Guest Blog: Going the Whole Hog

The excellent Mindi Schneider, friend and comrade, sent me this missive from her base in China. Since Mindi doesn’t yet have a blog of her own, I only seemed right to share her thoughtful analysis here. I know she’s knee deep in translations at the moment, but I’m hoping that if y’all comment, Mindi’ll be able to join the discussion. So, without further ado:

If I could, I would eat that pig snout…notes from a reluctant vegetarian in Chengdu on going whole hog

Mindi Schneider

True confessions.  I’m a student of food and agriculture politics and sustainability.  I currently live in China.  I study the pig industry.  And I’m a vegetarian.

My reluctance as a vegetarian is the result of a long and complicated relationship with meat.   It all started with a visit to Carlson & Dref’s Butcher shop in my hometown of Blair, Nebraska (It has since gone out of business, which tells another story of food system change altogether).  I was 10 or 11, and I went with my mom to pick up some lunch meats.  On that fateful day, the door to the meat locker was slightly ajar, and I was horrified to see an entire skinned cow hanging from a hook, footless, tailless, and bloody.  From that moment, I was done with meat.  Even before then, I remember not liking the taste of a most meats, and I was a stubborn child.  I spent several nights alone at the dinner table after being told, “you will not get up from this table until you clear you plate” (I always won this standoff though, strong-willed from the get go), and irritating my family at holidays by proclaiming that “the roast beef is green, and I will not eat it” (I reasoned that since cows ate grass, it made perfect sense that the meat would be grass stained).  Until standing in the shadow of that enormous carcass, however, my aversion to all things meaty hadn’t come together as a label. But right then and there, I became a vegetarian.

I was never a real animal lover, didn’t much care for pets, didn’t like petting cats, etc.  So seeing the skinned cow wasn’t a “poor Elsie” kind of emotion.  It was more an “oh yuck, look at all of that flesh!”  Today, I’m 34, and aside from a few diversions, my lips haven’t met a piece of meat in over 20 years.  I wish it were different. Life both in the States and in China would be so much easier, and I would like nothing more than to be a fearless, Anthony Bourdain-style opportunivore.  My options at dinnertime would increase exponentially, I could stop fielding so many questions from Chinese restaurant workers, I could order “Old Nominal Mother Stir Fried Kidneys” or “The Incense Burns the Cosmetology Hoof”. With the encouragement of a few swine-loving friends, I’ve been trying to turn the beat around and see if I can join the carnivorous among us.  In the past few years, I’ve had a bit of bacon, a slice or two of pepperoni pizza, and even nibbled on a buffalo burger.  Mostly though, I borrow a small piece of meat from a friend’s dinner, plop it down on my plate, and then just stare at it, unable to raise the fork (or chopstick) to my mouth. It’s that fleshy thing again.  I just can’t imagine chewing on flesh!

I’ve had other reasons too.  In college, my vegetarianism became militant.  I wrote papers in philosophy classes about “the immorality of eating meat” using Kant’s categorical imperative to argue that since it is impossible for every person on the planet to eat meat on a daily basis (because of limited land and resources), then it is immoral for anyone to do so.  I gave speeches about hamburgers and the destruction of rainforests in South America.  When I visited home, I would “mooo” and “oink” at my family members as they bit into beef patties and hams.  I was obnoxious.  I was “one of those” vegetarians.

Then I mellowed, and realized that people weren’t going to want to eat dinner with me if I continually tried to shame the carnivores into submission.  I also realized that no one felt shame; they just felt that I was annoying.  I never forgot my politics, but I cooled down, went on with my business, even worked as a server at a steak house for a while, and later fell in love with livestock in a new and unexpected way.

I hope that my various relationships to eating meat have helped me understand meat politics in a more nuanced manner. In my more confrontational years in the 1990s, I would have agreed with the more radical calls for worldwide vegetarianism on ecological grounds.  I thought that if humanity just stopped eating meat, then the majority of our pressing environmental challenges could be overcome.  I could link meat production and consumption to just about every ecological ailment going.  But then I started studying agroecology, and then development sociology and political economy, and today I whole-heartedly disagree with this idea.  In the simplest terms, here’s why:  food systems need animals.  To think about agricultural sustainability without animals is nonsense.  In the most sustainable and agroecologically designed farming systems, animals convert scraps and weeds into nutrient-rich fertilizer, they till the soil, and they help manage weed and insect pests. In many places, livestock are centrally important to the most vulnerable populations of farmers, as they provide a necessary source of protein and/or dairy products, and act as living banks that can be sold when the kids need to pay school fees, etc.  Livestock are key farming system components that function ecologically, socially, nutritionally, and even politically.

Which brings me to the next point.  We can’t vilify livestock and meat uncategorically.  For example, the recent reports linking livestock production to climate change are serious[1], and we need to take heed.  Surely, industrial agriculture is a key CO2 contributor, both in terms of emissions associated with production and with long distance trade in grain and other food products.  (Just as surely as industrial agriculture is a more general disaster for communities, soil, water, human health, etc., and just as surely as meat consumption in the world’s most marketized countries is outrageously and unsustainably high.)  But critics of these reports and responses to them also have a valid critique when they say shifting to more vegetarianism would be a disaster for poor farmers[2] On this, they have a point.  Leave aside for the time being that these claims are mostly being levied by the agbiz elite, who could care less about “poor farmers in Africa” unless those farmers can help them make a buck.  My point is that we have to think about different forms of livestock and meat production, instead of treating meat as a monolith.  Pastoralists and small-scale farmers are not contributing to climate change, and in fact, their practices are precisely what we need to combat it.  And they raise and (typically) eat animals!

We need more nuanced debates, period.  The black/white, left/right dualism that defines most politics today won’t get us anywhere, not least because the debates are incomplete.  One of the only things that is black and white is that some people in the world are poor and hungry, and some people aren’t (and some are overfed to boot).  When we talk about the role of meat in defining and addressing this issue, we must consider different practices, localities, and cultures.  Let’s treat vegetarianism as one of a whole range of ways of eating, practiced for a whole range of reasons from religious beliefs to personal aversions to flesh, and not propose it as some kind of universalizing saving grace.  That just descends quickly into elitism.  Let’s also remember that in some places, because of climate and geomorphology, vegetarianism is highly unsustainable and even impossible.  Instead, we need to think about how meat is produced, who produces it, who eats it, who sells it, who buys it, who governs it, how far it travels from farm to fork or chopstick to sewer, and what role it plays in politics, society, and agroecosystems.

I’m writing about this today because I went shopping at a local market in Chengdu and feasted my eyes on stall after stall of animals and animal parts hanging from hooks.  Just like when I was 10, I still don’t want to order up a whole duck, or a pig’s tail, or chicken intestines to take home, but I’m so grateful to the people who do.  That this is how hundreds of millions of Chinese people (and people in other places as well) are accustomed to buying meat is a wonderful thing.  The meat is freshly slaughtered, comes from nearby farms, and isn’t served up on styrofoam trays encased in plastic wrap.  People know what they’re looking for and know how to make every part of the animal into (what I imagine is) a delicious dish.

I’ve been on a new, and I’m sure my friends would say, a somewhat obnoxious campaign lately, that if people are going to eat meat they should be ready to the whole animal. Meat is meat, right? We shouldn’t discriminate. This is not a new idea by any means – my dad grew up on a farm and ate cow tongue, head cheese, and all kinds of sorted and a sundry body parts all the time. But this is another way we need to think about meat politics and sustainability today. Consider this, each year the US exports more than 100,000MT of pig offal (entrails, organs, feet, etc.) to China. Agbiz see this as a rational marketing maneuver since Americans only want to eat “prime cuts” and Chinese people like to eat lungs and stomachs. For the corporations, they get to profit at both ends of the dismembered pigs. But for the rest of us, I’m not sure on what planet it makes rational sense to ship body parts half way around the world, especially in a time of peak oil and peak soil, and all kinds of peaks. This certainly is not one of the sustainable solutions we need.

I implore you, carnivores, step away from the neatly packaged, hormone-laden, breast-o’-caged-and-flightless-chicken, and instead try a pig ear or a chicken head from your local farmer.  And vegetarians, let’s support our flesh-eating brethren in searching out more sustainable ways to eat their meat, and I don’t mean by choosing expensive haute cuisine served at restaurants that only a few of us can afford.  I want the kind of change that everyone can participate in.  On this, we have a lot to learn from the Chinese people who make daily trips to the market to buy fresh produce and meat.  One of the most important is learning how to go whole hog and waste not even a snout!


[1] For example, FAO’s report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM

[2]For example, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/23/veggie_planet_saver_scheme_rubbished/

14 Replies to “Guest Blog: Going the Whole Hog”

  1. I am an omnivore but I don’t eat meat every day or even every week. However I think it is important that all food we eat is raised in a responsible manner with the planet and all its creatures in mind. If an animal is raised and killed humanely I will eat it. I feel wild meat is the best alternative. The animal has a natural life and a quick death. That is in most cases and assuming a responsible hunter.

  2. I appreciate this blog entry. But there are some fundamental points where I disagree.
    for example: “food systems need animals.”(fertilizers etc. are mentionend) – that is true, but you don’t have to eat them to get these advantages.

    I think the whole vegetarianism debate sums up to one word: suffering.
    Animals do feel pain and do fear death.

    Human beings are mighty entities and should try not to be the source of pain and suffering of other beings – human and subhuman.

    Bringing global vegetarianism into the debate is not good because it’s too radical and currently not realistic. It might offend people. It would just be a too big step. But basically I would say eating meat is not a good idea.

  3. Mindi’s comment here really resonates with my own experience.

    >>Tom, if you really think that eating meat is not a good idea, then you shouldn’t eat it, lest you be untrue to yourself and that is more damaging than eating meat or not eating meat, I assure you. If you eat meat, just be mindful of what you are doing.<<

    Here is my small experience. I was born a beef eater, chicken snapper, pork craver, fish monger and wild game lover. I love wild duck and venison stew. I was raised on dead flesh. heheheh. I even ate Menudo which is cow-trype and very delicious with lots of green chili. I never ate eyes, lungs, heart or brains, but livers and kidneys have occasionally been my fare.

    Depending upon how they are fixed, most often those internal organs are not near as pleasant as rattlesnake (which taste a little bit like chicken–white meat) and, if fixed correctly, can be delicious–especially if it is a complete mystery to your guests. 🙂

    Then…..I had an electronic sales job that took me to a gated secure facility named "Shwartzman's Factory Meats." Seeing the workmen eating their lunch, using the carcass of ripe smelling dead goat as their table, gave me…uh…pause for thought? A "contemplative" moment. Especially since the smell was so foul that even the workers had a hankerchief over their noses. Yum yum.

    And then there were all those screaming bovines knowing that in a little while a sharp knife would slit their throats sending their life gushing into a steel drain and a man with a sledghammer would bash their, brains out so they wouldn't "suffer," I suppose. hmmmm, or did the sledge hammer come first and then the blade? There was far too much horror in the air to tell. I never saw such a scene of bovine terror in my entire life, nor since.

    It would be like moving forward from the back of a long line for the guillotine and having to hear the entire process until you come into view of it as one or two before you get amputated. Uh…you too might dump a few stimulating chemicals into your tissues, or worse.

    So, after awhile I became a vegetarian. I ate grains, fruits, vegetables. eggs and dairy. The items that we buy at our super-markets here in America are DEPLETED of nutrition, unless they have been grown with something OTHER than Mansanto seeds, not hosed with persticides, laced with corn syrup or dyed with food coloring. Washington State Apples are now given lipstick so they will look shinier and sell sell sell so that more can be sold quickly to make way for more moreness.

    My daughter once needed mouldy bread for a science project.

    Just try to get the bread from the store to mould! Gamma radiation? This sort of foolishness is usually corrected by local "organic" produce. MORE EXPENSIVE however. YOU must pay to avoid disease and death. Sometimes the "organic" is four times what the poisonous varieties are and I live on $784 dollars a month period as do many of us in America who are retired not to mention those who are now loosing their jobs, businesses, pensions, homes, families and children.

    I found that I was growing weaker and needed more vitamins and protein. So, I ate a little meat, then a little more, but still only in small amounts. I had lost my taste for it.

    And, I can still hear those friends screaming in terror, begging for deliverance.

    Of course, the status quo thinking on this is that so-called "dumb" animals can't possibly know what is about to happen to them. Sorry, Oh yes they do. Those that hold such views have no idea of what an "animal" IS. In fact YOU and I are already one of them, contrary to, what (in my point-of-view) are some erroneous religious dogmas.

    First of all there is a way to slaughter an animal that does not fighten it, terrify it and cause it to shoot terror and fear chemical hormones into their meat (making it tough for one thing.) You eat those and….guess what? Just take a look around you. Fear and anger. Not to mention all the chemicals and drugs that the bovines, hogs or chickens have injested and been injected with while being crammed into tiny cages and about to asphyxiate. Take your medications, children, Uncle Pharma needs you.

    Second, any consumption of another being should be in complete appreciation for that being and the assurance to it that you are rendering it up into a yet higher service of the Great Creation (or whatever you wish to call it.) This is what the Native Americans, who originally lived on this land, continually practiced. And, they also used EVERY BIT of that animal for all kinds of very useful things to aid them in the practical and artistic daily life of their tribes. They were not a "throw away" society. They enjoyed their life syncrhonized with natural timing while ALWAYS REMEMBERING AND RESPECTING where all those items from animals came from–Mother Earth.

    You see, this is what makes the difference in meat consumption. However, our social structure pays no attention to these things at all and only lives on a consume consume consume basis where consumption and increasing the bottom lines of Professional Death Factories is the only thing that matters.

    This is sickness and produces sickness for all who participate. Let's stop participating and find our health.

    Now, there is a proper way to deal with meat and game and most of our present society does not recognize it at all simply because of ignorance.

    So, I am returning to vegetarian living. Rice, beans, chili, tomato, okra, indian corn, and squash are my food. But this time I will use some Hemp powder for protein and do my best to get local produce from heirloom seeds that have life in them and have not been irradiated and manipulated by ignorant men who have absolutely no idea what they do. Or, if they do these things but on purpose, they need to be arrested and put behind bars where they belong because they are dangerous criminals.

    By the way, what irradiation does is to kill EVERYTHING including some very good nutrition and beneficial bacteria. Just try to get a piece of bread to mould. They proudly claim that irradiation by gamma rays preserves and protects food but, in fact, it KILLS it.

    We need more local farmers with more truly organic produce, including meat which has been properly handled for the highest good of all, especially those who give their lives for it and for those who eat it. Of course this entire area is under constant attack by the Mega-Money Factories of Death and not just in America but throughout the world. And this is typical of our present totally dysfunctional civilization on every level.

    I have great hope, however, that there is a general awakening, since it is becoming more and more obvious by the day that "business as usual" is completely unsustainable and even suicidal.

    namaste

  4. Tom, you said, “Bringing global vegetarianism into the debate is not good because it’s too radical and currently not realistic. It might offend people. It would just be a too big step. But basically I would say eating meat is not a good idea.”

    I do not think “vegtarianism” or any kind of “ism” or “carnianity” is even the issue. And it is unlikely not to offend someone–especially the purveyors of poison. Sanity is the issue. When people finally become aware of where health comes from, many things will change. Until then, suicidal ignorance will prevail. There are already many people all around the world practically demonstrating the way of health. Let us support them and make these methods known to all. We need to embrace the wisdom of some our the world’s small populations of indigenous peoples who know how to synchronize with Mother Nature instead of waging war against her with vain arrogance.

    Right now, one of the most critical issues is finding out why the BEE populations all over the world are being depleted and to do everything possible not to let Big Agra “Experts” make assessments but instead, call upon people who can think holistically and have wisdom concerning nature’s processes. The Criminal Agra Cartels probably have some laboratory self-pollinating genetic Frankenstein-monsters in mind and, as is their tradition, care nothing for Mother Nature’s long experience and intelligent success.

    namaste

  5. Thanks for this one mindi,Raj and rob. It has re inspired me to look at the opinions i hold. I am used to looking at foodstuff from a medicinal point of view and how we feel being the foremost focus and not really considering too much the distance that it has travelled etc. I think that if it is a choice of eating a whole carcass, gibb and all or no meat, vegetarianism starts to look far less painfull to me..! snouts…emmm.think i’ll pass guys.
    Ive experrimented with all kinds of diets(not snouts though) and have found that some people in some conditions must eat meat for health, because they cant make the chemical changes to get it from another source, especially efa’s. And in my book, the people come first. But totally agree with rob that the life should only be taken with respect. Also, I have seen people drive themselves nuts with the facts about pollution in food and air, I dont think that focus on any negative, however true is healthy or sustainable. I think that we must focus on the positive in everything and head for it, the changes will happen.
    Essentially I have come to a place where i feel if I cant/wont kill it with my hands i wont eat it. (and the fact that we can transplant piggy body parts into ours without rejection also raises a few questions in my mind.)
    This article makes me ask myself, how much meat do I eat without care of its origin and treatment. What impact does my consumption have on our global condition and what is my responsability.Those are great questions, and i heard somebody say, ask and ye shall recieve, cant remember who that was, but I think they were right. I reckon i can afford to eat less, and more local. Go to my farm shop and not just rely on tescos., but i think i will put the gibby bits out for the fox mindi.. it always makes me smile to put two fingers up to the hunt muppet show anyhow… smiling is very low impact and healthy dont you know.!

  6. Hi,
    My name is Debra and I am writing to you from Spain. I am not an agricultural expert nor am I an economist, but I would like to just add some thoughts to Mindi’s reflections on being a reluctant vegetarian.

    I think the debate about whether or not to be vegetarian or meat-eating can be full of a lot of dogma and holier-than-thou attitudes which often leave people who would rather eat meat feeling guilty and defensive. As a vegetarian living with 3 meat-eaters at home, I am all for openness and understanding about this issue so I thought this article was refreshing. However, I am a bit surprised at the particular case made for meat consumption. I mean, it seems to me that, according to the article, animals are needed for sustainable agriculture and in this way, people should consume them in a locovore and responsible way. While I agree that meat, just like vegetables, grain and fruit, should not be shipped to the other side of the world to be consumed, I think there is a more basic question at hand that seems to have been ignored. That question is that animals don’t exist solely to be consumed by humans. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter whether one is an animal lover or not to be able to appreciate the fact that we live on a planet in which we are just one of many species of living beings. It seems that we tend to measure the value of things in terms of whether humans can eat them, drink them, burn them or generally make use of them. Why do we have to eat animals for agricultural sustainability? Why can’t individual farmers have a more respectful and humble relationship with animals in a symbiotic way, for milk and dairy products, eggs, wool, brute force etc.Wouldn’t that be a good reason to raise cattle, have them paw at the earth, without having to kill and consume? Why do we humans think we have the right to live out of balance with other species? Let’s talk about our oceans, for example. We are depleting the seas of fish and sea creatures solely because of increased human consumption. That is highly selfish and irresponsible.

    In short, I think people have to make their own personal decisions about what they eat, but they shouldn’t be confused about what is sustainable or not. As I see it, consuming animals takes up too many natural resources that could go into feeding the immense population of the world that has nothing to put in their bellies. Again, we are out of balance even with our own species. I guess what the bottom line is, are we on this planet just to use whatever we want in any way we deem beneficial for us, or can we learn to live in a responsible way toward all living beings? Maybe we should wonder more about that. I think the question is much deeper than being a meat-eater for better soil productivity.

    Thanks for hearing me out.

  7. Thanks, everyone, for the thoughtful commentary, and for continuing the conversation. Let me see if I can weigh in on some of these issues…

    The question of the ethics of killing animals for human consumption is one that has troubled me as well, for the reasons that you mention, and because in the end, eating meat means that animals have been killed at the hand of humans, and that is indeed a relationship of unequal power and control. But for me, this question is again about different forms and scales of production. My research takes me to livestock farms of all shapes and sizes, and there is nothing more disturbing than animals kept in confinement and slaughtered on the killing floor in factory style farms. I fully agree that treating animals like parts and pieces on a dis-assembly line that come out the other end as disembodied cuts of meat sold in the name of corporate profit is wrong. However, there is another equally important ethical question in all of this, and that is the question of who gets to eat.

    If we argue uncategorically that killing animals for meat is wrong, then we leave no room for the hundreds of millions of people in the world for whom buying the majority of their household’s food from a market (hypermarket or otherwise) is out of reach. For these peasant farmers and pastoralists, raising and eating livestock is an absolute necessity. From small-scale farmers in China who raise 1 or 2 pigs a year to eat at Spring Festival, to Mongolian herders who rely their livestock for virtually all of their dietary needs, eating meat isn’t a choice or an ethical dilemma, it’s a way of life.

    So I think the ethics of killing animals is wrapped up in a very complex web of other ethical questions surrounding meat, including the ethics of equality, access, and sustainability. I’m not willing to uniformly say that killing animals for human consumption is wrong, because that privileges ways of life that don’t apply to more than half of the world’s population, and to vast expanses of the earth’s ecosystems.

    That said, to Debra, I completely agree with your point that the diversion of resources for meat production is out of control. This is one of the things that got me hooked on studying livestock in the first place. The last time I checked, it took about 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat in the US. This is indeed a blatant waste of energy, land, soil, etc. But again, this figure comes from a particular form of large-scale, commercial livestock production, in which the vast majority of US agronomic cropland is dedicated to growing animal feed, and industrial farms produce virtually all of the meat in the country. Agribusiness is exporting this factory farm model all over the world, with disastrous consequences. To come back to the idea that we can’t vilify meat uniformly, I want to argue that many of the people with empty bellies that you speak of survive precisely because they raise livestock, and can either eat them or sell them in times of need. While we absolutely need to fix the system that creates such massive inequality (dietary and otherwise) in the first place, in the meantime, livestock continues to play a vital role for the world’s most vulnerable populations.

    Thanks again for your comments. This is truly a complex issue!

  8. Thanks for this debate Mindi.

    It’s a truly complex topic.

    “the people with empty bellies that you speak of survive precisely because they raise livestock”
    – This is a similar debate as can be had with regards to hunting, where those of us in the world who are rich enough to have options can easily say that hunting is 100% wrong. So many vegetarians and animal rights activists would maintain this (I’m a devout vegetarian but thankfully my eyes have been opened a bit). But how can they equitably assert this when so many lives of the poorer among us depend on a type of hunting which is sustainable and has been for centuries, if not millennia. You’re completely right when you ask for more nuance. Unfortunately it’s very easy to pontificate with full bellies and a life full of options.

    “People know what they’re looking for and know how to make every part of the animal into (what I imagine is) a delicious dish.”
    – Mindi, you might be able to confirm this but I have a feeling that while currently this statement is correct, the Chinese diet is changing at such a fast pace that soon it’ll become as unfashionable to eat anything but prime flesh in asia as it is here in the West? I hope it isn’t too late to turn people back, if they have to continue eating some meat, to eating as wastelessly as possible.

    Plus, to clarify, for anyone who might think that all chinese people shop locally from markets..the amount of factory farmed meat in china (pork in particular) is terrifying and growing exponentially! Just needed pointing out..

    “When we talk about the role of meat in defining and addressing this issue, we must consider different practices, localities, and cultures. Let’s treat vegetarianism as one of a whole range of ways of eating, practiced for a whole range of reasons from religious beliefs to personal aversions to flesh, and not propose it as some kind of universalizing saving grace. That just descends quickly into elitism. ”

    Couldn’t agree more. Thanks x

  9. Thanks for the great article Mindi.

    In the past two years I’ve stopped eating meat due to the factory farming methods in the US. I would consider eating meat again from natural sustainable farming operations but at present it’s too challenging to get this on a regular basis.

    I think we need to encourage Omnivores to eat less meat versus trying to convert everyone to vegetarianism.
    Neal

  10. Mindi –

    “food systems need animals. To think about agricultural sustainability without animals is nonsense. In the most sustainable and agroecologically designed farming systems, animals convert scraps and weeds into nutrient-rich fertilizer, they till the soil, and they help manage weed and insect pests.”

    Funnily enough I just came across this after my previous comment (http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/sites/default/files/The%20Land%20Issue%205.pdf). It’s hypothetical and idealistic but the figures for Jenny Hall’s vision of a stockfree Britain (pg. 20) seem solid. You might be able to verify it?

    Enjoy,
    Tom x

  11. I absolutely loved this article. I am not a vegetarian, but I have been around many several times and you are by far the only person that has put the whole “vegetarian thing” into context and in a way that it makes complete sense. Congratulations. I hope you start your own blog, I would definitely be a fan.

  12. Hi everyone,

    Thanks again for the comments, and kind words! Obviously, this is a debate near and dear to me, so it’s great have some discussion.

    To Tom x, thank your for pointing out the growing percentage of pork raised on factory farms in China, and the changing dietary patterns of Chinese people. I’m currently living in Sichuan Province to study precisely these changes, and what they mean for smallholder farmers in particular. Here in Sichuan, the current and historic heart of pork production in China, ‘backyard farmers’ who raise 1-10 pigs per year still produce around 60% of all the province’s pigs. Specialized household farms and commercial farms account for the rest, and the commercial farm share is growing quickly. These changes are similar in other provinces, though in some places on the coast, smallholders only produce 20-30% of the pigs. These changes have all been swift and profound, reversing about 7,000 years of agricultural history. And yes, the sites and forms of consumption are changing as well.

    I can happily report, however, that the so-called wet markets where people buy fresh meat and vegetables are alive and kicking. Vegetables often come from far away provinces, but the meat is mostly local because as of yet, the infrastructure to ship chilled pork doesn’t exist. Once that happens, thing will change quickly.

    Thanks, too, for the article link. I’ll check it out…

  13. Thanks for the info Mindi, very interesting. It’d be great if you could ask Raj to kindly put up a link to your work/blog when that’s available.

    Refrigeration, I have to say, isn’t a variable I’d considered before.

    The trends are scary indeed. Can’t remember precisely where I read it (possibly food wars by Tim Lang) but apparently obesity rates in China are rising faster than they did even in the US at their peak (in the 70s-90s probably).

    Long may the Chinese love of real food continue! I lived below 3 Chinese exchange students last year and the work they put into their food was admirable. Hours of intricate recipes to make things from scratch. Put us all to shame.

    Warm greetings from Ireland anyway,
    Take care.

    Tom

  14. Mindi and commenters,

    (I should note in the interest of full disclosure that I’m a Nebraskan and a new friend of Mindi’s, so I’m inclined to gush over whatever she writes because I’m proud to know her!)

    That said, I wanted to thank everyone for these thoughtful and personal comments. After I finished reading Mindi’s article, I was left trying to decide how to actualize some of her ideas in my own life, and many of the comments further explored my personal confusion and struggles.

    I was a vegetarian from age 11 to 20, or thereabouts. I approached it strictly from an animal rights perspective. I am a lifelong animal lover, and when I was 13 traveled to D.C. for the Animal Rights March on Washington, which contributed mightily to my continued activism on all causes related to pets, lab animals, and the meat industrial complex.

    Then in college, my fingernails started falling off due to my cheap, unhealthy, virtually protein-less diet. Also, I missed meat. I was never a vegetarian that didn’t like meat. I would gaze longingly at my friends’ burgers while I made a meal of french fries. Once in a while I’d sneak a meatball or piece of Thanksgiving turkey at my mom’s house and then feel guilty. So reintroducing meat to my diet was kind of a relief.

    Today I am so conflicted about meat eating that my head is spinning. I am 100% a believer in eating local, organic, etc. But for the most part that is financially out of my reach. Many local food advocates insist that eating locally and seasonally is more affordable than grocery store shopping, but I am crying foul. My husband and I joined a highly respected local CSA two summers ago and spent nearly $500 on 16 weeks worth of veggies. The portions we received were small and writing those two $250 checks cleared out our wee checking account. Now, we just shop piece meal at our local farmer’s market, which is a wonderful resource. But at (for example) $3 for a cucumber (a price I saw last Saturday) it’s largely out of our reach. Still, we do our best.

    And then there’s meat… in terms of time, convenience, and so on, it just seems EASIER to buy meat. I can spend $5 and throw pork chops on the grill, and they taste great and are reasonably healthy. But if I let myself think about things a bit more deeply, I feel horrible. I hate the idea of factory farming, and as mentioned by many of the commenters above, I do believe animals suffer and feel fear, and then I can’t quite believe I am buying into this system. I am not sure how my habits grew so far afield from the values I once held to dear. BUT…. I also know that I don’t have an hour each evening to prepare a balanced meal with multiple vegetarian proteins, and I don’t want to return to a life of peanut butter sandwiches two meals a day.

    Now I have a baby, who is just beginning to explore solid foods. He is getting strictly delicious (I’ve tasted it all) organic baby food or things I puree for him myself, and no meat, for now. We joke that he eats much better than we do. I want so much to model healthy eating for him. I want to teach him to love and respect all animals, not just our cats and dogs. I also want to give him a balanced diet that is as local and ethical as possible. I have to do all of this on an incredibly tight budget, which sometimes runs out several days in advance of pay day.

    I guess I don’t have any answers. Life is a process, and I suspect we’ll have lots of meatless meals, and also many evenings when it’s all I can do to bake some chicken and toss together one of those pre-bagged salads. One of my favorite Buddhist expressions is, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” If I strive for perfection, I am highly confident I will fail. My goal is to strive for the good. It’s the best I can do.

    Thanks, everyone, for the food for thought. (Pun intended.)

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