Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible satisfaction from his food in which appetite had no share?” (Thoreau 117).
…the human desire to eat meat is not….a trivial matter, a mere gastronomic preference…Rather, our meat eating is something very deep indeed.” (Pollan 315).
I am not sure exactly what it is about beef steak that captivates us. Beyond the obvious gastronomic reasons, there is something uncanny about it that speaks to our primal nature. We revere and pamper the cut; there are specific rituals assigned to its preparation. It gets marinated or rubbed; elevated, appreciated, ceremoniously cooked just right – the center of the dinner universe. But why?
The fact that humans eat animals both troubles and fascinates me. The fact that animals are gastronomically appealing does the same. As a former vegetarian, I understand the merits of a meatless diet and I know that the unsustainable habits of “carnivore America,” as Maureen Ogle calls it in In Meat We Trust, are the cause of many of our food system issues.
I know our current methods of production are cruel and unsustainble, and that as a nation, we eat way too much meat – therefore necessitating the dubious practices. However, I also know that humans will continue to eat meat, and that there are better ways of going about it. Rather than thinking of it as a losing battle, I like to think of it as an opportunity for change.
If you choose to eat meat, there are powerful lessons to be learned from it. It can satisfy us in inscrutable ways, and there is more to our carnivory than meets the eye (resisting the urge for a pun). There are elements of connection, place, and gratitude involved with preparing meat that is not the same with vegetables – although Pollan does remind us that killing animals is “probably unavoidable no matter what we choose to eat” (326). With meat, we are compelled to think about the efforts and sacrifices that brought it to us; about the consequences of our actions. Eating meat also gives us an opportunity to explore responsibility and accountability in our food, which is why I am learning how to hunt.
Meat eating should be evaluated for its problems and potential for growth. Recently I have had the honor of purchasing a share of grassfed beef from a local farm. In addition to making the best steaks I’ve ever had, I developed a relationship with a food producer, and it is great to support a family with integrity, rather than an amorphous cloud of middle-men. It’s a great feeling to be in charge of your food chain, and I strongly urge everyone I can to buy meat directly from farmers, not factories.
There are farms with happy animals and sustainable practices who are striving to make a difference in a rapidly-declining food climate. What they do is beautiful and they need our support. Look into CSA (community-supported agriculture). Order online or visit farmer’s markets. Eat Wild is a great place to find producers near you. And remember, you can still enjoy meat and not eat it every day, or even every week. Perhaps improving our habits will make us even more thankful and make every steak more meaningful.