Meat, myself and I.

Via on Apr 30, 2011

A complex relationship.

Ruth and Bill. Rhoda. Thanksgiving and Christmas. Chuck. They’re the link to my complex relationship with meat and sometimes poultry. But there were others.

Photo: flickr.com | thepeachmartini

Bob and Ruth were the names of my best friend from Kindergarten’s parents. When my own mom and dad decided to move us away from our sweet little green house on a suburban Chicago busy street waaaaay out to a farmstead in the middle of nowhere, Bob and Ruth were the chosen names for the matriarch and patriarch of our muskovy ducks (my younger brother’s responsibility and winner of many 4-H awards). Rhoda was our first pig. Named after Rhoda Morgenstern. I’ll never forget the day we sent her away. My parents and older brother tried to corral her into our small trailer, but she was a stubborn one. I was supposed to be helping, but I was too busy crying behind the duck house. Chuck was one of our beef animals. Black angus, I believe.

Each year, we raised one beef animal from bottle fed calf up to prime for eating. We’d walk past their stall and they’d give us a lick with their long, rough tongue.

photo: flickr.com | upsomeone's

A tongue I’d later see wrapped up in the freezer although I don’t recall ever having that as a meal.

Photo: flickr.com | vness5000

When people came to visit, they’d ask who we were eating.

One of us would casually announce the meat’s name. And we were great at naming. There was Patti and Sir Loin. A couple others that didn’t get actual meat product names I don’t recall. The best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten in my life. Besides Rhoda, there was Bacon and Hambone. Our neighbor worked at a dairy company and would bring home buckets of cottage cheese past their sell-by date which my dad hand fed to the pigs. I think that’s what made them so tasty. Yes. They were tasty at the time. My mom even used the lard for cooking, which grosses me out to think about it now.

There were so many ducks over the years—Ruth and Bill’s offspring. The human Ruth and Bill were Catholic with 6 kids. Anyway… the only other duck name I remember is Lucky. He was the one that survived the fox killing spree. Eventually we ate him so … not so Lucky.

We raised chickens for a while but didn’t name them at all. While adorable as chicks, they were short on personality. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the turkeys my parents raised during their early empty nester years. They’d follow my mom around thinking she was their mother. We proceeded to eat them for Thanksgiving, the other on… Well you know where that goes. As a side note, my two brothers and I each raised a Jersey cow. We drank the rich milk raw. Nothing like it in the world.

Our dinners were beef, duck, pork. Beef. Beef. Pork. Duck. Duck. But never a goose. That was just the way it was.

At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind. ~Michael Pollan

Over the years, I’ve grown apart from meat products. I can’t even kill a fly so I don’t like to imagine my food having been slaughtered. Even farm-raised, organic blah blah blah makes me squeamish. It’s muscle. We rode on the backs of our beef animals for god’s sake! They licked us and had feelings. Rhoda had personality and free-will. The ducks? They existed to eat bugs and poop. But they meant well.

A few bad experiences helped expedite the break up. I took a bite out of a  McDonald’s egg McMuffin in college and was about to take a second bite when I noticed a big fat vein sticking out of the sausage! That is an image I cannot erase. Friends had us over for dinner a number of years ago and served nasty hamburgers. When you’ve tasted the hamburgers I have in my day, anything else is sub-par. These should not have even been given the name hamburgers. I ate them to be polite, almost gagging the entire time. I may have stuck a couple bites in my napkin. Gross! I made duck al’orange for my husband when we were first dating. It was dry. He doesn’t like duck. End of story. I’ve found a way to connect meat with actual body parts in my imagination. Ribs are ribs. That one’s easy. Any other part is muscle. Why do we want to eat muscle? That’s just nasty!

Then my husband and I watched Food Inc. Ironically, we had planned to eat steak for dinner. I couldn’t cut into mine. It took a while, but my family finally caught onto the fact that I didn’t like to eat meat. I’d eat it if they served it (to be polite), but I finally stopped even doing that. Poultry I can do. No problem. As long as it’s mixed up with something else or super juicy grilled with just the right spice to cover up the mere notion that I’m chewing cooked bird flesh. Fish I eat. Eggs, a no brainer. But they have to be cage free and organic. Scrambled. I’ve got a line on a local farmer for our eggs, but in the meantime we’re going with the Costco organic. I know. Blasphemy.

Someone recently justified meat-eating as such: They’re raised to be our food. They wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for us. In other words:

“If God did not intend for us to eat animals, then why did he make them out of meat?” –John Cleese.

So I don’t eat meat. Most of the time. On Halloween I had pork because I had been drinking beer and the only other food available was candy. Even though, when my friend mentioned he had slow cooked a pork shoulder, I told him most of this story that you have now read. How could one even consider eating ‘shoulder?’ I have to admit, it was melt in my mouth tasty.

Photo: flickr.com | TERBOIMAGING

Last week, my husband received a couple frozen packages of farm-raised grass fed ground beef as a gift. It thawed thin blood in a bowl in the fridge, which made me gag every time I looked at it. My ecstatic son said, “It’s not blood, Mom.” Well, then what is it? The futile argument eventually dissolved. My son waved the grilled hamburger—otherwise known as mystery body parts—below my nose and I told him to knock it off. During a game of scrabble at the dining room table, I tried not to watch them devour what they said was the best hamburger. I probably ate some greens and nuts but can only recall the vivid tang of cooked meat.

I don’t proclaim to be a vegan, vegetarian, ovarian or whatever else. I cannot be classified—a work in progress intermittent-arian I suppose. My son eats beef at other people’s homes. I buy him nitrate-free bacon from Trader Joe’s, which I know is not perfect. My husband would die for a steak right now. I’m sure of it. Even though the sun is barely up. I could live on nuts, veggies, ice cream, smoothies and dark chocolate. Oh, and popcorn. Sushi if I’m lucky. Which I haven’t been. Although luck can be over-rated.

So to those of you who raise an eyebrow to my eating habits, I hope you understand. And if you don’t, well that’s just going to have to do. I’m me. I love animals. I put bugs outside. I get sad if I accidentally step on an ant or wash a little bug down the drain. “I’m sorry,” I call to it hoping it doesn’t have a family waiting for it to come home with dinner.

Meat and me don’t get along. That works for me and it’s better for the planet.

About Lynn Hasselberger

Lynn Hasselberger lives in Chicagoland with her son, husband and two cats. She loves sunrises, running, yoga, chocolate, and NYR, and has a voracious appetite for comedy. In her spare time, she blogs at myEARTH360.com and LynnHasselberger.com. A "Green Diva" and social media addict, you'll most likely find Lynn on twitter (@LynnHasselbrgr & @myEARTH360) and facebook. She hopes to make the world a better place, have more fun, re-develop her math skills and overcome her fear of public speaking. Like her writing? Subscribe to her posts.

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32 Responses to “Meat, myself and I.”

  1. Ramesh says:

    Great article, Lynn. Not an easy subject to write about, our complex relationship to ethics, health, the environment and the food we eat. My own complexities are with milk products. I call it a conscious compromise to buy mostly from a local organic farm, but they don't make cheese, and definitely not Norwegian brown cheese (Ski ost or Gjetost), which is not even organic, so there you have it! Complexities abound!

  2. AMO says:

    Let's not even talk about ice cream and how dairy cows are cared for, or not, in America. Most of the world's chocolate comes from the African countries of Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana. In these places children are not permitted to go to school because their parents need them to farm and process the cacao so that the family won't starve. They live lives of quiet desperation with never enough food and never enough freedom to choose any of many lives your children will be allowed to choose from. Having meat for dinner is not a choice for them. Their families can't afford it. They are short as adults because they are chronically malnourished during their developmental years. Their brain functions are limited for the same reason. When you buy chocolate instead of meat, remember the humans are animals too, and deserve your respect as much as ants do…

    • Absolutely agree, AMO! Thanks for taking the time to read + comment. Fair trade chocolate. (cringe at Halloween). Factory farms are horrific and should be crimalized whether dairy, poulty, beef…

      I didn't intend to sound as if I care more about ants than people. Hopefully you'll have a chance to read some of my other posts, many of which are about global water issues that impact so many on our planet. I am a work-in-progress.

  3. Genevieve says:

    Love it! This is how I feel about meat to! I use to dream of living on a farm and raising my own food when I grew up and had my own place (I lived on a farm when I was four years old) but when I finally made the connection between the bones and muscle… *shivers*. I’m not a superb vegetarian, if it doesn’t look like meat, I can sometimes eat it (i.e. chicken tenders…terrible for you and processed, I know) but all it takes is a vein or a bit of “juice” (i.e. blood) and I’m done! I told my fiance that I’ll cook meat for him (he thinks he’ll shrivel up and die if he doesn’t get a burger once in a while) but we’re only buying farm-fresh or organic! And I’ll stick to my nuts and greens, etc. :) Thanks for the article!

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Genevieve! Let's not forget the grizzle. Ewww. If there was a beef house the equivalent of a crack house my husband would frequent it. And probably bring my son.

  4. Ian says:

    Hi Lynn,

    I recently created a video that addresses this phenomenon. I would love it if you took 3 minutes to watch it. I work in animal rescue and don't eat meat, either. The video explores the issue of "farmers who care" and looks at the way farmers care for their animals and the disconnect between that and turning around and killing them for food. I would love to get your opinion on it.
    http://vimeo.com/22952053

  5. Blake says:

    Thank you for this wonderful piece! I love that you simply explain why you are who you are. The key is to be okay with who you are, knowing that you are a very important piece of the puzzle, meat-eater or not.

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  7. Cynthia says:

    You summarized why I haven't eaten meat in almost a decade. Every once in a while, I consider it, but then I get grossed out. To each her own!

  8. Thanks for reading, Jessica! Even if every one of us made a small change by reducing the amount of meat consumed, a difference would be made. Appreciate your comment! ~Cheers!

  9. That's great that your family still has a farm, Alice! Sounds like it's the kind of farm people should support. Thanks for reading and commenting. Cheers!

  10. Aurora says:

    I always feel compassionate to the bugs and animals too. I just started watching Earthlings. That's a tough one. Doing a post on it now.

  11. [...] As if I needed another reason not to eat meat. [...]

  12. Paula says:

    I was raised eating meat I knew too. Once I went out on my own I became a vegetarian for about 6yrs because I didn't know my meat. I do eat meat now but primarily chicken and fish. I still would prefer eating meat I know because I know it is properly cared for and not injected with goodness knows what and treated poorly.

  13. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Hi Lynn. Thanks so much for sharing this. I stopped eating meat around 14, although as a child never liked milk, cheese or any red meat. I can't imagine ever going back. There are many opinions and ideas about being vegetarian, not being vegetarian and what humans are 'meant' to be doing. I just find it difficult to justify eating animals in any form – this is really an extreme opinion and I just can't seem to get my mind (or heart) to feel differently. I often don't share this opinion because it can be emotional (for both parties), but I suppose we should all do what we feel is absolutely best for us (and hopefully the rest of the world around us). Much love!

    • Thanks for reading it, Tanya (sorry for the much delayed response!) I'm a meat waffler. If I do eat meat, it will be locally farmed, organic for sure. I've had to purchase meat for my son and husband as they like meat, but we don't eat it daily.Much love to you. :)

  14. [...] I mean is, I am tired of hearing these peace-loving-yogi-vegans ripping into meat eaters as if we had single-handedly driven a herd of cows off a cliff. Here’s the thing: if any of [...]

  15. [...] The research suggests that Jurassic period dinosaur flatulence contributed significantly to a warmer climate 150 million years ago. That’s potent stuff! They compared dinosaur digestive systems to modern day cows leading to a prediction that the annual output of methane gas—a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2—from the world’s population of dinosaurs would have been around 520 million tons. Today’s cattle population fart, er, produce 50-100 million tons of methane annually—still hugely impactful to the environment and something that will hopefully motivate more people to change their meat-eating habits. [...]

  16. [...] see mounds of leafy greens and fresh vegetables on the conveyer belt with proportionately tiny amounts of meat and packaged foods. The traditional scarcity and expense of meat makes many Asian cuisines a lot [...]

  17. [...] meals—breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner, another snack before bed. It’s rare for me to eat red meat and I keep sugar to a minimum (although I must have ice cream, it’s only once a week). I [...]

  18. Thanks, Helene, for taking the time to read + comment. Glad it resonated with you :) Cheers!

  19. Earthlings is on my list but hadn't heard of Mad Cowboy. Thanks, Lena, for taking the time to read + comment. Appreciate the book rec too. Cheers!

  20. Thanks for reading, Joe, and taking the time to comment. These are just my feelings about meat after raising + loving animals that ended up on our dinner table. I'm no nutritional expert and hope I don't smell too much. ;)

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