We all have one: that friend who's spectacularly proud of (and vocal about) the fact that she doesn't eat meat. She's the one who judges your wagyu steak order and deems you ignorant at best; heartless at worst. But is it possible to be a conscious carnivore? Does a true commitment to conscious eating mean having to sacrifice our spot at the head of the food chain? I believe, and I'm not alone, that it's possible to be both. Here's how:
1. Be super picky about where your meat comes from
There's a world of difference between the life of an animal raised on a farm, living outside and grazing on grass, and an animal raised inhumanely on a factory farm in cramped conditions, fed a diet of grains and corn to fatten him up and pumped full of antibiotics just so he can survive long enough before slaughter. I'm sorry to use such provocative language but it's the reality of the situation.
A cow's digestive system is made to eat grass; they were never designed to eat soy, grains or corn (or in some factory farms, ground up animal parts). But to keep up with our over-consumption of meat, it was quickly found to be more efficient and cost-effective to feed livestock the two most globally dominant crops, corn and soy (with wheat a close runner-up).
So if you're keen to eat meat, it's important that you're not supporting the factory farms and instead giving your dollar to the ethical farmer doing his bit. Buy organic, but ensure it's also sustainable (unfortunately the two aren't mutually exclusive). It's also important to note that sometimes non-organic is still chemical- and antibiotic-free. Chat to your farmer or local butcher. Always buy grass-fed, not just grass-finished, and try to buy as local as possible.
2. Eat less meat
Makes sense, right? It's our increasingly high consumption of meat that's the biggest ethical issue a carnivore is faced with. Logically, the next step is to reduce our intake. Depending on your level of consumption now, a reduction might mean a few times a week, once a fortnight, or whenever you feel the urge. Personally, I eat red meat a couple of times a month and chicken and fish 2-3 times a week. The rest of my meals are plant based.
3. Eat with intention
To eat consciously is to be mindful and it all starts with the right intention. It doesn't matter how much I dance around the subject: an animal was harmed in order for me to enjoy my meal. I sometimes avoid the thought process that surrounds it, and it's the reason I struggle to eat a cut of meat that looks like the animal itself, like a whole fish or offal. So own up to the sacrifice that has been made and the part that you play by eating meat. The Dalai Lama ( a carnivore) summed it up well when he said, "It is always dangerous to ignore the suffering of any living being, of whatever species, even if we think it necessary to sacrifice an animal for the benefit of the majority. To deny the suffering involved, or to avoid thinking about it, is a convenient solution... sympathy and compassion always end up proving beneficial."
4. Eat the whole animal
I cannot stress this enough: eating the whole animal is the ultimate ethical food choice. After taking an animal's life, the least we can do is use all of it. Buy less trendy cuts of meat like cheeks, kidneys, shanks, oxtail and marrow bones. If you buy a whole chicken to roast, consider using the bones to make a chicken stock.
Interested in learning more about being a conscious carnivore? You might like to read these books: Food Matters by Mark Bittman and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.