Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Jessie: No Cows For Lent

From Jessie Dye, Earth Ministry Program & Outreach Director:

When I was little, all Catholic School Kids gave up candy for Lent; the school candy store closed as of Ash Wednesday, not to open again until Easter. The adults couldn’t eat meat the whole time, or eat between meals. We walked the final journey with Jesus at Mass on Sundays, during Holy Week, in religion class and at home. This was taken very seriously, and it is a discipline that I have valued for the decades since then. While both my own spiritual journey and the Christian theology of Lent have evolved since those days, the concept and practice of fasting during Lent retains a strong hold on my psyche. Each year, I reflect and pray and plan for it, and the Lenten journey still matters in my year. In 2008, the fast is: cows.

In real life, I’m right there with Jimmy Buffet and his cheeseburgers. Meat is great. There’s a wolfish quality to my love of chewing on bones, and I’m thrilled to be just above my dogs in the food chain. It’s unladylike, I know, but there it is.

Still, I can’t help but be aware that eating cows is not a good practice:

  • Each pound of beef uses up 500 gallons of the world’s precious water;

  • A regular American 8 oz. steak has 50 grams of saturated fat;

  • A diet rich in beef increases the odds of many cancers, including breast, colon, and prostate;

  • Cows are a leading producer of methane gas worldwide; cow flatulence is exacerbating climate change;

  • Feedlot animals are tortured.
It’s that last I can’t live with. I can accommodate dots 1-4 by self-righteously purchasing meat for my household from Thundering Hooves, a wonderful ranch in Eastern Washington that raises pasture-finished animals that are as close to indigenous as possible. They eat local grasses, never go to feedlots. Their ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids is just what it was throughout most of human history, and not bad for our arteries.

Most importantly, as Dan O’Brien says of butchering his free-ranging bison in the wonderful book Buffalo for the Broken Heart: “they only have one bad day”. We are all going to have that bad day, and I don’t mind participating in the food chain. I’m happy to eat animals; I just don’t want to torture them.

I saw a feedlot from a back road in the central valley of California not too long ago, and those animals were miserable. The word that comes to mind in describing how they are treated is cruelty. Factory farming is an inter-species holocaust; my conscience rails at me for looking away, or worse, participating. There’s no pasture-finished dairy nearby, and I eat a lot of cows that aren’t from T. Hooves.

So no cows for lent. No beef, milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, or God help me, cream in my coffee. For six weeks I’m going to step away from the hoofed ungulates of choice, for the sake of our good Earth, my waistline, and most of all my conscience. I can remember those who have no clean water, and imagine that they are getting the gallons my cows would be drinking. There will be less methane all around. And on my one bad day, the cows on the other side of the rainbow bridge might give me a break.

Next installment:

No comments: