Friday, December 11, 2009

(Not?) Eating Animals

Does anyone else out there feel guilty about eating kosher meat?

I do.

It's not kosher meat per se that is a problem. It is factory-farmed chicken and beef in general, which you know if you have read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Jonathan Safran Foer's more-recent Eating Animals, or any of the 72,000 book reviews and imitations of same. The conditions in which most large-scale-farmed chickens and both meat and dairy cows (that sounds funny) are kept are truly appalling. If I did not keep kosher, I think I would buy free-range chicken, like Michael Pollan does. But as far as I know, you can't really get humanely-treated kosher meat, unless you live on a farm and schecht (kosher slaughter) it yourself, or live near people who do and are willing to sell you some.

Now, I'm not one of these Communist, vegetarian, Animal Liberation reading, hemp-wearing weirdos. I believe that human beings have rights that animals don't. We're at the top of the food chain, after all, and if the situation were reversed, the cows would eat us without a second thought. From a Jewish perspective, it is hard, if not impossible, to argue that killing animals is completely bad. About a third of the Torah discusses animal sacrifice. In fact, I think that kashrut originally was much kinder to animals than non-kosher slaughter. (Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). The rabbis considered causing pain to animals (tza'ar ba'alei hayyim), for example by ripping the limb off a live one, to be so terrible that the seven Noahide laws prohibit it.

But the reality today is different. We live in a country in which most animals that we eat are treated horribly in order to make it possible for us to have cheap meat (yes, kosher meat could cost more, much more) and for meat companies to make huge profits. As we know from the Rubashkin's scandal, kosher factory farming is not really any different, and sometimes may even be worse, than regular factory farming.

But I can't give up meat.

That is not to say that I eat a lot of meat. I eat meat, at most, three times a week--at Shabbat dinner, Shabbat lunch, and once during the rest of the week (usually Shabbat leftovers). In a typical week, it is closer to twice. Meat (I include beef and chicken) is also a very effective protein-delivery system that happens to taste great. There are so many things one cannot eat as a person who keeps kosher that it is just really hard of me to deprive myself of a major food group with significant dietary benefits. I DO refuse to eat veal, and if there were kosher fois gras, which I'm not sure there is, I wouldn't eat that either. But it is beyond depressing to me (because so ironic) that keeping kosher may mean that I am responsible for animals being treated much more inhumanely than I would be if I could buy free-range at a NYC specialty market.

I also want to note that not a single major halakhic authority that I know of has come out in favor of vegetarianism/against eating meat because to do so is to transgress the law against tza'ar ba'alei hayyim. Part of trying to live a halakhic life of some sort--and as a Conservadox person with a Reform upbringing, I do not follow halakhot that I don't think make any sense and are not meaningful to me--is looking to rabbis for guidance. Am I really responsible for going so above and beyond what the major halakhic consensus about eating meat is?

So, loyal readers, what is a kosher gal like me to do?


Sunkist Miss said...

Hey Katrina, I don't have time to write a "what I think about this" response, but I can provide a resource.

Check out this information on JCarrot about the subject of kosher, ethical, sustainable meat:

Woodrow/Conservadox said...

If you want to wean yourself off meat, eat fish for shabbos (or at least for one of the shabbos meals). Just think of it as an excuse to avoid parve desserts (or as I think of them, plague no. 11!)