Friday, June 26, 2009

Uncomfortable but important issue

Those wanting local food options including locally raised meat should be aware that one of the biggest impediments is the lack of local slaughterhouses. This insightful article To Eat Local, Kill Local by Heather Smith is one of the best overviews of the issue and history that I have read.


Anonymous said...

Yes, this is an uncomfortable but important issue. That's why it's necessary to really get to the heart of that discomfort and do some real problem solving. That's why the solution currently proposed-- getting small and/or mobile USDA-approved killing operations closer to cities and where the animals are raised-- falls short of the mark. That solution has a political veneer of addressing animal cruelty without actually achieving it. At most it makes us feel better about ourselves. It's a better way of doing a business that is ethically challenged to its core, and that's not saying much. Hence, the continuing discomfort and outright opposition from animal-rights groups.

As a mom, consumer and nutritionist, not to mention long-time admirer of Diet for a Small Planet, I do grapple with the ethics of eating meat. I am still searching for answers.

That said, I have no complete answers, i.e. nothing upon which I can take action, but only something upon which I continue to reflect. Native Americans of past eras and Muslims and Jews of today's world have grappled with these same issues. Native Americans killed animals through community religious rites, which in their view gave the animal's life meaning and purpose as a gift from God to humans. Is that so different from factory-slaughtered animals of today, since the animal's fate is the same? Not really. All of the issues and arguments there still center around profit and human values. We really are incapable of understanding and respecting domesticated animals on their own terms.

Starting with the premise that it is good for US to kill, and we will continue to do it, it may be time to open up the dialogue to more partners and get some expert advice. In Muslim countries, for instance, the Qur'an commands that animals be treated mercifully. Since that involves merciful killing, a professional class of clerics performs that role for society. They guarantee the welfare of the animal, and the meat is marketed as such. Orthodox Muslims will not eat meat that has not been certified "halal." In many cases it is likely that this simply means the meat has been blessed by a spiritual leader. (I'm not entirely sure about the process).That is very similar to Native American tradition. Jewish "kosher" meat has many of the same ethical drivers and traditions.

Why not invite Native American shamans, Muslim clerics and Jewish rabbis to the table to discuss how they have achieved consensus in their own communities about killing animals, how that is done, and how the meat is marketed. Under US law, as "nonprofit" religious practitioners, perhaps they do not have to use barbaric USDA facilties for animal slaughter. The real disconnect today is between how meat used to be treated in terms of spiritual values and how it is treated as simply another commodity. In that regard even today's meat producers who nod to animal welfare are no better than the rest. I believe bringing to the table spiritual values that have been vetted for millenia is a path that needs to be thoroughly explored by all mainstream meat producers, who may then approach society with a plan for meat consumption that has been thoroughly considered. It may be that churches, synagogues and mosques must once again perform animal killing for the community. They are local, conform to all issues related to reducing fossil fuel use and carbon footprint, and people trust them.

Kathryn Devereaux said...

P.S. to my own previous post: The one meat product I can actually say I feel somewhat "good" about eating is a Tanka Bar. The Tanka Bar represents the efforts of a Native American woman to restore traditional values to one of the most miserable places on earth, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The all-natural Tanka Bar is made from buffalo and dried fruit. The buffalo are grass fed locally, humanely killed in situ where they live, and honored at every stage of their lives by a Sioux community that once again is looking to the buffalo to sustain them, this time against the ravages of poverty, obesity and diabetes. I can say that every Tanka Bar I eat helps that community, and I want to do that. Perhaps Tanka can be an example or a case study as the mainstream tries to figure out a way to go forward with the Omnivore's Dilemma. See