As the food lover I am, I try to keep my mind open about trying anything and everything. This of course includes all parts of the food chain, especially meat! Unfortunately, making sure that the foods you obtain and consume are safe and cruelty-free can be difficult, and sometimes even impossible. Silver Spoon gives us a setting where produce and livestock are very much close to the plate. You might handle a piglet one day, only to fry it up into bacon four months later. It’s smart to keep your emotions at bay when raising these beasts if the dinner plate is indeed their final destination, but at what point do you draw the line between treating them like pets and bordering on animal cruelty?
I remember doing a report in my early part of my undergraduate years in my Ethics course on animal cruelty in the agricultural industry. I don’t recall why it was exactly that I chose that topic, but I do recollect the mess of sources I had to wade through to get reliable and unbiased articles. Some people denounce any and all commercial methods, lending human emotions to animals and exaggerating the procedure length of slaughter. Others see no problem whatsoever with treating the creatures on this earth as means to human consumption, disregarding any pain and overstock. So how to strike the middle ground and feel guilt free about breakfast, lunch, and dinner? You can confront it and choose your stance, or ignore it like so many people do day to day.
- First: Be practical. If you can’t afford to eat organic, then don’t.
Organic foods are those that are cultivated without any chemical aid or influence, and there’s a general misconception that organic foods are automatically better and healthier. I don’t find that to be necessarily true taste-wise. It also seems that the differences in risks of pesticide or bacterial contamination for organic versus commercial farming are insignificant and inconclusive in evidence. But due to the inconveniences of organic farming and its rising popularity among consumers, organic food can be ridiculously expensive. If you don’t hold a strong stance on the issue, I see no reason for you to force yourself into purchasing organic foods.
Second: Check how the animal was raised: Free range? Grain fed? Method of slaughter?
It is useful to note for Americans that the USDA term “free range” is often unregulated and is applied solely to poultry. There’s no knowing just how “free” the birds were raised, how long they were allowed outside or how large the enclosed areas actually are. This type of husbandry supposedly opposes the common and economically efficient caging of laying hens and meat chickens. You’ll find a lot of shocking photography of these cages, with extreme examples highlighting de-beaking and stacked and filthy cages. You’ll also see a lot of variations on “free range”, such as “free roaming”, “pasture raised”, and “cage free”. I purchase free range eggs as often as I can since I eat them like crazy and am willing to shell out a tiny bit more.One argument is that grass-fed livestock are more natural and healthy. There’s also a misconception that grass-fed cattle are free-range, which isn’t necessarily the case and isn’t specific enough about the type of food consumed. For people like me who like plenty of marbling in my meats, “grass-fed” raises a red flag. They tend to be leaner, lacking the flavor-packed fat that I love so much.
More controversial issues circle on dishes like veal and foie gras. Both are highly popular in European cuisine, specifically French. Veal concerns meat from young cattle, who are raised to be slaughtered as calves. We see a similar idea in Silver Spoon with the pigs who are only few months old before they are slaughtered. While the conditions for veal have greatly improved, there is a still a lot of stigma residing from the many images of crated calves that made an appearance a couple of decades past. Foie gras has its questionable stance in forced feeding; ducks or geese are often forced to consume corn with a tube known as a “gavage”. This fattens the liver, which is then used as foie gras with a resulting smooth and rich experience noticeably different from regular liver. These birds are made to consume much more than their natural intake and may suffer inflammation to the esophagus at the beginning of the process and other discomfort resulting from the enlarged liver. A good number of nations and even some American states have banned the production and sale of fois gras.
Third: Support your community by purchasing local goods at the market.
I’ve always loved the farmer’s markets in the towns I’ve lived, and am willing to go out of my way to pick up the occasional bag of fruits and veggies straight from the growers. There’s a great sense of freshness that comes with purchasing local foods; that satisfaction comes partly with the thought that the food is likely organic, and also from the knowledge that an apple didn’t have to travel by boat and plane just to get to my table only to expire all too quickly due to the waiting time. I also like to see the farmers and their families face-to-face to express my gratitude for the food that nourishes and pleases me.
- Fourth: Purchase and eat only what you can consume.
This seems like common sense, but I’ve seen quite a few families stock up on canned, boxed, and frozen food that just sits on their shelves for weeks, even months and years, only to be tossed or donated to the next local food drive. I grew up in a place where much of the fish and meat in our freezer was caught by my family and supplied us for almost an entire winter. Moose meat can substitute in almost any beef dish, and there’s a unparalleled satisfaction from knowing just exactly how everything was cleaned and prepared. If for some reason we felt that the meat and fish would be kept for too long, we either would find other ways to prepare it so none of it would go to waste, or we would share the excess with family and friends. The whole pizza preparation in Silver Spoon struck close to home with the way it brought together people over fresh ingredients that were reaped by the very same hands that would then eat them.
Fifth: Respect the food that feeds you.
While I have no qualms about eating animals, I do feel a responsibility for the methods in which they are raised. Since I have taken on the decision to consume commercial foods since I currently live in an area where knowing exactly where and when my meal transitioned from a living being to a foodstuff can be impossible to uncover, I try to do what little I can to support humane methods and to only purchase what I can eat within a week. I’m not a religious person by any means, and don’t give any prayers or verbal thanks for my meals, but I try to always finish what I have at that moment or later if I have to take leftovers home. The “respect” referred to here is largely a state of mind, a constant reminder to think about what I’m ingesting.
It’s funny to me how a lot of my points here were ones I took for granted living in Alaska where following them was natural. Now that I live in Seattle, the choices are more visible. Luckily, this city is very eco-conscious and various types of recycling are readily available, and local markets and Trader Joe’s sprinkle the surrounding neighborhoods. It makes me wonder just what changes Hachiken will make to his lifestyle once he graduates from agricultural school–will he decide to delve into husbandry and a more rural setting, or wander back to the city life?
If you have your own consumer conscious methods that I don’t touch on here, please let me know about them! Actively thinking about the source of my food is a new thing for me and I’m always keeping an eye open for little changes I could make to my lifestyle that would generate less waste and support an ethical agricultural system.