Everyone makes different consumer choices, which is something we should all be accepting of. Just because one person is a vegetarian or vegan and you may not be, doesn’t mean you need to judge their choices, but simply acknowledge them and accept them as their own; the same way your decision to eat meat and cheese belongs to you. (Though I confess I still struggle not to call out ‘ethical’ vegetarians who happily buy and wear leather shoes, handbags and belts. Not being comfortable with animals to die on one’s behalf for food and sustenance, but being OK with it when it comes to fashion items to adorn yourself with... seriously, what’s the deal?!)
My personal stance is this: humans are omnivores by nature, the same way all animal species that inhabit this earth are one of three consumer classes: herbivorous, omnivorous, or carnivorous. To eat meat is within our nature, and provides us with nutritional and health benefits. However, I also realise that it is now possible to source these benefits from other non-meat sources while also reducing your environmental impact, so I can easily see why people turn to vegetarian lifestyles.
I come from a household where meat is considered very much the centre of a well-rounded meal, and featured on the menu nightly. Whether it’s mince for Bolognese, lamb chops with vegetables, pork for stir fry... the meat was always the first consumer choice made, and we’d take it from there. Growing up in this way, the idea of having meals without meat is a strange one. However, since leaving my parental home and having more control over my own food consumption, I have significantly reduced my meat intake, on average having 3 dinners out of seven each week containing meat.
I don’t take issue with eating meat... what I do take issue with is ignorance, or rather the nonchalance and indifference so many people adopt when it comes to meat consumption.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why people don’t want to dwell on it, but I actually think it crucial that we DO reflect on where our meat comes from. The vast majority of people don’t like to look at animals in the field and relate it to what they pick up on supermarket shelves and put on their plates. When we totally segregate one and the other is when things become dangerous, and when eating meat becomes a really nasty business, because it allows us to not only turn a blind eye to, but contribute to and help sustain a really horrible and quite frankly inhumane system.
I can absolutely understand quickly scrolling by videos on Facebook feeds and changing the channel when faced with distressing animal scenarios; I often take the stance that if there is nothing I can do to help, it is simply pointless and heartbreaking to see. When it comes to meat, this opinion simply doesn’t hold up, because there IS something I can do, and should be doing, if I care.
Personally, I think everyone should visit a battery hen farm. They say ignorance is bliss and it’s true; I think the number of people who are happy to buy caged eggs and eat caged meat would fall drastically if they understood the cost of their doing so. If people witness it and still decide they are happy to consume it, then that would be their choice – one I personally strongly disagree – but theirs nonetheless.
I don’t think eating meat means you can’t be an animal lover, and this is where a lot of people get confused... How can you possibly let an animal die for you to eat and still profess your love for them? But to my mind, it is because I love animals that I will not support a system which sees them effectively imprisoned and tortured their whole lives just so I can have my bacon butty. I have huge appreciation for animals; for goodness’ sake they feed us! It’s because of this I want them to be treated with respect and care, it’s simply what they deserve.
I have said I think it is natural for us to eat meat, but I also think it is natural for livestock animals such as sheep and cows and pigs to live outdoors and interact with each other and move around. As my wise old mate Mufasa says, we should “respect all life – from the crawling ant, to the leaping antelope. We are all connected in the circle of life.” Amen. I think eating meat is natural, but I think what the meat industry has become is not.
Personally, I only ever eat free range meat and if the option is not available, I will happily go without. Lamb and beef, especially in New Zealand, is almost always free-range, as sheep and cows are farmed outdoors. Pork and chicken, however – unless specified – usually comes from animals raised in horrific conditions; chickens in battery cages their entire lives and pigs in sow crates – I won’t include images because I know that doing so would immediately forfeit the attention and interest of many, but I urge people to educate themselves... just do a Google search, look at images, research farming methods. It’s not right.
Are we truly happy for animals to be treated this way? I think if people genuinely asked themselves the question, nine times out of ten the answer would be no. So why do we pretend it isn’t happening? When we are happy to turn a blind eye, horrible things happen, and are happening. This is something we genuinely have the power to change, all we need to do is care. A world in which we are so quick to part with our compassion is a dangerous one, yet it’s the one we’re living in.
For anyone who wants to make more informed and considerate meat purchases, I recommend opting for free-range whenever possible, and if you can, buy meat from a local butcher, rather than supermarkets. Butchers source meat locally and more often than not will happily give you the background on where it comes from. Also, if you’re like I was and don’t think “real meals” can exclude meat, give it a go, get inventive and look online for some inspiration... halloumi will fast become your new best friend (if it isn’t already)!