Monday, March 12, 2007

Thinking about food

...And not just in a "Mmmm...lunch" kind of way.

I've just finished reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. In this book, Pollan has three meals, following their production from the ground up, from the three different "philosophies" of eating that he can think of. The first is the big agribusiness monoculture way of getting calories and the subsequent meal is, not surprisingly, McDonald's, eaten in the car. For the second meal, Pollan goes to work for a week at a "beyond organic" farm in Virginia. The farmer there uses his livestock to fertilize his fields, and his fields to feed his livestock, and does everything sustainably, organically, and, importantly for me, humanely. Pollan uses meat and vegetables from this farm, as well as other locally sourced ingredients, to cook his friends a meal. The third meal is one that Pollan gathers, grows and hunts himself. Veggies from his garden, mushrooms gathered from the forests and fields of northern California, yeast for the bread from the Berkeley air around his home, and pork from a wild boar killed by Pollan himself.

I've always read Pollan's articles for the New York Times Magazine and I found this book fascinating. This is a subject that I'm very much interested in. My personal way of eating can be summed up as "no mammals or birds, but I'll try anything once." I eat fish and seafood, so I am not a vegetarian. I haven't eaten mammals or birds for just over ten years now, from my second year in college, when I realized that I would never be able to cook the meat dishes the way my family does, and that I didn't find the choice available from the school's kitchens that appetizing. Also, and most importantly, I had learned about how meat was produced in the US, and I was not impressed.

I have nothing against the eating of animals. Hey, we invented the spears, and we have the teeth and digestion system to deal with meat. I have no issue with this. I do have an issue with the way meat animals are treated. I believe we owe it them, simply as fellow living things, to treat them humanely and with respect. Beef cattle, crowded together by the tens of thousands, standing knee-deep in their own feces and being fed corn instead of the grass they are evolved to eat, and then dosing them with antibiotics because they get ill easily from this lifestyle to which they are not adapted? No. Cutting the beaks off of chicks because chickens get stressed from being piled together in mesh cages with no room to move in and will peck each other to death? No. Cutting off the tails of pigs because these highly intelligent animals get depressed when crowded together and will chew each other's tails, causing infection and therefore a less "efficient" farm? No.

However, this is how the vast majority of meat is produced in the US. So I refused to contribute to it by eating the results. (Not to mention the health issues of ingesting the vast amounts of antibiotics and hormones that these animals are subjected to.) When I moved to Ireland, I thought about starting to eat mammals and birds again. I had a vague thought that farming was done differently in Ireland and in Europe. But I don't know whether this is true. I haven't found anything telling me how it's done here. I know I can find "organic" food and meat. But what does it mean here? What are the standards? What does the "free-range" on the egg carton actually mean for the laying hens?

I guess I'll be thinking about food for a while yet. Hopefully, I'll be thinking about food every time I eat or think of eating.

1 comment:

Diane said...

I think about my food all the time. It takes me hours to shop for food since I read every label. The Spouse and I want to know where our food comes from. We like how some of the meat is "DNA and farm" traceable. We've also noticed that some of the products here do not have the "junk and preservatives" that is found in the North American market. Let me know if you find anything interesting...