When I was nineteen years old, my friend Mark started up a conversation with me about the ethics of eating meat.
He had decided to become a vegetarian.
Mark told me had been reading about the way most American farms raise cows, pigs, and chickens in giant feed lots—cramped, unnatural situations that are no less than animal torture. The process, called factory farming, immiserates the animals, and the drive to produce more meat creates excess waste that takes a heavy toll on the environment.
That conversation with him moved me to think carefully about my own food choices. After some research and contemplation I decided to stop eating meat too. I hoped that I could have some small impact by “voting” with my choices at the grocery store, and diverting money away from the factory farm industry.
I only stayed vegetarian for two years. But from that point forward, I resolved to eat mostly organic meat.
I decided on organic meat because I did more research and it turns out that there is an alternative to factory farming—an entire industry dedicated to ethical livestock farming. On organic cattle farms, for example, cows can move about freely on large pastures and eat grass or organic grain. They live relatively happy, natural lives. And when the cows go to slaughter, it’s done reasonably swift and humanely.
Ten years have passed, and I kept up my resolution the whole time. In almost every visit to the grocery store over the past decade, I purchased organic beef or poultry. It’s easy to dismiss my impact because I am only one person, but consider these numbers:
The average American consumes around 125.3 pounds of meat (beef, veal, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey) per year (1). So if I bought mostly organic meat over the course of ten years, that’s roughly 1,250 pounds worth of meat. And each pound I purchased helped create a more honorable meat industry.
In recent years, organic meat has exploded in popularity. Food companies and restaurants proudly display when their animal products are organic, grass-fed, or free range. In 2005, organic meat sales made $256 million. By 2014 it was $1.4 billion (2). This means that millions of animals lived better lives, and some billions of green house gas particles were kept out of the air. It’s amazing to think that I had some role in that.
To be clear, this is not a story about the ethics of meat eating. This is a story about impact. We often have no idea how our small choices will effect the world.
Keep up hope. Make choices that resonate with your heart. Even if it’s a small choice, it has ripple effects.
Who knows, maybe a simple conversation with a friend could change the world.
1. How Much Meat Do Americans Eat? Then and Now,” Wall Street Journal. 2014. http://blogs.wsj.com/numbers/how-much-meat-do-americans-eat-then-and-now-1792/
2. Organice Market Overview, USDA. http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/organic-market-overview.aspx