In her new book The Ethical Meat Handbook: Complete Home Butchery, Charcuterie and Cooking for the Conscious Omnivore, Asheville author Meredith Leigh wants to have a specific conversation about the meat you may (or may not) be eating.
“I’m not interested in having that moral conversation in the book” about whether or not people should eat meat, Leigh says. Rather, Leigh wants to talk about how people who do eat meat go about it.
“Most of us do eat meat, so let’s have a new conversation about how we do that. How can we approach that in an ethical way? To me, that has to do with an animal that has endured little stress, was afforded a good death and then butchered in a thrifty way,” Leigh says. “Also, it should all be done in a way that doesn’t deplete natural resources.”
Leigh will talk about The Ethical Meat Handbook beginning at 7 p.m. on Feb. 18 at Malaprop’s Cafe and Bookstore in downtown Asheville. Here’s more from Leigh on the topic:
Q: Have you always been a meat eater?
Leigh: I was a plant person and totally fell in love with vegetable farming in 2002. I was a vegetarian, and then a vegan. We started Foothills Meats and I almost feel that it was a business decision to add meat. I wasn’t that into working with animals, but on the culinary side, I got excited about working with meat. We developed plans to open a butcher shop and I was managing that for about a year. (Leigh sold out of the farm and the shop following a divorce.)
Now I really like working with the live animals. I think the farming production side of meat is the most complex and difficult and sacred part of the journey that food makes. It’s almost like it happened backwards. I had to get into the culinary side first. I’m also working at Living Webb Farms in Mills River. We have a 100-sheep herd and it’s an organic education and research farm, they do year-round classes. In working with this herd of sheep, I’m working on synthesizing a system for mob grazing. I really think we need to stop managing plants and animals separately. I think the future is in the super-dynamic rotation of plants and animals.
Q: How did the book idea come about?
Leigh: I was giving a whole hog butchery demo and was approached about writing a book. They wanted a technical manual on butchery. I wasn’t that excited about it. I wanted to put my own spin on it. Having been a farmer and having worked in commercial kitchens and having owned a shop and working in the nonprofit world, I had all these angles on how to do sustainable food. I saw all these gaps, and that led me to see I had to write the book.
Q: How do you describe your book? Do you address the issue of whether or not we should eat meat?
Leigh: The book is more than a how-to manual. Let’s get out of the dichotomy of should we, or should we not, eat meat and have a new conversation. Most of us do, so how do we do that. How can we do things approachable now and prepare for what we want to see happening.
The work “ethical” – to me, that has to do with an animal that has endured little stress, was afforded a good death and then butchered in a thrifty way. Also, it should all be done in a way that doesn’t deplete natural resources. So we have to be a part of that process. I think ego is largely to blame about why we get so upset about eating animals. We assume we are important. I think our ego just gets in the way of living that reality; so that’s where I’m at with eating animals.
Q: What’s your audience for The Ethical Meat Handbook?
Leigh: It’s everybody, but mostly homesteaders. I see where some players don’t see the position of other operators. What is the farmer and the buyer not understanding about one another? The attempt I made is to zoom out and look at all the moving parts and then zoom back in and see what we can do right now. I think it will be most useful for consumers to see what farmers are going through and what we’re asking of them when the food system is such a wreck.
There’s a lot of talk about economies int the book: the economy of home and body, then the local scene, and then the global economy. This is making the case that the global economy, the external, is where all the pressure is coming from, but we can contribute to the first and middle economies. It seems like the people in the middle are spending an incredible amount of social and financial capital and they’re burning out. The next step is for the consumer to use that dollar. The consumer has more power than they realize -they’re not victims. But people really know where to go with it all.
Q: What else do you want people to know about The Ethical Meat Handbook that we haven’t already touched on?
Leigh: There’s something almost anybody can take from the book, regardless of their resources, to get better meat on their plate. I hate the idea that you have to be a gourmet to be aware of better food. I want it to be accessible. The idea that charcuterie is fancy food – that’s not true. The origins are just the opposite. I just don’t like it when people who have clout start closing doors. We need as many doors open as possible for improving food.
“I almost feel that it was a business decision to add meat. I wasn’t that into working with animals, but on the culinary side, I got excited about working with meat.”
Doesn’t that quote say it all?
You’re killing animals and promoting killing animals to make more money. You care for other animals is far exceeded by your care for making money. You started doing it when you had no need to and continue doing it when you don’t need to.
If someone took a human baby from their mother at birth, raised them, took care of them, sang them lullabies, played with them…and then one day, one their first or second birthday they slit their throat, we would label as a mentally ill criminal. But when someone does it to a nonhuman baby, we call it “ethical”?? No. Nothing ethical about killing someone, period. Just because “we’ve been doing it for so long” doesn’t mean we *need* to continue. What a radical idea that is, that we don’t need to kill others. Of course when there’s money to be gained for doing it, that’s a whole other story, and this is the only reason why the author says what she says. Of course she’s gonna try to convince us that there is such a thing as an ethical way to slit someone’s throat when her paycheck depends on it. Wake up, people! Let’s stop killing others and killing the planet too.
It’s very simple. We don’t have to hurt animals to live well. Try compassion. Try veganism.
Suppose an ‘ethical butcher’ were to breed puppies and kittens, raise them to market weight (a little past adolescence), and slit their throats – all the while using the nebulous language of spirituality. Killing the 18-month old dog or cat is deemed giving its life honor and meaning. That is the full absurdity of this situation: just with a lowly-regarded sheep. The sheep is just as a complex being as you, I, or a cat. Dispose of the societal trappings of acceptance and live your life with justice for animals.
I encourage folks to check out: http://whyveganism.com/. Animals are beautiful, social, intelligent beings with interests, like us. to live out their lives free from suffering, premature death and murder. I welcome folks to come visit our rescued resident farmed animals here at Full Circle Farm Sanctuary near Burnsville. These individuals are the best ambassadors for their kind as their beauty and intrinsic worth never fails to shine through. Why not choose Compassion instead of killing? It’s truly life-changing to make your life a statement of Peace rather than an expression of violence. http://www.FCFSanctuary.org
I appreciate your comments and understand your point of view. I have often said that the animals don’t care whether 50 people go vegan or 100 people reduce their consumption of animal products by 50%. It is all the same to them. That said, I think different people react differently, and most approaches are valid. I have had countless people thank me for informing them about how animals are abused and tell me how they have changed their lifestyles accordingly. One woman found my phone number and called to say she was reading one of my letters in the Mountain Xpress while at a McDonald’s and threw away her burger and never ate meat again. I wish I could have seen that!
IMHO, I think the important thing is that those who seek change speak up rather than remain silent. This is true for all social justice issues, but especially animal rights, because the animals can’t talk for themselves. I think inaction is the problem more than specific types of speech and activism. As Dr. King said (and no, I am not comparing myself to Dr. King, as someone will say, but he is a hero of mine), “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
Many know my views from my prolific letters to the editor in various papers, but letter-writing is such a small part of my activism. Among other things, I’ve distributed tens of thousands of leaflets and booklets with vegetarian recipes, most with no “sermon” at all, but simply a smile and a “have a nice day.” I know that some people throw them away, some at least recycle them, and of those who read them, some will have a few more meals without meat while others a lifetime of plant-based eating. People move at their own pace, you can’t tell them what to do. You can only try to inform them of your perspective. It took me quite some time to align my lifestyle choices with my ethics, and most animal rights activists/vegans will tell you the same. It was a strong, “radical” message that got me started on the path towards animal activism and cruelty-free living.
I suspect that those who write about how they are so turned off by a strong message probably are unreachable anyhow, at least at the moment. Hopefully they will evolve, and maybe that strong message will one day be the catalyst that got them thinking.
For those reading who want to know more about animal rights, and why it is a social justice issue, I suggest the following link, which includes
“Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable. If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why eat a pig? Dogs and pigs have the same capacity to feel pain, but it is prejudice based on species that allows us to think of one animal as a companion and the other as dinner.”
Again, thanks for your comments, they are much appreciated.
Moderator – excuse me but where is the comment I left this morning and why was it not approved???
Stewart. I’ve read your comments in the xpress for years now. Your comments, while I believe they come from a good place, are not effective. They are more like rally cries for those who already believe. Unfortunately, they seem to have the opposite effect on those you would wish to convert. I personally think a lot of people in Asheville understand that consumption of meat consumes a great deal of resources and many people don’t love the idea of killing an animal. However, most of those people are not going to stop eating meat for those reasons. It’s a sad reality. My guess is that quite a few of them would listen to a well rationed argument that advocates for eating less meat. I know that’s not your ultimate goal, but think of it this way. If you can convince 100 people to consume 25 percent less meat than they currently do, that’s a significant change. In fact, I’d argue that if your goal is see less animals killed for meat, you’re going to do a lot more good by convincing people to curb their consumption as opposed to your current approach. Basically I think it comes down to this question. Are you pragmatic about solving what you view as a problem or are you so attached to your principles that you’d rather just feel right even if it means you are completely ineffective with our mission? Your current approach has the feel of a curb-side preacher. You’re going to lose a lot of people who you could otherwise reach with that approach.
From the article: “We started Foothills Meats and I almost feel that it was a business decision to add meat. I wasn’t that into working with animals, but on the culinary side, I got excited about working with meat.”
So, clearly the author was driven by $ and doesn’t see animals for who they are – living, breathing, feeling beings. She sees them as meat.
Call it “ethical” or “humane” to make yourself feel better, but the fact is you are eating a dead body. With so many delicious vegan and vegetarian options available now (and so many restaurants in the area that serve veg options or will make a veg meal upon request), why kill an animal to eat? It is simply unnecessary.
Some questions for the author:
1) What is the average age of the animals at slaughter?
2) Did they get to meet their mothers? And, if so, how long were they allowed to get to know each other before being separated?
3) What procedures did they endure, like castration, debeaking, etc.? Was anesthesia used?
4) Do you butcher and eat dogs and cats? If not, why not?
It says a lot about someone when they make a comment like “I can’t think of a better way for people to gain a yearning for the nearest factory-farmed lump o’animal than to be exposed to one of his sermons.”
If my words make someone want to go out and abuse an animal, they have a problem. And a very closed mind.
When Dr. King spoke, I suppose some bigots did go out an abuse black people. And when Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke, I suppose some men abused their spouses. I am proud to speak up for the voiceless, and I am in good company.
“I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.” Gandhi
“It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
O hai I see Stewart David is here, as reliably nails-on-chalkboard as ever. I can’t think of a better way for people to gain a yearning for the nearest factory-farmed lump o’animal than to be exposed to one of his sermons.
There are a lot of conscientious and devoted livestock farmers in WNC, and that number is growing. If you eat meat, then you ought to buy their meat. If your objection is that it’s too expensive compared to the meat from badly-treated animals, then you should buy less meat and eat other things instead.
Hey, why not address the issues rather than resorting to a personal attack?
Were there conscientious and devoted slave traders, back when that was legal?
“It is easy for us to criticize the prejudices of our grandfathers, from which our fathers freed themselves. It is more difficult to distance ourselves from our own views, so that we can dispassionately search for prejudices among the beliefs and values we hold.”
“As long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.”
A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.”
“Hey, why not address the issues rather than resorting to a personal attack?”
Because the way that you personally address the issues — as a quick search of the extensive MountainX archives will demonstrate — is a very good way to alienate people who would otherwise be receptive to them. It’s the repetitive sanctimoniousness of someone who isn’t aiming to change minds, but instead simply wishes to assert his own superiority over others.
A cynic might argue that you’re working on behalf of factory farmers.
And I say that as someone who doesn’t eat meat.
That can be said about most people who work for social justice. Maybe if we spent less time trying not to offend those in power we might make more progress. Go ahead and criticize Gandhi for his sanctimonious words below.
“The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.”
“I hold that, the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.”
Comparing yourself to Gandhi now?
I rest my case.
You remind me of Donald Trump. Rather than talk about the issues, you attack the messenger. I didn’t compare myself to Gandhi, I asked why you don’t attack other activists who espouse the same “radical” message. Sad that you are so hung up on making this a personal attack rather than a discussion of issues and dietary violence.
You remind me of Marco Rubio. Rather than engage with the issues, you keep a hatful of memorized quotes to Ctrl-C Ctrl-V, with no attempt to do anything but pontificate. Sad that you are such a poor advocate for things that would improve the lives of animals in the real world. I suggest you go to Malaprops next week and learn something.
I quote other people because you seem obsessed with attacking me rather than discussing issues, But that doesn’t seem to matter to you, you still just attack.
When it comes to raising animals for food, I think it is violence that could and should be avoided. And since plant-based foods are healthier for humans and are environmentally friendly, it’s a win-win-win situation. I am sorry if you feel that this is pontification. I grew up eating animals, and I wish I had been exposed to the many reasons not to do so earlier in life. I thank those who informed me, and many, many people have thanked me for informing them.
I am glad to read that you don’t eat meat. Peace be with you.
Of course speciesism is an ethical and social justice issue, as are racism, sexism, etc.
“I feel very deeply about vegetarianism and the animal kingdom. It was my dog Boycott who led me to question the right of human beings to eat other sentient beings.”
Caesar Chavez, Mexican-American farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist.
Oh good lord, now we’re comparing eating meat to racism and sexism? By all accounts, Dr. King was an eater and in Atlanta in the 60’s, that meant Sunday dinner was fried chicken, blackeyed peas (cooked with a ham hock), collards (cooked with pork stock), sweet potatoes and corn bread. And before anyone gets all butthurt, that was a classic Sunday meal for black folks and white folks so don’t accuse me of pulling a Fuzzy Zoeller (look it up). If you were to walk up to Dr. King tomorrow spewing this nonsense, he might just forget his non-violence creed and smack you upside your head with his Momma’s cast iron frying pan.
Yes, I am comparing racism and sexism to speciesism. Please read below to see why. Thanks.
The words below are from “A vegan lifestyle honors Martin Luther King, Jr.,” you can read the entire piece at this link:
We can’t help but wonder: Would the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. have become a vegan at some point in his life? It’s certainly conceivable that he would have. His son Dexter Scott King, who is president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-violent Social Change, has been vegan for more than 20 years. He once said that vegetarianism is the logical extension of his father’s philosophy regarding non-violence. Coretta Scott King, a tireless activist for social justice, was also a vegan for more than ten years before her death in 2006.
If his wife and son saw the link between animal foods and violence, it’s not hard to imagine that Dr. King would have perceived this connection as well. Writing from the Birmingham jail in 1963, he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
On the King Center website, Coretta Scott King wrote that, while we remember Dr. King himself today, it is also a day that commemorates “the timeless values he taught us through his example—the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service…”
A commitment to veganism honors the principles that were at the core of Dr. King’s work.
Anything is conceivable at the animal farm. Dexter Scott King is the last person you want to hold up as s shining example of his father’s work. Dexter has failed at all that he has done and is nothing more than a charlatan. Dexter was forced out as President of the King Center by his own mother and his sister now runs the organization. I’m sure Dexter learned about veganism during his time out in Malibu while failing at acting. I’m going to stick with him smacking you with the frying pan.
Anyone up for Brasilia Steakhouse? I’m hungry!
Eating the flesh of sentient beings is an ethical issue. The author may not want to face it, but it’s there nonetheless. Pretending to sell this book to meat eaters who need moral justification reprehensible. A co-conspirator anyway you look at it.
Oh, here we go. (comment section)
I really cannot see how eating meat is ethical. It robs an animal of its life. It creates environmental waste. On a large scale, it sickens people. And the author’s admission that they added meat basically for the money is indicative of what’s wrong with the meat industry. Granted, we need more sustainable agriculture. But to say that ‘most people eat meat’ and try to duck out of that conversation is the true ethical quandary the author must face.
Webster’s New World Dictionary defines humane as “having what are considered the best qualities of human beings: kind, tender, merciful, sympathetic, etc.” Can robbing animals of their lives to satisfy a culinary preference to eat their corpses ever be called humane, or does using the phrase “humane meat” distort the very meaning of the word?
The moral issue isn’t an important topic? You’ve got to be kidding me. Anybody eating their dead cats and dogs?