Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On apostacy


Me, outstanding in my (septic) field: view from Mont Merde
Apostacy: from Greek αποστασία, meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "standing"

I understand dogma, I understand rules. Rules are out there for many very good reasons: for social cohesion, for safety, for clarity. Dogma is an interesting nut. It throws rules and religion (or at the very least, orthodoxy) into the works.

What does it mean to cheat, though? Cheating has been a purely academic exercise for me for a while now. There is nothing that stirs me up enough that I feel I need to cheat at it. There is nothing in my life (and I consider myself highly fortunate to have achieved this state) that I wish to cheat on, or from. No strictures, no bridles, no ties from which I wish to loosen myself, nothing that I feel I am denied or in want of that I need to bend, or break, life's rules to get, or to achieve. Again, I feel fortunate.

But (and there is ALWAYS a "but")...but, in this life I lead now of living with less, in so doing, I am continually restricting my access to "the great more" that is out there. I cut up my credit cards before I went to grad school. That was nearly twenty years ago, so I suppose I am out of the habit of credit spending; should I go out and get one, and go wild? Should I buy a gas-guzzling vehicle, just because I have denied myself the pleasure of driving one, these last ten years that I have had my miserly one? Should I leave a light on all night? Should I plug the dryer back in?

Should I eat meat again?


Ah. There is the rub. We're plumbing the depths of my own personal orthodoxy. I have been a vegetarian for, what is it now, either 15 or 16 years. A long time, in other words. I have been a vegetarian on moral grounds: I really did not think anything needed to die to keep me alive. (And yes, that, like any orthodoxy, is hairsplitting: how many poor little fieldmice and bunnies had to die to cultivate my grain and bean meals?) My main reason for it is I just did not want to eat anything that had been badly treated, and let's face it, the vast majority of the meat animals in this country have lives of horror and pain. I just couldn't turn a blind eye to CAFOs and continue to enjoy a rare steak.

But now, now in this world, there are animals that have been humanely raised, pasture fed, living their lives out the way they naturally would have lived, or at least how they'd lived on farms of 100 years ago. And this meat is available widely, if you look.

My new dogma, or rather my walking papers, are another big nut: local eating, low impact lifestyle, thrift, living close to the land, doing things ourselves, permaculture. I grow my own food, I raise my own chickens for eggs. This spring, I will raise my own chickens for meat. Turkeys too, and maybe ducks.

What has come over me? A hard look at our household, that is what. I'm looking at things like the nutritional needs of a growing child. I am looking more to traditional foods. I am also looking at the fossil fuels that are expended to continue to supply my Michigan-based vegetarian diet. Some studies have stated that omnivorous lifestyles actually use less land than pure vegetarian ones do...and that is intriguing, in these trying times. I am all about having a smaller footprint on this earth.

I am often asked if I ever really missed eating meat in all those flesh-free years. Yes, I did cheat on occasion: our annual family clambakes were my once-a-year binge on molluscs, and there were times I tried bites of things off others' plates. But I never went through Wendy's drive-thru or anything. (Bleck, the idea gives me the willies, frankly.) It just did not appeal; my life, and my palate, were well sated on the diet I have had.

But it is with some reluctance that I here admit that I have become an apostate to the vegetarian lifestyle. We are now practicing a diet of meat from one animal every other week or so. I usually stretch things far, so the beast's sacrifice is spread over many different meals. It is my goal to know the animals I will kill and eat. But now, we are only eating animals from farms we have visited, from farmers we know. We have seen them alive. In a couple of cases, like our turkey, I have seen them killed. For our family, for our life here, this is just enough syncretism to make complete sense to me: occasional meat-eating is the answer, frankly, to the trajectory of the life that has led me to this farm.

8 comments:

cookiecrumb said...

Very well thought through and explained. Thanks for sharing it.
Bill Buford is reviewing several books on meat in the recent New Yorker, and he says (paraphrasing) is the meat good enough to cost the animal's life?
In other words, grocery store meat: wasted slaughter.

Bri said...

El, I so strongly relate to your thoughtful post. It's very interesting when our "dogmas" clash. Wanting to live humanely and cause the least harm to other beings, and wanting to create the least impact on the planet may not be the same action. I have been going through these same thoughts the last few months and haven't changed my vegetarian lifestyle yet. I've been vegetarian about 11 or 12 years, and have let my husband (whose never eaten meat, but isn't evangelical about it) know that I may not always be vegetarian. We'll see, but it is percolating in my consciousness. I totally understand you decision, and just because you eat meat occasionally doesn't mean you have to make your way over to Wendy's. I guess, also a big difference in my life is that I live in California, where we have abundant veggies year round within a few miles.

Trace said...

I was vegetarian for quite a few years. I was a very strict vegan for three years, and in being so strict I neglected my own health in order to do no harm. I have learned a lot about myself since then. Like you, I seek out meat from animals that are able to live their lives in a natural state, doing what they enjoy doing, before I ask them to become my dinner. To folks like myself who always said they would never eat meat again but have come back to it, I think our vegetarian/vegan phase prepared us to seek a better way of engaging in the practice of eating other creatures and respecting their sacrifice. Thanks for this post...
Trace - cricketbread.com

Jenny said...

This is very interesting. It can be hardest to break the rules you've made for yourself--but it sounds like you're also setting down rules (or guidelines, at least) for your new eating habits. And they're guidelines that almost everyone could agree are sensible and laudable. I wouldn't do it myself...but then, I've never missed meat. (I became a vegetarian initially because the texture of meat bothered me.)

(I have also seen studies that state vegetarian diets use less land than omnivorous ones. But you can find conflictign evidence for most things in life.)

Liz said...

Wonderfully said, El!

I've never been a vegetarian, but I believe that a locally based, humane diet is among the better choices. Bravo to you for being so thoughtful about your changing food preferences. xxoo

Pattie said...

El, I'm 8 months into my year as a veg (my "Nothing with a Face" year) so trying to imagine how I'd feel after 15 years of this is impossible. But it does seem like "eating intentionally" is the goal, and it does sound like you have given this great thought. I have read that the majority of traditional cultures do include light meat eating, so maybe it's more a question of balance.

Anonymous said...

El, isn't the flight to dogma a typical occurrence when, for example, spirituality loses out to religion? I'm happy to have another apostate in the fold...Teem

El said...

CC: I saw that review, too. Maybe common sense is sneaking in? (p.s. the one post of yours that really got my salivary glands going was your marrow splurge ;) )

Bri: (I envy you your foodshed!) I think it is hard to live in a world of absolutes, of the world of "never." All I wish is that people make conscious choices about what they eat, whether it's a vegetarian diet or not.

Trace: Seeing all sides is key. I am not sure if I consider what I did a "phase" quite yet, because that sounds so fickle when in reality the opposite was true. It is definitely true that having done this, every little scrap of meat that comes in our house is now somehow holy...it wasn't, say, 20 years ago for me.

Jenny: the study I mentioned was very site-specific (i.e., the state of New York, with all its beautiful variation: it is no Iowa or Indiana in quantity of flat land and deep topsoil: it makes sense then that a mixed diet in that state makes less of a footprint than it would elsewhere). But yes if I just went to the grocery store and stocked up on readymade meals and CAFO meat I would be quite the hypocrite, so guidelines (at least for me) were important. But I know what you mean: the texture takes some getting used to, and it was why I disliked fake meat products.

Liz: Ah, thank you! I know I could go to your house, for example, and know I would both eat well and eat thoughtfully. That's a good feeling.

Pattie: Most traditional cultures view meat as a condiment, a flavoring, and not the big slab of stuff in the center of the plate, as is the practice in this country. But yes, the "face" rule is something others do understand! I do remember my aunt, on learning of my new vegetarian status, said, "Oh El: even oysters?" And I told her I would draw the line at eating sponges, as I seem to remember my high school biology class said that sponges were really walking the line between animal and vegetable!

Ah, Teem, I was wondering what your thoughts would be on this. Apostates are usually an unwelcome lot, but hey, amongst friends? Bring them on.