I work as the manager of a grocery store meat department. This was not some life passion I pursued. I fell into it out of a mix of desperation and luck, and it pays my bills.
My vocation also gives me ample opportunities to consider the weird attitudes that people have about the foods they choose to eat, but that weirdness is particularly remarkable when it comes to their choice to eat meat. I regularly encounter folks that want to eat the “best” meat they can. They throw around words like “grass-fed” and “organic”, but most of them don’t really know what that stuff means. They just know it’s supposed to be “better” in some vague fashion.
Occasionally some customer will ask me how fresh a cut is, and I tell them the “Kill Date,” since that would be the most accurate gauge of freshness. They’ll act repulsed or even sad, because they are so far removed from what meat actually is that they don’t want to think of it having been a living creature at one point. That’s my guess anyway. It’s easier for them to look at the pink and red carefully trimmed cuts, which don’t necessarily look like they were from a creature that was living and breathing a week previously. I don’t mention the kill date to be an asshole, but so they know what meat is. People shouldn’t forget the reality of what they eat.
Meat may be delicious, but people that eat it are eating the flesh of a corpse, so the idea of “quality” and “freshness” do give me a little dark laugh.
Weird thing about meat is how polarizing the question of eating it is. I would guess that a majority of Americans are omniivores, and it’s amazing to me that so many of them will ridicule or harass vegetarians, as if that’s an insane lifestyle choice. I know people that would criticize a person for showing intolerance of any kind, but who still take weird jabs at vegetarians, for choosing to not eat meat.
Or they’ll act as if the concept of not eating dead animals is completely crazy and abhorrent to their sensibilities. Some of them will throw examples of the worst, most offensive vegans they can find as “proof” that people are crazy unless they eat meat. This is about the same ill-conceived argument as the people that act as if the majority of feminists are ugly man-hating lesbians. Both are bad examples attempting to sway opinions by vilifying the opposing point of view.
I think I understand both camps for the most part. Nobody enjoys being told that the lifestyle choices they’ve made are wrong. I don’t blame them. Especially when it comes to something as personal as what they choose to eat.
My own feeling is not that eating meat is necessarily evil, but the way most Americans get that meat sure is. The factory farm system that allows people in this country to eat meat with every meal is seriously fucked up. It’s cruel, and not healthy for the animals that it produces, or the people that eat them.
But here’s the thing.
People in the USA are almost entirely insulated from the reality behind the goods they’re eating. That applies to almost all food, but is especially troubling when it comes to the meat industry. Almost no one raises livestock to kill and eat anymore. To the average urban dweller, meat is just something they pop out of a package to cook and eat. Most of them wouldn’t eat meat if they had to actually kill some creature to get it. I base that conclusion on the hypocritical repulsion so many voracious carnivores that fancy themselves somehow “enlightened” become whenever the concept of topic comes up. And let’s face it, even if they are OK with hunting on some basic level, very few of them are prepared to leave the cocoon of their comfortable homes with giant televisions and the Internet, to tromp on down to some wooded area and hope they get a good shot at some sort of edible creature. It’s just not likely to ever happen. Too much work.
What’s not much work is buying a bunch of hamburger from the grocery store, and never asking how that blob of ground creature got to them.
I am a hypocrite myself. I’m an animal lover, I have five dogs. Love them all. I DO think about the reality of what meat really is on a daily basis, since my job makes that impossible to avoid. And yet I still eat meat. It’s an addiction of sorts, and I don’t use that term as an excuse. But in this culture, most of us are raised eating meat. People that don’t are treated like freaks, and it seems like that’s the standard.
I realize that not everyone is going to become a vegetarian, but is it really such a crazy thing to consider? I love my dogs. All dogs really. Cats, too. I feel like they’re easily as sentient as I am, they seem to show forms of emotion, especially affection, and have distinct personalities. They would be on the menu in some parts of the world.
How can I reconcile that love for my pets with the weirdly taught desire to eat other animals? How can I work at the vocation I do? It’s hard to be forced to consider these kinds of questions daily, but I do. I think most people simply avoid considering them, or they have tried and true rationalizations for why they show affection to some animals, and will allow others to be raised in an immoral and abusive factory farm system, so they can enjoy eating them.
And for the record, I’m not against people that choose to eat meat. But if they’re going to make that choice, then they should at least try to do it in a way that’s not contributing to widespread systemic abusive practices.
Yeah, bacon tastes great. Human baby probably does too. We draw the line there though. Shouldn’t more of us draw the line at eating the meat produced from a system that makes animals suffer from birth until they are slaughtered for our consumption?