Last fall I stopped buying meat. Well, at least for a while. I've returned to buying some here and there, but overall, meat is rarely the main attraction in our meals. We aren't going vegetarian, not by a long shot. But we've both agreed that eating meat only occasionally and in small quantities, instead of in large portions at every meal, would be a very good thing...in our own home.
I do not believe it is ethically wrong to eat animals, and I think it is wrong to impose my own decisions on others' cooking when we're out and about. Just thought I'd get those out of the way.
But I do want to talk about why I...Justin and I...made this decision. (It was my idea originally, but we discussed it a lot, and we are in full agreement.) There are plenty of reasons people may choose to eat less, or no, meat. For me, three main reasons surfaced as I began thinking and researching. (Those two things, put together, never fail to result in some new life-changing decision!)
1) Plants and veggies are just plain healthier. You don't have to look very far to discover some very compelling information: people who don't eat meat (especially red meat), or who eat small amounts of it, are happier, more fit, less likely to be obese, less likely to have cancer or heart disease or high blood pressure or diabetes. Vegetarians live, on average, ten years longer than their omnivore counterparts. (This can also be chalked up to the fact that vegetarians are also very health-conscious in other areas of their lives.) It's an established fact that a healthy plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for your physical well-being.
Plus, the Bible attests to it! Think about it: a perfect garden, the best conditions imaginable for man and beast, and...Adam and Eve ate the bounty of the earth, not other living creatures. It was God's original ideal. Animals weren't even harmed, much less eaten, until the world was perverted by sin. While we live in a fallen world, it is very obvious that the gifts from the earth--God's best plan!--is the original ideal diet.
2) Meat is often tainted with chemicals. There's lots of competing interests on this topic, but it's a fact that most of the meat sold in grocery stores contains traces of antibiotics and growth hormones. Hormones are given to animals to fatten them up quickly, and antibiotics are supposed to "remedy" all the diseases they inevitably contract in the feedlots they live in. Cows, for example, naturally eat grass, not corn. When they eat corn, which their bodies aren't set up to do well, they often get e.Coli in their stomachs. And instead of simply feeding them grass instead of corn, they are given antibiotics, which we end up ingesting. While the long-term effects of these chemicals on humans aren't documented, there's enough cause to avoid them.
Many chemicals simply haven't been around long enough to test their effects on humans, although cattle often get sick from them. You may ask, how could something bad be legal? Well, in the European Union it's not legal at all, and they don't allow any imported beef from the U.S. Also, there's a lot of shady-ness about how those hormones were approved in the first place. And you already knew this if you read my post about chemicals in cosmetics, but...if you're looking for true protection and oversight, don't rely on the FDA. That is just reality.
3) Of course, there's the ethics/morality issue. Whether we're talking about animals in food factories, or the poor treatment of many people that work in them, there is cruelty inherent in the factory-food system. I'm not going to lock myself in a cage or throw fake blood on your fur coat. And like I said before, there is no inherent moral problem with eating animals -- that's in the Bible too! But there is a serious moral deficiency when we are aware of true cruelty, and yet continue to fund it throughout our lives. It's disgusting and foul. You can use Google if you don't believe me...but you have to be prepared to act on what you discover.If you continue to eat meat, there are plenty of responsible places to get it. It really is our duty, especially if we believe the Bible and in fair treatment of man and beast.
There's another element of the ethics question, and that's the simple fact that when we eat animals, we're diminishing the world's food supply twice over. This article from Cornell University says that "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million." WOW. There has always been world hunger and starvation, but when I started thinking about this, gobbling meat started looking awfully selfish to me. This was actually the very first reason I decided there would be much less meat in my house. It's simply a stewardship issue.
Just to be clear, I'm not trying to discredit ANY animal operation, large or small, that's run by responsible farmers who treat their animals well. I also think it's important to recognize that while corn-fed beef might not be the healthiest, our country feeds a lot of other people with it. I need to continually remind myself of this balance. Still, for me and my family, we're going with responsibly-raised food.
People have asked me a few questions when I tell them about this decision...
What about when you're away from home? Honestly, we don't worry about it at all when we're away. Since we have not "gone vegetarian" there is no reason not to eat what others graciously and generously serve to us, and gratitude is far more important than any of these other ideas. Plus, since we still eat plenty of meat when we're out and about, we don't miss it nearly as much at home. And, eating it while we're out makes me extra motivated to eat less of it at home. :)
What do you eat now, you tree-hugger...just salad and tofu? (I knew this one was coming, probably from my relatives!) There's no reason tasty, quality, fresh veggies and fruits and grains can't be the main attraction in a given meal. I love colorful, flavorful food and I also have shifted to buying more fish (wild caught). Fish tacos, teriyaki salmon, stir-fries with chunks of fresh tuna. We are both pretty well fed. :)
More often than not, my meals are all in one dish, with a combination of chopped-up veggies and healthy grains, and yes sometimes pieces of meat. I might use bok choi, carrots, edamame, quinoa, kale, asparagus, spinach, purple cabbage, corn, potatoes, brussel sprouts (we actually tried them and they weren't half bad!), wheat berries, brown or jasmine or basmati rice, black beans, sweet potatoes, all kinds of squash, lots of mushrooms, peas...and then there's pine nuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, SO many spices and herbs and cheeses and pastas and breads...oh and I haven't even mentioned any fruits...okay, I have to stop now because I'm getting pretty hungry. Seriously, there are plenty of other things to eat, and most of them are way better for us.
Did you just stop buying meat to save money? Yes and no. I decided that when we do eat meat, it's going to be from ethically-raised, well-treated animals, hopefully from a local farm, and antibiotic and hormone free. Yes, all this is going to make the meat more expensive. This also helps us to eat less of it, though. So often I use it in small amounts: strips of canadian bacon over pasta, ground beef in spaghetti sauce, chopped bacon in potato soup. Eating it in small amounts is the intended goal, but it also helps to save money because of the higher expense of quality meat.
Do you miss it? Not really! At first it always looked like something was missing from the dish. Like the meat was simply forgotten. By not forbidding it, often eating it when we're out, and at home seeing it as more of a side dish/flavor enhancer than as the main course, we don't feel deprived at all. I've purchased a few vegetarian cookbooks on Amazon, which really helped me in the beginning. There's an abundance of resources on the Internet as well!
I really recommend taking a look at your own diet and cooking habits to see if eating less meat would be a good idea for you and your family. You can try doing a one or two meatless dinners a week, and work beyond that if you're so inclined. Start small! Even if the only habit you make is learning to more greatly appreciate the abundance of plants that God originally gave us to eat, the time I spent writing this has been a success. :)