I remember watching Pulp Fiction with several of my friends late in the first semester of my freshman year. In a profanity- laden opening sequence, Samuel L. Jackson’s character asks to try a bite of the Big Kahuna Burger sitting on the table in front of him. Taking a bite, Jackson exclaims, “Mmm! This is a tasty burger! I do love the taste of a good burger… My girlfriend is a vegetarian, which pretty much makes me a vegetarian.”
My friends laughed and elbowed me at this point in scene. My girlfriend was a vegetarian and, as such, the leading theory amongst my friends regarding my newfound vegetarian diet was that I did it because of her. While I don’t negate the grain of truth in this rationale, my reasoning for becoming a vegetarian was a bit more developed than simply conforming to the diet of another.
I lasted nearly two years on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. In the end, I realized that I needed more protein than beans, tofu, and eggs could offer. Leaving behind my vegetarian diet was a tough choice. I didn’t want to compromise my views on how humans should treat animals and interact with their environment, but I also knew that the best choice for myself was to start eating animal protein again.
Fortunately, an omnivore diet and ethical eating practices are not mutually exclusive. Despite what more pugnacious vegans and vegetarians purport, I do believe that there is a way to eat meat ethically.
Our society loves meat. This can be witnessed in the demigod status bacon has attained, to the proliferation of the factory farming of livestock in our country. For most people, a meal isn’t complete without a healthy dose of protein. However, where this protein comes from is an important question that ethically minded omnivores must ask.
It’s hard not to criticize the system in which animals are raised and slaughtered for food. Factory farming is not only destroying our planet, but is also treating living creatures that God blessed us with as little more than bottom-shelf commodities.
Most cattle produced for market today are raised in feedlots, relatively small patches of dirt where hundreds of thousands of heads of cattle are fattened up for market. Often, these feedlots are overcrowded and fail to drain effectively, leaving cattle stacked on top of both one another and their excrement. Feedlot cattle are fed corn and grain, which upsets their digestive systems and forces the farmers to ration out antibiotics as a response.
Factory farmed poultry is just as poorly treated as cattle, if not worse. Poultry are kept in overcrowded barns, pumped full of growth hormones and fed constantly to fatten them quickly. In fact, poultry is grown in factory farms at nearly 300 percent faster than the natural growth rate. Each bird is often given a living area that is slightly less than the size of a sheet of letter paper, resulting in an extremely overcrowded and dirty environment. Poultry is also excluded from the Humane Slaughter Act, meaning that these animals often suffer before they are killed.
I know that it’s really uncomfortable for us to think critically about where our meat is sourced from, but I also think it’s very important. I’m certainly not admonishing consuming meat or killing animals for food. I think that good food and good meat is a gift from God. However, I am admonishing how casually we consider eating a living creature that died in order for us to be healthy and strong.
Often it seems that we fail to recognize the meat we buy at the grocery store as coming from living creatures. We all logically understand the chronological order of events that occurred which allows us to purchase a cut of meat. But, I don’t think we often take the time to think about these portions of protein as once being a part of an animal.
The issue for me is that once I begin to consider meat as more than just food, I have to consider the life the animal had. It’s hard to know that my dollars went to finance the killing of an animal that didn’t even get to have a decent life, and it’s even harder to know that ethically raised meat is outside of my budget. (I would know, after accidentally spending $46.77 on ethically raised chicken and blowing my grocery budget).
Perhaps the ethical side of being an omnivore is a bit more complex than simply purchasing humanely raised meat when possible. For many people, there is no choice outside of the cheapest cuts that Wal-Mart has in stock. So, maybe the ethics of eating meat is twofold. Maybe being an ethical omnivore doesn’t only pertain to my wallet, but also to my mentality.
I noticed that my first few meals with animal protein felt like a paramount blessing. I found myself grateful for everything that went into my meal. I was grateful for the animal that died to feed me all the way up to God himself for giving me such delicious creatures to eat. I was grateful while cooking, while feasting, and while doing the dishes and putting away the leftovers.
In a way, my meals became a form of worship. For the first time in recent memory, I was truly thankful for what was provided for me. That thankfulness for my meals quickly expanded beyond food alone and began to seep into thankfulness for many areas in my life.
I’ve found that it’s not too hard to cultivate that thankfulness. Rather than mindlessly buying a package of chicken breasts at the grocery store, I try to consider all of my alternatives. Rather than eating meat every day, I take a day or two off and reapproach it with a fresh mindset. And, not unlike Samuel L. Jackson’s character, when I get the chance to enjoy a tasty burger, I take that moment of bliss and use it to propel me to a mindset of thankfulness for all things.
Peyton is a junior visual communications major from Cincinnati, Ohio.