Eat Meat. ~ Sasha Aronson

Via on May 29, 2011
Photo: Point N' Shoot

A Mindful Approach to Being a Modern-Day Omnivore

Mindfulness and meat-eating don’t appear to go hand-in-hand. But as someone who tries their darndest to infuse mindfulness into everything they do, I’m convinced that being a vegetarian or vegan isn’t the only approach to an eco-conscious diet.

To eat, or not to eat?

It’s a diffucult question for myself and countless others (perhaps not the average elephant, but we’re out there). Here’s what I’ve gathered about carnivory from Ecology courses, elephant journal posts, and speakers who discuss the subject:

The government subsidizes our food (the stuff that’s conventionally grown that is, not organic food, but I won’t get heated over that right now). As a result, we can go into the store and buy meat for, say, as little as $1 per pound if you’re just going to the local supermarket.

What is troubling about government subsidies is that it makes meat seem far more accessible than it actually is. A great deal of money and natural resources — not to mention the not entirely commodifiable value of an animal’s life, are all necessary in order to make meat widely available.

In order for that beef or chicken, pork or bison to make its way into our shopping carts the animal had to first be supported by tons upon tons of grain and water. This system is incredibly demanding of our natural resources, and is actually a very inefficient (see the ecological pyramid) way to feed our society. I’ll paraphrase the ecological argument here, and use simple, somewhat approximate numbers for clarity’s sake:

Photo: C.W. Wycoff
  • It takes 10,000 kg of wheat to produce 1,000 kg of beef, which sustains 100 kg of humans (roughly 15 adults)

[This system requires 10 acres of land.]

An alternative model that removes livestock completely from the equation looks like this:

  • 1,000 kg of wheat supports 100 kg of humans (roughly 15 adults)

[This system requires just 1 acre of land.]

You’ll notice that the same number of people is fed with just a fraction of the amount of grain that it would require if these same people were eating meat.

As we move from one level of the food chain to the next, only 10% of the available energy will transfer. The available energy gets diluted when it has to travel through yet another link of the food chain. To compensate for this energy loss, we would have to consume 10 times the amount of meat in order to acquire the same level of energy.

I don’t cite these systems to wholly discourage people from eating meat. I myself am clearly neither vegetarian nor vegan. But, I was told that a good way to mitigate my meat-consumption (for those of us who can’t just quit cold turkey) is to eat locally-raised meat one or two times a week. So, adopting this method, I’m able to enjoy barbecues with friends while still doing my very small part for sustainability. Who knows, maybe someday my one or two times per week will become one or two times per month, and so on.  As long as I can continue to afford it…which brings us to cost.

Photo: Basykes

After the animals are raised, they must be “harvested” in order to get to market – be it a local one or big-box grocery. I won’t beat a dead horse here (pardon the pun) by dwelling on the conditions under which some animals are raised for human consumption. But I will say that in worst cases, animals are raised and slaughtered in inhumane and unsanitary conditions, and some few instances, they are not.

Once the animal (I guess we can call it “meat” at this point) is in the hands of your friendly grocer, you’re going to want to look at the different cuts, compare prices, and so forth. What is important to note at this stage is that the entire process of raising and harvesting cattle is subsidized by the government, and so you’re not actually paying the full cost of raising, harvesting, and shipping the animal.

This raises the question of, “how much meat would people eat if we had to pay the actual cost of it?”

I can throw together a quick dinner when steaks are on sale for $1.99 a pound – I might even stock up, and eat steak a few nights that week. But there’s no way I could justify eating meat with such frequency if I were paying its actual per pound cost, which is something like $20. Take a moment to picture your last food bill with this slight price adjustment (Vegs, you can use this time just to take a deep breath or snack on some kale).

If meat was sold at its actual per pound cost, we would be eating much less of it – it would be a luxury item.

As it stands now, selling an animal’s meat for pennies is just downright disrespectful. Because the question is, all things considered, would you pay for meat at its actual cost? I know you’d pay $1.99 for a few pounds of ground beef, but would you pay $20? If you aren’t willing to pay that much, then perhaps you don’t really need as much meat in your diet as you’ve grown accustomed to having.

Photo: Fwooper

For the sake of contrast, Native American Buffalo herders harvest buffalo for survival, but according to tradition, they follow strict slaughtering practices and don’t harvest more than they truly need. The indigenous people value that the animal they are harvesting is part of a herd, and part of a family within that herd. While killing the buffalo is part of a necessary symbiotic relationship, they recognize that the animal holds great spiritual value just as any human being does.

A recent post stated that eating low-grade meat several times a week isn’t very good for the environment, and it isn’t very good for you either. From barnyard to basket to backyard barbecue, the best thing to do is to recognize the reality that another being had to die so that you could eat, and respect that.  Do so by buying locally, loosening up the old wallet and paying more, and eating slightly less meat.

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Sasha Aronson has a degree in Literature from Colby College. She has worked for publishers in the Big Apple, but prefers living mindfully and adventurously in Boulder, Colorado.

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25 Responses to “Eat Meat. ~ Sasha Aronson”

  1. yogiclarebear says:

    great points sasha. clear, concise, and non-critical is the way to offer these points, IMO. nice job!

  2. lisa says:

    thank you so much for this article! My only regret is that I didn't write it myself. ;~) Seriously, I have been sharing this same type of information to so many of my students, friends and clients. As a holistic nutritionist, a big part of my education revolved around the concept of biochemical individuality. We are each different and have varied needs. Being a vegan or vegetarian is not the healthiest choice for many, and I myself, failed to thrive as a raw vegan. If factory farming was a thing of the past, meat eating was limited to small portions of traditionally (and humanely raised) animal sources, and the main part of our diets was plant based, the planet and its earthlings would all be healthier inside and out. THANK YOU again!

    • Sasha says:

      Thanks, Lisa. I was a bit anxious about how this article would fare on elephant…

      • lisa says:

        Thanks to you too Sasha. I have been the target in the past from very self-righteous vegetarians who said such hurtful things they made me wonder how they can claim their "enlightened" and ahima-practicing status while attempting to hurt a human. Humans are animals too. And ultimately, we each need to find our own place of awareness and consciousness AND preserve our own health as well. Believe me, if I could thrive on a vegan diet I would choose that. However, I do not. Thanks again for your article!!

  3. elephantjournal says:

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    essica Rose Collins It's omnivore.
    6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
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    Tim de Phan To slaughter or not to slaughter? Eat lab meat.
    6 hours ago · LikeUnlike
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    Jan Eaves I love meat, but when I learned about what was used for mass production, and cheaper……I thought the same as most, what is this going to do to us..antibiotic, steroids and all…how much do we know——what will result—this will effects…..dna, gentic, perhaps.To me this is scary……if I were child bearing age especially, I would not consume any of it.
    5 hours ago · LikeUnlike
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    Katie Yeoman
    The question of mindful approach isn't about what it's doing to us – it's about what it's doing to the animals. Being mindful is thinking beyond the self. Surely "mindful carnivore" is an oxymoron? Calling it mindful is just a sop to the de…sire to eat meat. I'm all for improving the lives of the animals in every way possible and any thoughts that way are good. But if you're going to eat them, they have to be killed.

    I'm not perfect myself – much as I try, I do sometimes take the easy way and grab fast food, or eat the delicious meat dinner someone made for me rather than argue about the meat… Much as I intend to do no harm, I slip. But in the end, what we need to do if we want to be mindful, is best said by Mahatma Gandhi: "Spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants."See More
    4 hours ago · LikeUnlike
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    Erynne Mitchell Eat locally grown, humanely raised, humanely slaughtered meat. Avoid factory farms. :)
    3 hours ago · LikeUnlike · 1 personMyles Wray – Superior Health likes this.
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    Alisa Espo Lucash
    MOdern day industrial agriculture is CRUEL to animals. All animals raised for meat today are treated cruelly, and killed inhumanely. Go ahead and eat meat,but eat less of it, and if you cant kill it yourself, you probably shouldnt be eating… it. If you are in that category, at least take a stand and buy local and support your ethical farmers! We only eat what we kill and we kill only surplus and deer (healthy forests anyone?).

  4. Blake says:

    On a small farm, animals are fed the foods that humans can’t eat while producing very useful compost as well as protein be it in the form of milk, eggs or meat. By eating local, pasture raised foods, you are not wasting grains that would otherwise go to humans.

    Also, the corn that is subsidized by the US government is actually not edible by humans. It’s what is known as “field corn” and is way different than the sweet corn you eat at your family BBQ. That being said, the land being used for field corn would be better used in rotation, growin foods humans can actually eat.

  5. janey says:

    Under no circumstances should anyone EVER eat meat that cost ~1.99/lb.
    Grass fed organic beef is well worth the extra cost and fits in well w/ the message of this article- it's expensive enough that you can't (and shouldn't anyway) eat it more than 2 or 3 times a month.

  6. Dove says:

    Speaking as a former vegetarian/vegan, if one became deathly ill on a solely veggie diet, then quickly improved upon eating good healthy meat, such a person would indeed pay whatever they could possibly manage to sidestep that former ill health. Just as those sad ones who believe pharmaceuticals are healing substances pay unconscionable amounts for their drugs.

    But many wise ones have discovered, including many now former veteran vegetarians, that eating healthy meat/animals is indeed healthful to humans, just as it clearly is for other animals. What is "enough" or "too much" for one depends entirely on the individual, their own experience and intuition. One person's balance can be another's imbalance.

    I totally align with Native American spirituality in this regard. I couldn't love animals and Nature anymore than I do, totally adore them–I know they are "sacred," as is all of Nature. I respect Nature and its wisdom. I also believe we all, humans and other animals, chose our experience here, in this reality. Again, we still should view all life as sacred and strive to be grateful for the animal's sacrifice and ensure their good treatment until we have to "sacrifice" them for our own well-being. I personally believe their sacrifice in this way moves them on to a higher existence.

    I think a more significant way to protect our precious planet is to stop having children, and take care of the overwhelming number of children already here in need of someone to hold them sacred.

    According to this popular book, eating only vegetables is very much not the healing answer many vegetarians would have us believe. Written by a former long-time vegetarian… The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith http://t.co/fQ09sXh via @amazon

    Dove11Star
    Twitter

  7. Judy says:

    Eating animals has been central to the 'mindfulness' practices of indigenous peoples for hundreds of thousands of years and was thoroughly sustainable. Vegetarianism is great if you can do it without effecting your health, but isn't a fairly recent thing, bought about with religions such as hinduism? Maybe vegetarianism is religious, while eating meat has always been spiritual. Of course the way most people do it these days is thorougly revolting.

  8. [...] to mention, the enormous amount of stress that the food industry puts on our environment, using unfathomable amounts of energy, creating greenhouses gases and polluting waterways. The [...]

  9. adira says:

    For clarification, the "energy" you are speaking about is the energy obtained from the sun, which non-producers can't use directly anyhow. In order to get any of the energy you are speaking of, we have to eat SOMETHING. While I agree that eating meat uses more resources than eating vegetable matter, the argument about energy needs to stop, since it is inaccurate. In terms of energy as we usually view it (i.e. calories) meat is obviously the better choice. If we took 1 kg of beef and 1 kg of corn, the beef would have way more energy than the corn, if we are measuring energy in calories, or Joules.

    • Sasha says:

      Thanks for clarifying, Adira. The sentence "To compensate for this energy loss, we would have to consume 10 times the amount of meat in order to acquire the same level of energy." is especially misleading.

  10. xkcd says:

    I'm sorry, but this irritates me to no end. Bison, not buffalo. There are no buffalo in the Americas, at least not naturally.

    • xkcd says:

      Oh, by the way, I completely agree with everything you said. I've given the same schpeal you gave to so many people I know, including narcissistic, pretentious, self-rightious, insulting, mean, immoral (believe me, I have so many more adjectives to describe them, few of them pleasant) vegetarians and vegans. Being a descendent of European peasants, I believe strongly in eating the traditional way: eating some, but not too much, meat grown by you or your neighbours. Of course, I'm also a Canadian, so I also believe in aboriginals and Inuits and Newfoundlanders eating all kinds of funky meats because up there, there isn't much else to eat, especially in the winter, but that's a whole different story.

    • Sasha says:

      Colloquially, the terms are more or less interchangeable, but (taxonomically) you're right. Thanks xkcd!

  11. betterdeal says:

    I like the cookbook "Less Meat More Veg". It strikes the right balance for me. Then again, I like the works of Socrates, Epicurus and other philosophers who reached similar conclusions to Buddha apropos how to live, and don't see being a moderate omnivore as being mindless.

  12. [...] Aronson writes at the Elephant Journal, “The government subsidizes our food. As a result, we can go into the store and buy meat for, [...]

  13. Shelley Seale says:

    Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I mentioned you in my blog: http://30days2011.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/eating

    If you would like to link or share this story, I would love it. Thank you!
    Shelley

  14. [...] Sasha Aronson has a degree in Literature from Colby College. She has worked for publishers in the Big Apple, but [...]

  15. [...] with all the veggie dogs and Sierra Nevada bottles, Memorial Day can quickly become a mindless holiday if we let it. But [...]

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