Douglas Brown, "A Carnivore Rethinks His Eating Ethics," The Denver Post, September 30, 2009. Copyright © 2009 The Denver Post. Reproduced by permission.
Douglas Brown is a lifestyle reporter and blogger for The Denver Post newspaper.
We all have heard horror stories about the way livestock are sometimes raised in this country: chickens stuffed into cages for their short lives, pigs never allowed to see the sky or feel the sun on their backs, thousands of cattle standing shoulder-to-shoulder in pens knee-deep in mud and their own waste.
I don't know much about these places, called concentrated animal feeding operations. Are the stories true? I have not done enough homework and am not qualified to pass judgment.
I am familiar, on the other hand, with a single ranch on an Indian reservation in Wyoming where the cattle spend most of their lives roaming a sprawling range of grass, where osprey and eagles wheel above cows and calves and wolves and bears. I am comfortable with Arapaho Ranch, a place that nurtures its cattle until the day they are shipped off to slaughter.
Working on the cover story for this week's Food section changed the way I buy food.
[Eating only humanely raised meat] asks more of my wallet, which means I'll eat less meat.
I eat meat. I savor how it tastes, I appreciate its textures, I sometimes feel compelled toward it, especially if I encounter the aromas from somebody's backyard barbecue.
But I feel compassion toward the animals I consume too.
After spending time on Arapaho Ranch, I believe I can reconcile my carnivorous ways with that which comes before I take my first bite: the animal's slaughter.
Humanely Raised Meat
What meat do I eat now? Meat from animals that were raised humanely. I guess that makes me a "humane-itarian."
This demands research on my part. It asks more of my wallet, which means I'll eat less meat. It turns restaurant-dining, for the most part, into an adventure in vegetarianism. It could make for uncomfortable dinner parties ("Was this chicken raised humanely? You don't know? Oh, OK. I'll just have the carrots."). Fortunately, my wife, Annie, is a vegetarian and all of our friends know it. So I'll just have what she's having. Unless, that is, the host announces he is serving meat from animals that were raised humanely.
The approach does raise an obvious question: If you respect the animals so much, why do you endorse their slaughter? What is humane about killing a living creature? It is a conundrum for which I do not have an easy answer.
But I'll give it a shot.
I believe carnivore is in my bones. I do not wish to reject my nature, but I am willing to put limits on it (I do this already in other realms: I sometimes feel driven toward, for example, cold beer; in middle-age I have grown to understand this drive needs limits).
It is important, I believe, to respect meat, to shrink from anything that cheapens the deaths of animals for our benefit.
So I will eat meat. And at the same time I will try, at least, to support farming and ranching that treat animals with deep respect and compassion.