1:06 PM on February 1, 2008


I'm going to try not to preach, here, but my family ameliorated a lot of our horror at the industrial food complex by moving to Community Supported Agriculture.

We now get our produce from Live Earth Farm and our meat from Morris Grassfed Beef, and we've found that the costs are slightly higher than Safeway, competitive with Whole Foods, and that we don't mind paying a small premium to know exactly where our food is coming from.

There is a qualitative difference in the food. The produce is amazingly fresh, and looks normal: it looks like what it is, real food grown by real people. The strawberries have been the best any of us have ever tasted, and we've been introduced to seasonal and less common produce as a result of the CSA being sustainably farmed. All of this has been a net benefit. At one point, our 3-year-old ate a zucchini, raw, because it tasted so good, something which I, personally, would never have done at any point in my life.

The real quantum difference, though, has been in the beef. The best way we've come up with to describe the difference between grassfed and non-grassfed beef is that it tastes like meat. It has an actual taste to it, versus the semi-tofu nature of the supermarket beef, that tends to soak up whatever you cook with it but not have much character on its own. The beef is leaner, as well, but it's been an amazing education. Hands-down, the grassfed stuff we're getting, for roughly the same price as supermarket ground round, makes the best hamburgers and cheeseburgers we've ever tasted.

We also feel healthier. We don't worry as much about what we're eating, because we know more or less exactly where it all came from. And, because it all tastes so damn good, we're cooking more than we have in years. Once you've had a meal that came entirely from your local community, every single element of which is sustainably raised and harvested, it's hard to go back to processed food.

Finally, it makes us feel good, because we're putting our money back into our community as directly as possible. We're subsidizing a farm we can drive to in 30 minutes that in its turn supports people who live around us. It's a really gratifying local action.

The rise of CSAs has made it more possible than ever for a large swath of the populace to stop supporting factory farming, and I encourage everyone to at least look into it: frankly speaking, if you're in an income class that allows you to read and participate in MetaFilter, there's a pretty good chance you'll find a CSA an economical alternative.

None of this, of course, is a substitute for long-lasting, fundamental change. I'd like to second the mention of The Omnivore's Dilemma as the most thoughtful, rational discussion of what's wrong with our current food production methods, what's right about them, and what the options are for making change. I also want to note that some of you may be confusing The Omnivore's Dilemma with Fast Food Nation: FFN is a considerably more provocative and frankly alarmist book than The Omnivore's Dilemma, and the two shouldn't be conflated.

If anyone's interested in more detail on our experiences with LEF and Morris Grassfed, please feel free to contact me via MeFiMail or email: we're always glad to do what we can to help people move over to a CSA.
posted by scrump at 1:11 PM on February 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Here's another perspective on Certified Humane standards (about 2/3 of the way through, and in the comments) and how the ethics of "humanely" raising meat animals aren't always clear, even when it's not industrialized factory-style production.
posted by casarkos at 1:13 PM on February 1, 2008


You know after skimming this thread, I feel the need to point out that "organic" and "ethical" are not synonymous when referring to the humane treatment of animals. Don't get them mixed up.
posted by zennie at 1:31 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm just curious what reasons other people have come up with for eating meat.

I eat meat because I am a coyote.

This is also why I occasionally eat fruits, berries, and garbage.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:34 PM on February 1, 2008 [5 favorites]


On the internet, nobody knows you're a coyote.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:51 PM on February 1, 2008


That said, I don't think being concerned about one problem implies neglect of another.

Sigh, I never made that accusation, but I figured someone would bring that up. My point is that there is a LOT of fuss these days about where food comes from, but unless a non-food product is from China, people don't seem to worry one whit about where it comes from. The entire American system of consumption is pretty unconscious.

Are a lot of people really being that hypocritical? I can't speak for others, but I've not met many vegetarians who believe in ignoring human rights violations.

What about the people who are adamant about eating organic beef but don't worry about who made their clothes?
posted by agregoli at 1:56 PM on February 1, 2008


Well, now they do. Damn it.

/gnaws scavenged elk skull sullenly
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:57 PM on February 1, 2008


I'm just curious what reasons other people have come up with for eating meat.

For me, because a healthy diet is one founded in nutrition, not ideology, and since I only get one body I want to take care of it when the difficulty of doing so is not too high. "No meat" is an idealogical decision, not a nutrition-based one. As we all know, if your diet is the typical Western garbage and excess, then "no meat" might actually force an improvement, but that's not exactly saying much - paying more than zero attention to your diet for any reasons, be they ideological, nutritional, or perhaps even crazy paranoia, is likely to result in improvement, sometimes vast improvement :-) But the most healthful diets include some meats, and I think that eating a lot less (and better-raised) meat than the norm is (for most intents and purposes) as good as no meat from the ideological standpoint, and doesn't involve the health compromise of having nutrition take a back seat to ideology.

However, I'm much less comfortable eating meat in the USA, than some other countries. The culture in US meat production strikes me as very dodgy and not a little worrying.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:58 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm just curious what reasons other people have come up with for eating meat.

Another one is environmental - eating meat is inefficient to the point where it's environmentally harmful, but considerably less harmful than driving a car everywhere. Thus I choose the lesser evil. (I don't want to be less active, and I don't want the health problems and dietary contortions I see in people attempting to reconcile a vegetarian diet with sustaining a highly active lifestyle - the costs are clearly not as trivial as ideological opponents of meat usually make out).
posted by -harlequin- at 2:14 PM on February 1, 2008


Didn't mean to put words in your mouth, agregoli. I'm just wondering who these people are that worry about organic but don't care about child labor. Never noticed anybody like that. That doesn't mean they don't exist, of course. But yeah, that attitude would be pretty screwy.

I'm glad infinitywaltz got outed. Damn coyotes always lurkin' around the internet, eatin' meat and ruining the earth!
posted by dosterm at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2008


And all those faux-meat products are loaded to the gills with msg.

Well, just off the top of my head-- Boca Burgers, Tofu Pups, and Tofurky have no added MSG.
posted by brevator at 2:46 PM on February 1, 2008



I'm just curious what reasons other people have come up with for eating meat. Are there other reasons than "It's just normal" or "It tastes good"? There has to be some reason why so many obviously caring people are resistant to the idea of going vegetarian. Because it really does reduce suffering in the world. Unless you believe that animals don't feel pain, I suppose. But I think that many of the meat eaters here would have trouble killing animals themselves, or seeing them in pain, even if they eat those same animals daily.


I'll get jumped on for this, but the reason I don't stop eating meat (besides liking the taste) is that I don't think suffering is per se bad. Death, even painful death, is an intrinsic part of life--as is predation. I don't believe there is some sort of quantum of World Suffering that can be reduced by me becoming a vegetarian; that notion is just so senseless and incoherent (for one, the experience of suffering is a quale). I also don't agree that my own prissiness with regard to killing things is an argument against eating meat: if I were some bloodthirsty Viking or something, would my own pleasure at the act of killing be an argument against vegetarianism?
posted by nasreddin at 2:55 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


On the dietary health issue, in a nutshell: I think the onus is upon us, as conscious actors who have largely accepted the moral premise that "suffering is wrong", to not eat other animals. Even if you believe that the healthiest of diets includes meat. I know that we've decided it's "natural" to eat meat, but I also think the entire moral structure of humanity is inherently "unnatural". We're trying to act against nature when we prevent suffering in humans. And it is right to do so. We cure natural diseases, save the lives of naturally doomed babies, keep the old alive past their natural time, etc. We couldn't do those things without an invented society around us that doesn't have much to do with an abstract idea of nature anymore. That compassion for humanity should extend to other creatures.

Now, knowing that suffering exists and is wrong, we should act "unnaturally" to prevent it, despite flying in the face of the historical diet of humanity. (Which, by some evidences going back far enough, is really fruits and other raw plant things, but that's another argument.) I'm a vegetarian and passably healthy, although I could always do better. But our diets are always going to flirt with "perfection". If they are off by a small amount in order to prevent a very large amount of suffering, I think that is the right choice.

It should always be a goal to work out ways to live ethically. We can't rely on the idea that there is an immutable way that nature works, and that is just how things should be. That it excuses suffering. By creating our very society, we've rejected that faith for something greater. Our intelligence frees us from blindly causing suffering by allowing us to recognize suffering's existence.

I guess that ended up not fitting in a nutshell.

On preview, those that don't accept my initial premise are given a pass on the ethical argument. But yes, you will have trouble defending that suffering isn't inherently bad.
posted by dosterm at 3:10 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


dosterm:

I think the suffering thing is a canard. It's what you choose to focus on and that's fine. For me, the choice is between the existence of these species or the extinction of these species. If you scrap the domestication of livestock for the purposes of eating, they will, eventually, cease to exist. Cows? Where do they live and how do they survive? Chickens? Forget it, they're gone in months. Pigs, on the other hand, are intelligent and will certainly survive. However, it's inevitable that they will alter and destroy the ecology of whatever environment they are let loose in. This has happened many times in many places already. Everything has a consequence. Free the animals! At first glance it sounds good in principle, but in execution would be disastrous for our landscapes, native species, and for the animals themselves.
posted by billysumday at 3:27 PM on February 1, 2008


As far as going vegetarian goes, I'd recommend against trying to use the pseudo-meat products; they really don't taste all that good as meat substitutes. I'm not vegetarian, but I *am* into synthetic foods so I sample the new pseudo-meats when they come out and none of them really taste like meat. Some taste pretty decent, as long as you don't think of it as a meat substitute, but rather as a completely new food. Its like carob. Carob has a terrible reputation because some people insist that its a chocolate substitute; and as a chocolate substitute its bloody awful. But, if you take carob as carob, it actually tastes pretty nice.

From my POV Boca burgers, when hot, are the best at immitating meat. When they're hot they actually do taste like really terrible beef patties. But when they cool they undergo some unholy transmogrificaton and turn into some of the most vile stuff I've ever had the misfortune to put into my mouth. Eat 'em hot.

Morningstar Farms has some pretty good fake pork ribs, near as I can tell they did it by going for texture, and leaving the taste entirely in the hands of the BBQ sauce.

But, in general, I'd recommend that anyone who wants to go vegetarian avoid the pseudo-meat, and just cook vegetarian; pseudo-meat does *NOT* taste like meat and you'll be setting yourself up for dissapointment if you use it.

As for the "why eat meat" question, my answer is simply that meat tastes good. I buy local, organic, humanely slaughtered [1]. I don't want to see non-sapient beings suffer, thus I am most definately opposed to factory farms and the like, but I see nothing wrong with killing and eating non-sapients.

Personally, I'd be perfectly happy eating vat grown meat, but I doubt it'll happen anytime soon because so many people have the "eeewww" reaction.

[1] My local slaughterhouse says "just drop in and see if you want to, no need for an appointment".
posted by sotonohito at 3:38 PM on February 1, 2008


Leaving aside the egregious abuses in the video, or even NOT leaving them aside), every time hear how humans have some sort of lock on inhumane treatment of food stuffs, I remember video of bears idly worrying at their still alive salmon for 20 minutes- not really hungry, but enjoying a leisurely meal- or any other example of the way animals hunt and eat. And let's not get into the insect world. Really. Things die so that other things can live. I don't see a problem with it.

If you want to lessen that, then lessen the number of things living. In the long run the planet will do it for us, but it looks like it won't be in time.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:42 PM on February 1, 2008


On the dietary health issue, in a nutshell: I think the onus is upon us, as conscious actors who have largely accepted the moral premise that "suffering is wrong", to not eat other animals. Even if you believe that the healthiest of diets includes meat. I know that we've decided it's "natural" to eat meat, but I also think the entire moral structure of humanity is inherently "unnatural". We're trying to act against nature when we prevent suffering in humans. And it is right to do so. We cure natural diseases, save the lives of naturally doomed babies, keep the old alive past their natural time, etc. We couldn't do those things without an invented society around us that doesn't have much to do with an abstract idea of nature anymore. That compassion for humanity should extend to other creatures.

I think both you and your opponents are appealing to an indefensible concept of "nature." To talk about nature as if it were red in tooth and claw (opposing it to humane culture) implies that humanity is outside of or above nature--ultimately a corrupt binary opposition that grounds and justifies all kinds of atrocities. Humanity is a part of nature, just like black holes, diarrhea, and petunias.

By creating our very society, we've rejected that faith for something greater. Our intelligence frees us from blindly causing suffering by allowing us to recognize suffering's existence.


This is a series of pieties in no way constituting an argument. What is "something greater"? Is there an extra-human measure of greatness, and, if so, where is it? What is "our society"? Do you mean "all human civilization ever"? In that case, you're wrong--the elimination of suffering has never been a universally accepted goal anywhere. Also, see Dostoyevsky:
To my thinking, Christ-like love for men is a miracle impossible on earth. He was God. But we are not gods. Suppose I, for instance, suffer intensely. Another can never know how much I suffer, because he is another and not I. And what’s more, a man is rarely ready to admit another’s suffering (as though it were a distinction). Why won’t he admit it, do you think? Because I smell unpleasant, because I have a stupid face, because I once trod on his foot. Besides there is suffering and suffering; degrading, humiliating suffering such as humbles me—hunger, for instance,—my benefactor will perhaps allow me; but when you come to higher suffering—for an idea, for instance—he will very rarely admit that, perhaps because my face strikes him as not at all what he fancies a man should have who suffers for an idea. And so he deprives me instantly of his favour, and not at all from badness of heart ... People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. (The Brothers Karamazov)
you will have trouble defending that suffering isn't inherently bad.

I don't think anything is "inherently bad." What does that even mean?
posted by nasreddin at 3:44 PM on February 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


It should always be a goal to work out ways to live ethically.

In this instance we disagree on what living ethically means. By using this phrase in the way that you are, you are suggesting that there is only one definition of ethical. This is the sort of thing that gives vegetarians a reputation for proselytizing a religion instead of putting forth reasoned arguments.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:49 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


And what nasreddin said about differentiating between humans and other species- there is no such differentiation.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:53 PM on February 1, 2008


More regulations won't help if the ones we have already go disregarded, and they do. There are far too few FDA inspectors out there. If your operation gets hit with heavy fines for breaking the rules, but you only get one rushed inspection every few years, then the odds are in your favor, and it's worth it to continue with your illegal practices.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:07 PM on February 1, 2008


For those interested in The Omnivore's Dilemma mentioned above, there is a very good reading/Q and A session [mp3 file] by the author, Michael Pollan, from ALOUD, the LA Public Library lecture archives. Pollan is a smart, witty, engaging speaker, and the subject is fascinating.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:26 PM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


one of the leading suppliers of the national school lunch program

So we're supposed to be surprised that the low bid on a meat contract came from a shitty company that doesn't follow standards?

Honestly, I would've been more surprised if they did.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:42 PM on February 1, 2008


FWIW, I do my best to pay the extra money to make sure that my food animals are treated the way I'd want to be treated, if I was a food animal.

I sure as hell wouldn't want to be reincarnated as a Tyson chicken, but I wouldn't mind a bit being a foie gras goose, or a free-range laying hen.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 8:43 PM on February 1, 2008


but I wouldn't mind a bit being a foie gras goose

Yeah, cuz being force fed to death sounds like a great way to go.
posted by brevator at 9:57 PM on February 1, 2008


Also, as stated before organic does not equal humane. Organic is more about the absence of artificial chemicals/hormones/etc. than being nice to things. It's also a mistake to leave your food ethics to government regulators. Organic standards have been watered down and even the most basic food standards are violated all the time. The FDA and USDA have given the public a false sense of security for a long time. Thankfully, with all these food poisoning cases, people are waking up. Sadly, it really is up to you to determine if your food is safe and ethical.

I plan on writing an article about eating local despite obstacles like not having a car, tight income, etc. It is possible. Knowing your producer is not just important for animal products, all agriculture is enmeshed with problems from labor rights to improper handling.
posted by melissam at 11:05 PM on February 1, 2008


-harlequin-, just a couple of thoughts on one of your posts.

Another one is environmental - eating meat is inefficient to the point where it's environmentally harmful, but considerably less harmful than driving a car everywhere.
Actually, it's more harmful.

Thus I choose the lesser evil.
I think this phrase is generally used when you have two exclusive options and you must pick one of them. But what prevents you from doing both?

(I don't want to be less active, and I don't want the health problems and dietary contortions I see in people attempting to reconcile a vegetarian diet with sustaining a highly active lifestyle - the costs are clearly not as trivial as ideological opponents of meat usually make out).
What are these costs? Why are they nontrivial. I have had some experience with vegetarianism as well as an extremely active lifestyle, so I'm curious about your feelings on this.
posted by ajshankar at 11:32 PM on February 1, 2008


ajshankar, the economics and impact of meat eating are very complex. It's very difficult to just say meat has more impact than driving. Even more difficult to say that vegetarianism always has less impact.

Dairy, for example, is a huge polluter and tied to the meat industry. A vegetarian that eats a lot of dairy may very well likely have more impact than a lactose intolerant chicken eater.
‘Astonishingly enough,’ says study coauthor Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysicist, ‘the poultry diet is actually better than lacto-ovo vegetarian.’ In other words, a roast chicken dinner is better for the planet than a cheese pizza. ‘If you need to eat dead animals, poultry is the way to go,’ says Eshel, a vegan
Even less impact? If the chicken is a free-range foraging chicken. I've raised them myself. They can live in low densities, their waste fertilizes the grass, and require very little feed.

Up the ante, the venison I ate last month came from an animal that was never in a CAFO. My grandfather shot it. In the area where he shot it the deer population is too high and is destroying the ecosystem. Wolves aren't realistic at this point as sprawl moves in, though hopefully in the future they can be reintroduced...maybe when people stop living in subdivisions. Talk to an ecologist, very few will object to culling deer, feral pigs, or other species that do not seem to have enough predators or are invasive species in the first place.
posted by melissam at 11:54 PM on February 1, 2008


Melissam, of course, and if you don't drive a car, your negative contribution to the environment in that regard is zero.

However, I was talking about the common case. The NYTimes article I linked to said "But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation."

Of course, you can single out any number of individual behaviors that may contradict this fact (a milk-guzzling vegetarian, an SUV owner who never drives her car, etc.) but it is true in aggregate.

You yourself might be very good about selecting your meat from eco-friendly sources, but assuredly most people are not. I am not even claiming that -harlequin- is not -- just that people, on average, are not.
posted by ajshankar at 12:17 AM on February 2, 2008


...posted at lunch time. Boo.

I don't know, I don't eat lunch at 4:50 am.
posted by tomble at 4:30 AM on February 2, 2008


Datapoint: The HSUS is not affiliated with your local humane society. It's a very different organization, focused not on animal welfare, but on animal rights and market manipulation, more in line with PETA.
posted by notashroom at 3:22 PM on February 2, 2008


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