I’m doing a yearlong online program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and one of the best things about them is how they overtly play “Switzerland” and expose you to dozens of dietary theories without prescribing any one nutritional approach. We learn about everything from the raw food diet to Atkins. The idea is “bio-individuality”— no one theory will suit everyone.
The unit we just completed was all about the realities of commercial livestock farming. I eat very little meat, but having just watched the 12-minute PETA video, Meet Your Meat, for the first time, I am sickened, saddened, and pissed at myself for not having explored the matter long ago. Have you seen it? It’s actually been around since 2002, and it has, of course, since been followed up by similar documentaries. I confess, I am no fan of PETA, and that is probably what kept me away. Their hostile, aggressive tactics strike me as overly politicized and intolerant, at times even abusive. I watched this video skeptically, fully aware that I was being subjected to master propaganda delivered by the silver tongue of my favorite actor, Alec Baldwin. That said, even if only half of it is true, as we say on Passover, dayeinu—that would be enough.
Feedlot animals are cruelly abused. They are crammed into pens amidst feces and corpses, mutilated in myriad ways—from branding to beak-snipping to castration, all without anesthesia—supersized with hormones until their spindly legs collapse under the weight of their bloated torsos, transported in jam-packed trucks in extreme weather to the slaughterhouse without food or water, then mercilessly strung up by their legs, and their throats slit, or flayed alive in the de-featherer, or shot point-blank, or some other tragic end to a woeful existence. What the fuck?
Did I mention that many, many of these animals are sick, sometimes with cancer, and that when they enter the human food supply chain, it’s cancer and all? I’ll have the burger deluxe, thanks, please hold the tumor. And it cannot have escaped your awareness that the antibiotics abuse in factory farming has led to antibiotic-resistant superbugs like c-diff and MRSA which are killing people as we speak. (The FDA’s latest meager effort on this will occupy another post.)
Are you as grossed out as I am? So, here’s another twist to my meat saga. My husband, David—or “meat boy,” as he is known in our house—has been a meat freak since forever. If he’s hungry, the only place in the fridge that he ever seeks out food are the meat and cheese drawers. I’ve pleaded with him endlessly to—for the love of God!—open the veggie drawer and just try to find a snack in there once in a while. To no avail.
So, after years of carping, we’re at an event for our kids’ school last month, and he strikes up a conversation with an acquaintance who’s gone animal-free and lost about 30 pounds. My husband would disappear if he lost 30 pounds, but what finally sunk into his paleo-brain was this man’s remark that vegan eating can reverse heart disease. David’s family suffers mightily from this malady, and he himself is already getting some occlusion and, at age 54, needs heart management with statins and the rest. His acquaintance instructed him to watch Forks Over Knives, which David did the next day. In short order, he declared himself “mostly vegan.” Translation: I love meat as much as ever, but it’s not worth dying an early, and probably painful, death over, so I’m going to give it up except on rare occasions.
I’m no psychotherapist, but it’s fascinating how information percolates around us for years, even decades, before something causes us to pay rapt attention and make a principled change. In my case, I’ve intuitively avoided feedlot products in my home just because I believe organic is best, but I’ve been slack when it comes to the big agra food my family consumes outside the home, kind of telling myself that I’m doing the best I can by being strict at home. Likewise, David would put his pile of meat atop some kale and kid himself that he had a healthful diet. Having now confronted the realities of big agra, though—not just Meet Your Meat, but other disturbing films such as Forks Over Knives and Food, Inc., all of which I recommend you watch as soon as you can stomach it—I can’t just continue along as though nothing happened.
This isn’t only about animal welfare, although of course that’s no small issue. A society that abuses its weakest and most helpless is morally corrupt. But think about this from the standpoint of your body and health, and the fact that what you eat literally turns into your cells and thus into you. Sick, weak, terrorized flesh entering your body and becoming you. It’s unsettling.
I don’t mean to preach here, or to judge. Well, maybe I’m judging a little. I don’t have any easy answers, but can I conclude by gently suggesting that we all need to be more conscious of where the meat we eat is sourced? Even if only half of what these films describe is accurate, it’s morally questionable to participate in feedlot farming. Many people want or feel they need poultry and meat in their diets. Who am I to argue with them? What I do strongly believe, however, is that your body and conscience will thank you for seeking out healthier meat options—organic, grass-fed, whatever your research recommends to you—as well as for reducing the overall amount of animal protein you consume. Every shortcut we take strengthens PETA’s case, and that’s one argument no one should want to win.