Thursday, August 07, 2008

If God Hadn't Wanted Us To Eat Animals, Why Did He Make Them So Tasty?

I'm not sure if I've mentioned in these pages before that I have a love/hate relationship with meat. For example, I love bacon. Can't get me enough bacon. Have eaten turkey bacon for years but positively salivate whenever I get to eat actual piggie bacon (like in a restaurant). At the same time, hamburger meat and anything chicken borderline nauseates me if I think about them for too long.

I was a vegetarian many moons ago when the "meat" options in our college dining hall were usually some type of unidentifiable gray slice/chunk/hunk. After avoiding meat for 3 years I just lost the taste for it. I can't recall the exact moment I ate meat again, but I bet I liked it. And I bet it was bacon-related.

Then came our move to Georgia, home of the chicken-packing plants. All it took was one local TV news expose of a local plant to completely turn me off it for what I was sure would be forever. I'm talking dried chicken parts stuck to machines, y'all. I'm talking flies buzzing around. It was so horrifying, especially because I'd turned on the usually-to-be-avoided local news to get the weather and all of a sudden I was looking at eviscerated chickens and struggling to control my gag reflex. I'd call that "stormy and unsettled" weather if you ask me.

Then I ate chicken again years later, no doubt in some kind of disguised "nugget" or "patty" form that allowed me to not associate it with the actual fowl parts hanging from dirty machines. Chicken breast meat, however, continued to make me a little queasy and always has, even if I've somehow managed to eat it.

Then along came my immune-system issues to sound the death knell for my random meat eating. Or so I thought. What it became was a practice of not eating meat outside my home where I couldn't control how it was cooked (what's with chefs getting all uppity when you want something "well done, like burned, okay? Not a trace of life, okay?"). Then it morphed into only eating it outside the home because I couldn't make myself take a whole chicken apart, nor could I stand that feeling of ground meat squeezing through my fingers as I made burgers. So, as you can tell, I have been a tortured, uncommitted, on-again/off-again vegetarian for totally non-political reasons. But that uneasy feeling about eating meat just keeps coming up over and over again.

When we were kids my dad took us to a slaughterhouse. Yeah, you went to Disneyworld for your summer vacation; we were Scottish and eccentric, so we went to slaughterhouses. He had worked in one and as a result had an abiding respect for the animals he ate, which he wanted to impart to us. He wanted us to get that meatloaf didn't come from the meat department at Tesco. It came from an animal that had given its life so we could eat it. For all of you concerned about what such a visit did to little snowflakes like me, my brother and sister, the answer is: a whole lotta nothing. We thought the place was cool, if a bit gamey smelling. I think my sister might have slipped on a pool of blood and gotten blood all over her clothes, if my 5 year old memory serves. We also thought that was cool. I'm sure my father was disappointed in our totally irreverent non-reaction to his "Respect For God's Creatures" field trip.

I never really thought about that trip again until I was telling it to Bambina, who like my old 5 year-old self, thought it was cool. (As a side note, the only meat she will eat is called a nugget and hails from Golden Arches, USA. We've tried to get her to eat meat but she just ain't havin' it). But then she said, "So they kill the cow?" Me: Yep. Her: "That's not nice!" And I was forced to say, "well, I kind of agree. But lots of people eat meat and think it's fine, so if you think it's fine that's completely okay." Her: "that not fine." The she asked if they kill chickens too. Yep. And pigs? Yep. Goats? Oh. Goats? Hmmm...Yes, in other countries a lot of people kill and eat goats. Turns out that Bambina's summer camp just had a visit from a small family farm that brings baby animals for the kids to gently pet under heavy supervision. They have dogs, cats, goats, ducks, chickens, swans and pigs. Well, Bambina was so in love with the goat that the notion of someone killing it to eat dinner really bothered her. I assured her that her baby goat would not be killed or eaten; I SWEAR. (Mama LIES!!!)

But it got me thinking. I serve her the Morningstar Farms veggie chicken nuggets at home and she devours them while saying, "and they didn't kill a chicken!" (If only McD's would serve veggie nuggets, we'd be home free). :) Listening to her try to process the whole meat-eating situation has gotten me in some knots because I really don't know how to explain it to her in a way that makes sense, mostly because I haven't come to any conclusions about it either. When I was real young my parents were rather religious (they subsequently recovered before inflicting any real damage), and offered the "man has dominion over the animals" thing from the bible. Good enough for me, especially if it involves a trip to a slaughterhouse! But I can't bring myself to just lay down that argument for Bambina because I'm not sure having dominion means getting to kill them. I don't know. If she was 100% a committed meat eater I'd have less trouble with this issue because I'd just be so damn glad she was eating caloric food that I'd shut my cakehole. (See where my principles go when under pressure?) But because she is expressing ambivalence, my ambivalence is showing too. The BBDD takes no position on the issue and simply cooks her food that she'll eat, which generally involves mac-and-cheese, soba noodles with tofu, grilled cheese, croissanwiches, etc...oh my god--and shrimp teriyaki! She hasn't asked about the shrimp yet! Must find a response to "is it okay to kill shrimp?" before it comes up...

Anyhoo, all of this malarkey is simply preface to this article from Slate which describes how your chicken floats in gigantic vats of chlorine to effectively remove traces of feces and to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria before processing for sale and how that affects the taste of American chicken.

And if you have made it through my little self-referential, agoniste, stream-of-consciousness carnivorous caviling, you will now know that I'm once again unable to eat chicken:


Anonymous said...

Sometimes going vegetarian is a process rather than a single decisions. It sounds like you go back and forth. The important thing is that you are actually thinking about the issue at all. I'm sure you'll hear differently from PETA though.

Bea Elliott said...

Yes indeed, thinking and being willing to talk about the issue is critical. At one time I know that eating "meat" was a matter of survival.... we did not have the resources as now to turn to substitutes and replacements.... But here we are in the 21st century and it turns out after just a bit of investigation that a vegetable based diet is much better for us..... I'm 53 I wish my parents had been progressive enough to guide to this different (and better) path of plant based foods. But I had to wait a few decades to "undo" all the issues around eating flesh....

And to the question "If God hadn't wanted us to eat animals, why did he make them so tasty?" - Why also, if they were meant to be "killed" why did he make them to feel pain and suffer?

Almost anything plant based can be flavored to the point of being "just as delicious" as meat - it's all in the spices and seasoning..... My family is "veg" and we don't miss "flesh" a bit....

Good luck on your efforts - a bit at a time will get you toward a healthier and more compassionate lifestyle....