A few weeks ago, Daniel announced that he wanted to "not eat meat anymore, just like Grandpa." Stuart's dad has been a vegetarian for several decades. This hasn't been easy, given that he has spent that time in southern Africa and south central Kansas. People in those places love eating meat, is what I'm saying. I'm not sure what inspired Daniel to declare himself meat-free, other than the fact that he clearly admires his grandpa and wants to imitate him. He's five years old, so I'm not sure how much the idea of killing an animal and butchering it for food is on his radar; in fact, since his announcement, he's made a couple of exceptions for meatballs and hot dogs because those are things he loves to eat.
The important thing, though, is that Daniel has asked us several times why Grandpa doesn't eat meat. And we answer as succinctly and clearly as we can*, in terms that we hope he understands. In fact, our response reflects why we are incredibly selective about the meat we eat, and why we have it so infrequently:
1. Because the way many animals are raised and butchered is cruel to them.
2. Because the way many animals are raised is bad (terrible, in fact) for the environment.
3. Because the way many animals are raised and butchered is bad for small farmers and rural communitites.
4. Because the way many animals are raised and butchered poses a serious threat to public health.
5. Because we need to be conscious of what we eat and the larger impact of what we put on the table every single night.
For my FIL, this means eating no meat at all, which is a standpoint I can identify with. Stuart and I were vegetarian for quite a while for all of those reasons, and buying meat that was sustainably produced was (still is) quite expensive. Years of pregnancy and breastfeeding - simultaneously, for a time - sent me back to eating meat on occasion because I just needed the protein and calories. (Also, I've lived in Wisconsin for over a decade and have developed an appreciation for brats I never could have anticipated as a young, naive, veggie-lovin' quasi-hippie college student. Also beer. Mmmm beer.)
I've been reading a book called Animal Factory by David Kirby (link to the official website that is NOT AMAZON!!), and I'm learning a lot about CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and their impact to the environment and rural communities, and the people who have fought tirelessly against the devastating pollution they have caused. (It's not just the smell, yo, it's pig shit in the water supply). I'm learning about how the laws and government are essentially set up to protect factory farms and large corporations instead of individuals and smaller, sustainable operations. I'm learning about how ineffective the EPA, USDA and FDA really are at both state and federal levels. I'm learning that it's not just Republicans responsible for this carnage, either, I might add. There are serious systemic problems that need to be addressed.
Anyway, it's a good read and I would recommend it to anyone. And in a section recounting a conference for sustainable farming that was held shortly after the 9/11 attacks, there was a transcript of a prayer by Saint Basil:
O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things, even our brothers and sisters the animals, to whom you have given the earth as their home in common with us. We remember with shame that in the past we have exercised our high dominion with ruthless cruelty so that the voice of the earth, which should have gone up to you in song, has been a groan of pain. May we realize that they live, not for us alone, but for themselves and for you, and that they love the sweetness of life.
I think that says it in a nutshell.
So Little Daniel, if you want to be a vegetarian, you have my blessing. You're already such a picky eater, I might as well adjust.
*I think there are other personal and philosophical reasons that Stuart's dad doesn't eat meat. I won't try to put words in his mouth or pretend that I can articulate the details and nuances of his reasoning here. But I think the broad reasons are essentially the same.