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Mindful Meat Eating for the Modern Omnivore

Author Meredith Leigh

Eating diversely may be the most revolutionary and proactive action we can take to ensure the sustainability of our food system.The Ethical Meat Handbook Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition challenges us to take a hard look at our dietary choices, increase our self-reliance, and enjoy delicious food that benefits our health and our planet. In today's blog author Meredith Leigh describes how she defines ethical meat and the events that transpired to set her on a life long journey to change the food system from within, and how all of us have a role to play in how our food gets to the plate.

Excerpt from the Introduction

What is Ethical Meat?

  • Ethical meat comes from an animal that enjoyed a good life. The animal acted out its natural tendencies, in a way that did not over-deplete resources but contributed to healthy natural cycles. It was cared for and not neglected. It endured little stress in its life.
  • Ethical meat comes from an animal that was afforded a good death. The animal endured little stress in handling on its way to slaughter. It did not suffer long, but was slaughtered in a way that rendered it unconscious instantly, and then humanely relieved of its blood.
  • Ethical meat is butchered properly, making full use of the carcass out of thriftiness, efficiency, and respect for the life that was given as food.
  • Ethical meat is cooked or preserved properly, maximizing nutritional benefit and paying homage to the important rituals of deliciousness.
Photo by Cindy Kunst

I was a vegetarian for nine years, and a vegan for two. I watched a gruelling video in high school about the horrors of an industrial slaughterhouse. I did some light reading in environmental philosophy, and made a decision. I was largely ignorant. I was not making a huge difference in the lives and deaths of animals, was not looking at the bigger picture of global human health and environmental restoration, was not actively changing mass wrongdoing. I was motivated by deep empathy and justified political aggravation, but my solution, sadly, mostly helped only me.

I spent my college years learning what I could about the scientific, political, and cultural intricacies of agriculture. I traveled to different countries, learned about drastically different attitudes toward food and land, and saw the ways that people have shaped their corners of the earth in the quest for nutrition. In Vietnam it is a gesture of friendship to place food in another’s bowl. When, in 2004 in a rural Hai Duong village in northern Vietnam, a small woman named Loi placed a stringy piece of water buffalo into my dish at dinner, I began my journey into the meaningful consumption of animals.

Before that moment, my diet had been one of luxury, and a desire to escape
a system I felt I could not affect. When I ate that piece of flesh as an act of communion,
I checked in to another way of thinking. Eating gained new meaning,
as I was very aware that Loi herself had milked and cared for, and eventually
slaughtered, that animal for our meal. I started to look for the bigger picture,
and solidified my decision to devote my life to food. I have spent nearly two
decades since as an omnivore, working with food from almost every angle,
with the belief that we can make a difference in the well-being of plants, animals,
and the earth, while still loving all food and seeking good health.

Time and again in America, we’re handed myriad reasons to question our food supply. Between climate pressures, environmental resource limitations, food safety scares, political maneuvering, media hullabaloo, corporate mergers, impending energy crises, trade deals, population woes, consumption rates, worldwide hunger and poverty, and dominion over the very seed required to create the next generation of food and fiber, we’re constantly vacillating, with our big national voice, between justification and condemnation of a globalized food system. Within this passion play, consumers, with their tiny individual voices, have both ultimate power and very little power at all. We drive the machine with our buying dollars, but we are simultaneously so hoodwinked by marketing ploys, dietary “rules,” and nutrition trends that we become overwhelmed, dependent, and easily duped.


Porchetta with Persimmion, Chestnut & Pine. Recipe page 228-229

Within this maelstrom, the meat and dairy sector are continually at the eye of the storm. Meat has been demonized since the 1960s, when our nation became afraid of fat and cholesterol. Since then, depending on what research we favor, meat and dairy are either entirely responsible or completely forgiven for all our health woes. Regardless of the trending attitude toward saturated fat, animal protein, and cholesterol, we find it easy to eliminate animal products from our diet when we hear about inhumane treatment of animals, confined animal feed operations (CAFOs), pink slime in ground beef, and the effects of added hormones and antibiotics on our meat. Yet I haven’t set out to write a book revealing the horrors of the industrial food system or the meat industry within it, and I certainly do not aim to defend either. Others have done plenty of this work already, on both sides. Instead, this book seeks to offer alternatives to the status quo. It seeks to educate buyers and homesteaders about their role within the whole. In other words: you are not just a victim, you are not helpless, and you are not merely the last link in a long chain of missteps, bloodlust, and greed.

I join eaters everywhere in their opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), overuse of antibiotics, and inhumane living conditions for all beings. I also seek to understand the vast latticework of past and current political, social, economic, and environmental factors that make the question of what to put in your mouth three to six times a day very perplexing indeed, whether you choose to eat meat or not. Our opposition can be simple and absolute. Our options are not so easy. This book asks a number of “how” questions, and offers deeply pondered possible answers. How can we work from within a fantastically flawed food system to create real food? How can we work in accessible ways, without alienating any food citizen or farmer? How is it possible to create models that drive an economy, social synergy, and environmental restoration that work for the world as we know it now, and the world we want in the future?

I urge you to come by your food more honestly by exploring the ideas presented in this book, because I believe there is a lot more the everyday food citizen can change — and that he can eat a lot better in the process, too. We can endeavor to source and consume meat with more of an understanding of the issues across the supply chain; checking out is not our only option. I’d argue, too, that it’s not the best option. Nor is it viable to make more and more demands of farmers, regardless of the size and type of their farms. If you come away from this book with nothing but a sausage recipe and one fun fact, let that fact be this: Across the meat supply chain, the farmer makes the least amount of money, and has possibly the most difficult and sacred job in the journey. It’s time to kick it up another notch, and realize that truly ethical meat is going to take community effort. If we are to be ethical meat eaters, or good eaters at all, we will buy differently, cook differently, and eat different things.

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