Wednesday, September 23, 2009

peat, meat and choices...

Reading Dave's post about whales and vegetarianism and Tadhg's post about his own diet made me think a lot about a couple of things. Firstly, my own diet and why I choose it, and secondly cultural differences of opinion on indigenous practices - whaling in Norway, and the use of peat in Ireland.

My own diet is currently mostly vegetarian, eating meat (whether it be roadkill, home-killed chicken, shop bought fish and a small amount of shop-bought poultry) maybe once or twice a month. It occurred to me, why do I choose to eat meat? And there really isn't a reason I can explain properly to someone else, beyond the fact that it makes sense to me. On inspection though my choices are full of contradiction and rely on what feels okay to me. For example, I remember collecting mussels from the beach and eating them, thinking for every one cow you killed (one life lost) you must need to kill thousands and thousands of mussels (is there a word for mussel genocide?) so maybe its better to eat beef... Also, there are animals I won't eat - I can bring myself to kill a chicken or a fish, but I'm not okay with killing other mammals right now... Yes, it doesn't really make sense...

I know why I didn't eat meat - primarily because I didn't want to kill animals and second came the environmental factors. But after a long period of being vegetarian I began to dream of fish, recurring dreams of mackerel in particular, and eventually decided I wanted to eat meat again after all these cravings. Still not wanting to kill anything, I picked something I was already in touch with - roadkill. This seemed like the perfect way for me to eat meat - its already dead, so the not-wanting-to-kill-things philosophy is satisfied, and environmentally, I am cleaning the roads, using nutrition that would otherwise just be flattened into a nice road pancake, and having a free dinner, thereby needing to buy less food. I have absolutely no ethical problems eating roadkill. (Picture is roadkill squirrel legs.)
I remember seeing a bumper sticker while I was still vegetarian that made me laugh. It said: If we're not supposed to eat animals then why are they made of meat? We are all made of meat. Of course I wouldn't eat a roadkill human or even a cat or dog (Because they have an unfortunate owner out there wanting to find them) but for anything else -its life has been tragically ended by being running over, I might as well make the most of it. The term opportunivore sprang to mind.

The diet then changed to include eating meat I had rared and killed myself. Part of that is due to living with animals - at least part of why I am prepared to kill animals anyway. I've talked before about this in a post on butchering a chicken, but I feel that animals are part of our lives, and its okay for us to use them. Said like that it feels very callous, but I guess that is what it boils down to. I'm not saying its okay to use animals in any way you want, and I have strict guidelines around how that is framed. But if I am going to eat eggs, or drink milk, I have to face the fact that I am *using* an animal, and what is produced in breeding for egg or milk production is usually far too many male animals who go to slaughter. You can't get away from it. Its not a reason for eating meat, but its something that you take part in when you buy any animal products, not just meat.

As a part of rural living, it really makes sense to me to keep animals. Along with garden waste they provide the best ingredients for compost and seem an integral part of the cycle. I love fresh eggs, I like having them in my diet, and I am okay with killing the chickens too - so far we have killed all the cockerels bar one - you can't keep loads of cockerels as they fight. The fabulous K wants to rear a pig for slaughter and I'm not sure I can quite bring myself around to that yet. The whole area for me is very emotive and the choice to eat any meat bar roadkill is primarily about whether it is right to kill animals or not. The environmental factors only come in once I have made that decision, and only in regards to how I shall eat meat, not why.

I can't explain why one year it was unacceptable to kill animals and the next it wasn't. As a vegetarian I remember saying I had no problems with other people eating meat responsibly - i.e without intensive farming of animals and the cruelty and pollution that brings. I didn't expect myself to end up as one of those people, but here I am!

I think a lot of it is about situation - living in the countryside, growing my own fruit and veg, keeping my own chickens, it seemed a logical next step for me - that's not a reason why anyone else should do it, just an explanation of the factors in my decision. I feel okay actually killing a chicken so I feel okay about eating it. In philosophy I am more in line with the environmental arguements of a vegetarian, in practice I've let loose my inner blood-thirsty, bone-gnawing carnivore. And it feels good.

I think sometimes a lot of things make sense in a certain environment that don't when you remove them from it. Which brings me to the other topic in this incredibly long blog post... Dave's talk of how it is culturally acceptable to eat whale in Norway made me think of this one.

Peat.

When I worked up in the Organic Centre I was shocked to see they used a peat based growing medium. I remember working with a woman from abroad, involved in environmental education who was quietly appalled by the use of peat there. The arguement was that non-peat alternatives are not as good. In my own trials that hasn't been the case as the peat-free compost I bought seems to work fine - I know its a case of trying different ones as some are supposed to be dreadful. I am having problems sourcing organic peat-free compost, and would like to find some. But that seems clear cut to me - when it comes to home gardening, why use it when there is an alternative that is not too much more expensive, and works well?

When it comes to using peat as a fuel, I'm not so sure where I stand. In principal I think we should stop destroying the bogs, but in practice...its not so simple. Here in the midlands people go out and dig turf every year. I don't really know the environmental impact of this small-scale harvesting. Its been happening a long time. Is it sustainable on a local level? (If you look at Tory island - a land stripped bare of any soil by turf cutting - just gravelly rock now, the answer would seem to be no.) I would rather not buy turf, but I am sick of buying very crappy logs here that don't burn well and are more expensive and it does come down to an arguement about money. Heating costs turned out to be one third of my outgoings the year before last. I have to find ways of keeping them down, and it is much cheaper to buy turf than wood. Crap but true. What are the alternatives? Part of being sustainable also means being affordable.

I can really understand how people not from here would be shocked at the use of turf as a fuel, but I also really understand its use . In fact, although I aim to buy wood, the quality has been bad and I have turned to turf on and off. As the weather gets colder, I wonder about the environmental impact of my heating and how I will do it this winter, as money continues to be tight and does influence how much I look after the environment...

I think its another area where my ideas about the world, the environment, how to look after it, be responsible for the way in which we live, live sustainably - they all get a bit muddled when it comes to the actuality of day-to-day living...

4 comments:

Christine Raab-Heine said...

I find your post very brave.

Myself is the other way round. I never stopped eating meat, but I couldn't eat meat from my own sheep. There's a history why I own sheep, I never planned it. It turned out they are pets to me like dogs and cats are for other people. They all have names, the oldest are 13 years old.

Anyway, never had I problems to buy and eat sheep meet of animals reared by farmers. I believe it is that I know they rear them for selling, and don't have the attachment to individual sheep as I have.

Re your part on peat. I understand your thoughts very well. I was also thinking lately how rigid environmental regulation and heritage and culture relate.

There was a stage where I nearly gave up textile crafts, because I felt every material possible to use could be argued against.

Snag Breac said...

Thanks Christine.
Thats interesting re your take on meat eating. Its all very complicated isn't it?
I know what you mean about feeling that every material can be argued against! Its very hard to know what choices to make, espeially when there is so much information, much of it contradictory.
I hope your wool has come back from being spun - I can't wait to see it. Now that I've got a wheel it makes me think about keeping sheep also!

Felix said...

It's really interesting to read through your choices around meat and peat...

...I make a moderate effort to only buy meat that I think has had a good life (with RSPCA stickers, free range, organic etc.) but I will also order meat in a restaurant without full knowledge of where that meat has come from and when I am buying for myself I will only buy very small quantities of meat from the local shops, since to me, it makes more sense to support the local (largely immigrant) community than driving several miles away to either a supermarket or a farmer's market. At the moment I am prioritising showing support for local businesses (which are closing down extremely quickly) than sourcing 100% ethical meat produce all the time, and in truth most of what I buy locally is tinned pulses and vegetables.

To me it also feels right to eat meat but it is an area of my life in which I would like to be more connected to the processes that make it possible.

As you know I plan to rear sheep in the future and it is my intention to grow these for both meat and wool but I wonder how I will feel about this come the time to take the animals I have lovingly reared and cared for, to a best-practise butcher?

I like catching and cooking my own fish and have planned for some years to catch and cook a deer but this has proved too expensive to organise thus far.

So my choices are also quite inconsistent!

peacepyro said...

i think the burning of peat is the biggest problem! I came across an article in the times a while back,and it mentioned burning peat releases Co2 into the athmosphere. The ESB were burning peat for electricity. . .
My friend tells me that ash can be planted for burning. It also can be burned directly after cutting. Maybe it's the next step, growing your own fuel.
I rem the first time, i saw my grandmother kill a chicken. It was shocking, but the meal afterwards was tasty. I loved watching as she gutted it. I rem being fascinated by the colours of the intestinal tract :O