Most people think of meat as only coming from mammals, but for me it means all flesh. So even though it's unconventional, I'm referring to fish and poultry here as well. The reason why meat is a treat for me boils down to one word: sustainability. Knowing what I know about conventional feedlots and mass-produced meat operations, I am doing my best to avoid factory-raised meat. I simply can no longer knowingly purchase and consume meat that has been raised on CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and IFOs (intensive livestock operations.)
What this means is that the meat I do bring into my kitchen is from smaller, usually more local, operations that are committed to producing meat in a more sustainable, humane way. Because the scale is smaller, the costs of raising animals in this way is higher and the meat is therefore more expensive. So from a purely economical point of view, I can't afford to buy a lot of it and this alone has lowered my consumption considerably.
But sustainability also extends to my notions about my ecological footprint. The business of raising animals for meat, especially the large CAFO, IFO, and other factory farm models, is contributing to a lot to the ecological unbalance of our planet. Between toxic manure waste, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, hormone use, and rainforest deforestation, meat eating has a significant environmental impact.
And there's my own personal sustainability as well: a diet with less hamburgers and more veg is simply a better way to take care of myself. I have tried to live on a purely plant-based diet and it doesn't work for me, so the middle way is to source my meat well and use it sparingly.
Like many people around the world, I now see meat as a treat and not the center of my plate day in and day out. I am happy to buy a smaller cut and stretch it over many meals, or to seek out handmade sausages and other high-flavored meat products that have a big flavor impact in small quantities. Am I perfect in my attempts to source and purchase sustainable meat? Probably not. But I do my best, and the more involved I get in this search, the more I discover that there are actually many people like me out there.
Oh and one last, important thing. To my palate, sustainably raised meat tastes better. It has more flavor and better texture than factory raised meat. So even if that's your primary criteria for what to bring into your kitchen, sustainably raised meat is again a winner.
(Image: Emma Christensen)