“I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.” — Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
“So, you don’t eat meat? Like, ever?”
I get this question a lot. Like, a lot. Usually, I just lie: “Nope, no animals for me,” but I do eat animals. Sometimes. Rarely. But sometimes. Occasionally, I tell the truth, but it gets complicated pretty quickly and is usually a much longer answer than people want.
But it is an important answer, for choosing our food is perhaps the most important decision we make about our individual and collective selves. Not only do we determine our personal health when we eat but the health of our planet and therefore the health of our children, our grandchildren, and the billions of faceless generations to come.
So I will try to answer that question again. Yes, I eat animals. Sometimes.
- Wild game killed by a trusted hunter. Once a year, a friend kills a deer for me. He is a good shot, meaning the deer is killed quickly. For most people, this is important because it means the meat tastes better, and while I’m glad for that, it is important to me because the deer doesn’t suffer, or worse, manage to run away and survive injured and become vulnerable prey to another animal. Also, sometimes I eat wild-caught fish if I know the person who caught it and how it was caught (wild-caught at the store is not the same thing). And last year for Christmas, I had doves that were shot by my boss and her family. You see, it’s important to me that the animals live good lives and are killed ethically and not merely for sport. This counts for about 3% of my food a year.
- Special occasions. Rarely, but sometimes I eat farm-raised animals. For example, I recently had a birthday, and I treated myself to country ham for breakfast and French onion soup for dinner. I hadn’t “broken the rules” in several years, but I did this year on my birthday. Also, some good friends have started a Polyface-type farm nearby, and I ordered a turkey from them this year for Thanksgiving. I haven’t had turkey since 2008 or 2009, but I will this year. A few years ago on my thirtieth birthday I had charcuterie (perhaps my favorite food group in the world). This accounts for less than 1% of my food a year.
- Travel/World experience. Because I love food, especially trying new, interesting, famous, and/or ethnic foods, I give myself a pass in the name of cultural experience when I travel. For example, when I go to New Orleans, I eat a muffaletta and shrimp étouffée and gumbo. In Chicago, a hot dog. And one day, when I visit Spain, I will eat ham, and when I make it to Maine, I will eat lobster. You get the idea. I don’t use travel as an excuse to eat anything I want, but I will allow myself to try local favorites. I’m not going to eat chicken strips in Memphis, but I may try some pulled-pork barbecue. This accounts for less than 1% of my food a year.
- Some mollusks, and crawfish from the US. This is sometimes the hardest to explain, but I eat some mollusks (namely, oysters, scallops, mussels, and clams) and crawfish raised in the States. While most farm-raised, animal-based food is fairly horrible to the environment (read: utterly devastating), that isn’t the case for these animals, and the abomination that is modern-day fishing (read: dragging extraordinarily large nets along the ocean floor, which disturbs habitat and results in extraordinary amounts of waste fish, known as by-catch) is not part of raising these animals. In fact, their filtration capabilities even help remediate pollution in some cases. Also, the farming environments for these animals seem to best mimic their preferred habitats. Raising oysters–a species that naturally lives in dense colonies and move very little–in captivity is quite a bit different than raising chickens–a species that naturally roams and flies–in cages. This accounts for less than 1% of my food a year.
So I’m not really a vegetarian, but I eat like one about 95% of the time. Perhaps in a future post I’ll tackle why I choose not to eat farmed meat, and maybe even why I choose not to be a vegetarian 100% of the time. If not, at least I’ve got a place to direct people when they ask if I eat meat. Like, ever?