Is Eating Meat the Best Way to Fight Factory Farms? Our Readers Respond

meat eating photo

Image credit: foto.bulle, used under Creative Commons license.

Yesterday, I questioned some assumptions made in a Guardian article about why eating sustainable meat fights animal cruelty more effectively than vegetarianism. Predictably, it sparked off an interesting and far reaching debate. From those who believe that "sustainable meat" is an oxymoron, to others who felt vindicated for their choice to still eat flesh—albeit flesh that hadn't been subjected to the horrors of factory farming. Where do you stand?Meg kicked off the debate on TreeHugger by questioning the idea that farming animals on small farms was more sustainable:

"Killing animals because you like the taste of their flesh does not fight cruelty whether they came from small farms or large ones. Nor is it sustainable. Small farms are extremely unsustainable. Why do you think factory farms were invented?"

MEB commented on the way the animals are slaughtered in different settings, writing:

Quickly killing an animal on a farm is much more "humane" than a stockyard, feed lots, crowded in stock cars for transport.. I personally don't like to eat meat. But as long as I didn't see the animal that was slaughtered, a home grown beef or hog, whatever. A quick death is better than the torture they go through in the commercial factories.

For more on that point above, read this great piece on Planet Green about "Humane Slaughter" and The Fabulous Beekman Boys.

Meanwhile, Sustainable PF argued that both vegetarianism and more conscious meat eating are valid reactions—just to very different issues:

"those who choose to eat sustainable meat are actively reacting against the food distribution systems we see today. Now, I also believe that choosing to not eat meat is a form of reaction as well, however, vegetarianism seems much more a reaction against the consumption of an animal than a statement against the food production systems."

Our very own John Laumer, on the other hand, suggested that our dietary choices—and broader cultural trends—are much more than simply "activist" choices. Often they reflect economic realities too:

"When grain prices rise, meat prices rise even moreso. As with fish, most quality red meat cuts are way beyond the means of the average person ($18 to $20/lb). What is left as affordable in the way of meat is the Chinese fake chicken (see post on this page), pork raised in factories, and 'mystery meat.' Point is, vegetarian diets are happening out of economic necessity.

The debate also raged over on our Facebook page. Many people agreed with my central premise that both veggies and meat eaters have a role to play in pushing a more sustainable food system, and we shouldn't get hung up on an us versus them debate if we have broadly common goals. Meghan Woods put it this way:

"I'm vegan and I don't expect everyone to stop eating meat. I just think that people need to be more conscious of what's on their plates. Vegetarians and vegans DO make difference by demanding less meat but those who chose to eat meat that is sustainably and more humanely farmed make a difference too."

Others in the crowd, like Sandra Strachan, pointed out that their own experiences proved her wrong (I must admit that I too am a former veggie turned meat eater):

"It's true that consumption patterns of meat eaters will be the litmus test for changes sofar as the industry is concerned but the rise in veg/vaganism will also bolster this. l did revert to meat eating from vegetarianism so it does happen. Children need to be educated at an early age and school dinners should be predominantly vegetarian to promote a good diet, as well as save money!"

Colette Kase shared her experience, as well.

"I was veggie/vegan for 17 years and now eat meat, sourcing it sustainably or eating legitimately shot game. By supporting ethical farmers, I feel that I am able to be part of changing the way that animals are treated and have an economic s...take, which I didn't when I was a veggie/vegan. I admire those who are veggie/vegan but do feel that their main contribution (having been one) is to create flourishing industry catering to their tastes. Despite an increase in vegetarianism in North American and Europe, meat production and consumption increases. So, there is a case to argue in terms of whether or not their behaviour impacts the farming of animals for food."

What do you think? This debate was just heating up on our Facebook post, so head over there to add your two cents or post a comment on my original article, or leave your comments below. While this debate won't be resolved, if nothing else, it's good to talk about and hopefully find some common ground...

Thanks to Chris Tackett for contributing to this post and managing our Facebook debate!
More on Meat Eating, Vegetarianism and Veganism
Proven: Vegetarians Live Longer
Goats, Chickens, Veggies & Backyard Slaughter in West Oakland
Images from a Hog Butchery Workshop
Vegan Organic Agriculture
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet

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