Tuesday, March 2, 2010

meat: the moral dilemma

Up until a few days ago, I was a card-carrying member of the carnivore club. A couple of weeks ago, I eliminated sugar and gluten from my diet in an effort to get my eczema and psoriasis under control. Surprisingly, revamping my diet has been fairly easy, I don't miss my old friends sugar and gluten, furthermore, I feel fabulous. Eliminating gluten and sugar has had no effect on my skin, but the way I have felt since giving them boot is reason enough to keep them off the menu (I no longer crave a nap everyday at 2pm! No more headaches!). I have long-suspected a link between my dairy consumption and my skin problems, I don't consume a lot of dairy (the thought of drinking milk outright has always turned my stomach, since I was a kid!), but I like it in my coffee, and I love cheese. I. Love. Cheese!

In my efforts to wrap my head around eliminating dairy, I have been researching food. I have borrowed the book Skinny Bitch from a co-worker, I have watched the movie Food, inc., a fascinating look at how food is produced today, and I've been, ya know, Googling (a favourite pastime of mine, if you must know!) all things food-related. I had previously read Fast Food Nation, so I had prior knowledge about factory farming, and how it's overtaking the traditional family farm as the source of most of the food on our tables. Despite what I had read in that book, for the past few years, I've still held on tight to the notion that farming in Canada must be different. I grew up in southwestern Ontario where family farms with cows grazing in rolling pastures are a common sight. Yes, I ate meat, but I have always believed that this is where cows come from -- they live out their days in a grassy field, then they are sent to slaughter (humanely, I might add, as stupid as that sounds!). Granted, this may be the case in those family farms still in existence, however, the reality is that 95% of animals raised for slaughter in Canada are mass-produced on factory farms.

Do you know what factory farming involves (warning: graphic video)? Seriously, I had no idea. I suppose the notion of 'cruelty-free' farming is a contradiction in itself (what is humane about raising an animal for the sole purpose of killing it?), but I was blissfully unaware of what I have been putting on our table, and into our bodies. Until now. I cannot condone practices that I find absolutely horrifying, and by putting money into the pockets of the companies committing these atrocities, I am condoning it (and so are you!).

I'm sure a lot of you are thinking "It's only been a couple of days, give it time, and you'll be back to your regular diet", however, I've given up meat before (for a couple of years!), the sole reason I went back was because I got pregnant with Maddy, and quite frankly, I was the world's laziest vegetarian. My diet sucked, I didn't supplement what I ate with alternate sources of protein, unless bread counts as a source of protein. I have always been the type of person to stop my car and pick up stray dogs, so really, why wouldn't I show farm animals the same type of consideration I show other animals? I play with our beta fish, for God's sake, because I worry about how lonely he (she?) feels!

The link between veal production and the dairy industry is enough to cure me of my cheese habit. As a lactating mammal myself (10 years strong!), I can sympathize with a dairy cow and calves. As much as I may bemoan my morning coffee with rice/soy/almond milk (haven't figured that one out yet), life will go on.

While I'm comfortable giving up meat and dairy for myself, my husband and our children, on the other hand, are apprehensive about my (our!) new diet, proclaiming "But we're not *that* type of people!", whatever that means. So as a compromise, to ease them into the transition, we're going to purchase what we can from a local farm, although my goal is to completely eliminate meat and dairy from our diets (me, now, them, later!). A co-worker (thanks, Christine!) pointed me to the Weston Price Foundation, which promotes the consumption of whole foods. The website links to local chapters, through which you can source locally-grown organic and biodynamic vegetables, fruits and grains; and milk products, butter, eggs, chicken and meat from pasture-fed animals.

The point of this post isn't to debate the ethics of meat consumption in general, rather, I'm looking for advice. If you have any suggestions regarding books, recipes, and local sources for meat, dairy, and eggs, please pass them on. I have been debating a change in our family's diet for a long time, getting rid of sugar and gluten, and feeling so great as a result, has been the impetus I needed to make this change. I have a whole bunch of books on hold at the library, but as with everything in life, it's always nice to get advice from real, live people.

28 comments:

  1. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bath water. It is pretty easy to source ethically raised meat in Ottawa, and at pretty good prices, too. All the beef and pork our family eats was raised in a green pasture just like the image people have. In fact this year I'm going to start doing a series of videos on my farmer, for my website.

    Here is a good start on sourcing local, ethical meat.

    http://ottawafoodies.com/forum/1858

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  2. Susie -- Ottawa Foodies has a great "localvores" thread on local sources for meat/eggs/milk/etc: http://ottawafoodies.com/forum/1858

    If you'd like info on our guy (you can go meet your meat!), email me and I'll send it to you. :)

    -Melissa (reading this at work ;))

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  3. Thanks, Alan. I've found a farm in Ashton where we can buy eggs, do you have any specific recommendations otherwise? I'm really quite fine with no meat, it's the rest of the bunch who will complain!

    susie ;)

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  4. As for locally source whole foods, we have a buying group for http://www.mountainpath.com that you are welcome to join if you like. There is also the ONFC.

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  5. My beef farmer is http://www.saffirefarms.ca but he sells first to his CSA customers and normally can get rid of everything that way. Check the list on Ottawa Foodies and just make a few calls - be sure to ask questions since not necessarily everything on that list will be ethically raised, but most of it should be.

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  6. Just wondering if for your eczema you've tried eliminating tomatoes, peppers, potatoes? Anything from the night shade family??? These are sometimes the culprit as I've heard from several differnet sources. Of course always these sources metion dairy too.

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  7. I haven't tried eliminating those, however, the eczema popped up when I started drinking coffee (with milk), I've never really consumed milk otherwise. A couple of years ago, when I inadvertently cut out dairy (we were travelling for a few days), I noticed a marked improvement.

    susie :)

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  8. Have you considered cutting out COFFEE? ;)

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  9. I am not vegan, BUT really like the vegan "whole foods" cookbook by Jae Steele called Get it Ripe. Tonnes of good information in the first half of the book and then great recipes in the second half. She also has a blog called The Domestic Affair - she lives in Toronto I believe.
    http://domesticaffair.blogspot.com/

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  10. Even locally raised meat takes a lot of resources (water, grain, etc.). This is well documented and you can read more about it if you decide to move forward and eliminate meat for you and your family. I haven't eaten meat in 17 years and our first born is almost a year--he's not going to eat meat either. Plant based proteins are great--try The Thrive Diet. We still consume diary in our family and I am not sure I could cut it out right now. I don't want my little guy to drink too much soy milk (I haven't researched this yet but I am told soy and boys doesn't mix in large quantity). It's all shades of grey-do what you can.

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  11. Just a note--I think the whole, "meet your farmer" movement is just a way to avoid feeling bad about consuming meat and the meat industry. I grew up in Southern Alberta so I know this industry all too well.

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  12. FWIW, jo, the meat we buy from our local farmer is grass-fed (not grain) and fed on hay (grown by the farmer) in the winter. I grew up in a very rural area and got to "meet my meat" - it's certainly affected how I look at food in general.

    I'm a meat-eater. I will never be a vegetarian. Meat is a great way to get a lot of good nutrients in the non-growing season here in Canada that we cannot get solely from "off-season" local foods. However, I'm a fairly infrequent meat-eater -- choosing instead to buy from a local farmer with a small farm who raises the meat in a way that I see as being ethical. I know him, I know his practices, and I know that the meat I am eating has been treated well during its lifespan.

    We buy our beef once a year. I supplement my meat-based protein intake with more traditional vegetarian methods of obtaining protein.

    "Locally raised" doesn't have to mean a huge drain on natural resources. Grass-fed is a great alternative to grain-finished meat, having more flavour and being much leaner in general.

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  13. Heck, for what it's worth, when I was a kid we even raised our meat -- chicken, goat and beef. :)

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  14. cutting out coffee as you will read in skinny bitch will do wonders for your health cutting it out keeps my excema under control. i still steal a cuppa once in a while but it's great not being an addict. i was vegetarian before i got pregant and then i got lazy but we have an amazing market for locally raised ethically slaughtered flesh which soothed my troubled conscience over this but definately i will go back to a mostly vegetarian lifestyle and plan on feeding my kid vegetarian the right way now that i have more time to devote to it. it is definatly the best way to go by far. keep it up!

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  15. I am interested to hear how this goes. I was raised a veggie (my Mom was and my Dad had the occasional steak). Sure I experimented with McDs cheeseburgers a little in college, but who doesn't? I wouldn't even let my husband bring meat into our house and would give him a heap of heck for ordering meat at a restaurant. I think I also told him that feeding meat to our son would be a sure way to end our marriage. I was a card carrying member of PETA and always trying to cut out dairy but just couldn't do it due to my love of cheese.
    Then came my second pregnancy. Only two months in and I wanted meat!Lots of meat! Bison,ribs, rare steaks, pork loin, curried goat, chicken on a bun, back bacon, summer sausage,I just couldn't get enough. And boy was my husband happy. Finally he could live the life he always dreamed of in carnivore heaven.
    That was two years ago, now we eat meat everyday and I don't know how to stop.
    Being a veggie was so easy when I had no idea what I was missing. I have trouble just cutting back, let alone cutting out.
    Maybe this is just the inspiration I need. If you can do it maybe I can do it too...maybe????

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  16. Some facts on grass fed beef vs feedlot from Diet for a Small Planet.

    Feed lot beef consumes about 25x the resources as getting the same protein from plants directly. Grazed beef, however, consumes only about 3.5x the resources. So yes, while it is still greater than getting your protein from plants, it is an order of magnitude less than feed lot beef.

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  17. See Ron Eade's excellent article.

    here

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  18. The Kind Diet is like Skinny Bitch, but nicer. Some of my favourite cookbooks are by Dreena Burton (Vive la Vegan has many gluten free recipes - she likes to switch up her grains).

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  19. Steph, I'm on the waiting list for The Kind Diet, looks interesting!

    susie ;)

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  20. Just a note from the farmer's perspective... my husband and I raise chickens on our "family" farm. We are considered a smaller operation with 30,000 chickens per crop (with 5 crops a year) - the smallest operation permitted by the CFO (Chicken Farmers of Ontario) is 10,000. Even the largest producer in Ontario would raise his birds the exact same way we do - there is no other way to grow a chicken.
    Ninety percent of the fresh chicken that you buy in the grocery store is raised by family farmers just like us who sell our grain-fed (what else would a chicken eat?) unmedicated, hormone-free product to companies like Maple Lodge. We are not bad people. We do not raise our birds unethically. Our chickens roam free in the barn and my husband is always curious to know how you could possibly force-feed 10,000 chickens - they drink when they are thirsty, eat when they are hungry and sleep when they need to, just like we would. The chicken industry in Ontario is highly regulated and monitored to ensure that the product is safely and ethically produced. Much of the ten percent of meat that is imported comes from Quebec, which would have similar regulations.
    I can't speak to the farming of beef, pork, etc, but I do know that we are by no means a factory farm and we certainly don't want to put our animals through unnecessary stress or trauma. Please don't think that farmers and producers are the bad guys. Chicken in Ontario is perfectly ethical and healthy.

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  21. without reading the other comments, I feel totally blessed/lucky to have parents who have a small farm. My husband and I get a 1/4 calf which is enough beef for us for the year. Cheaper and organic, what more could I ask for. Also the best beef I've ever eaten! If you were able to find a source of beef/meat like this, would you consider still eating meat or would you still do your diet? Just curious, no judgement. If I didn't have this source, I probably wouldn't eat beef.

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  22. Hi anonymous farmer above - are you in the Ottawa area? I am doing a series of videos on local farmers, and would love very much to come out and do one of your chicken farm if you would let me. If so you can contact me alan(dot)mckay(at)gmail(dot)com. It will be for my website

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  23. I fully support local farmers, and prefer to buy from them whenever possible (meat & produce). That said, I followed most of the links in Susie's original post to see what they had to say re. treatment of farm animals & farming practices.

    Although 'chooseveg.ca' is a Canadian domain name (which anyone can obtain for $20, from anywhere in the world), the site is operated by a US organisation called "Mercy for Animals" (just look at the bottom of the main/home page, and click on the tab/link labelled "About MFA"). I read the page that purports to document Canadian practices (per Susie's link), but there aren't any references or documentation provided anywhere on the site to back up their claims.

    I'd like to know the truth, but how do I know what this US-based organisation is saying is true at all (particularly about Canadian practices? I looked everywhere on the site, and there is a lot of negative information there, but nothing to back any of it up. No references at all. I wouldn't be so quick to believe what they're saying if they can't/won't provide any information as to their sources.

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  24. Here is a video I shot yesterday at the farm where my beef is raised.

    Click me

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  25. i have been a vegetarian for 20 years. i fully support the move to a veg lifestyle, but would never force my family to adopt it. i hope they learn by my example.

    if you want to do it, do it right. make sure your diet includes a good range of choices and variety so you get the proper nutrients. what you need as a nursing mom, will be different from what your kids need, your husband needs, your teenage daughters need (eventually). i think it takes more thought to be a well-rounded vegetarian, but once you have figured it out, it should be just as easy to whip up a meal without meat as it is with meat.

    i really (really) dislike skinny bitch and the way they choose to spread their information. it looks like the other veg links you have provided are using the same tactics. my feeling has always been to try to be mindful of your choices when it comes to meat buying.

    have a look at a good vegetarian cooking encyclopedia like mark bittman's how to cook everything vegetarian.

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  26. Just wanted to suggest coconut milk for your coffee if you're looking for a dairy alternative! I have been using it periodically over the last little while and find it to be quite creamy and delicious!

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  27. I randomly came across your blog while I was searching for some information on stripping my cloth diapers. I got snooping around and came across this post. I should say first that I am a beef farmer from South Dakota- so I don't live in Canada..and second, I know you aren't looking to debate meat ethics. But, I just wanted to say a couple of things. That factory farms is something that bothers all farmers across the world. I am not sure of the statistics for Canada, but in the US 98% of farms are family owned and operated. And also Skinny Bitch and Food, Inc. are very far from reliable resources. I have a degree in Agricultural Education and spent some time addressing the Food Inc misconceptions with students. I applaud everyone for taking their food decisions into their own hands...but I definitely vote for talking to farmers and ranchers about the real truth behind your food. Anyway, it's hard for me to pass up an opportunity to address that Food Inc and Skinny Bitch are far from the truth..But, I love your blog and the post I was looking for on cloth diapering was super helpful! Thank you!
    If you want to hear more about our family farm and I also address some of the misconceptions in agriculture check out my blog
    www.sdfarmwife.blogspot.com
    Thanks again!

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