The Burger That Ended It All

The Golden State on Fairfax. After 11 days of fish and vegetables, that’s where I headed to eat meat again.

Did tears trickle down my face as I took my first bite? No, they did not. That’s one thing that occurs to me now, how easy it is to take meat for granted when you eat it. Yes, I enjoyed myself–it’s a really excellent burger–but eating meat in America is akin to watching reality TV or listening to loud, repetetive music. It’s not something you really think about, it’s just something you do when you’re not thinking. And that, I think, is what this conversation about meat all comes down to: whether you want to think about it or not.

Two Christmases ago, I got into a huge debate with Craig’s sister, Kristin, in the car on the way to Christmas dinner. The debate boiled down to this: Kristin said eating meat was unethical but she chooses to be unethical and therefore she eats meat. I tried to argue that eating meat was, in fact, ethical because it opens you up to some of the best experiences life has to offer (travel, entering other cultures, people’s homes, etc). Kristin argued back that the good of having those experiences doesn’t outweigh the harm of eating meat. I see now that she’s right; we can all survive without eating meat. Not only that, we’d all be better off not eating meat–our bodies, the earth, the cows. And yet, we still eat meat, ethics or no ethics. We put our blinders on, bite into our burgers and bliss out.

So, using Kristin’s terms, I’m accepting my lack of ethics and plunging forward, still hoping to be mindful as I chug along but aware that if I’m going to eat dumplings in the San Gabriel valley, or boat noodles in Thai Town, the meat I’ll be eating is most likely not grass-fed, free-range, humanely treated, Pollan-approved protein. All I can do is try to do my best.

26 thoughts on “The Burger That Ended It All”

  1. Cows would not be better off if everybody stopped eating meat. Cows would be better off if everybody started eating meat that was raised ethically and humanely. If everyone stopped eating meat there would be no reason to raise cows at all (except for dairy cows). Cows that provide meat would have no use to society. I am not sure if they would go extinct but their living conditions would definitely not improve since no one would have an incentive to care for them and raise them.

    1. The ethics of eating meat are not just related to the humane treatment of cows. The environment is hugely impacted by both humane and inhumane livestock production, and if our collective future can be improved by changes that do not affect or preclude a pleasurable and nutritious lifestyle, then why not?

      Adam, I agree with Craig’s sister that personal enrichment or experience is not a justification I would comfortably claim to outweigh the ethical implications of eating meat. However, I try to eat meat only when traveling (“experience”) or in social celebrations or gatherings. I also buy and cook humanely raised meat when I host dinners. Therefore, I would not have sought out a burger if I was jonesing for one, but would have tried to wait for a social situation so that meat eating is returned to its proper context, a special occasion and not as daily, mindless consumption.

  2. In my (only somewhat) educated opinion, if you’re raised and spend your life loving meat, it’s difficult to quit cold turkey. Somewhere deep down, is the biological caveman urge to eat meat, despite the wide variety of other available protein sources.
    That being said, the amount of meat people eat far exceeds the actual physical need we have for it, which has led to the vile conditions in which livestock is raised and slaughtered for our consumption.
    I couldn’t do it, become a pescitarian, or heaven forbid a full vegetarian, and not a vegan, but what I’ve learned through research over the past year or so has led me to drastically reduce my meat and dairy intake. Naive though it may be, I believe that if everyone (especially us North Americans) dropped even a night or two a week of meat consumption, livestock would be raised in far more humane conditions, and the health crisis Canada/the US faces would improve.

  3. If you continue to insist on your blog that eating meat is unethical (environmentally, humanely, etc.), then please make an attempt to visit some of these ranches to get firsthand knowledge and ask your own questions. I think what you expect to find and what you’ll actually find are very different.

    1. Better than visiting the ranches is to visit the slaughterhouse. I was taken to see a slaughter house in my pre-teens (10 or so) by country relatives who thought it’d be a laugh to see the city girl get a shock. Ha ha…I got a shock alright – and not only disowned those relatives, but quit meat. But it was an easy natural decision – I didn’t force myself. Not sure anyone should force themselves. If you want to quit meat but can’t, consider visiting a commercial slaughterhouse in person. Worked for me.

    2. Ranches, yes. They’re great, however, very few cows end up on ranches their entire lives. Visit a feedlot, or as tunie mentions, a slaughterhouse. It is horrendous (and I’ve visited both many many times as part of my job so I do know and the opinion is not based on a single facility/operator).

      And as for ranches: you can argue that without the ranch lobby, we would have less open space/federal lands (so ranchers can get cheap grazing rights), however, environmentally, compared to leaving the land to native species, it is hugely destructive to graze livestock on ranches.

    1. Where does this peer pressure to eat meat come from? Why the need for such solidarity? Why not let people do whatever they want – eat meat, don’t eat meat – whatever?! Why is it such a big deal?

  4. Well done little series. I love the term “pescatorian.” Did you coin it? As to the matter at hand, humans evolved as omnivores and thus we evolved to eat everything from tofu to a saddle of lamb. I respect everyone’s choices, but I stick with what is truly “natural” according to my genes. The problem here and elsewhere is the amount we eat, not so much what we eat.
    P.S. How was your stomach after the hamburger?

    1. Adam Amateur Gourmet

      Hi BobYes, my stomach was fine… I don’t think I’d been off meat long enough to make any difference. Glad you enjoyed these posts! Adam

  5. I often have this discussion with my mom and brother because I am a veg 99% of the time, and if I eat meat, I will only eat ethically raised meat. I try to convince them to buy only ethically raised meat. But whenever I start talking about the condition of animals in the food system, they ask me to stop and say something along the lines of, “some of us eat meat and dont want to hear this…” I don’t get why people continue to do something they know is wrong. If you can’t afford an expensive bag you want, you don’t steal it because you know doing so would be wrong. If you can’t afford thically raised meat, eat less of it within your budget. If everyone stopped buying unethically raised meat and chickens, the food system would have to change.

  6. I’m with you, Adam – try your best, enjoy experiences, and eat sustainable protein when possible. I also try to take a moment and appreciate the animal that I’m eating, even if — especially if — it was not humanely raised (i.e., from an awesome food truck or in various forms of dim sum).
    Even if don’t eat the “right” kind of meat all the time, I’ve found – perhaps through all my reading of Pollan – that I cannot bear to purchase inhumanely raised poultry or meat at the store. This kind of reminds me of the Kosher-style of my grandparents – they’d never buy bacon/pork and serve it at home, but no one would bat an eye if you got bacon at a diner.

  7. I don’t fall into the political idea of veganism and this whole thing of unethical treatment of animals BS (though it exists) but ever since caveman discovered that there was meat to be had, he just boinked the animal until it was dead, and simply carved it up into edible chunks to eat and never thought of it any other way, so why all the talk about unethical treatment of animals in slaughter houses now?

    That said, industrial agriculture is less than stellar when it comes to feeding etc of animals, and it may be that we may be paying more for it in our health, though to be honest, we eat WAY too much of it, that I WILL agree.

    I read Mark Bittman’s post that was linked to here in the comments, and largely agree with his thoughts on this, so disregarding the ethical side, which I do, I just don’t feel the need to have a 6Oz steak on my plate at every evening meal, come hell or high water. I often go weeks without any significant red meat, if any at all, then maybe have some that is in the form of ground beef in spaghetti sauce, or browned to make burritos etc.

    I DO, however need to expand my repertoire of veggies in my diet though.

  8. Ethics, schmethics. I’m on my way to enjoy a freshly-slaughtered, blood-drenched lunch with a side of foie gras and a couple of ortelan. That burger looks delicious too. I may enjoy some vegetables and fruit with my meal, but we’ll see.

  9. I tried to argue that eating meat was, in fact, ethical because it opens you up to some of the best experiences life has to offer (travel, entering other cultures, people’s homes, etc).

  10. Kristin said eating meat was unethical but she chooses to be unethical and therefore she eats meat. I tried to argue that eating meat was, in fact, ethical because it opens you up to some of the best experiences life has to offer (travel, entering other cultures, people’s homes, etc). Kristin argued back that the good of having those experiences doesn’t outweigh the harm of eating meat.

  11. I feel for you, Adam. It stinks feeling like a failure in our quest to become better people. I just want to say that I admire your honesty tremendously! I doubt I’d publicly document such a personal struggle, and open myself up to criticism. So kudos for that!

    (BTW, I am a meat eater, and I feel no guilt, because I don’t agree with the premise that consuming meat is unethical. If you go back to your roots, you will learn that while killing, stealing, kidnapping, raping, cheating etc. are all forbidden by the Bible – eating meat is not. Judaism teaches that hurting animals needlessly is forbidden, but slaughtering them is not. For example, one of the 7 Noahide Laws is the prohibition of eating flesh taken from an animal while it is still alive. Humans are meant to rule the world, and animals were created to serve our needs. I know this is SO not PC these days, but the truth often isn’t. /gratuitous religious rant…)

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