When I was about eleven or twelve, I went to a week-long camp at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas. For those who don’t know, Heifer International is a charity that wants to end world hunger and poverty by providing necessities (including animals to provide in multiple ways) to people in needy areas. In what was called “the world village” we experienced what life was like in different third world countries. In one of the sections we faced the choice to do what someone in that part of the world would do: kill their own food. I fought the idea. I didn’t want to kill an animal. I had forever separated animals from animal products in my head and didn’t want to deal with that aspect of life yet. But, I was out-voted and the group chose to do it.
The rabbit was beautiful and innocent. I immediately regretted not fighting for his right to live when I saw him. What had this animal ever done to me? I didn’t think I could watch. At the same time, I knew I needed to. There was a lesson to be learned.
The killing was done in the most humanely way possible. But first, we had a moment of silence for the rabbit and thanked him for what he was (unwillingly) providing us. I knew this happened all over the world… that this was normal for so many other kids in places where meat doesn’t come in nice, neat packages at grocery stores. That moment of silence made me realize that I need to be appreciative of where my food came from, because an animal gave me their life in order to sustain me.
Every time I see an adorable teacup pig, baby cow or tiny chicken, I reconsider my choice to eat meat. The same pattern repeats over and over again. I see a farm animal and think there is no way I could eat something so sweet and harmless. And then, I return to daily life and recognize that I need protein and want meat. It’s a struggle, a conflict of interest.
The vegan diets of friends and family members make me feel naive about where my food is coming from. Here’s the thing though: I’m really not. My compassion for animals means that I recognize the importance of a life. My omnivore lifestyle means that I have a balanced diet that works for me as an individual. My battle between these two approaches to life means that I care. Just like most aspects of life, figuring out how to approach your view on eating meat is complicated.
I tried to be a vegetarian. It didn’t stick. No matter how many times I thought of that poor rabbit, I couldn’t avoid meat. I ate more vegetarian meals, but meat was still there come dinner time when I was a kid. So then, I tried to be a pescatarian. That didn’t work either. My parents didn’t eat enough fish (even though I love seafood). I decided to keep my diet the same, but change my approach and outlook.
First, I became appreciative. I consciously recognize when I eat a meal with animal product that this came from an animal that is no longer alive. That doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch, but it is. It’s easy to forget that the food we eat was once a living, breathing animal. I have to be thankful. I have to be grateful.
Second, I seek out brands and places that treat animals in a high-standard humane way. And that includes some research. Just because an egg carton says they are a “cage-free” company, doesn’t necessarily mean that their chickens are actually treated better. Just as well, the more humane a place is, the higher the price on the product. I had to be willing to put aside my frugalness. It took some time, but I got over it.
Third, I stopped wasting so much food. It’s easy to give yourself a big portion and then throw the rest away. My biggest problem was that I always forgot about the leftovers in my fridge. Wasting leftovers counts too. Throwing away animal product is basically giving a huge middle finger towards the animal who gave their life to you. It’s not okay. Figuring out portions takes some time, as well as some trial and error, but it’s really not that difficult once you get the hang of it. (Sometimes things happen and you just have to waste. It’s okay every once in a while.)
I am an animal lover AND a meat eater. A complicated mixture of life views, it takes effort to do what I think is right and I’ve spent the majority of my life trying to figure it out. That being said, what is right for me might not be what is right for the person sitting next to me. All that matters in the end is that we respect animals and what they do for us as humans. And we can all be better at doing that.