Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Review: Meat Me on Rationing Day

Friends, this may be the most controversial post in the long string of posts that is Rational Living.

Eating is, after all, one of the most intimate things we can do - both individually and as a group. People wax poetic over a fine meal, determine a grandmother's worth based upon her bread rolls and will defend the merits of a traditional menu until blue in the face.

We love to eat and we eat to show love. And Americans love meat.

Meat rationing was the most despised aspect of rationing during WWII. As outlined in the original "Meat Me on Rationing Day" post, red point rationing was designed to encourage Americans to eat less meat and, most importantly, to eat lower grades of meat. But Americans then, as now, loved their meat and governmental restrictions regarding meat purchases were met with great displeasure. During WWII, when Americans were polled as to which rationed products were hardest to cut down on or do without, the overwhelming response was meat (sugar was second, but with a considerably less enthusiastic response). Despite the War, Americans still wanted their steak and pot roast dinners. As a result, meat (particularly higher grade cuts of beef) was a popular black market item.

Flash forward over 60 years and you have our family starting our own year of rationing. At the beginning of the rationing year we already ate less meat as compared to the general American public; prior to the project meat was featured in dinners roughly three to four times a week and showed up in about half of the adult lunches). As such, meat restrictions as a result of rationing weren't felt as keenly by us as they may have been for other families. What meat shortages we did face were usually the result of market fluctuations or our self-imposed inclusion of poultry in the rationing program.

That said, we like our meat. Chicken, bacon, pork chops...we all have a strong appreciation for meat.

Which is why it's quite surprising that, at the conclusion of the rationing project we find ourselves a household of vegetarians.

Yes, you read that correctly. It wasn't the jellied ham loaf or the heart kabobs that turned us, it was the environmental and ethical consequences of animal farming.

One of the catalysts for the rationing project was a desire to live a more environmentally conscious and sustainable lifestyle. In one aspect, the rationing year has been an attempt to move beyond the "easy" practices of recycling and line-drying clothes and to dig deeper into ingrained practices and habits that need changing. Our goal was to find changes that could and should be made to reduce our carbon footprint and create a lifestyle that has a less harmful effect on people and the planet.

With that desire in mind, the hard reality is that factory farmed meat is the diametrical opposite of a sustainable practice. The waste runoff, habitat destruction and pollution caused by animal farming contributes more to global climate change than transportation. Think about it: meat production causes more environmental damage than all cars, planes, trains and boats combined - a whopping 40% more. A hybrid car is a great thing, but if your driving it to the local burger joint your doing more damage than you probably realize.

And then there's the ethics of meat production. Factory animal farming is notorious for using (and abusing) undocumented workers - creating workplace environments that constitute human rights violations. Meat processing at break-neck speeds endangers both the workers (meat processors have the highest on-the-job injury rate of any labor field) and endangers the public - E. coli outbreaks are the result of unsanitary practices resulting from factory processing (those bleach baths the meat takes before packaging don't kill everything). Cheap labor and fast processing promotes lower meat prices, but at a cost to humanitarian and health well-being.

Then, of course, there's the animals. I won't go in to the horrors of factory animal farming - there are plenty of available resources to educate you on that topic. And even if you make the commitment to purchase the more expensive, locally-raised meat there is still the slaughter to consider. Because most local slaughter facilities have been purchased ("bought out") by the large CAFO companies the likelihood that even your free-range, humanely treated animals experience a human slaughter is extremely slim.

So the only way for us to feel at peace with eating meat is to make sure the animals are treated respectfully during life and ensure that they had a humane slaughter. In the current system, the only way to guarantee both of those assertions is to have a direct part in both the raising and processing of the animal.

TMOTH and I both have strong opinions about having honest relationships with food: know what it is, where it came from and what it went through to be on your plate. This goes for meat, too, and is why when TMOTH hunts he only attempts a shot that is clear and direct and will cause the least suffering for the animal. It is also the reason why we process the venison ourselves.

But really, why should other meat be treated any differently?

Our new homestead will allow us, for the first time ever, the ability to raise our own animals for meat purposes. Whether we have the fortitude to raise an animal in an intimate setting and then slaughter it for food has yet to be determined. But know this about our beliefs: if we can't raise and slaughter it ourselves, then we shouldn't be eating it. Period.

And even the girls support this transition; even Sissy, the biggest carnivore of the family, has learned enough about factory animal farming to support this decision with maturity and understanding.

We know many, many readers will not agree with this choice. We're not telling you that you should be living by these same standards or judging your practices or insisting that our beliefs are better than yours.

We're just trying to live by our standards of what is right...and encourage you to live by your own.

--Rational Mama

P.S. For a thorough, even-handed examination of the implications of animal farming and eating meat, I highly recommend Jonathan Safran Foer's, "Eating Animals."


  1. Meat is one of those hard things when you are becoming more conscious of things. Almost all of our meat now is locally and organically raised, pasture raised on loving farms which I feel good about and slaughtered/butchered by a man who cares about the animals who come through his shop. I like it when we pass the farms and I can say "That is where our cow lived. Look how happy those cows are.". Since my kids are super picky and won't give up their meat (I sometimes think they're breathatarians, lol!), I can live with this. Ironically, it is a lot cheaper than buying conventional meat in the store (well, the beef is when bought by the quarter and pork by the side. I'm struggling to pay $15-$20 for a chicken that would cost $5 at the store. Note, we're not perfect and the McDonalds in our backyard still calls our name sometimes, lol!).

    What people eat is a very personal decision and kudos to you and your family for being true to what you believe :)

  2. Good for you all! I grew up raising and slaughtering chickens. One or two run ins with a rooster and I promise that slaughtering will be easier. They are pretty, but MEAN!

    Our son made us do this with water. He had the movie "Flow" sent to our household to watch. I now filter our rainwater. Even the dog doesn't get tap.

    I'm glad you are willing to show your kids that sacrifice isn't a bad thing in the name of standing up for what you believe in.

  3. Thanks, ladies. We do have (and have used quite frequently) locally-raised, free-range beef and chicken. Unfortunately, we can't guarantee that the meat locker they were processed in uses humane practices. Hence, our reluctance to use that meat in our menus.

    Hmm...I may have to Netflix "Flow"...

  4. Yeah, that can be a problem. We can be right there when they "do the deed" and while they butcher if we want but I prefer not to because I'm squeamish, lol! DH went to a conventional slaughterhouse as part of his (unused) cook training and he said it would turn the average person off eating meat! Disgusting and we don't even have large factory meat plants here.

  5. I've always said that if I couldn't face hunting, killing and preparing meat myself, then I'd have to become vegetarian. I tested this out and passed, so we do still eat meat, though we try to source very carefully (I get the feeling that might be easier in the UK than over there?) and respect the meat on our plates.

    I think your transition has been amazing. I admire you, and think you're all a credit to your nation.