Thursday, November 18, 2010

i eat meat

I was a vegetarian for nearly a decade, something I decided to do in college when I became aware of the mistreatment and cruelty in industrial agriculture. But I decided to come home to eating meat earlier this year and am glad I did. My reasons are personal but I will share them here. I'll start out this post by saying that these are my opinions and conclusions, and mine alone. Every person has the right to eat however they wish, but I have endless respect for anyone who thinks about what they eat. But this is why I am a shepherd, and why the first meat to pass these lips in 9 long years was lamb.

Because They are Here

Quite frankly, there's a lot of meat around here. I live in an agricultural Mecca known as Washington County. My region of Southwestern Vermont and Northeastern New York (which I lovingly refer to as Veryork) is thriving with small-scale, ethical, sustainable farms producing (within fifteen miles of my front door) beef, pork, turkey, chicken, rabbit, lamb, mutton, deer, emus, and spit-ready goats. There are trout-rich rivers, venison in the fields, pheasants-and-ducks-a-plenty, and even the occasional bear or squirrel stew. Protein sources like these, raised by my neighbors, friends, and coworkers are plentiful. When I found out I was surrounded by so much grass-fed meat and wild game it seemed ridiculous to keep eating tofu shipped in diesel rigs from California. Since my reasons for being a vegetarian were entirely about avoiding factory-farmed meat: I decided it was time to start supporting the farmers who were raising animals the way I wanted them raised. It took a couple years to take that first bite, but now I am a proud and happy carnivore. I support local meat farmers, I raise my own animals for food, and I hunt wild game as well.

I Eat Meat Because I am an Animal

Some people like to consider human beings something else. I do not. I suppose we are in the sense that our advanced evolutionary status, intelligence, and abilities, surpass others but at the end of the day: I am an animal. Being an animal on this planet means I have to abide by certain unquestionable truths to live here. The first and foremost being that the only way I can remain alive is if I eat other living things. There is nothing a human being consumes that wasn't at one point alive, and even the purest Vegan diet still contains living plants. A life was ended. Just because the plant wasn't as advanced a species as a rabbit or a deer, doesn't mean a life was not taken to sustain you. I am not comparing plants to complex animals, just making the simple point that the alive must eat the living. This is how our world works. If I died in the woods and a pack of coyotes came across me, they wouldn't trot past thinking "Oh, we can't eat that. It's not food! It's a person!" Hell no. They'd go buffet on my ass.

Can I survive off plants alone? Of course I can. So can a bear, a rat, a crow, a raccoon, and countless other omnivores. Yet no other animal who has the choice to avoid meat in its diet, does. This is because flesh is a power-packed, vitamin-rich, and calorie-dense source of sustanance. It keeps them going, keeps them alive. Energy in its purest form.

The natural state of this world, I'm sorry to say, isn't peaceful and kind. As compassionate beings, people with beautiful hearts and minds go above and beyond their abilities to stop the taking of lives. Yet, this is not how nature works, and we all know that. If every carnivore stopped eating its prey there would be nothing short of chaos and destruction to the entire system. This is a system that has been working for quite some time. You would never ask the wolf to stop eating rabbits, so why should you ask the humans in the same eco-system to do so? I am constantly told that our ability to choose means that we should opt away from eating animals. I say it is our abiluty to choose that proves that we are animals, and should eat accordingly. Our choice should not be "what" we eat, but "how" we eat.

Pasture-raised meats in moderation is a wonderful thing.

Eating meat also reminds me that I am a dying animal. I am something that is here for a short time, a part of the world for a few decades and then gone forever. When you are farmer producing meat you are constantly aware of your own mortality, it is impossible not to be. I hold no illusions about this, and so it is with every bite of a bird I raised that I am aware of the world he left behind. It makes me talk softer, listen more, and never ever do I get worked up about the things the way I used to. Growing food this way has forced me to live every day like it might be my last. If I love someone: I tell them. If I can give money, or time, or energy to make someone else's life easier: I do. It has made me more compassionate in ways I could never imagine.

Why Sheep?

When I decided to become a livestock farmer, I went with my gut and focused on sheep. The more involved with the animals I became, the more I realized they are the perfect small farmer's animal. They not only produce meat but milk, wool, cheese, shearling, leather, and lanolin. They are easy to manage, respect fences, and small enough that if you get attacked by one you probably won't die. I can also manage a large number with the very green energy that is my sheepdog. The idea that I can get all this, and work beside my border collie, is why I raise these animals. On a bitter winter night I can cover up in a wool hat, sweater, and sheepskin gloves on a full stomach of lamb chops and feed my sheep with just a few flakes of hay. As a single woman I can manage an entire flock with the help of a good dog, which would not be the case with pigs or cows. I ask you, what other animal gives us so much and asks for so little in return. And does it without jumping fences or making a fuss?

If You Care About Farm Animals Eat Them

If you really care about the humane treatment of livestock then I strongly suggest you eat them. I mean that with all my heart. Purchase, prepare, devour, evangelize, and support the small farmers raising animals on pasture. Show this modern world that you don't want your money going towards feedlot beasts, that you are going out of your way to avoid them. Every dollar that goes into clean meat shows the folks making decisions about animal welfare in agri-business that people are appalled and distressed at the factory farm model. That we will no longer stand for assembly-line death and bacteria-filled carcasses. Until they notice their wallets getting thinner—and the organic meat sections growing larger in Wal-Mart—millions of animals will continue to suffer.

And I am not interested in hearing that a pasture-raised animal killed for food is also suffering. Why is all suffering bad? Why should all suffering be avoided? Of course an animal killed for food suffers. It dies to feed us. But food is the reason they are here in the first place, so I am not concerned about their lives coming to a close. I want their lives to end since that is what sustains me. What I am concerned about is what leads up to that final day. I want the majority of animals I eat to know what sunlight feels like. I want them to know how to run, know what it feels like to move every damn muscle in their body. I want them to be healthy, happy, and alive as their wild kin. I feel no guilt in harvesting them any more than I feel guilt slicing a head of broccoli off the stock.

I am grateful for both though, you just can't know how much.

All Meat is Not Created Equal

Some is certainly better, for us and for the beasts. Some people say that free-range meat is overpriced and an elitist option. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You may pay a few more dollars but what you aren't paying for is corn-fed, diabetes-inducing, fat-lined cuts from an illegal-immigrant powered slaughterhouse. If you bulk at the price after that, than why not eat healthier meat less often? Certainly, meat isn't something anyone needs to eat everyday. Most of my meals remain vegetarian with a few heartier ones on the weeknights. That all said, I am not perfect. I do grab the occasional deli meal on the go, but I do so less and less. It is now impossible for me to get any meat while sitting in my truck. Drive-thrus are part of my past. Good riddance.

As a meat farmer myself, I feel as if I am on the front lines of factory-farm liberation. I am providing people with an option of local, grass-fed, healthy animals they can visit and see in person any time they wish instead of some factory-slaughter, diesel-shipped, airline loaded piece of frozen mutton from New Zealand.

A vegetarian's money does support sustainable agricultural and sends a big message to the Conventional Vegetable and soybean business, but keeping your money out of the hands of small meat farmers isn't making a dent in the treatment of those factory farm animals you are protesting. If everyone who agreed on the principal that factory farmed meat was unkind spent their money eating one pasture-raised meat meal a week the industry would be forced to change, and change quick. When there is no good left business in cheap, dirty, meat the factories will go away. As a member of the future of my region's rich agricultural heart: I hope for this above all things.

I raise meat because I love animals.


Blogger Sue Steeves said...

Well said, bravo! I would proudly put your meat on my table any day of the week!

November 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Robbie Grey said...

"The first and foremost being that the only way I can remain alive is if I eat other living things..."

I have used this same argument a lot. Especially because I have a fair amount of Buddhist philosophy in my thinking and there's a popular misconception that one must be a herbivore in order to be Buddhists. Thousands of Tibetans prove that perception wrong.

November 18, 2010 at 1:50 PM  
Blogger Frances said...

Jenna, this is an amazing argument. I've been thinking a lot about putting into words, formally, why I've started eating meat (occasionally) since moving to the Berkshires, but you've done it better than I ever could have. Bravo!

November 18, 2010 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Jen ( said...

I agree whole-heartedly. :)

November 18, 2010 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger NancyDe said...

Applaud, applaud! The beef raised in Hawaii is actually shipped out to the mainland for finishing and then shipped back. There is a movement to eat the grass-fed beef processed here. Your blog is an eloquent expression to fuel the "Eat Local" movement!

November 18, 2010 at 2:02 PM  
Blogger Tara said...


Being a farmer means having a healthy relationship with death - knowing when it is appropriate to cause it, hasten it or forestall it. There is NO living without it, not even for us evolved bipeds. Being a responsible consumer means understanding that.

I'm so, so weary of people telling me that I don't *need* to eat meat. Well, that's hardly the point, is it? When I throw a bowl full of mixed kitchen scraps to my hens, they have a choice too. And they choose to eat the meat before the veggies EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

November 18, 2010 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

This is one of the best things you have ever written. Thank you.

I hope others think as they read it. We make up our neighborhoods, we are the locals....we NEED to support each other. It should never be about the cost of an item, rather what makes the item important. For me that means keeping local stores and farms in my neighborhood...or growing it myself...knowing how by seeing, how it grew up. Support those that feed you.

November 18, 2010 at 2:09 PM  
Blogger MIB said...

As one small farmer to another: Represent!

November 18, 2010 at 2:12 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Amen, and well said! I totally agree that hunting or raising animals for consumption makes you much more aware of your own mortality, and the debt we as carnivores owe to the animals we eat. It leads to greater reverence and more respect and less waste.

November 18, 2010 at 2:15 PM  
Blogger Damn The Broccoli said...

I agree whole heartedly. YOu miss the animals that are killed in the name of vegetarianism as well for there are many. To keep that soya growing there are a lot of pesticides put down or does the caterpillar not count as life?

Also the main reason to eat meat is that if you don't eat cows, how long do you think cows have before they are extinct? Or pigs or chickens? No one will keep them as pets so they will soon disappear.

November 18, 2010 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Boyles Family Farms said...

Amen. My pastured turkeys came home today and will be distributed Saturday. I am incredibly proud of the happy lives these birds led, and grateful for the customers who make it possible for me to keep raising them well.

November 18, 2010 at 2:17 PM  
Blogger treehuggers kitchen said...

Well done, Jenna.

November 18, 2010 at 2:19 PM  
Blogger eliav said...

you are an amazingly clear writer. Appreciate the thoughts!

November 18, 2010 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

You go girl. Not everyone can articulate their principles as clearly as you can, so you sort of owe it to the world to do so. I appreciate your bravery nonetheless, though, as it opens you up to criticism (nothing wrong with healthy disagreement, it's the wantonly cruel remarks I wish you'd be able to skip). Brava.

November 18, 2010 at 2:29 PM  
Blogger kelly said...

Excellent post Jenna.

November 18, 2010 at 2:30 PM  
Blogger Nanette said...

I'm a long time vegetarian...and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I don't wish to return to eating meat, but if I was going to, I would source the meat raised the way you describe.

I love your statement...why eat tofu shipped from California when you have wonderfully good protein on your doorstep. I have wonderfully good tofu produced on my doorstep from organic soybeans and so I support local farmers and a small business and keep my money local.

Good post Jenna.

November 18, 2010 at 2:42 PM  
Blogger doglady said...

Jenna, I think this is the finest piece I've read on your blog. Good job and welcome back to the world of the omnivores.
I too eat only grass fed beef and happy rabbits, chickens, and turkeys that I raised myself. I eat only eggs from my own hens and organic raw milk from the dairy down the road. No factory meat, eggs or milk for me.

November 18, 2010 at 2:44 PM  
Blogger megan said...

Thanks for this jenna. I have been looking into raising pigs - their intellignece, loyalty, and curiosity are why I stopped eating them 20 years ago, and those same reasons are why I am considering raising them to eat/sell now. I especially love the lines about "of course they suffer, they die to feed me." How to love another creature knowing you are choosing its death - tough line of love.

November 18, 2010 at 2:55 PM  
Blogger Joanna@BooneDocksWilcox said...

whew, beautifully written. I raise some dairy goats and have started thinking that I'd like to see how one tastes. Sometime, could you blog about the point of putting the animal down to how you have to dress it to be processed? Do you dress it out and take it somewhere to be processed? How much does that cost? etc.

November 18, 2010 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger mmcxiit4e said...

Tool Disgustipated Lyrics
And the angel of the Lord came unto me,
Snatching me up from my
Place of slumber,
And took me on high,
And higher still until we
Moved in the spaces betwixt the air itself.
And he bore me unto a
Vast farmland of our own midwest,
And as we descended cries of
Impending doom rose from the soil.
One thousand, nay, a million
Voices full of fear.
And terror possessed me then.
And I begged,

"Angel of the Lord, what are these tortured screams?"
And the angel said unto me,
"These are the cries of the carrots,
The cries of the carrots.
You see, reverend Maynard, tomorrow is harvest day
And to them it is the holocaust."
And I sprang from my slumber drenched in sweat
Like the tears of one million terrified brothers
And roared,
"Hear me now,
I have seen the light,
They have a consciousness,
They have a life,
They have a soul.
Damn you!
Let the rabbits wear glasses,
Save our brothers...can I get an amen?
Can I get a hallelujah? thank you, Jesus.

Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on...
This is necessary

November 18, 2010 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Therese T. said...

I love this post so much, I have to share it. Thank you!

November 18, 2010 at 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you, thank you, thank you! you put this so perfectly and I agree with you wholeheartedly, as far as I'm concerned we (humans) we explicitly given the plants and the animals to sustain ourselves with, not that we should be greedy or glutenous, but thankful and respectful of their sacrifices. You described so well! I'll be saving this one for the homestead dream book. :)

November 18, 2010 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Wiste said...

There are people who follow trends then howl at anyone who doesn't validate their choices by agreeing with them because they're afraid of being outside the pack. I don't eat meat often because I think most of it is gross but I don't care if other people eat or don't eat meat or why. Making a choice for yoursel based on your beliefs is a powerful thing. I especially loved your point about humanities attempts to elevate themselves above nature and all its creatures by taking themselves out of the ecosystem. For some things, we are their only predator and the only thing that keeps balance. Even as a vegetarian, I refuse to eat tofu or processed proteins. I think it's making too much of an effort to distance yourself from the source of your food. It's important to know you're part of the world, not looking down on it, so that you respect your place in it.

November 18, 2010 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger ecogrrl said...

It's very well-said. We've thought through the same arguments and find we come out on a different side - vegetarian (and local and small farmed) for life. Still, if my meat eating friends followed your guidelines, they'd be pretty awesome people.

November 18, 2010 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Very good point about if everyone ate farm raised meat there would not be factory farms. Same could be said about only eating veggies though.

I am an on again, off again vegetarian that feels twice as bad about eating meat (because a truly believe it is unnecesary to kill a sentient being) I feel that eating farm raised meat is the "lesser of the two evils". And I will eat my animals with less of a guilty conscience thanks to you.

Treating an animal cruelly is dispicable and killing one humanly is acceptable in my book, but still not the right thing to do.

November 18, 2010 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Aisha said...

Love it Jenna you are the bomb. as the daughter and grandaughter of a farmer thank you!! I can't wait til I can have my own small farm. How farm from CT are you? i might come and get some mutton :P Oh and Can't wait for the wool when oyu open it up next time YAY

November 18, 2010 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger sheepkelpie said...

Do you know about the bill that just got through the senate? The safe food bill? If passed, no one other than con-agra and monsanto and their contemporaries will be able to sell meat/veggies from their homes. If you feel strongly about the right to do this, I strongly suggest you contact your representative and tell them NO to this bill.

November 18, 2010 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger bellananda said...

EXACTLY, Jenna. I hope you won't mind me re-posting this all over the known universe. :)

--sb in kc

November 18, 2010 at 4:50 PM  
Blogger Affi'enia said...

The next time someone tells me I am cruel for eating my own chickens I am sending them this to read!

You got this spot on hun, thank you so much.

November 18, 2010 at 5:10 PM  
Blogger Tom Open said...

This post made your all time top 50 for me.

"Hell no. They'd go buffet on my ass."

I lol.

November 18, 2010 at 6:09 PM  
Blogger Joe and Jeannie Family said...

I agree with your ideals, but want to encourage you to think a bit broader as well - God created us and animals for a given purpose. When we are living/raised in the way he created us to be (i.e. relying on him for us, eating grass for cows), there is great blessing, health and assurance. When we mess with his design (i.e. unbelief, sin for us and feeding corn to cows), we pay the price. I thank God for animals to eat and especially for the people who appreciate them for what they were created to be and raise them for how they were created to be raised.

November 18, 2010 at 6:13 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Oh, Jenna, you know I just love you. You are so articulate! You speak my mind much more eloquently than I ever could.

November 18, 2010 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger Rural Revival said...


November 18, 2010 at 7:06 PM  
Blogger The Beers said...

Well said, Jenna!! I was vegetarian for a few years for the same reason you mentioned - feeling appalled at the way factory meat animals were raised. Back then grass-fed/pastured was unknown. I had to go back to eating met for healthy reasons, but now I am thankful for the healthier alternative offered all through the hard work and love of farmers/ranchers, large and small. Enjoy your lamb and mutton!


November 18, 2010 at 7:26 PM  
Blogger yarrow said...

well done!

i am also a small-scale farmer; we raise chickens, turkeys, rabbits and soon goats, as well as vegetables. A while back, I wrote up a piece on the spiritul role of human beings as predators, and the ethics of killing your own meat. it's here if you're interested in reading it.

November 18, 2010 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger daisy said...

I choose not to eat meat, but I do purchase and prepare grain-fed poultry for my family. I support anyone who has the respect for animals that you demonstrate. Preach on, girl.

November 18, 2010 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Harpy 101 said...

GEEZE, I love what you do. Thank you so much for this! I'm a game warden's kid and I was raised on a lot of wild game. The disrespect I've seen directed at wild animals has always been from ignorant people with what IU call "misplaced cpompassion". I've seen city people on vacation kidnap fawns on the side of the road because they "look lonely" thus traumatizing and killing the fawn. Hunters (good and true ones) don't displace or disrespect the animals they kill and butcher and harvest and feed their families with. In my experience hunters have much more respect for wild animals than people who look down upon hunting and harvesting of animals.

November 18, 2010 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger urban hillbilly said...

Hi Jenna,
Let me start by saying that I think this is a good post and I agree with your overall conclusions. However, as many ex-vegetarians who are justifying their decision to eat meat again, you have fallen into the trap of criticizing vegetarians, which I don't think is necessary or useful.

So, having been a vegetarian for 30 years, I just wanted to add my opinions on a couple of your points:
You say that vegetarians have no impact on the production of factory farmed meat. Vegetarians are using their consumer dollars to vote against factory meat in the same way that you are. For example every time I choose the 'vegetarian option' at a restaurant, I am showing the owners that there is a demand for vegetarian food. If more people did this, there would be more vegetarian food, and less factory farmed meat on the menu.

You also say that you eat meat because you are an animal, and that it is the natural state of the world that carnivores and omnivores eat other animals. The problem with this logic is that we don't apply it to any other aspect of our lives. We use our human brain to override our place in the 'natural' world, so that, for example, we can live in houses instead of caves, use medicines to prolong our lives, and use cars to allow us to travel long distances effortlessly. So, unless you are proposing that humans return to an altogether 'natural' state in balance with the rest of the planet, I don't think it is a convincing justification (on its own) for eating meat.

Also, I'm sure you understand the difference between the suffering of a sentient animal and killing a broccoli. How you chose to value those two things is entirely personal, but don't pretend that they are the same thing.

One last thing – you can be a happy, healthy vegetarian eating local, organic and home grown produce (no imported tofu required!).

As I said, overall I agree with your sentiments about supporting ethically raised meat if you do chose to eat meet. But choosing not to eat meat at all is also an ethical and useful decision.

November 18, 2010 at 8:35 PM  
Blogger Pam said...

Deep thoughts Jenna. I am a meat-eater. I love a good steak, venison, elk meat, wild game. But I could not eat your Sal. There's just something about his face and eyes. Some animals hit me like that. You just have to step around those animals. Arrows and bullets have never flown towards a certain look. That's like those two pigs on the Victorian Farm, I couldn't have killed the one. Can't explain it ... Now Maude .. well that's another story altogether! LOL!

November 18, 2010 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger farmgirljen said...

As a farmer who raises cattle on pasture and grazes them on standing corn, thank you from Iowa! My husband told me the other day as we looked at the cattle grazing what is left of the standing corn, "This is the best part of farming, seeing these clean, happy, healthy cattle."

November 18, 2010 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger karen said...

Jenna, I have not been eating meat for many years and have only just started to think about eating meat again now that I have a clean source. This was such a great post and now I think I will make a trip to your corner to stock up! You are such a great writer girl! Karen from CT

November 18, 2010 at 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna, I rarely comment, but as someone who has gone through the switch from veg-only to sometimes-meat (I was a vegan, ran a vegan food blog, etc.), I know how hard it is to try to put your thoughts into words and then send it out into the internet where a lot of criticism easily arises. I still get hate emails months after "coming out of the closet." My reasons are the same as yours--I live in a small farm area where I know the folks raising the chickens and goats and sheep & as a conscientious consumer, I believe that supporting them is the only path to achieving a more sustainable world. Thank you for writing such a beautiful & well thought out post. It made me feel like I'm not alone out here on the web!

November 18, 2010 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Monique said...


Lovely post. I like your point about respecting people who eat thoughtfully, no matter what they eat. I am a pescatarian ;) I eat wild-caught seafood, eggs from friends, local dairy and veg. I don't currently eat meat unless the rare occasion when I know it is cleanly sourced.

One thing that really drives my decision that I didn't see in your post and wonder about is subsidized farming. We can buy factory meat for less than it costs to produce, I think it is important for people to carefully consider that.

Again, nice post.

November 18, 2010 at 10:33 PM  
Blogger Harpy 101 said...

Interesting assumption here: "I'm sure you understand the difference between the suffering of a sentient animal and killing a broccoli," Does anyone really "understand" that? We can "understand" our own impressions and what we see externally, what our limited senses tell us. Beyond that, I actually think it's a rather big assumption. I'm glad this was pointed out! Much food for thought. Sorry for the pun...

But I also think of this: my chickens, for instance, get lovely varied snacks and are kept safe from predators and get fresh water, clean coop, have lots of roosts to play on. Their lives will be fun and nourishing and good. Then, someday, they'll have ONE bad day. Being of the human condition with worries about how other humans will judge me, allow me to earn a living and drive their huge metal vehicles while I'm trying to get safely home, I know there are many kinds of suffering. My chickens, my dogs and my cat don't know those stresses. They know they will be provided for. In fact, their sense of self-entitlement is rather mind-boggling...

November 18, 2010 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Bravo. I wish I could be this articulate. I have so many vegan friends who I wish I could shout out, IF YOU LOVE THE ANIMALS EAT THEM! Were I live in western mass we have similar advantages to you with the local sustainable farming options and if people really loved the animals they would support farmers that take pride in and love their animals instead of supporting the big business soy and corn companies.

once again, bravo and well said!

November 18, 2010 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Harpy 101 said...

Wiste, I am going to quote you to everyone I know with this awesome quote:

"It's important to know you're part of the world, not looking down on it, so that you respect your place in it."

So. Beautiful.

November 18, 2010 at 10:57 PM  
Blogger 6512 and growing said...

Sing it sister. well said. Enjoy that mutton.

November 18, 2010 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Alyssa O'Leary said...

I absolutely love this post, every bit of it. It's logical.

And I support local farmers. I grew up in a farming and hunting community and those people are so much closer with the idea of treating what they eat humanely and giving it the best possible life before it reaches the table.

November 18, 2010 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger Reason's Whore said...

Very nicely said. One thing you left out, and I don't want to attack vegetarians here - but I find they often turn a blind eye to their own involvement in the industrial agricultural business. If you are eating dairy products, you are implicitly supporting factory farmed meat. What do you suppose happens to all the male calves? And the older dairy cows when they are past peak production? It's Unhappy Meal time for them. Even if you're buying organic, I doubt the cows are raised in anything other than factory farm conditions. Only if you're buying direct and local can you have any assurance of the animals' treatment.

My husband became a militant vegetarian when I pointed this out and now only will eat dairy products from our own goats. Which is a bit tiresome for me as dairymaid, but at least more consistent with his ethics. Still, one goat gave birth to a pair of bucklings who presumably ended up on someone's barbecue after being sold. That's the price of your cheese, vegetarians.

November 19, 2010 at 12:01 AM  
Blogger Reason's Whore said...

PS, I could not enjoy the lamb I had butchered, myself. It tasted like SHEEP and I felt too guilty, even though he had to go since he was doing the Oedipus thing with mom. But I don't mind someone else enjoying the product.

November 19, 2010 at 12:03 AM  
Blogger Rosie said...

I wanted to add that animals fed their natural diet, grass and not corn and soy have amazing health benefits. The essential fatty acids are high, Omega 3 are high and in the right balance with omega 6, CLA is high. The fat of a grass fed animal is high in beta carotene, thus it is yellow. It is high in antioxidants from the carotenoid family including lutein, vitamin e in high quantities. Grass fed meat is and amazing health food. It has the taste of the "terrior" like fine wine.
Animals fed their natural diet of grass do not need antibiotics to stay healthy because the balance in the stomach is not upset by the corn/soy that disturbs rumen and causes inflammation. There is less shrinkage in grass fed meet and less fat... so it is lower in calories.

So go for the grass fed, it is the way the animal is designed to eat their natural diet, not some of the horrible things that are ground up and fed to cattle in feedlots like chicken feathers and chicken manure.

By the way I started a website to promote grass fed meat but I have been given the opportunity to live my dream and learn to raise grass in Oklahoma for livestock. So the site is on hold until I get packed and moved back there. Once I get settled I will get the content up and get the word out.
Thanks Jenna for the inspiration. I am headed to Oklahoma to become a rancher.

SF bay area

November 19, 2010 at 1:45 AM  
Blogger Rosie said...

P.S. I will be getting a working dog in the future, probably another Kelpie.

November 19, 2010 at 1:56 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Tonight for dinner we had meatballs made from our own lambs, and they were unbelievably delicious. It's not an easy thing to say goodbye to an animal you've raised and cared for, even when you know its purpose from the time it's born, but I think that's good. We shouldn't take our food for granted.

This was a great post--thank you, as always, for your eloquence and candor.

November 19, 2010 at 2:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


November 19, 2010 at 6:33 AM  
Blogger A Northern Farmer said...

Great post Jenna!

We're still fairly new on the homestead and haven't experienced our own butchering season yet, aside from chickens.
When we do get around to butchering some rabbits and goats though, we'll do it properly, with the dignity it deserves. We will thank the animal, and nothing will be wasted.

November 19, 2010 at 8:34 AM  
Blogger Zoe Tilley Poster said...

Thoughtful and poetic. Especially love the "Eating meat also reminds me that I am a dying animal..." paragraph. Your feelings are original and refreshing!

November 19, 2010 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Tara said...

@Harpy - excellent point about "suffering". I'm not sure that death in and of itself equates to suffering. Every plant and animal on this planet will ultimately die - all the animals I don't eat will still die someday. If an animal dies of old age (which very few do), is that somehow less suffering? I've seen the horrible things that raccoons, dogs and snakes do to my poultry. THAT is suffering. More pain is inflicted upon them by the forces of nature than would ever be inflicted upon them by me.

November 19, 2010 at 9:54 AM  
Blogger Debi said...

As everyone said above, I love this post! We've been making the transition from conventially raised to locally raised meat. We're not completely there yet, as the closest farm is more than an hour away and we get only what is left after the CSA's have been filled. But that will all change in a few months when we move closer to the source so that we can become CSA members also. It's funny, but in Indiana(where we're moving) the farm we get our meat from actually charges less than what we would pay for organic meat in the store, and it tastes so much better too!

We're hoping to find a bit of land so that we can raise chickens and maybe a few sheep(you've got me interested in learning to spin my own yarn!)but I've been really pondering the idea of how, or if, we'll be able to butcher our own meat. I've been around farms and hunters my whole life. I've never had a problem with eating wild game, but could never bring myself to eat any of the farm animals with which I had direct contact. I'm hoping that through your example, I'll be able to get past this in order to give my animals the best possible life(and death) that they can have.


November 19, 2010 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Hopeful said...

hi. i've been a vegetarian for 25 years, and vegan for 10, but i do love your post. i agree that if you raise and dress your own animals, or locals do around you, then there's no problem with that. love the thought that it doesn't make sense to ship tofu across the country when there's meat all around you! what i'm worried about though is that senate bill S510 may take that away from us and big agribusiness will be all we have to choose from.

November 19, 2010 at 10:29 AM  
Blogger ecogrrl said...

Ok, after reading a lot of responses, I'm starting to feel like there are some misconceptions out there about vegetarians. Not all vegetarians support factory farming! My husband and I limit our dairy to what we can eat from local, small farm sources. I'm definitely in Urban Hillbilly's camp here - I have a lot of reasons for being vegetarian, and I guarantee you that I've spent as much time thinking through them as you all have for meat.

Done rabble-rousing now. ;) Back to work!

November 19, 2010 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

I am new to your blog and couldn't be more impressed. I will be sending my critics to your blog for my response to "How can you possibly raise and then kill your own animals?". Thank you for putting into words so beautifully what all of us new(and old farmers)would love the world to hear. Keep up the great work!

November 19, 2010 at 10:31 AM  
Blogger The Kelly's Adventures in KY said...

Very well said, and we agree as well! Since moving to KY we have found it easy to find grass fed animals to dine on whose farmers are not afraid for you to come out and look at their place. I aplaud you for taking the extra time to explain your feelings.

November 19, 2010 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I think the whole S510 thing has been blown out of whack.

November 19, 2010 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger sheepkelpie said...

Interesting link, an assessment of what this person translates from the bill. Read the bill (below). Breaking news is that Senator Testa from Montana has submitted an amendment for small farmers, who make less than 500000? from their sales.

November 19, 2010 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Tommy said...

@ Urban Hillbilly----I think you summed it up perfectly. You had some excellent points. I hope everyone read Urban Hillbilly's well thought out response.
Jenna, I enjoy your blog and respect what you're doing, but there are a lot of LOGIC gaps in your reasoning. Saying that humans are animals, and we're here to eat other animals falls short in the line of reasoning. That's a big assumption. Taking it to a crazy extreme (and I only bring this point up as an illustration), that's the same logic that has led to millenia of wars and imprisonment---in other words, one group saying that they are superior, and that another lesser civilization is just barbarian and supposed to be subservient to the first group. That was the mentality of Imperial European rule for hundreds of years. They thought that other populations were there for a purpose---to provide for the powerful.
I know that's a crazy extreme, but it follows the same logic that you do with how you view animals. They were put here for our purpose, and that purpose is to eat them. I do not agree with you on that.
But, that being said, I do respect small-farm and family-run meat production WAY more than the travesty of factory animal production. That much is obvious, so I respect what you're doing there.
But as a long time vegetarian (21 years), I personally do not think that eating meat is the way to go (for ethical, moral and dietary reasons). But that's a personal decision, based on my own viewpoint.

November 19, 2010 at 12:14 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I do think it is their purpose to be eaten by me, just as it would be my purpose to be eaten by a tiger, bear, lion, scavengers in the wild. I see myself as food for other animals too.

November 19, 2010 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger Chelsey said...

I loved the post. And I absolutely agree that the way for an individual to effect change in agribusiness is with a careful consideration of where we spend our food-dollars.

I think the one point of contention among the comments seems to be over the impact a "vegetarian" has on the death and suffering of animals.
It is absolutely possible for someone who eats no meat to contribute to the suffering and deaths of more animals than an omnivore.
If, for example the vegetarian ate factory-produced cheese & milk (causing the suffering of cows and death of calves) or eggs (chickens in battery cages) agribusiness spinach (the population of voles is cut in half immediately after a harvesting) and eats conventional soy or rice grown in China or several South American countries (the suffering of human workers and animals from lax regulation of pesticides) - they contribute to a circle of negative impact which may encompass thousands of lives a year.
An especially aware omnivore may only cause the death of a several pasture raised chickens or grass fed beef cattle if they source everything locally and responsibly.
A vegetarian who sources all of their food locally, responsibly, and sustainably would, of course, have even less of an impact.
My point is only: there is as much variety in vegetarian awareness as there is in an omnivore's awareness - assumptions cannot be made about all individuals of either group. Few US vs. THEM arguments hold up when they're being applied to large groups of people.

November 19, 2010 at 1:22 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

"You would never ask the wolf to stop eating rabbits, so why should you ask the humans in the same eco-system to do so?"

lets exchange wolf with coyotee and rabbit with lamb or wolf with fox and rabbit with chicken.

as you pointed out, an ecosystem is just that, a system...and our natural environment would be in a world of trouble if the predator/prey cycle came to a stop.

please keep this in mind the next time you grab your gun at the sight or sound of a predator on your land. you wouldn't ask a wolf to not eat a rabbit, as you wouldn't ask a fox/coyotee to refrain from eat domesticated livestock. i firmly believe you can't punish an animal for its instincts, but can and should do everything in your power to prevent it if the actions are unfavorable.

i'm interested in reading what preventative/protective measure you decide on to keep you sheep and lambs safe.

November 19, 2010 at 2:14 PM  
Blogger Cindy said...

I really appreciate that the responses to Jenna's post have been so civil. This subject frequently brings out the worst in people. I was glad to see that people did not behave like "animals." I was a vegetarian for many years, but do eat meat now. Unfortunately, the local ranchers sell only huge quanities of meat. How are those of you who are single, or have small families obtaining local meat?

November 19, 2010 at 2:18 PM  
Blogger m said...

I'm a meat eater. I grew up mostly eating the deer and moose my father hunted, the fish we caught as a family in the summers, and for a few years, the pheasants we raised. I could probably count the times we ate chicken growing up. We had chickens, but for eggs only.

I left home and that lifestyle for most of my twenties. Now, with a family of my own, we know the farmers who raise 95% of our meat. We get a 1/4 cow for the freezer each year, sausages from an amazing pig farmer, and the occasional guinnea hen and turkey from another farmer. Delish. And whenever we have people over for dinner who usually buy their meat from the supermarket, they are amazed at how delicious it is. And as much as I'd like to think it's my cooking, I know a big part of it is the quality of the meat. It's great.

This post reminded me of a radio doc I heard a while ago. I think you'd like it. Here's the link:

November 19, 2010 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Orkneyflowers said...

Wonderful to read - thank you! I eat meat - I'm happy to know where my meat comes from! Thank you again very much.

November 19, 2010 at 4:24 PM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

It may have been said, but but I can't find it so
"They were put here for our purpose, and that purpose is to eat them. I do not agree with you on that." Yes indeed, they are here for our purpose. Once we stop raising an animal for its purpose its not long before that animal is not around.

One of my great joys in summer holidays was going "home" and seeing the cows wearing blankets... black cow, white midsection from around back of front leg to front of back leg... now that farmer has Angus, just like 9 of 10 farms around me do.

I have Dexter's, I am looking into Chantecler's for next years chicken flock, cold hardy and productive even in the cooler temps when the Rhode Island Reds I had this year slowed down.

I'd love to find some of these amazing VARIED animals that I grew up adoring but industrial forms of agriculture have insisted that we go to mono-cultures.

I'm also waiting to see the "new guys" face when the winds scour his newly cleared sections clean of earth, there was a reason they had wind-breaks, and the windbreak increased the production of the remaining area more than was lost by having the windbreak take up a portion of the land.

I also eat meat. Gladly. I'll keep raising my heritage breeds and enjoying the fine life they allow me to live and I'll give them the best life I can.

Thanks Jenna, for saying this so wonderfully.

November 19, 2010 at 4:25 PM  
Blogger JeanineH said...

For the record the 10th farm (9/10 are Angus) the 10th one is a bison farm.

November 19, 2010 at 4:32 PM  
Blogger jkizmann said...

Thank you for this post! This is how I feel, through and through, about meat. It's exactly what I try to emphasize to my veggie and vegan friends, when they recite the whole "meat is murder" speech.

November 19, 2010 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

I strongly support the sentiment that, as conscientious people, we should not lose track of the big picture while we argue over the particulars. At the end of the day, the world would be a much better place if every person thought seriously and compassionately about the impact she has on the earth, particularly with regard to the things we eat. The fundamental choice to become a locavore surely has much more impact on the world than do the small variations in the ways that people strive for this ideal.

Having said that, let's split some hairs...

In general, arguments about eating meat fall into two camps: basic principles ("Do animals exist for the purpose of being eaten by us, or for their own reasons?") and tactics ("How best can we end the abomination of factory-farming operations?"). Jenna has made arguments on both fronts, and one of her tactical arguments is that buying meat from small farmers is the most effective way to wipe out industrialized meat farming. Crucially, she has also claimed that this approach is more effective than being a complete vegetarian/vegan.

This is an important claim, and as far as I can tell it is based purely on beliefs and intuitions -- I have not seen any evidence that buying meat from small farmers is a more effective way of marginalizing factory farms. It's a hard question to answer empirically, but anyone who is interested in improving the lives of domestic animals should want to know the true answer.

Just as a thought experiment, try to imagine a future where transitioning to buying local, sustainably raised meat would not make a meaningful dent in the industrial agriculture juggernaut -- or at least no more than if an equal number of people had become vegetarians. The development might go something like this:

1. People begin to see the problems with factory farms, and they start demanding "better" food sources.

2. Small, sustainable farms gain market share, thereby catching the eyes of the big producers.

3. The corporate farms make just enough incremental changes to allow new and better labels, like "Happy and Free" or "Raised in Nature". As ever, they are abetted in this whitewash by their regulatory stooges in Washington.

4. Many people spend a bit more money to get the "better" meat from their local grocery store, thereby easing their consciences and keeping the established system firmly in place. (The lives of the animals might improve slightly through the token improvements, but does anybody think the changes will be meaningful?)

My point is just that supporting "sustainable meat" is not a guaranteed way to reduce "conventional meat" in the long term. Both vegetarians and sustainable meat eaters take dollars out of the industrial system, but it's actually quite hard to prove what "message" this might send to the corporate producers, or how they might respond.

Anyway, this is an argument about a fine tactical point, but I wish that newly-anointed meat eaters wouldn't just blithely criticize vegetarians for "not engaging with the system" without at least some evidence that this works as intended.

Incidentally, if anyone does have such evidence, I would be very keen to see it.

November 19, 2010 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 19, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 19, 2010 at 8:02 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 19, 2010 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

Sorry for quadruple bad.

November 19, 2010 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

I suggest reading The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend, Bryan. I think many of my points are hers, and she has much research backing it up.

November 19, 2010 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger rachel whetzel said...

EXCELLENT post!! I love it on so many levels.

@Reason's Whore: "Still, one goat gave birth to a pair of bucklings who presumably ended up on someone's barbecue after being sold. That's the price of your cheese, vegetarians."

THANK YOU for saying this!! It's one of the reasons I have chosen to stay an omnivore. Because there are consequence to every food choice, and for myself personally, it's about taking full responsibility for my family's choices. We raise dairy goats, and outside our small herd, in order to have the milk, I have to breed. We'll be raising offspring as meat. It was a tough choice to make.

People need to think about where their food is not only coming from, but where the "extra" is going. We are truly in a circle of life. No matter what we choose to eat.

@Brian I believe that even if my choices don't make change within Big Ag, they make a difference for me and my family. Food votes DO make a difference. It's evidenced by the fact that free range is even a wording on an egg label. (even if it doesn't mean much at this point)

November 20, 2010 at 4:07 PM  
Blogger fletchers99 said...

I love reading your blog - what a great post - Thank you!

November 21, 2010 at 9:57 PM  
Blogger deborahwolfe said...

I agree with you whole heartedly Jenna.

I am a diagnosed diabetic and it really does matter what you eat.

I choose to spend my dollars on organic, pastured meat, eggs and dairy.

There is a small eating establishment near me called Farm Burger. They serve clean food i.e. local, organic and pastured meat. I can eat a burger there topped with local bacon and cheese and two hours later my post meal blood sugar is in the normal range.

Today I ate at a local establishment that serves factory meat. I ate the EXACT same thing as I usually get at Farm Burger (which is a car ride away vs a two block walk) and my 2 hour post meal blood sugar was 177.....YIKES!

I'd rather get in the car and drive the 15 minutes and pay a little more to know I am eating CLEAN food from humanely raised animals.

November 23, 2010 at 10:58 PM  

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