How to be a Conscious Consumer, Silver Spoon Style

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.

23 thoughts on “How to be a Conscious Consumer, Silver Spoon Style

  1. Well my being poor I’m sure I have a very different out look on food so let’s dive into this.

    Organic is just far too expensive for me. It’s just not a viable option at all.

    I really don’t want my food to suffer and honestly can’t even think about some of that treatment. It’s just ville and reprehensible. Luckily being poor the meat I eat is usually mostly bread.

    I actually enjoy farmers markets myself. They often have great deals and great food. Also we have Amish around here and getting food from them is always a treat.

    We do not eat the same kinds of meats as the texture of fat seriously grosses me out.

    As I’m sure you can imagine I frown greatly at wasting food. I tend to force myself to finish what I try even if I’m completely grossed out. Also funny you mention the food pantry as my family has had to rely on them many times. Food is almost always expired, often noticeably stale, and still somehow the best food you’ve ever tasted.

    Something I’ll add that you didn’t mention is wild edibles. I’ve moved all my life and no matter where I’ve lived I could go out and find food just growing in the wild. I live in a decent sized town and know where I can go pick cherries, apples, raspberries, peaches, pears, plums, mulberries, gooseberries, and mushrooms. In fact last year at this time I was homeless living completely alone under a bridge and that knowledge was the only way I ate.

    Sorry I’m in a mood and rambled of topic. Point is wild fruit and vegetables can be very rewarding as it’s just cool gathering your own food that you discovered. Also if you’ve never had wild mushroom you don’t know what you’re missing.

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    • I just can’t get myself to be okay with the taste and texture of stale foods, like crackers and chips. I see a difference between having a well-stocked pantry with ingredients and snacks that are regularly used and just need replacing/refilling from time to time, and a pantry overstocked with impulse buys that no one wants to eat. I definitely think more people should take the time to reevaluate their pantries and try to make dishes out of what they already have before going out to buy more food.

      Wild herbs, fruits, nuts, and mushrooms are largely foreign to me; I’d only recognize various types of berries. I live mushrooms, but would be terrified of accidentally picking a poisonous type! This for sure is something to look into🙂

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      • Mushroom season is incredibly short. Just a few weeks if you’re lucky. Basically right after the first rain of spring. It’s funny I love wild mushrooms but not the store bought ones lol.

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  2. Interesting thoughts, and I commend your careful consideration of where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate. (Moose meat… wow. o_O)

    I made a choice last year after watching “Forks Over Knives” (a fantastic documentary btw – I highly recommend it). I now eat a 75 percent vegan diet, with 25 percent being whatever else I choose to eat (non-vegan, in other words).

    I do eat a lot of organic foods and beverages, mainly to avoid GMO foods and pesticides. The animal flesh/products I consume these days is mostly fish, some eggs and dairy products, and very occasionally beef, chicken or pork.

    My belief is also that everybody’s body is different and each person has to make their own choices as to what kinds of foods are best for them.

    I think Pork Bowl is too cute to eat, but probably next episode they’ll show Hachiken and the others having him for breakfast. 😦

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    • I agree that not all diets work for all people, far from that in fact. I don’t remember the title of the book, but I remember reading somewhere that some diets work best with low carbs, or low dairy–not necessarily because of allergies, but just how different bodies process certain food more or less efficiently than others.

      And moose meat isn’t strange at all in the northwest, particularly Alaska, since it’s common, perhaps like the lower 48’s large variety if deer. Moose burgers are fantastic!

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  3. ” It makes me wonder just what changes Hachiken will make to his lifestyle once he graduates from agricultural school”

    For some reason, I can see him ending up in Agricultural Financing, or another mathematically intensive part of the Agricultural industry. He seems to have the mathematical aptitude to enter that field.

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    • He really does, doesn’t he? Manual labor doesn’t seem like it’ll ever become natural to him, though the anime could still prove me wrong if he ends up loving farm life with all it’s insane scheduling, physical exertion, and emotional dulling.

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  4. Personally I am a vegetarian. I wouldn’t last an afternoon at that school! I don’t have a problem with other people eating what they want, but I reserve the right to be disgusted by it.

    BTW, one guy where I work says that camel meat is by far the most delicious, and another guy here is a contractor from Poland, who told me he ate reindeer once, but it didn’t taste very good.

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    • I would have to disagree with your Polish coworker and argue that reindeer is fabulous, particularly reindeer sausage. Not many people are aware that reindeer are just domesticated caribou, so it’s cool that you know of it.

      I would of course give camel a try (though I’m suspicious that guy is using it as an innuendo).

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  5. Sorry I’m late posting here!

    As you may have read somewhere on my blog, animal welfare is something I’m very interested in (one of the reasons I decided to watch Silver Spoon actually). Even though I eat meat and other animal products, I’m well aware of the cruelty that goes on in factory farms. I took a couple of animal ethics-related classes at my university and was even in their anti-animal cruelty club, so I read a lot books and saw documentaries on the topic. One documentary I highly recommend is Earthlings and its segment about factory farming. Perhaps you saw some of it when you did that report for your Ethics course? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=vD7yKSk-DgA&list=PL5D3D0670F04D7545)

    But even knowing all that I learned from these sources, it’s difficult for a hungry person like me who loves to eat (and can’t cook!) to stop eating animals in a society that makes a full vegan diet extremely difficult. So I try and do what I can in other ways to help animals, like voting or signing petitions to stop some cruel factory farming practices, and as you mentioned here, buying organic products. My mom is adamant about getting cage-free eggs for example even though they’re more expensive. I also try to stick to heavily domesticated animals like cows, chickens, and pigs and don’t eat meat from otherwise wild animals like buffalo and moose. There’s already plenty of delicious food available from domesticated animals so I don’t see a reason to extend the cruelty to animals that can live wild and free from humans (unless there’s no other resource available, which may be the case with moose in Alaska in the winter time…I wouldn’t know).

    I greatly respect people who make the commitment to being vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons even though I don’t have the willpower myself. Even people who just try to be aware of how the animal killed for their food was treated and try to support the less cruel products get a thumbs up from me =) Unlike other ways people exploit animals such as in clothing or entertainment, food is a basic need of life and we’ve been eating animals since the beginning of time (since animals have always lived by eating each other), so I highly doubt we’ll ever get more than a fraction of the human race to completely stop eating meat. So all we can do is try and make things less cruel.

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    • Mega late reply #1 – I will have to look up that documentary and see if I’ve seen it before but just don’t recall the name. I don’t necessarily think that organic and cruelty-free are synonymous, as organic is just food grown free of chemicals, right? When you say organic meat, do you mean animals who have been fed a completely natural diet, free of pesticides and of their natural preferences? Whole Foods claims that:

      Here are a few of the key requirements for organic poultry, cattle and pigs:
      Must be raised organically on certified organic pastures
      Must be fed certified organic feed for their entire lives
      No drugs, antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed*
      Must have year-round outdoor access

      but I read elsewhere that these measures aren’t actually nationwide. It interests me how different peoples’ definitions are when it comes to organic meat.

      As for eating wild versus domestic animals, your stance is one completely new and foreign to me. Most of the time when I hear of people comparing the two, it’s almost always in favor of eating wild game, like wild salmon instead of farmed salmon. Living off the land in places like Alaska and even in the lower 48 where doing so is actually viable seems much more humane and waste-free than supporting a mass-produced food industry with such arguable practices. When you say, “There’s already plenty of delicious food available from domesticated animals so I don’t see a reason to extend the cruelty to animals that can live wild and free from humans,” I’m confused as to how it’s “cruel” to eat wild animals. Their deaths are quick and only on a needed basis, and almost every aspect of the animal is consumed and used, from the meat to the pelt. It’s the least wasteful method and is closer to how mankind used to live off the land before mass production and efficiency became the norm. Sure there’re plenty of domesticated meats available, but that’s exactly the point isn’t it? There’s so much plenty, we’re actually over producing. Sorry if I come off argumentative, but I’m honestly fascinated by your view on hunting wild game ^^

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  6. I found this post really interesting as I don’t really think of my food in such a way. For me food is just as a means for me to get my energy and nutrients from. Therefore I don’t really care about whether the food is organic or if it was cruelty-free but thank you for opening my eyes to this. I really need to add Silver Spoon to my MUST WATCH INSTANTLY list.

    BTW, I have nominated you for the Liebster Award there is more information on it on my blog. Please check it out!
    http://canadianbeautysheep.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/the-liebster-award/

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    • Delayed reply #2! I’m glad my post was interesting and somewhat new in thought for you. That was the whole point of me discussing this topic! Now that it’s been a few months, have you gotten around to watching Silver Spoon? If so, what did you think of it?

      And thanks for the nomination!

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  7. Hi there,

    I’m very late posting a comment to this, so sorry about that. I’m not watching the Silver Spoon anime but am reading the French manga version, up to and including volume 3. From the very beginning the series delved into important issues about our food supply and I was very surprised that the anime got licensed in the States. I find that most people around me know very little and care even less about where their food comes from and what’s in it.

    I was born and raised in Europe and the situation was very different. Now that I live here, I’m probably seen as a severe food fundamentalist by most of the folks around me. I spend most of my money on food and manga. 99% of what I eat is home-made from scratch, with the ingredients mostly from farmers’ markets, supermarkets like Whole Foods and a few small local stores that sell good food. That includes meat and eggs. I will eat them, but only from farmers I know. Home-rendered lard is an actual ingredient in my cooking and I bake my own bread. I have a tiny backyard garden and would love to add chickens to it. I also gather mushrooms in the local woods (just don’t take any that have gills is a golden rule for beginners) and know where to gather local fruit. It boggles my mind that one can walk down a fashionable downtown street in late spring and see people sitting in a cafe under a cherry tree breaking under a heavy load of fruit, yet no one is picking them. They’d probably buy them in the supermarket, neatly wrapped in plastic.

    We need more series like Silver Spoon making anime and manga fans think and talk about what they eat. And of course, more blogs with posts like yours to start the conversation.

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    • Mega late reply #3: I’m a month late in replying to this, so no worries! :p
      I honestly should read the manga, though I don’t think it’s licensed in America yet? If it is, then I am curious just how much was left out from the anime regarding farming practices and the food industry. It sounds like you are very similar to a good number of people I know in the Seattle area, where eating organic and often vegetarian/vegan is quite normal. I am also quite in love with Whole Foods and a variety of other local supermarkets that cater to local foods. I’m not quite so strict as you about actually knowing the people who grow my food, but I do try to pick local sources over others. And cooking instead of buying is definitely much more cost-effective once you have a decent stock in the kitchen.

      I really appreciate you commenting and sharing your thoughts on this issue ^^ I’ll try to keep my eyes open for similar controversies that pop up in upcoming seasons.

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  8. Amusingly, the most cruelty free method of obtaining food is the one your family used in Alaska: hunting. After all, the animals can live as they want, eat what is most natural to them, and are put down with just one or two shots with a rifle. But, I have the impression that many people who are against cruelty in raising animals are also against hunting.

    But, I suppose the biggest problem with creating environments free of cruelty is the loss of the family farm. The number of farms goes down every year, placing extra demands on factory farming, which prefer efficiency to concern for the animals’ well-being. And if they did not use the most efficient methods, meat would probably become a luxury item. It’s a hard problem to solve.

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    • I agree, that hunting is a fantastic way of supporting a more humane way of consuming, and it’s interesting pairing your view with Yumeka’s earlier comment. Also, I guess that also makes sense why in Alaska guns are common since we see them more as a means of survival instead of as a weapon between humans.

      I try to visit the local markets whenever I get a chance just to support the local farms and thank them for continuing to do what they do. I’m curious what that scene will be like years from now, say 10 years, 20 years. Like you say, it’s really a problem of efficiency and the impatient consumer. We want our food now, and aren’t always willing to wait to verify a food’s source and dietary benefits.

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