Do pigs like it when we eat their pork? When he was around five years old, my son asked that question. No, they don’t, we explained, which answered his question without going into details about how pigs turn into pork.
October 4th was the feast of St Francis of Assisi, known for his love for all creatures. My spirituality group acknowledged the occasion by launching our study of Laudato Si—the papal encyclical on climate change—with an initial focus on conscious eating. We asked the group to pay attention to what they ate and how much food, if any, was wasted so we could discuss.
As I pondered the exercise, I remembered the first and only time I was involved with killing intended for eating. After the first year at West Point, cadets spent the “best summer of your life” at Camp Buckner; 10 days of which was called Recondo. One evening after assembling poncho rafts and testing them in a pond, we gathered to prepare our survival meal, which consisted of carrots, potatoes and a live chicken (as if one would happen upon these “ingredients” in the woods). After a poncho raft swim that left us wet, cold, and hungry, it was time to cook dinner. We received instruction on how to kill a chicken, including tips such as tucking the chicken’s head under an arm and stroking the feathers to calm it (a stressed chicken apparently makes tough meat) and swinging it by its head to disorient it. No one bit the chicken’s head off, but my squad tried to drown the chicken in a canteen cup. We ruffled some feathers; creating a frantic, wet, but very live chicken and scratches on the unfortunate holder of our designated poultry. The chicken wasn’t the only one traumatized. This episode made me realize that living things have a strong desire to stay alive. My meal that night consisted of a stew of raw veggies. I don’t recall the fate of the chicken, but I turned to a vegetarian diet.
Protein is a key nutritional component and especially important during pregnancy and lactation and for healing and fighting infection. The optimal amount of protein for an individual depends on activity level, age, and state of health, but is also related to lifestyle goals like weight loss or muscle building. In our culture, often meals are built around some sort of animal, euphemistically known as meat. Many eat animals, but few catch, kill and butcher their own meat. While protein is essential to good health, it is generally the highest cost element of a meal. According to the World Health Organization, an animal oriented diet accounts for around 30 percent of all cancers and is also connected to heart disease and obesity. Animal-based diets high have a greater impact on the environment as animals consume food and water before they are killed, processed, transported, and stored then finally ending up on our plates.
If you eat animals, how aware are you of the conditions under which the animals were raised and slaughtered? Like I learned with our Recondo chicken, if animals are anxious, the subsequent consumer of the meat acquires the stress hormones that coursed through its body before death. What do you know about that bite of cow, pig, fish or other creature on the end of your fork?
We have no choice. To sustain life, humans must eat. The continuation of our heartbeat and health may require another to surrender its heartbeat. That’s the cycle of life and we can honor the sacrifice with gratitude and careful husbandry. However, in the US, over 25% of food goes to waste. This is like buying four bags of groceries and leaving one bag to rot in the shopping cart. Wasted food contributes to climate change without supporting nutrition.
Since cadet days at West Point, where the menu was set and meals were mandatory, it’s become easier to consume vegetarian sources of protein and expand beyond the mess hall jars of peanut butter that supplemented my diet. How conscious are you about what you eat? Where has your food been before you put it in your mouth? Let’s discuss this at the next barbecue while you are eating your brown, bloody chopped cow or pig sausages and I am enjoying my veggie burger.
© Joan S Grey, 14 Oct 2015
One thought on “We are what we eat”
“The continuation of our heartbeat and health may require another to surrender its heartbeat. That’s the cycle of life and we can honor the sacrifice with gratitude and careful husbandry”.
Yes! As I embark on another bow hunting season, I am always reminded of our Native American ancestors that acquired their sustenance from the bow and arrow. While I acknowledge that it isn’t the life saving necessity which causes me to hunt, I nonetheless approach each moment in the woods with reverence, respect for wildlife and a deep, almost Thoreau -like love of nature.
Man vs nature is a very real thing for me. I relish in the fact that although we live in the midst of a technological tornado with information coming at us at the speed of light, I still have to get on my knees and inspect deer tracks and I have to walk slowly and steadily, avoiding the crackle of twigs as I methodically climb a tree to get the perfect vantage point with which to track and hopefully conquer my game. My breath can give me away as well as the smell of my clothing. The slightest movement will render me unsuccessful and no matter if I leave the forest without game, my love for nature never fades because once I’m in the tree, I see the beauty of it all. The turkeys that awaken as the sun comes up. The barn owl looking at me suspiciously as we sit almost eye to eye. The squirrels that hoard the acorns before the first frost, and the majestic deer taking every step with care so as to slip past me unnoticed. Man vs nature as it was intended to be.
As such, I am fully aware of the conditions in which part of my food is raised, slaughtered and more importantly, honored and respected as its harvested. With gratitude and careful husbandry indeed.