I understand dogma, I understand rules. Rules are out there for many very good reasons: for social cohesion, for safety, for clarity. Dogma is an interesting nut. It throws rules and religion (or at the very least, orthodoxy) into the works.
What does it mean to cheat, though? Cheating has been a purely academic exercise for me for a while now. There is nothing that stirs me up enough that I feel I need to cheat at it. There is nothing in my life (and I consider myself highly fortunate to have achieved this state) that I wish to cheat on, or from. No strictures, no bridles, no ties from which I wish to loosen myself, nothing that I feel I am denied or in want of that I need to bend, or break, life’s rules to get, or to achieve. Again, I feel fortunate.
But (and there is ALWAYS a “but”)…but, in this life I lead now of living with less, in so doing, I am continually restricting my access to “the great more” that is out there. I cut up my credit cards before I went to grad school. That was nearly twenty years ago, so I suppose I am out of the habit of credit spending; should I go out and get one, and go wild? Should I buy a gas-guzzling vehicle, just because I have denied myself the pleasure of driving one, these last ten years that I have had my miserly one? Should I leave a light on all night? Should I plug the dryer back in?
Should I eat meat again?
Ah. There is the rub. We’re plumbing the depths of my own personal orthodoxy. I have been a vegetarian for, what is it now, either 15 or 16 years. A long time, in other words. I have been a vegetarian on moral grounds: I really did not think anything needed to die to keep me alive. (And yes, that, like any orthodoxy, is hairsplitting: how many poor little fieldmice and bunnies had to die to cultivate my grain and bean meals?) My main reason for it is I just did not want to eat anything that had been badly treated, and let’s face it, the vast majority of the meat animals in this country have lives of horror and pain. I just couldn’t turn a blind eye to CAFOs and continue to enjoy a rare steak.
But now, now in this world, there are animals that have been humanely raised, pasture fed, living their lives out the way they naturally would have lived, or at least how they’d lived on farms of 100 years ago. And this meat is available widely, if you look.
My new dogma, or rather my walking papers, are another big nut: local eating, low impact lifestyle, thrift, living close to the land, doing things ourselves, permaculture. I grow my own food, I raise my own chickens for eggs. This spring, I will raise my own chickens for meat. Turkeys too, and maybe ducks.
What has come over me? A hard look at our household, that is what. I’m looking at things like the nutritional needs of a growing child. I am looking more to traditional foods. I am also looking at the fossil fuels that are expended to continue to supply my Michigan-based vegetarian diet. Some studies have stated that omnivorous lifestyles actually use less land than pure vegetarian ones do…and that is intriguing, in these trying times. I am all about having a smaller footprint on this earth.
I am often asked if I ever really missed eating meat in all those flesh-free years. Yes, I did cheat on occasion: our annual family clambakes were my once-a-year binge on molluscs, and there were times I tried bites of things off others’ plates. But I never went through Wendy’s drive-thru or anything. (Bleck, the idea gives me the willies, frankly.) It just did not appeal; my life, and my palate, were well sated on the diet I have had.
But it is with some reluctance that I here admit that I have become an apostate to the vegetarian lifestyle. We are now practicing a diet of meat from one animal every other week or so. I usually stretch things far, so the beast’s sacrifice is spread over many different meals. It is my goal to know the animals I will kill and eat. But now, we are only eating animals from farms we have visited, from farmers we know. We have seen them alive. In a couple of cases, like our turkey, I have seen them killed. For our family, for our life here, this is just enough syncretism to make complete sense to me: occasional meat-eating is the answer, frankly, to the trajectory of the life that has led me to this farm.