Thursday, May 28, 2015

No More Big-Factory-Processed Meats

I came to a rather sudden and and startling realization recently.

I've stated my interest in food and nutrition. This interest comes from being a mother interested in the well-being of my children (like I have anything to say in their likes and dislikes!) and from being a woman who has constantly struggled and lost the battle to maintain a "healthy" weight.

I've read and watched and listened until my brain wanted to explode from Too Much Information!

Contradictions have abounded left and right, confusing me further. In the end, it's always come down to trying to maintain a balance, eating a variety of food, allowing a few treats but trying overall to eat in a healthy manner.

What has worked best for me over the last few years has been a gluten-free and, more specifically, primal (an offshoot of paleo) lifestyle. However, the cost of feeding a family of five even on a conventional American diet has been a strain on our budget more than once, so that balance has always tipped one way or another depending on when the next freelance check is coming and how stressed out we have been that day (week, month, year...).

Although we have occasionally bought a quarter cow or pig from a local farmer when we got a good deal, the decision to eat all (or even mostly) organic and/or locally grown meat has never been a realistic one for our family. It was just too expensive, especially when we were eating a protein-focused diet. We agreed on that much.

So, imagine my surprise, when driving to a homeschool event one day with the kids, I decided I'd had enough. I decided then and there in the car that I would no longer eat big-factory-processed meats.

Although I told my son that I was thinking about it and that I might change my mind, it didn't feel like a maybe kind of thing. It felt firm, and here, a couple of weeks later, it still does.

The catalyst? Driving through our rural-ish part of Virginia, a veritable poultry industry capital, I got behind One Too Many Poultry Trucks. It wasn't my first. It surely won't be my last, but it was the one that drove me over the edge.

As I was thinking it, my 14-year-old son, observing the overcrowded animals, said quietly, so as not to announce it to his younger sisters, "Those don't look like very good conditions."

"I agree," I responded with a lump the size of Canada in my throat. My guts twisting, I couldn't help but feel for the turkeys crammed in cages barely big enough for them, breathing heavily (probably from the crowding and no doubt the fumes wafting up from the exhaust below), feathers flying out behind the truck like dirty snow.

We wondered how many animals would become sick or die during the trip from "farm" to factory.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service gives these guidelines for the transport in a humane manner of poultry to fairs or other events in a humane way:

"Use care not to stack the crates to disrupt the air circulation. Never transport fowl in the trunk of an automobile since they may suffocate or die due to exhaust fumes or heat build-up....Open air coops on open bed trucks and trailers can be too drafty at highway speeds and may cause eye and ear irritation, as well as, feather damage....Most hauling problems and deaths occur because of overcrowding."

The truck ahead of us broke every rule here. We could only think of one reason that these animals would be treated this way—to reduce costs by packing as many animals onto a truck as possible and thus increase profits. 

I know there are those who would say. "What does it matter? They are food."

But to me, all living things deserve respect, even when they are our intended dinner. Unnecessary suffering and misery don't sit well with me. I do my best, even with bugs, to do as little harm as possible (I can't promise this when I feel threatened by a bee or wasp—I'm not perfect!!), but I do try.

I always knew in my heart that if I ever set foot in a slaughterhouse or typical, closed-in chicken farm that I would become a vegetarian. Apparently, it didn't even take that much to radically change my views. It just took one too many poultry trucks.

I couldn't eat the turkey in my lunch that day, and I haven't eaten any big-factory-processed meats since then.

Most days since, I've pretty much been a vegetarian, but I do eat a limited amount (due to budget concerns) of locally purchased, humanely raised and slaughtered meat. I still eat fish (and maybe more so), although the fish industry is still something that I have to learn more about when it comes to how the animals are raised, etc.

As a result of these changes, eating primally is not so realistic any more, but I'm learning my way around, eating a little differently, eating some beans and meat substitutes to maintain the proper amounts of protein and iron that I need. I've been counting calories recently, so adding some nutrient counters to my app lets me see how much of these I am getting every day. Ideally, I would be eating even less processed foods, but convenience and finding balance with my schedule and stress levels have always been issues with me.

This big thing that's happened—its a personal decision. I'm not trying to push it on anyone around me, including my immediate family members. I just no longer want to personally contribute to the sort of business that condones the suffering of animals on this scale.

I'm not going all PETA on anyone, but if (when) I find myself behind another truck like that, I want to know that I am doing what I can to support the farmers that raise and slaughter animals in a humane way and that I'm not supporting the treat-them-however-as-long-as-it-turns-a-profit mentality.

And if I can't, I just won't eat meat, and that's okay with me.

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