When I started Espresso and Cream, my motivation wasn’t to discuss food politics or controversial topics. It was to be a feel-good, creative space for me to share recipes and little snippets of life. And for the most part, it will remain just that. I planned on talking about wedding hair today, but after watching Oprah yesterday, I changed my course of action. For those of you who didn’t see the episode, Oprah and many of her staffers went vegan for a week, and the queen of talk even had the Harpo cafe prepare vegan options.
As a vegetarian, I was excited to watch the show and thought it might be able to bring national attention to more healthful eating. But after watching the show, I wasn’t excited or uplifted; I was conflicted. You see, I was born and raised in rural Iowa, ‘farm country’ for those of you unfamiliar with the area. One of my uncles is a farmer, one a veterinarian and the third a teacher and advisor to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) for the students at his school.
And then there’s Joey’s family. Very much like my side, his relatives are deeply involved in agriculture. His dad is a cattle producer. And for those of you who watched Oprah yesterday, yes, he raises feed lot cattle. And one of his uncles is involved in managing hog facilities. Oh, and the love of my life, my fiancée Joey, works for Cargill, not in the meat-producing side of the business, but he can most certainly be considered part of the industry.
While I have no desire to shun my vegetarian ways any time soon (there are a multitude of reasons I support a plant-based lifestyle), the vilification of those who produce meat for our country in traditional ways has to stop. I think that many times, in the food and blog world, people fail to realize that the cattle and hog producers in our country are caring, honest, hard-working people who have a great deal of respect for the land they work and the animals they feed. On days like today, when the weather is brutally cold and I hardly want to step outside and pump my gas, farmers like Joey’s dad are outside working, feeding their livestock, scooping snow and providing bedding for the animals when weather requires it.
Traditionally, feed lot cows are not pregnant while they are at the farm, and if they are, it is on accident. But once every now and again, a calf will be born, as was the case last summer. I was allowed to name little ‘Lou’ and got to spend considerable amounts of time feeding her bottles, letting her suck my fingers, and chase me around the yard like a dog. I was in love. And despite the fact that she was small, premature, and relatively useless from an income standpoint, Joey’s parents played along with me, keeping her fed and cared for when I wasn’t around.
I hated the idea that some day this sweet little calf would grow up and be butchered, but like Michael Pollan said on the show yesterday, it gives you respect for the process and makes you thankful for the meat you eat. (side note: Lou died as a calf a month after this picture was taken) Maybe, in my ideal world, all cattle would be produced in open pastures, without the use of antibiotics and all my chicken and eggs would be free-range and organic. But if I am not willing to pay the extra couple of dollars for free-range eggs at the grocery store, then I don’t really have any right to complain.
Whether or not someone chooses to be vegan isn’t something I have any issue with. Like Oprah said, it is an individual choice. Heck, I’m a committed vegetarian writing a piece about meat. What I am saying is that if there was a greater demand for free-range, organic meat and if farmers, on a large scale, could make a living that way, they would. But it starts with us. True change comes when we as consumers take responsibility for what we don’t like about the meat industry and demand that change with our wallets.
If you stuck with me through the post, for giving it thought and consideration, and for sharing your thoughts about it, thank you. Outspoken moments like this will, I assure you, be few and far between. But it was something that was placed on my heart and meant to be said with nothing but love. And if you have thoughts about what I’ve said, I would love for you to post them in the comments section below or e-mail me with any questions you have.
Whew, tomorrow I’m talking about cake. Something we can all agree on.