Monday, March 2, 2009

Don't Have a Cow...

At the age of fifteen, after watching a video on industrial agricultural practices in my biology class, I declared myself a vegetarian.  Vegetable lover that I am, it was an easy transition to make, and although I eventually broadened my diet to include seafood, I remained strong on the meat front for the next fifteen years.  I even stayed strong during two year-long stints in Spain, where saying you're a vegetarian is like saying you only eat sawdust.  (I did have one lapse, when I was force fed Serrano ham by a friend's grandmother at Christmas).  During all those years and travels, even after the vehement indignation I'd felt at during my teen years began to fade, meat just didn't interest me.  But then the cravings began.

A little over a year ago, the smell of red meat suddenly became unbearably enticing.  Walking down the street on a summer evening, the siren song of hamburger meat searing on a hot grill beckoned to me from every direction, including my own back yard.  After months of torment, I told my fiance that steak had even found its way into my dreams at night, steak so rare it was practically still mooing.  "I don't know what to do," I told him, as he bit into one of his famous grilled burgers.  Wiping ketchup from the corner of his mouth, he held the juicy patty out across the table and offered one solution:  "Have a bite."

Bite I did, telling myself that such powerful cravings must mean that my body needed something that red meat had.  The flavor was far better than my most delicious dreams, and soon I was having two or three bites, then my own half burger or half steak.  I don't eat meat often, maybe twice a month, but still my conscience winces every time, even as my taste buds rejoice.  I know, of course, that every bite I take endorses the poor treatment and living conditions under which the animal I'm eating was raised.  I know, as well, that industrial agriculture, and cows in particular, are terrible for the planet.  In addition to the exorbitant quantities of water required to raise animals this way, along with the myriad of issues created by disposing of their waste in these unnatural settings, cows come with a special problem all their own:  gas.  Cows are constantly emitting methane--a gas over 20 times stronger than CO2--from both ends, making them serious contributors to global warming.  And, to my dismay, a recent study by Foodwatch shows that this problem persists even in organically raised, grass fed cows, who burp and fart as much as their conventionally raised counterparts.  As this article from Spiegel International states, "Whether they are raised conventionally or organically, one thing cows have in common is that they burp and fart to their hearts' content."  So much for my plans to clear my conscience by getting a farm share in grass-fed beef this year.  It seems there is only one solution to this issue:  we have to eat less beef, much less.  And that smoked Gouda you love so much?  The skim milk for your morning cereal?  Those are also implicated.

Part of me takes to the idea of finally going vegan, really doing it, as I've contemplated off and on for years.  It would be good for my body and for the planet, and I know I would feel better about what I eat.  But then I remember that summer is approaching, and along with it, so many long, breezy evenings on the patio by the grill, evenings made still more pleasurable by the occasional carnivorous indulgence.  How to balance this newly rediscovered pleasure of the palate with environmental responsibility?  I can't say with certainly that I won't have a bite.  But I can certainly have less.

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