Why I Use the Words "Ethical" and "Meat" Together... and What that Means
First, let us be very clear. Ethical Meat is not trying to change the minds of vegetarians or vegans anywhere. I started this journey as a vegan animal. I understand that choice and I honor it and even celebrate it for the difference it has made, to scale. I do not, however, honor the rancor and fighting between vegan or vegetarian human animals and omnivorous human animals. I’m choosing something higher. It is called “ethical meat.” So, what is Ethical Meat? Is it just two words slapped together to make people uncomfortable? Do I expect people to analyze the controversy of these two words together, using the same thinking we’ve used for far too long? I’d like to think I’m a bit deeper than that. That we all are. So, here goes. Ethical meat, and its concepts for farming, butchery, cooking, and eating is based on the observation that at this point in our culture, the people who will have the greatest influence on the lives and deaths of animals are the people who eat meat, and not the people who don’t.
Since the beginning of time, people have philosophized and struggled over food. Religious and moral questions, buttressed by health and environmental concerns are not new by any means. Since the 1960s, people have sought to expose issues within the food system, and that effort continues today. With respect to animal agriculture, much focus has rested on corporate consolidation, and the mechanized suffering of beings, all at the expense of an already compromised environment and negatively altered economies and social communities. Within honest efforts to fix these problems, there have also arisen marketing agendas and food fads that seek to profit from the cultural movements of opposition. For example, vegetarianism seeks to alter the impact of animal agriculture on economy, environment, and individuals via abstention from the system all together. The corresponding talking points, meat substitutes, bumper stickers, t-shirts and blogs that support it have become part of our expected and accepted dialogue. On the other side, those who choose not to give up meat have another litany of thought and swag to support their assumptions and ideas. Got another bacon joke, anyone?
Ethical meat is a radical attempt to shake free from entrenched opposites, and position a new dialogue high above the status quo. To sift through the bumper stickers, factoids, jokes, and jabs and see what systems we have created, for better or worse, to lessen those things we all oppose: corporate consolidation and the mechanized suffering of beings, all at the expense of an already compromised environment and negatively altered economies and social communities. Ethical meat recognizes that there is a vast community of human animals who agree on their opposition to these things, and that so much focus on opposing diets perhaps changes the way we are able to talk, present ideas, and do real work.
Accepting that after centuries of people choosing to eat or to not eat meat has created both some very positive change and also some negative and intolerable stagnation, we must also accept that we still have problems. We still have animals leading torturous lives. We still have animals meeting inhumane deaths. We still have land eroding rather than replenishing. We still have farmers aging out of the industry, and losing their lives and their legacies in an economically backward system that does not favor their health or their success. We still have a population struggling with chronic illness. We still have a lack of culinary awareness that permeates all levels of our culture. We need new dialogue. We are desperate for something besides a bitter battle, in order to re-mineralize our lands, to mitigate climate concerns, to feed hungry individuals, to ensure animal welfare, and to foster resilient human and non-human communities.
Accepting that not every human animal on this earth will choose or be forced to give up meat consumption, ethical meat seeks to focus on how human individuals can shape their actions and options as omnivores to make a positive difference. Ethical meat offers a hopeful middle ground between blind attrition and Big Macs and mechanized suffering, and no meat at all. Further, the concept of ethical meat seeks to demonstrate that this new dialogue and this middle ground are not just offered for the sake of human comfort. Ethical meat is not an idea to throw around so one can “eat meat without guilt,” or an excuse to keep doing what we are doing. Ethical meat offers up concepts of full ecosystem eating, wherein domesticated animals are part of functioning ecological communities. These complex ecological communities are our farms. Ethical meat offers up ideas and evidence that meat is not an extravagance of diet, but rather part and parcel of a diverse, robust energy source that ensures optimal health of the human body, and the living soil, each in their own rights also complex ecological communities.
Using four central premises: a good life, a good death, a good butcher, and a good cook—ethical meat is a community effort, in which no player is exempt. The farmer, the animal, the butcher, the retailer, the restaurant chef, and the home cook all have a place in ensuring a functioning supply chain. Ethical meat asserts that we will build better systems by having diverse communities of human eaters, those who eat meat and those who don’t. Those who eat meat must endeavor to do so in a way that fosters holistic, positive change to a flawed system.
There are many ways to engage in the ethical meat movement. The concept looks at ways in which human animals can farm differently, buy differently, cook differently, and eat different things. The concepts can even be expanded to look at systems for providing vegetables, fruits, nuts, oilseeds, and pulses to the diet. In short, ethical meat has posed new concepts for eating, not just meat, but food in general. Further, Ethical meat and all its corollary concepts for food and agriculture present a path to enjoyment, soulful engagement with animals, land, and each other, and pursuit of delicious as well as healthful food.
Ethical meat is a 21st century concept that recognizes a new path to change, with respect to many worthy dietary choices. Ethical meat asserts that in an era of environmental, economic, and social transition, if we all come to the table with our mind on the true problems, with an ear for integration of the full community of people committed to true change, that there is another way. Even more deeply, ethical meat argues that we are all needed in order to create a new paradigm.
Read more about it: The Ethical Meat Handbook by Meredith Leigh, is available at www.ethicalmeathandbook.com