Ethical Omnivores

I started writing this post as a means of explaining what I’ve learned about cooking with sustainably-raised meats since November, when we butchered the pigs and also purchased 1/4 of a cow.  However, this post turned into a discussion of our food choices, and I’ll write about the changes I’ve made to my cooking in a future post.

A few years back, I started realizing that there were major problems with the meat industry.  I remember watching news reports about E. coli outbreaks and seeing the disgusting conditions in the processing plants.  I felt like my only choices were to buy the conventional meat at the grocery store or become a vegetarian.  However, I now understand that becoming a vegetarian is not the only answer to solving the environmental and ethical problems associated with eating meat.  In fact, I prefer to vote with my dollars by buying meat that is produced according to my values.

As a life-long animal lover, I absolutely believe that the animals we choose to eat should be treated humanely, even loved by their owners, and I know that is not the case with industrially raised animals.  Therefore, we choose to eat animals that we know have lived under humane conditions.  We trust the labels at the grocery store less and less, and instead prefer to trust people we know.

I’ve developed a set of ethics for our meat choices, based on our own values.  This isn’t so much a heirarchy, but more a set of guidelines that I like to follow.

  1. Raised, caught, or hunted by family or friends.
  2. Locally and sustainably raised.
  3. Raised without hormones or antibiotics.
  4. Use the whole animals, since that will translate into fewer animals overall.
  5. Limit meat to one meal each day on most days.

Ed and I are true omnivores, meaning that we eat a wide variety of foods, including many different kinds of meats.  These are the choices we make, based on location and availability of each of the following meats.

Fish and Shellfish

  • Clams and Oysters- Ed’s brother’s aquaculture business makes this one easy.  They raise clams and oysters, or will dredge for wild clams.
  • Scallops and Lobster- We have friends in Maine who are fishermen, and when anyone from Ed’s family visits them they bring home lobsters and scallops.  We have some scallops in the freezer, but eat the lobsters fresh a few times each year.  I’m allergic to lobster, so that limits how often Ed eats them, but I’m always happy for scallops.
  • Fish-  Ed and his brother love to go salt water fishing.  They’ll catch a surplus in the summer and we fill our freezer with blackfish, porgies, sole, flounder and other fish from the Sound.  I’ve cut back on the amount of fish I eat since taking my course on Long Island Sound and learning that women of reproductive age shouldn’t eat too much of these fish due to possible contamination with mercury.  I do love fish, however, so we make sure to eat low on the food chain and limit fish to no more than one meal per week, often less.
  • Other seafood- We rarely eat other fish or shellfish, since we don’t have a local or sustainable source for them.  We will eat wild Alaskan salmon a few times a year when it’s in season, and Ed will eat shrimp (I’m allergic to them, too) around the holidays when shrimp cocktail is at all the parties.

Poultry

pantry-meal-and-turkies-004

  • Turkey- Ed’s family has started raising turkeys this year, and I’m excited to have a local source of turkey that was raised humanely and ethically.
  • Chicken- Chicken has been our big problem.  We don’t know any local chicken farmers and haven’t seen it at any of the local farmer’s markets.  I buy the store brand chicken that is raised without hormones and antibiotics, because this is the best option available to us right now.  We eat chicken about once each week.  I try to buy the whole bird since the price is much cheaper, or I buy bone-in, skin-on breasts, thighs and legs, and often save the bones for stock. 
  • Other poultry- We will have cornish hens rarely, maybe once each year when I see them on sale in the grocery store.

Pork

  • This is an easy one.  Ed’s family raises pigs, and we have a bunch of pork in our freezer.  The bone-in pork chops are amazing and taste nothing like the bland white ones I used to buy in the grocery store.  The big change for me has been learning to cook the different roasts, sausage, bacon and ham.  As I write this I think of all the ham in the freezer that I’ll need to use up by next November.  Anybody have some ideas for good ham recipes?

Beef

christmas-tree-006

  • We got 1/4 of a cow from Ed’s cousin and split it with Chris and Melissa.  We bought this meat because we know how the cows were raised.  Like with the pork, I’ve been learning to cook different cuts of meat that I never made before.  Ground beef recipes, since that was what we got the most of, have been staples around here.  Stews, roasts and soups have also been weekly regulars.  The round eye roast in the slow cooker right now was the inspiration for this post.  I’ve realized that the NY Strip Steaks and Rib-Eye steaks Ed loved so much before aren’t the best choice for sustainability, since they represent only a small fraction of the cow.

Dairy and Eggs

  • Milk- I buy a brand from a co-op of Connecticut family farmers who do not use hormones or antibiotics.  I am most comfortable with pasteurized milk, so that is what I buy.
  • Cheese- I love to get cheese from the farmer’s markets.  The cheddars, ricottas, and fresh white flavored cheeses are delicious but also expensive, so I’m learning to make my own cheese.  So far, I’ve only mastered ricotta, but I’m hoping to learn more as time goes on.  I’ll also buy cheese produced throughout New England at the regular grocery store.
  • Butter- I choose to buy butter from a New England company.
  • Yogurt- Ed loves to take yogurt with his lunch, but I buy a big container of antibiotic and hormone free yogurt instead of the one-serving containers to limit plastic waste.
  • Eggs- Ed and I have put our plans for chickens on hold until next year, since his schedule now that clamming season is back in full swing doesn’t allow for a lot of time to build a coop.  I buy eggs from the same brand as the milk we get, and they’re from family farms in Connecticut.  I love their dark orange yolks, but they fly off the store shelves, so when they’re not available I buy eggs from the traditional farm in the next town over.

Other Meats

  • Venison and Fowl-  We will occasionally eat deer, moose, caribou, or any type of fowl that has been hunted by Ed or a family member or friend.  This is a rare occasion now, but in the past Ed used to hunt more often. 
  • Going Out- When we go out to eat (which is pretty rare!) or to a friend or family member’s house, we tend to drop the rules.  I try to eat what’s in season and fresh, but sometimes we just get what we get.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our choices for eating meat in a humane, sustainable way.  I am sure that there are plenty of people that don’t agree with my choices.  The important thing to me is that we are all able to make our own choices.  I understand that this is a controvercial topic, but I hope that we can have a respectful conversation about it.  Please share your choices in the comments.

15 Comments

Filed under Food, Living from Scratch, Local Agriculture, Sustainable Living

15 responses to “Ethical Omnivores

  1. I am working to be an ethical omnivore, too. We have a great source of range-fed beef at our local farmer’s market, as well as free range eggs and chickens. I am most excited that my new brother-in-law has been giving us deer meat, though. I’d never had wild-caught game before, and it’s very good and has none of the concerns of farmed meat.

    • The only worry I have about venison is the wasting disease (similar to mad cow disease) that’s shown up in wild populations of deer in the United States. There’s concern about it spreading to people when they eat the meat, in the same way mad cow is transmitted. There’s a suspected link to Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease, but I don’t think there are confirmed cases of people getting Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease by eating venison.
      Here’s a link for more info: http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/creutzfeldt-jakob/fact_sheet.htm

      Hope that doesn’t scare you… You would just want to make sure that the deer your BIL gets isn’t acting sick or strange, I guess.

  2. I like the idea of the ethical omnivore. I wish more meat lovers would consider this lifestyle, however, I do understand why it can be so challenging (going out to eat at a restaurant and not knowing where the food has come from, etc.). This spring I am planning to purchase locally “grown” beef from our farmers’ market for my husband and daughter’s meals (as you know I am a vegetarian). I support the eating of our animals when the animals, as you put it, have lived a good life, were loved, and were killed humanely (which I know sounds somewhat paradoxical, but it does make sense). I cringe when I think of how a factory farmed chicken made its way to the grocery store.

    • I thought of you while writing this post, since we’ve discussed this a few times. I applaud your efforts and actions to supply your husband and daughter with sustainable, ethical meat when you don’t eat it yourself.

  3. This is a really great topic – one that is near and dear to my heart. I won’t buy regular grocery store meat any more and even then I don’t eat beef or pork, just chicken. There is a wonderful local chicken farmer and we buy into the fall slaughter and freeze the birds. I roast one about twice a month.
    Have you ever read the book Integrative Nutrition? It introduced me to the idea of consuming the life energy of the item you are eating. I know it sounds a bit out there, but I believe there is truth to it.

    • I wish we had a local chicken source like that! The only meat CSA’s I’ve found locally offer a mix of chicken, duck, turkey, and rabbit and frog legs. I just don’t think I could eat rabbit or frog legs…

  4. Tia

    I have a question for you but not about the meat you eat. I am also allergic to lobster and shrimp and I have avoided scallops out of fear that they might cause the same reaction. Are you allergic to all shellfish? and have you never had a reaction with scallops?

    • I’m allergic to lobster (it makes me vomit) and shrimp (gives me hives, and I worry about anaphalaxic shock if I ate too much of it– not sure if I spelled that right, haha!)

      I can eat clams, oysters, scallops, calamari, and any other seafood.

      My sister-in-law, who’s husband owns the shellfishing business, is allergic to all shellfish. If your throat closes up when you eat lobster and shrimp, I’d avoid scallops. But check with your doctor.l

  5. I luckily am able to eat shell fish. And I love it! Of course, it is available here in Puget Sound regularly. I bought a whole bunch of guinea hens when they aere on an unbelieveble sale at Groceyr outlet and stuck them in the freezer- I love ’em- on birde makes three meals or better for me. But I agree- there is no reason to mistreat animals if you are an omnivore. LOL I remember my Uncle John got P’O’d at his cow when he was trying to milk her- he raised up and punched her in the hind quarter- And to make a long story short he broke every bone in his hand. Serves him right!

  6. Abbie – first, thanks for your helpful advice about my pear tree. I think you may be right about life being too good for it. It didn’t fertilize it last year but mixed in a lot of rich compost. This year I sprinkled some commercial fertilizer around the base when I planted the new trees. I had no idea that could have this result. Lesson learned, any way! Hopefully it will blossom next year.

    My ideas about the meat we eat are right in line with your thoughts. It is funny that I have chickens coming out my ears and lack dairy products while you have cheeses and milk but no chicken. The only suggestion I have, and you may have tried this, would be to track down a chicken grower as close as possible and inquire about a discount if you come one time and buy for 6 months or a year. Maybe you and Ed could get away for a weekend as part of the deal. I’ve been looking in to a mini vacation for us and would like to include some agri-tourism in it so that’s where I get the idea.

    In any case, sounds like you’re doing a great job. I look forward to your post about cooking this way. I personally cheat and buy boneless skinless chicken so I know life is going to change big time for me.

    • Yeah, I wish I could find a local chicken place. I’m trying to convince Ed’s dad that we need to raise some chickens, haha! I’m going to look around, though.

      Just browse through my chicken recipes, most of them are for bone-in or skin-on chicken, since that’s what I cook with. Do you know how to cut up a whole chicken? I’m sure that will be helpful as you learn to process all the ones you’ve got. I’ve only done it a few times, but I was surprised how easy it really is. You just have to be careful! But personally, I like to roast the whole thing and then use the meat over the next few days.

  7. retrohousewifegoesgreen

    Thanks for posting this! Some people don’t seem to have any idea where meat comes from.

  8. I’m a vegetarian and I love this post! I think you guys are incredibly mindful about what you eat and I wish more people thought about it the way you do.

  9. I came here via the link you left in Crunchy’s comments, and I like this post. Your approach to eating meat is essentially the same as mine, and I think it’s cool that you have so many different sources for the meat you eat. There was one part I especially agreed with:

    “However, I now understand that becoming a vegetarian is not the only answer to solving the environmental and ethical problems associated with eating meat. In fact, I prefer to vote with my dollars by buying meat that is produced according to my values.”

    Yes. Companies, I think, are more likely to change if you tell them “If you do xx and xx I might buy your product” than if you tell them “What you’re doing is wrong, but even if you change it, I won’t ever buy your product.”

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