Meeting your meat

Guest post by Abi Barnes, a Vermont Law School student and intern at chinadialogue

Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, started a media storm recently after posting on his Facebook page that he had “just killed a pig and a goat.” Discouraged by the attitudes expressed by friends who wanted to eat their pork, but not think about the pig’s death, Zuckerberg told Fortune, “that just seemed irresponsible to me…they should be thankful for what they eat rather than trying to ignore where it came from.”  Zuckerberg is intent on cutting out all animals from his diet that he does not personally slaughter. While some have attacked him for not abstaining from meat entirely, his decision has elevated public discourse in the United States on the source of our sustenance.

Food author Michael Pollan suggests that Zuckerberg’s friends are not alone. “Half of the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year,” he says in his 2006 best seller, Omnivore’s Dilemma, “yet few of us ever pause to consider the life of the pig — an animal easily as intelligent as a dog — that becomes the Christmas Ham.” Pollan also killed a pig to explore his relationship with his food.  While “cleaning” the pig, Pollan was disturbed by the close resemblance of the animal’s innards to his own — “on the inside at least, [the pig] had all the same parts and probably looked very much like me.”

Zuckerbgerg and Pollan raise an important question: Do people deserve to eat animals they are unwilling to kill?  The average American consumes 224 pounds of meat per year. I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find many people willing to have that much blood on their hands.

We live in a world that has created a rift between us and our food, and this widened disconnect between consumer and consumed has changed the landscape of our planet as well as our cultural perspectives on eating. Meat arrives to us in pre-packaged boxes and plastic wrap, and few consider the process—or the lives–behind the packaging. The meat industry is a murky business that ensures consumers remain disconnected with their food. Undercover videos released last year by the Humane Society of the US offer a glimpse of the cruel treatment and grim housing conditions suffered by animals.

Meat consumption is on the rise and nowhere is this more striking than in China. This trend is particularly troubling as global population is predicted to reach 9.1 billion by 2050. According to a UN report, a vegan diet will become increasingly necessary in order to feed everyone.

In April, chinadialogue explored vegetarianism in San Francisco and the environmental benefits of eating less meat. The author recommended “mindful meat consumption,” a more selective and sustainable approach to eating meat. Zuckerberg’s decision to personally prepare his own meat, beginning to end, will force him to be mindful of his consumption and its costs. While it seems unlikely that this is at the cusp of a popular trend, it does seem indicative of increasing demand for local and sustainable meat and information on where our meat comes from.

Photo courtesy of Daquella manera.