Last Saturday I found myself at two extremes: sampling crispy pig’s ear, pig trotter croquettes, and blood sausage courtesy of Frank Camorra of Movida fame by day (at the Crave Sydney International Food Festival’s World Chef Showcase), and listening to Jonathan Safran Foer – author of Eating Animals - discuss the atrocities of factory farming and the ethics of eating meat by night (at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas).
So, how do i reconcile such conflicting behaviour? I pondered that on the way to Safran Foer’s sold-out event at the Sydney Opera House.
I’d relished the porky fattiness of Camorra’s delicacies earlier in the day (at one point he was up to his wrists in pig’s blood as he mixed sausage ingredients) and I had been similarly enthralled by an Argentine barbecue demonstration by the chefs behind the Sydney restaurants Bodega and Porteno – Ben Milgate and Elvis Abrahanowicz - which included butterflying a whole pig carcass ready for the traditional asado, or barbecue.
I enjoy cooking and eating meat. Yet i feel like it’s a guilty pleasure. I make a conscious effort to include vegetarian meals in our weekly menu at home and I make ethical purchases as much as I can, including Springhill grass-fed stress-free beef, Thirlmere chicken from The Free Range Butcher, and free range eggs from Orange Grove farmer’s market. Yet I don’t do the one thing that would make the biggest difference of all – give up my meat-eating ways for a vegetarian diet.
I was a conscientious vegetarian for eight years, beginning in my late teens. The smell of bacon – and meal-time boredom – were my downfall. If I’m totally honest, I can’t see myself ever going backSo how do I handle my hypocritical ways? Surprisingly, Safran Foer – a devout vegetarian – provided the answer. I should learn to accept it, even celebrate it.
Safran Foer’s view is that present-day society is constrained by a harmful dichotomy between meat eaters and non-meat eaters. The labels are so ingrained that there is no middle ground. Where factory farming is concerned – a practice that is almost universally repugnant in a society such as ours – meat eating can be difficult to justify.
But Foer argues that we need to open up a middle space, where individuals can be hypocritical – meat eaters with a conscience and with all the behaviours that may reflect that – such as ethical purchasing and reducing meat consumption - and not be criticised for it. Rather than framing this behaviour as a negative, it should be applauded. It is better to have taken that step, no matter how small, than to not have taken it at all. As Safran says:
“The labels only serve to make us uncomfortable and to discourage us to be who we want to be.”
Talking to his Sydney audience Safran Foer accepted that it was unlikely that half of them would be vegetarian in five or ten years’ time. But he believes there is a good chance that half the meals eaten by those members of society will be vegetarian. And the impact of that on the planet, and on factory farming practices will be immense.
That impact won’t be achieved if we are encouraged to be all or nothing: vegetarian or meat-eater. Most of us won’t make a full commitment to vegetarianism and the fear of being labelled a hypocrite stymies our ethical ambitions.
So, dinner in our house tonight is spinach and ricotta cannelloni, with from spinach and fresh herbs from the garden, eggs from the chook pen, and ricotta made by hand.
Tomorrow night it may well be a different story. But that’s not necessarily an unhappy ending. It’s the continuation of a chapter where less meat is consumed in our house, which is a compromise that I am currently comfortable with.