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Conscientious eater: know-your-meat-etarian

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Posted: March 26, 2012 - 8:25am

My bologna has a first name, it's m-o-o-s-e. My bologna has a second name, it's c-a-r-i-b-o-u.

I love meat. The smell of it makes my mouth water and I find it uniquely satisfying. Yet, the thought of the filth, added hormones and antibiotics, and cruelty of slaughter houses and the standard factory farms disgusts me. I was a vegetarian for about a year because of my distain toward the animal factory farming. However, I discovered that I could avoid factory meat by sinking my teeth into some moose and staying local. I became a conscientious meat eater. Conscientious meat eater does not mean I think about each bite or count my calories. It does mean that I'm aware of where my meat comes from, how it was raised, and how it was killed. Ethics, health, and global sustainability all affected my decision to become a conscientious meat eater or, as I like to call it, a "know-your-meat-etarian".

This year Americans will eat about 27 billion pounds of beef, more than 35 million cows. They will consume roughly 23 billion pounds of pork, more than 115 million pigs. Factory farm animals will devour some 38 billion pounds of poultry, more than 9 billion birds. They are often treated cruelly and live in horrible conditions. Boiler chickens typically spend their lives in windowless sheds packed with more than thirty thousand birds and years of accumulated waste. They're bred to produce the maximum amount of meat in the shortest amount of time; they often become top-heavy and can't even hold up their own weight and collapse into their waste. I want to know, before I bite into my chicken sandwich, that what I'm eating had the chance to see the sky.

The best way to ensure that what you're eating was raised humanely is to buy locally raised animals or eat game meat. Many of the labels on packaging are only half-truths. For example, "free range" just means that it has access to the outdoors; that doesn't mean it is a pasture. There is no regulation for use of this term except for chicken raised for consumption. Even then, it usually means a small d    or at the end of a large room; the chicken at the far end never have the chance to get out in the open. By buying meat from a local farm or eating game meat you can know those animals were able to roam outside, instead of spending their lives trapped inside standing in their own waste.

Truly free range animals are healthier, meaning they are healthier for you, too. There's less fat on them, which means you consume less fat. Animals raised in factory farms are also often pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones and are fed the by-products of chemical agriculture. This overuse of antibiotics creates the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is creating a serious public health problem. Infections doctors used to be able to cure are now taking longer and often require higher doses of antibiotics, and sometimes doctors can't get rid of the infection. Stay healthy; know where your meat comes from.

Much of the beef consumed in the U.S. is from South America, where the Amazon rainforest is being cleared for cattle. We're killing our sustainability at a global level to feed our gluttony. A third of the grain we produce is used to feed livestock. There is evidence that if we turned to a vegan diet we could alleviate many of the food shortages in the world. About eight times more people could be fed for the same amount of space if people turned to a vegan diet. I'm not saying we should all become vegans, but only that we should monitor how much meat we're eating and buy our meat locally or eat hunted meat to help reduce the big factories, slaughter houses, and huge fields used to produce grain for livestock. You wouldn't steal food from a baby, yet every year 15 million children die of hunger.

Staying local also promotes food security. Food security means that even if we were to get cut off from the Lower 48, say by cause of an earthquake, Alaska would still be able to provide for itself.

In the end, it's a personal choice. What's yours?

Heather Morton is a 10th-grade Connections/Skyview student.

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