Caroline Abels of Humaneitarian.org just posted a great piece about how humaneitarians, conscientious omnivores, and other thoughtful, selective meat eaters can tactfully handle eating a meat-centric holiday meal as the guest at someone else’s home. As she explains,
My local NPR station had a call-in show recently on “holiday etiquette,” complete with etiquette experts, so I posted a question for their guests to answer: “I try very hard to eat only humanely raised meat. Is it rude to ask a host where the meat came from or how it was raised?”
Before I tell you the responses of the two etiquette experts from the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont, I’m curious to know if you’ve ever been at someone’s house for a special meal, they were serving meat, and you really wanted to know where the meat came from before you ate it. Did you ask or stay silent? Or maybe you’ll be attending a Thanksgiving meal this week without knowing in advance what kind of turkey will be served. What will you do when you get there?
For the advice that Abels received, and how Abels herself handles this issue, head to her full post—this particular helping of food-for-thought couldn’t be any timelier, so check it out here.
NPR’s Dan Charles has filed a number of thoughtful reports on modern agriculture, including the use of antibiotics in factory farming of livestock. Another one hit the airwaves and web yesterday:
It’s one of the most controversial practices in agriculture: feeding small amounts of antibiotics to animals in order to make them grow faster.
But what if the drugs don’t even work very well?
There’s some good evidence that they don’t, at least in pigs. They used to deliver a boost in growth, but that effect has disappeared in recent years or declined greatly.
The reason for this is interesting and even paradoxical.
Head here for the full audio and text versions of the story.
Nicola Twilley of the great site Edible Geography recently revisited a fascinating topic she’d previously covered at her blog: historic cow tunnels. As she notes, “at the request of new Gizmodo Editor-in-Chief Geoff Manaugh … I opened up my cow tunnel case file again, and dug up some exciting new evidence — including blueprints!”
As she details in the opening of the Gizmodo article,
Like every other major metropolis, New York City has tunnels for people, tunnels for cars, and lots of tunnels for trains. But it also has something rather more unique: tunnels for cows. Or does it? This is the story of New York’s lost, forgotten, or perhaps just mythical subterranean meat infrastructure.
The first time I came across a mention of the city’s cow tunnel(s) was in Raising Steaks, historian Betty Fussell’s study of beef and its role in American culture. The underground structure (or structures, depending on whose version of the story you believe) was supposedly built at the end of the nineteenth century: an infrastructural response to the cow-jams that had begun to block streets in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan. (The increased quantity of cattle arriving in the city was due, in part, to another infrastructural innovation: the railway.)
Twilley documents her efforts to confirm the existence of this unique piece of America’s food system with her usual verve and her flair for great accompanying imagery. Check out the full piece here.
Yesterday Luke Runyon of Harvest Public Media reported on the shrinking sheep industry here in the US. As he writes,
Over the last 20 years, the number of sheep in this country has been cut in half. In fact, the number has been declining since the late 1940s, when the American sheep industry hit its peak. Today, the domestic sheep herd is one-tenth the size it was during World War II.
The decline is the result of economic and cultural factors coming together. And it has left ranchers to wonder, “When are we going to hit the bottom?”
Runyon details some of the difficulties facing domestic sheep ranchers, including the displacement of wool by cheap synthetic fibers and — echoing Monday’s post about grass-fed beef from down under — competition from Australia and New Zealand. Check out the full post here.
NPR’s Dan Charles recently reported on the phenomenon of Australian grass-fed beef spreading across the US:
So why does the U.S., the world’s biggest beef producer, have to go abroad to find enough of the grass-fed variety?
Curt Lacy, an agricultural economist at the University of Georgia, says some of the reasons are pretty simple. Weather, for instance. In most of the U.S., it freezes. In Australia, it doesn’t. So in Australia, as long as there’s water, there’s grass year-round.
And then there’s the issue of land. “If you’re going to finish animals on grass, it takes more land,” Lacy says. Grassland in Australia is relatively cheap and plentiful, and there’s not much else you can do with a lot of it, apart from grazing animals.
For the full audio and text versions of the interesting story, head here.
Tom Philpott’s latest post for Mother Jones addresses a topic that’s high on my list of concerns about most modern meat production, i.e., indiscriminate antibiotic use on factory farms contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. As he describes,
Nearly 80 percent of antibiotics consumed in the United States go to livestock farms. Meanwhile, antibiotic-resistant pathogens affecting people are on the rise. Is there a connection here? No need for alarm, insists the National Pork Producers Council. Existing regulations “provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance,” the group insists on its site. It even enlists the Centers for Disease Control in its effort to show that “animal antibiotic use is safe for everyone,” claiming that the CDC has found “no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans due to antibiotic use in animals.”
So move along, nothing to see here, right? Not so fast. On Monday, the CDC came out with a new report called “Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013″….. And far from exonerating the meat industry and its voracious appetite for drugs, the report spotlights it as a driver of resistance.
As usual, the post is informative and chock full of great links. Find it here.
Although it’s from a dozen weeks ago, an article in The Guardian didn’t lose any of its relevance over the summer. As Fiona Harvey describes,
People in Britain should eat meat less often, in order to help ease the food crises in the developing world, an influential committee of MPs has urged.
It could also help to mitigate the rampant food price inflation that has seen the cost of staple foods in the UK rise by close to one-third in the last five years.
The massive increase in meat consumption in rich countries in recent decades has led to spikes in the price of grain, used for animal feed, as well as leading to widespread deforestation and pressure on agricultural land, and has contributed to the obesity epidemic. By avoiding meat even for a day or two each week, people could help to ease some of these pressures.
Sounds like the people of Britain have something in common with the people of the United States, huh? Find the full article here.
The Ethicist column at The New York Times held its first essay contest last year on why it’s ethical to eat meat.
As described by columnist Ariel Kaminer, thousands of submissions came in, which were whittled down to 29 semi-finalists, from which the judges’ panel (an esteemed but entirely male group comprising Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan, and Peter Singer) selected six finalists.
Readers had a chance to vote for the one they believed best made the case for meat eating. I read all the thought-provoking pieces and was glad that I did. Since they’re fairly short (600 words or less), it didn’t take long to read them all. Head here to check out the finalists’ entries yourself.
The judges’ selection for winner appeared in The New York Times Magazine on May 6, 2012. You can read it online here.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on April 23, 2012.
NPR’s food blog, The Salt, featured this piece about Andrew Plotsky, a former vegan who went on to study traditional butchering and establish a multimedia production outfit, Farmrun. As he describes it, “Farmrun is one of the first dedicated agricultural production studios in the country. It is our intention to serve the needs of the burgeoning agrarian renaissance by producing beautiful media for agricultural enterprises and organizations.” Read the NPR piece, check out the Farmrun website, and catch some of his work on Vimeo, like this brief calling card or the much lengthier piece linked to by NPR.
The Conscientious Omnivore is away. This is an encore presentation of a post that originally appeared in slightly edited form on February 3, 2012.
When having dinner with a vegetarian, it’s best to assume that this guest is not quietly hoping the discussion will swing over to food philosophies. Still, people rarely hesitate before asking vegetarians why they don’t eat meat, as if the answer couldn’t possibly transform lively dinner table discussion into a sad symphony of fork-scrapes. They also seem shocked when, unlike the couple that’s designated cheating “hall passes” for celebrities or whatever, we haven’t left even one kind of meat option as a loophole. “Not even fish?” they might ask, bewildered. Disbelief then leads directly into maternal concern over whether we’re getting enough protein, the entire table inexplicably morphing into one hydra-headed grandma.
Even worse than an infantilizing spinach inquisition is the experience of having somebody peg you, in all regards, as hippie ambassador to the animal kingdom. Some people seem downright offended by vegetarians, just in general, and are always looking for ways to prove that meatlessness is meaningless, because animals are going to suffer at your hands one way or another. It’s an exercise in futility, though, to challenge a vegetarian on the supposed hypocrisy of eating eggs or wearing leather or whatever. For one thing, pretty much everybody is a hypocrite about something. More importantly, though, it’s entirely possible to not be a hypocrite and still be an asshole.