Thinking About The Ethics Of, And Alternatives To Eating Animal Products
I’ve always loved eating animal products, although when I found out about the inhumane conditions in which some of them were raised I immediately switched to free range eggs and more recently organic diary. For meat though for many years the best I could afford was the RSPCA’s Freedom Food, although now I am lucky enough to be able to afford free range chicken from Aldi and organic mince from Sainsbury’s. I’m ashamed to say though that – out of convenience – I will still eat ‘generic’ meat in restaurants and cafes, without knowing anything about how it’s been raised. For decades though I’ve continued to feel uneasy about my eating habits.
This last year my attitudes towards animal products have changed considerably. I’ve watched every episode of River Cottage and River Cottage Australia and several documentaries about pasture raised livestock and I’ve become comfortable with the idea that it’s possible to raise animals that have ‘only one bad day’, that live out their lives as naturally as our cats and dog do (i.e. not very) but enjoy their lives none the less. Animals raised in this way, close to nature, complement our grain, fruit and vegetable production, eat the waste, fertilise the land, improve the soil and enhance the landscape. The increasing popularity of eating nose to tail, ‘respects’ the animal (although I’m not a fan). George Monbiot continues to point out that animal farms still have a lot of work to-do to, but I think it’s a solvable problem, if regulation, consumer demand and subsidies provide the right kind of motivation.
Animal products raised in this way will be expensive, although not beyond my family budget. Organic milk is very affordable, free range eggs are no problem, pasture raised beef and lamb and outdoor bred pork can be affordable if sourced direct from the farmer, organic cheese is expensive (we eat a lot) but butter is no problem at all. Chicken’s continue to be my main worry, I’m not totally convinced by the ‘free range’ label, so I’d like to get eggs from chickens that I raise them myself if I get an allotment.
Cost would undeniably be an issue if I wanted to eat meat at every meal, but I don’t. I’ve recently being doing an alternate day fast, eating meat only for only 3-4 meals a week and I’ve never felt better. Considering meat as a luxury good seems to be the way forward for me in the short term.
Are there any other alternatives though? Well there have been vege-meat products, like vege-burgers and sausages made with TVP and Quorn for as long as I can remember, but these are incredibly processed foods and I’m committed to eating unprocessed foods most of the time. There are several start-ups planning to bring factory farmed meat cells to market in the next five years, this is real meat, with the texture and taste of animal meat, but without any animals, hence no suffering involved. It’s free of pesticides, virus and bacterial contamination, antibiotics and growth hormones, but it’s still meat. Initially it will be used in sausages, burgers and meat balls, ironically being less processed than those foods are today. I will consider eating it, but will it replace all meat for me though? I don’t think so.
I think raising animals for food will continue, in much the same way that hunting animals for food still continues. Animals will be raised on ground that’s not suitable for other forms of agriculture, less intensively, it will become a luxury good, something to be eaten a few times a month, or maybe a week for some, just as it was eaten 10,000 years ago when we were hunters. Hopefully we will continue to see animals ranging freely in fields, fell tops and woodland, experiencing a good life and that ‘one bad day’ that comes to us all, every mouthful of animal product I eat at home will then be organic. I still wonder though about eating out, I suppose I will just have to seek out cafes and restaurants that source their bacon and eggs with the same kind of ethical standards as me, it won’t be as convenient, but I will sleep easier.
Of course I could just stop eating meat, but there’s a challenge there. I don’t like vegetables and the only way I’ve become comfortable with eating them is in smoothies or accompanied by meat. I don’t want to live on smoothies alone, but with a push, I could live meat free, farmed meat would be fine. More difficult though are eggs, milk, butter, gelatine and cheese, five of my favourite foods and and all essential cooking ingredients, the only (unprocessed) option for them that I can see is ethical sourcing and as I’ve already explained I think this is the best option for them, as I want to continue to see high welfare farming in the British countryside.