A first-world problem

I’ve been eating turkey casserole for days. Dinner? Turkey casserole. Lunch? Turkey casserole. Breakfast? Yes, I really did eat some turkey casserole for breakfast one day! (What can I say; the cold cereal just didn’t keep me full for the morning.)

I made the casserole with (some of) the meat I pulled off a turkey carcass I was turning into broth. Last Thursday was an unseasonably cold day (I think we reached a high of 50℉), so I decided to do some cooking that would heat the house up. Making broth with the turkey carcass I stashed in the freezer after last Thanksgiving seemed just the thing to do.

This huge carcass was actually quite meaty, so after simmering it for a couple of hours I pulled it out of the water, let it cool a bit, and then pulled off over six cups of meat. Half of it went into the turkey casserole that has been sustaining me for the past several days; the other half is still in the fridge waiting to be made into…well…I don’t know what, except it needs to be something that is not turkey casserole. Having so much food for myself is nothing to complain about, though. It is, as one of my friends says, “a first-world problem.”

Just last week I had a group of friends over and we were discussing all of the issues around eating meat. I have a few friends who are vegetarian or vegan and so when I have friends over I always serve mainly vegetarian fare. There are many reasons people reduce or eliminate eating meat, but they usually boil down to the following: health, concerns about the environment, concerns about the animals, or some combination of these.

I think humans are omnivores and so we should be able to eat meat. However, the way most farm animals are raised in this country is terrible and that needs to change. Chickens who live their entire (short) lives indoors in crowded, dusty and dirty conditions; cattle who spend the last weeks of their lives standing knee-deep in filth and forced to eat grain that makes them ill; pigs who are abused and confined to crates that allow them to feed their young, yet render them incapable of movement. (If you can watch more than 20 seconds of that video you made it farther than me; I was crying as soon as the first scene came into focus.)

Actually, my concerns around the food we eat in the United States is more complicated than just around how we treat farm animals. Think about the misery that is forced on people who work in fields, too: pesticide poisoning, low wages, and poor living conditions. The food system in this country is completely messed up. (And one of the things that really torques my mind is that I am an unwitting participant in it no matter what since my tax dollars subsidize this unholy mess of a food system.)

While I love to grow vegetables, berries, and keep egg-laying hens in my yard, I can’t supply all of my own food. Nor should I. As one of my friends who is much more advanced in this area than me has pointed out more than once, we should be supporting those in the food system who are trying to change things for the better. The farmers who are raising animals humanely (fresh air and sunshine should be a given since they cost nothing, right?) and growing crops in a way that doesn’t harm those who work in the fields or poison the environment. We should also support the chefs and restaurants who source food from these farmers and turn it into something delicious and sustaining. (I swear the bacon at Big Jones is the best I have ever eaten in the 45 years I have been alive and I will enjoy every morsel of it when I brunch there.)

So I’ve joined the ranks of those who eat meat only occasionally. I’ll eat it when I can be sure that it comes from good farmers and ranchers, and when I can afford to buy it. I buy and eat only wild caught fish and/or fish that is on the Seafood Watch recommended list. Otherwise I will take a pass. (The fact that I truly love veggies and beans probably helps a lot, too.)

The turkey I’ve been eating the past few days was purchased through my friend that arranged for a delivery directly from a farmer she knows who raises the birds outside on pasture, living like a turkey should live: in the fresh air and sun, picking at bugs and green stuff. And not one bit of this turkey is going to waste, either. (Food waste in this country is another shameful aspect of a food system gone out of control.)

Eight of us enjoyed the turkey at Thanksgiving, and the leftover carved meat was eaten by my sister, niece, and nephew. The carcass has supplied me with a pot of broth, several cups of loose meat, and another few cups of gristle, skin, and other bits that are being slowly doled out to the dog to supplement her kibble. I could probably compost the bones, but even though I haven’t seen a rat in my city neighborhood in several years, I’m cautious with what I put in my compost bins. (Although others do successfully compost animal products. Bravo to them!)

I know these food issues are truly a first-world concern, as my friend says. In many other countries I’d be happy to eat whatever bits of animal I could get. But in those same places, it’s very likely that the food animals are so few and precious that they are treated with respect. And my conscience won’t let me continue to participate in something I find so abhorrent anymore.