Eating meat is a moral issue. I understand all the reasons for being a vegetarian, but reason goes out the window when it comes to my mother’s homemade barbeque (Yankee translation: an actual entree. The word “barbeque” is not a more festive synonym for “grilling on the patio” and it is not simply a sauce to slather on your wings. It is an actual entree).
In fact, I used to be a vegetarian around the time of my trip to India. Well, the reality was I was a pescetarian. Turns out, eating fish may be even worse than factory farmed livestock (as if anything could be worse than that). Right now, I’m basically a vegetarian, but I’m having trouble admitting it.
My trouble stems from not always acting like a vegetarian. Sometimes, I get lazy–like just last week when I ate a stuffed Italian sausage and cheese croissant at the local coffee shop because I was hungry and they were out of their spinach and feta croissants. Other times, I cave to my mother’s cooking–like just last month when I defrosted and cooked some of mom’s barbeque. Sweet, tangy, hot, delicious.
My mother’s a good cook. And she’s a Southerner, which means her cooking is replete with dead animals. Let me put it this way: she’s one of those old school women who keeps her bacon drippings. Yes. She’s also one of those old school women who would get offended if I told her I don’t eat meat. She would take it personally.
We share something culturally when we share food. And I come from a culture of meat. The prospect of never again sharing in my family’s meaty dishes (barbeque, pork shops, bacon crumbled into my grits, fried shrimp, etc.) makes me feel sad, like I’m losing my part of myself. And I don’t know how to reconcile that.
To bolster myself and you other fence-riding vegetarians out there, here’s an excerpt from Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals (Little Brown, 2009) about the life of factory farm pigs:
“Consider the life of a pregnant sow. Her incredible fertility is the source of her particular hell. While a cow will give birth to only a single calf at at time, the modern factory sow will birth, nurse, and raise an average of nearly nine piglets–a number that has been increased annually by industry breeders. She will invariably be kept pregnant as much as possible, which will prove to be the majority of her life. When she is approaching her due date, drugs to induce labor may be administered to make the timing more convenient for the farmer. After her piglets are weaned, a hormone injected makes the sow rapidly ‘cycle’ so that she will be ready to be artificially inseminated again in only three weeks.
“Four out of five times a sow will spend the sixteen weeks of her pregnancy confined in a ‘gestation crate’ so small that she will not be able to turn around. Her bone density will decrease because of the lack of movement. She will be given no bedding and often will develop quarter-sized, blackened, pus-filled sores from chafing in the crate. (In one undercover investigation in Nebraska, pregnant pigs with multiple open sores on their faces, heads, shoulders, backs, and legs–some as large as fists–were videotaped. A worker at the farm commented, ‘They all have sores…There’s hardly a pig in there who doesn’t have a sore.’)
“More serious and pervasive is the suffering caused by boredom and isolation and the thwarting of the sow’s powerful urge to prepare for her coming piglets. In nature, she would spend much of her time before giving birth foraging and ultimately would build a nest of grass, leaves, or straw. To avoid excessive weight gain and to further reduce feed costs, the crated sow will be feed restricted and often hungry. Pigs also have an inborn tendency to use separate areas for sleeping and defecating that is totally thwarted in confinement. The pregnant pigs, like most all pigs in industrial systems, must lie or step in their excrement to force it through the slatted floor. The industry defends such confinement by arguing that it helps control and manage animals better, but the system makes good welfare practices more difficult because lame and diseased animals are almost impossible to identify when no animals are allowed to move” (Foer 183-184).
To qualify that my mother makes beef barbeque doesn’t seem reassuring. Or even appropriate.