Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The meat we eat

Last year I bought the book Judaism and Vegetarianism for a friend at a moving sale.  It's the 1982 edition and apparently didn't look very interesting to her, so it sat in my bookcase for a whole year untouched.  I finally read it because I thought, poor neglected book, somebody has to.  I agree with many of the ideas presented; that we should avoid tza'ar ba'alei chayim (causing animals to suffer), that excessive meat consumption takes a toll on our health and the environment, that modern "agrobiz" is ruining the world, etc.  But I cringed at a few of the overly propagandist paragraphs ("Do not commit suicide!") and couldn't stomach most of the recipes: millet pie, iceberg lettuce soup, and vegetarian nut loaf.

I really try not to go to the extreme in any direction, on any matter.  "Everything in moderation," is my motto. When I first started keeping kosher at age 17, I was a vegetarian.  Not only for the ease of one set of dishes and people being less offended by me not eating from their unkosher kitchens, but also because I was interested in having fewer artificial hormones and antibiotics entering my system.  I felt healthy and energetic and my iron level was fine even though anemia runs in the family.  During my first pregnancy though it dropped very low and I started craving meat, so I gave in to my unborn daughter's desires but usually only ate it on Shabbat.

Sitting on my in-laws' patio, it's a beautiful day to...gut a chicken?
That smile only showed up when the camera did.  Spring 2005

When our oldest was still a baby, we made a trip back to see family in New Mexico and Texas and ran across the problem of finding kosher meat.  My husband, having recently learned sh'chita (kosher slaughtering) located a cousin of sorts in Albuquerque (he's related to half the city) that raises chickens and we were set for Shabbat meals for the first few weeks.  In San Antonio, we flipped through the newspaper and found a goat farm.  A very dear friend of mine helped with transportation and soon--from one little goat--we had kosher meat not only for ourselves, but three other families as well.  She told me half-jokingly that she "wanted to go on pretending that meat grows wrapped in cellophane on trees" and couldn't bring herself to eat it because she had looked it in the eyes.  She even gave the goat a name.

Shortly after we came to Kfar Shamai, one of our neighbors was changing out the laying hens in his coop and offered us as many as we wanted before a truck would come in the morning to turn the old birds into animal feed.  My husband went out with his knives while I put the kids to bed and then we sat on our porch together into the wee hours of the night cleaning and packing the birds for the freezer.  They weren't the most tender, but they were free, and we had crock-pot meals every week without needing to buy any meat for the next couple of months.

These experiences really opened me up to what meat-eating used to be in the days before supermarkets, stocked so full of meat that they have to constantly throw away what isn't sold in a timely manner.  If you "get to know" the animals and you have to get your hands dirty, it makes you appreciate the fact that a living being has given up it's life for you to eat it.  I understand why Jewish culture and writings, while incredibly concerned for the well-being of all G-d's creatures, have an emphasis on meat for holidays and weddings...because that's the only time it was eaten!

So, I don't believe that the only solution to the evils of modern animal-breeding factories (which can barely be called farms) is to stop eating meat completely.  No more than the solution to lowering carbon emissions would be to stop driving cars completely.  Everything in moderation.  But, if you want to minimize your contribution to the damages caused by inhumane slaughterhouses, maybe you should check in your area to see if family farms and private shochets are available to provide you with better meat options.