January 26, 2010

[disclaimer: I know. It's loooonnng. I think I'm making up for several months of pictures without much written material. Think of all the time I've saved you (the seven of you who read this blog) by only posting pictures...now it will even out.]

Should I consume less meat? Should I only eat meat from reliable sources? Should I stop eating animals altogether?

These are just some of the questions spinning a tangled web through my mind after finishing Jonathon Safron Foyer's wonderful book Eating Animals. His research is thorough (he committed three years to the project), balanced (he used the most conservative statistics available) and about as unradical as a book about factory farms can get.

It wasn't just this book, or these past few weeks reading it, that got me thinking about my meat intake. This internal dispute has been going on since 2005 when I stumbled upon a copy of Fast Food Nation, and continued through the years with Michael Pollan and the recent documentary Food, Inc. And finally, I seem poised to take some sort of leap into a mysterious and foggy eat-less-meat place, a position that I couldn't even begin to imagine the implications. What do I order out? What happens when we eat at a friends place? If I decide to eat some meat, where do I get it from?

This book, along with myriad other sources, has challenged me on several fronts. Probably what eats at me the most in regard to eating animals is the entire food process that takes place from the animal's birth to slaughter to transport to my mouth. And since 80-99% of the meat we eat comes from a factory farm, it only makes matters worse. The amount of research and interviews and videotapes of the gross and inhumane treatment of animals that happens in factory farms is staggering (think workers abusing animals in the cruelest ways possible). And even when the animals aren't being abused by their caretakers, their very existence is a short and cruel means to an end (think battery cages and disease and famine). One example Foer gives is that of a pregnant sow (and this is only half of it):

"Consider the life of a pregnant sow. Her incredible fertility is the source of her particular hell. While a cow will give birth to only a single calf at a time, the modern factory sow will birth, nurse, and raise an average of nearly nine piglets. She will invariably be kept pregnant as much as possible, which will prove to be the majority of her life...After her piglets are weaned (14 days instead of the normal 14 weeks), a hormone injection makes the sow rapidly "cycle" so that she will be ready to be artificially inseminated again in only three weeks.

Four out of five times a sow will spend the sixteen weeks of her pregnancy confined in a "gestation crate" so small that she will be not be able to turn around. Her bone density will decrease because of the lack of movement. She will be given no bedding and often will develop quarter-sized, blackened, pus-filled sores from chafing in the crate.

To avoid excessive weight gain and to further reduce feed costs, the crated sow will be feed restricted and often hungry."

And when you think about the way we have CREATED these animals through genetic engineering (vs. animal husbandry), the meat we eat doesn't even seem like real food. Through great feats of science, we have engineered chickens, for example, to grow so rapidly that they are slaughtered after 42 days of life. They are so fat they can't fly and often can barely walk by the time slaughter day arrives. And the only way they can even survive those 42 miserable days (sometimes even 39 days) are because we have laced them with hormones and antibiotics. The hormones and chemicals keeping them alive are also coming into my body, which doesn't sit very well. And the kicker for me on this front is that we don't even know the physical implications all this meat eating is having on our bodies because factory farming is such a new trend. And the same goes for pork and beef and even fish, believe it or not.

Then there are the slaughterhouses. And the greedy factory farm owners who have literally put hundreds of thousands of family farms out of business (or hired them and paid them barely enough to get by). And the reports coming out now that livestock contribute more to global warming than anything else (think massive piles of shit that seep into our rivers and lakes and release toxins into our air -- a typical cattle feedlot produces 344 million pounds of manure annually).

Of course, it's not all bad news from Foer or any of the other factory farm critics. There are farmers out there who still care for their animals and feed them real food and let them roam freely and find more humane slaughterhouses. And more and more people are asking these questions and shifting away from eating factory farmed meat, or any meat at all.

I read and studied and watched because I'm curious. I care about these issues because I eat meat almost every single day and I pretty much cover every common animal during the week. If I care about where I shop and where I get my fruits and vegetables and where I eat out at, it only makes sense that I would care about the meat I eat.

I'm one of many who simply wanted to know where this meat is coming from and how it's processed along the way. What I have found haunts me enough to make some changes. I'm not exactly sure what these changes will look like, but I'm ready to find out. Step one is to find local sources of meat from farms that raise animals in an ethical and humane way, where the animals are hormone and antibiotic free. Step two is to stop eating meat from restaurants, unless I know where it's coming from. Step twelve will be to raise some chickens of my own for eggs, but that might take a few months. :)

More of this journey to come...

January 22, 2010

For her mischievous smiles and wrinkled cheeks and shy squints...

January 11, 2010


No longer do we need to walk two blocks to a park. No longer are we
looking for condoms, or needles, or poop in the grass before we let
her bounce around aimlessly.

Now the wonderful green stuff is just outside our front door and I'm
pretty sure Stella likes it too. She crawled all over the yard and in
the dirt and down the sidewalk while I read Eating Animals.

More on the move soon I hope...

January 10, 2010

Enjoying one last clove on the roof before we load the truck tomorrow
morning. Oh so bittersweet.

January 6, 2010

The main highlight of our month long road trip, of course, was getting to spend four solid weeks with our families. We laughed a lot, cried a little and got to share our little tike with all of the people who love her more than we could have imagined. We even managed to squeeze in some time with some of our best friends in Moline, Denver and St. Louis. The rest of the notes are less important, but important enough for me to have on record. :)

- Altogether, we traveled 4804 miles through eleven states. The blog received 3615 hits while we were gone, or 103 hits a day. I believe 3412 of those hits came from my wonderful mother.

- We spent most of our Road Trip Meal Money on Steak N' Shake, a guilty pleasure that we never get the pleasure of having in Los Angeles (or anywhere on the West Coast). I must have had over a dozen bowls of Chili, enough to make me not want another one until next year. If there wasn't a Steak N Shake or a Chick Fil A, we tried to find a local spot, which we rarely succeeded at. Unfortunately, there aren't many small town folks using yelp.

- Stella withstood all of the changes, new environments, processed food and endless hours confined to a tiny space with relative ease. Not to mention a mild case of roseola, new teeth, a dog bite to the face and a runny nose that didn't stop until we got back to California. She certainly sacrificed her comfort and need for stability on a daily basis. I honestly didn't know it was possible to feel so proud of a ten month old. Though I understand she'll never be able to remember this trip, I'd like to think that this was her first road trip. I'd also like to think the travel bug has deeply rooted itself in her.

- There is a chance that we, the parents, had to sacrifice and suffer as much as Stella. Like when we listened to Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds on repeat for five hours straight, not turning it off for fear that our little Bella would wake up from her car seat slumber. We made this sacrifice every time she slept in the car and I'll now have to forever deal with the tune running through my head.

- Our Element braved the weather and pavement with gusto and averaged 19-26 miles per gallon, depending on wind, speed, gas and other factors I wish I could figure out. The only problem our Honda gave us was when her windshield wiper fluid froze and left me scrambling to see the road after a tractor trailer passed us in the Rockies. Even though our car has only been with us since July, she is officially part of the family. We have now slept in that car, which brings a certain kind of intimacy. We have drizzled cheerios, bananas and applesauce on her floor and in her crevices. And we have christened her with endless songs from several Pearl Jam records, the final piece to the Element becoming a Jackson.

- It is quite possible that during our trip I gained ten pounds from the lack of exercise and not having Kari's cooking made up of mostly organic and local food. I walked 1.8 miles yesterday, our first day back, and it's more than I walked the ENTIRE time I was home. I have a new appreciation for fit midwesterners because it requires so much time and energy to stay that way. We definitely have it easier here in the city (and year round warm weather), where doing just about anything requires walking or biking.

- I was able to chronicle our first family road trip all on my iPhone - something that astonishes me enough to include it in this list. Every blog and picture from the road came from my phone and we used it as an iPod during our seventy plus hours of driving. AND we used it to play games during those oh so sweet moments when Stella slept and there was nothing to look at in Kansas, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri.

- Returning home to Los Angeles was more sweet than I imagined. Though we will only be residing here in Downtown for a few more days, I love the beauty and warmth of our eclectic neighborhood in the Old Bank District. I love that even after a month away, Stella still had that same curious look in our elevator. I love waking up the hustle, bustle and noise of our city. I'm certainly as thankful as ever that I love where I live.

- A few of my favorite road trip pictures: