An Animal Lover’s Contradictions

I am an avid animal advocate.  I also eat meat.  And I love it.

Last week I wrote about the magic and the possibilities emerging in my life right now as I relinquish my vegetarianism and dive back into the world of meats.  I have no problem with the idea of the human consumption of meat.  I do have major issues with the waste, pollution, and cruelty of our factory farming system.  Eating out has become quite a joy, but after spending my informative years in the tofu isle, I have found that I am quite lost when it comes from getting a piece of raw meat from the market to my plate.

The first time I went to the grocery story to buy meat, I felt like I was stepping into a foreign land. Even though I had spent some meat-eating years in California, things are quite different now from the way they were in 1995.  Cries of “sustainable,” “humane,” “organic,” “natural,” and “local” attack shoppers from all angles.  Some labels are blatantly riding out the “green” trend, but others look like they are honestly reaching out to animal lovers in my position.  What to believe?  Who is telling the truth?  How do I arm myself as a conscious consumer?  I realized that I have a lot of catching up to do.  So I did what any girl in my position would do, start with Google and then arm herself with a cookbook and a mission!

A New York Times article from 2006 discusses the advent of meat labels that try to lure “sensitive carnivores” (ha, like me).  Mike Jones, an “animal compassionate” pig farmer for Whole Foods mentions that “the recyclers will buy [his meat] because they love this kind of agriculture” while “the foodies will buy it because they love the taste.”  Despite my broke-ass-ness, you might be surprised to know that I’m okay with spending a little bit more on meat in exchange for knowing that the animals had fairly happy lives before hitting my table, but I don’t plan on eating meat every day and my more inexpensive lentils, rice, and tofu meals balance it out.  However, an article from the Huffington Post in 2007 asks if there is actually a good reason to promote “humane meat” over vegetarianism.  The author Friedrich makes a valid point when he says that “most people look at someone eating ‘humane’ meat and simply see a fellow meat-eater” while “vegetarianism makes a statement against oppression at every meal.”  Just to play devil’s advocate, I have to respond that I was a vegetarian for over 13 years, and because I was concerned not to impose my private beliefs on others, I rarely even mentioned or advocated vegetarianism.  In the past week, though, I’ve been having discussions on the ethical issues of regular meat versus “humane meat” with everyone I sit down to a meal with.  For this consumer, the choice to take part in the meat industry discussion has made me a much for vocal advocate for the kind treatment of animals while they are alive.  A few other articles that offer interesting points on the topic are the Sustainable Table’s “Beef” and The Daily Green’s “Go Vegetarian 2Xs a Week.”

But none of this information really armed me for that walk down an isle of frozen drumsticks and individually packaged breasts.  Luckily FREE New York came to my rescue with a fantastic little list of “humane meat” labels in AM New York.  The best labels are American Humane Certified, Animal Welfare Approved, and Certified Humane.  The most misleading label is “natural” which essentially means that the product is minimally processed, and says nothing about the treatment of the animals.  Check out the entire article here.

I found a delicious recipe for Chicken with Poblano Cream Sauce from a cookbook in Strand called “Great Food Fast” and opted for some Murray’s Chicken breasts, a Certified Humane chicken farm.  Now, I’m not a good cook, and I’m even worse at following recipes, but I armed myself with a few cold beers and friends to assist in the process.  The momentous occasion with fire roasted poblanos, sautéed garlic, and sizzling, if slightly over-cooked, chicken lived up to the anticipation of my first home-cooked, meat-filled meal in over a decade!  (Check out the recipe below.)

I often think that it would be really cool, and completely life enriching, if I could raise the cow I then ate for the next 6 months.  As city-dwellers, that’s just not a part of most of our realities.  Just because we are disconnected from the farming life, however, doesn’t mean we have to be disconnected from our food’s journey to our mouths.  Whether you choose to eat meat or not, maybe take a couple minutes each day to think about where your food came from and how it got to you.  If nothing else, it’ll remind us to slow down a little bit and enjoy the smells, tastes, and colors of a tasty meal.  It might also bring you completely present in the moment, and let’s face it, that’s one of the most exciting places you can be.

Recipe for Chicken with Poblano Cream Sauce

Ingredients:
1 poblano chile
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup heavy cream
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

Step 1: Roast the chile over a gas burner until charred all over.  Wrap in paper towel; steam for 5 minutes.  Rub off the skin; remove the seeds and ribs.  Chop coarsely.

Step 2: Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a small saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and garlic; cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the chile and cream.

Step 3: Puree in a blender; add water if too thick.  Season with salt and pepper.

Step 4: Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the chicken until it is golden and the juices run clear, 4 to 5 minutes per side.  Serve with the sauce.

Enjoy with rice!

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About the author

Danielle Levanas - Bargain Soul Huntress

Danielle was raised by a pack of coyotes in the Los Angeles hills. Since arriving in NY in 2001, she has had any number of strange jobs, including back-up singing for JELVIS (the Jewish Elvis), starting the non-profit LYDIA, and writing political cabarets. A huge advocate for travel as a way of life, you can find her at the Brooklyn Public Library when her bank account is empty, fantasizing about where to head off to next.
  • Laura S – Spendthrift Scribe

    You should watch this American life episode on pig farming

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/TV_Episode.aspx?episode=6

  • http://www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org Beth

    Good blog and good luck to you. You might want to check out the (growing)searchable database on http://www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org for restaurants, grocers, and farms where Animal Welfare Approved products are available. The World Society for the Protection of Animals called AWA standards “the most stringent” of all.

    Take care!

  • http://www.laoca-thegoose.blogspot.com Danielle Levanas – Bargain Soul Huntress

    Thanks Laura and Beth for the tips. I’m on em!
    Also, check out Jonathan Safran Foer’s articke “Against Meat.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/magazine/11foer-t.html
    Totally different reaction than mine, but a great piece on the conversation on Meat.