The morality of meat

The morality of meat

I still chuckle when I think of my husband watching me tuck into a rack of ribs and remark, not unkindly,

‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen.’

Heavily pregnant, I’d finally, and wholeheartedly, succumbed to the meat cravings I’d been having for the past decade.

I was a smug vegetarian, I think  because I was conflicted about it. I believed (still do) vegetarianism to be an admirable (and increasingly necessary) choice, but eating meat made —still makes—me feel good.

My ideals and my desires—couldn’t marry the two.

Some of the greatest thinkers of our time, men of science and of religion, rejected meat, usually on moral grounds. This inherent morality, where you can point to peoples’ compassion, or lack thereof, makes the flesh eating debate tricky territory to navigate as it invites judgement—it leaves space for right and wrong, kind and cruel, virtuous and evil.

How can you be an evolved soul and still eat animals? Or be privy to how animals are farmed and not take a stance?

Even if you manage to manoeuvre your way round the cruelty, by just not thinking about it, as most of us do, our meat consumption is seriously bad news for the planet—something that’s harder to ignore with environmental issues so high on the agenda.

Those who’d espouse a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have a powerful case. To skim the list of reasons to ditch meat:

  • Factory farming is pretty grim: cruelly confined spaces, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial fattening of animals, the heartbreaking mother-calf separation hours after birth.
  • Meat farming gobbles up resources. It’s estimated about 30% of our  (ice-free) land is now used for meat production. Huge swathes of rainforest are being cleared to make space for livestock farming.
  • The cows themselves are huge polluters, releasing toxic methane into the environment.
  • One stat from Cowspiracy that’ll scream out at you: it takes more than 2000 litres of water to make one hamburger. I still can’t wrap my head around that stat; it’s so grossly disproportionate it almost defies belief.

My kids are complete carnivores, so it’ll be a while before we embrace vegetarianism. But it is time to cut back—way, way back. Abstinence didn’t work for me. I’d cave then beat myself up about it, so I’m trying a different approach. To flip things around so that meat is an occasional treat rather than a staple. And to be more mindful about where and what meat we buy—though just thinking about that minefield gives me a slight headache (free range, organic, pasture fed, ethically sourced…)

Part of weaning off meat is having accessible, tasty vegetarian recipes up your sleeve. Check back soon for some of our favourites that can be made in a jiffy with minimal ingredients. Meantime the hunt for slightly more sophisticated, hearty vegetarian recipes continues; I know they’re out there. Anyone got great recipes to share?

Famous vegetarians
Einstein; Pythagoras; Plutarch; Leonardo da Vinci; Leo Tolstoy; Gandhi; Charles Darwin; Voltaire; Jane Goodall; Pamela Anderson; Natalie Portman; Paul and Linda McCartney; Steve Jobs; Mike Tyson; Bill Clinton; Hitler*

(*The Nazis apparently introduced animal protection rights that still exist today—the fine for hurting an animal was two years. If that’s not a study in the complexity of morality and the human psyche!)

rwe quote

einstein quote

Who needs therapy when you can compost?

Who needs therapy when you can compost?

Last year, I had a writing assignment on solid waste management in Cape Town. A very unglamorous gig on the face of it, but it turned out to be life changing. Until then, I’d never thought much about what happens to our food waste when we chuck it out. I knew it ended up in landfills, but I never bothered to complete the thought. If pressed, I would have said that it just decomposes. I learnt though, that it doesn’t.

When food waste hits landfill, it gets mushed in with the other stuff we chuck out – the plastic and the rubble and the hazardous waste and the toxic sludge – and creates leachate. This is the really putrid stuff that leaches out of our landfills and seeps into the earth, polluting our air and seas. Deprived of oxygen to help it break down, food waste also releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  It’s pretty grim stuff to contemplate.

I learnt too that our landfills are running out of airspace (at an alarming rate). If we keep going the rate we’re going, we’re going to have nowhere to dump the mindless crap we keep accumulating. How to divert your food waste and keep it out of landfill? Compost it! It’s super simple. Super nutritious for your garden. And super therapeutic for you!

Getting stuck in with all that putrefying muck soothes the soul. It’s a deeply satisfying, tactile experience crushing egg shells between your fingers or ripping apart soaked tea bags to sprinkle over rotting veggies. It’s sticky and grimy – a wonderful respite from our sanitised lives where everything is contained, ordered and scrubbed clean.

Composting has reignited my connection to the very thing that sustains us. It lets me get up close and personal with food in a way that feels fantastically primal. And in our world of excess and waste it feels so good to plough what we don’t use back into the earth — rather than let it transmute into gunk that poisons our environment.

I think there’s a perception that composting and city life don’t gel. But really, all you need is a container, a willingness to get your hands dirty and a little know-how.  Read about how to get started here and here.

Try it, you’ll get hooked.