We Don’t Approve of Bull-Baiting, Dogfighting, or Public Executions…

…and so I don’t think we approve of…

Chickens being occasionally decapitated by the automatic feeding cart, then rotting away in their cages.

Chickens getting their necks stuck in the bars of their cages and dying because they can’t get them out and no one comes to help.

Workers must blast exhaust fans and run in to do a job quickly because “it’s physically hard to breathe because of the ammonia” fumes rising from the manure pits below the barns.

Conveyor belts transporting 4.5 million eggs a day–destined for places like Shop-Rite–are thick with flies, mice, and poop.

it’s just that we don’t know that this is happening…

The Humane Society of the United States recently ran an undercover investigation of Kreider Farms, finding these acts of cruelty that go against the industry standards promoted by groups like United Egg Producers, who, last year, joined with the Humane Society to support new federal standards providing more space for laying hens–a move Kreider has not supported.

In a great op-ed last week, Nicholas Kristof (one of my favorite journalists) writes:

For those who are wavering, think for a moment about the arc of empathy. Centuries ago, we humans amused ourselves by seeing other people executed or tortured. Until modern times, we considered it sport to see animals die horrible deaths. Now our sensibilities have evolved so that there is an outcry when animals are abused — unless it happens out of sight on farms.

Look, you don’t need to love chickens enough to want to hug them to realize that if God notices the death of each little sparrow, God certainly sees the suffering of the chickens who die so that we can have cheap eggs.

It isn’t only about how much we love animals. It’s about what kind of people we are going to be.

No one thinks what Michael Vick did to all those poor dogs is okay.

Chickens might be less emotionally affecting than dogs, but they’re still God’s creatures.

Why not make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representative and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 3798? Then, make a brief, polite call to your two U.S. senators to support this legislation when it’s introduced in the Senate. Look up your legislators’ phone numbers here.

“The righteous know the needs of their animals,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Prov. 12:10)

Please don’t think this is only for crazy chicken-huggers. Take a minute to watch the video, maybe read Kristof’s op-ed, and think of the arc of empathy:

what kind of people do we want to be?

what kind of people are we made to be?

Carnivory and Children

Recently I’ve discovered Amber Dusick’s funny blog called Parenting. Illustrated in Crappy Pictures. I love the way she succinctly captures such essential aspects of contemporary North American parenting in primitive, funny drawings. Her Thanksgiving post illustrates (quite literally) the fact that children are often more accepting of certain facts of life than we are.

Like eating animals.

I’ve known people who really didn’t want their kids to know that meat comes from animals. Well, since we’re being honest here, at one point I didn’t really want my kids to know that meat comes from animals, but I certainly didn’t need to worry that they’d be horrified or something.

I’ve heard of sweet little children who burst into tears at the thought of eating animals.

That’s not my kids.

Don’t know if it’s the Pioneer Stock they got from their daddy’s side or what, but they enjoy hearing about (and then re-enacting) all the parts about Pa hunting in the Big Woods and, you know, cutting the animal up and roasting it and letting the girls play with the pig-bladder and whatnot.

And they love meat.

And so I love this part of Amber’s Thanksgiving post, where she’s all anxious that there’s going to be a meltdown when the kids realize that a Thanksgiving turkey is, well, a turkey–

They start talking to it. Saying hi and stuff. Just small talk. 

I don’t want their conversation to get personal. I know where this could lead. I start to suggest we move on to see the other animals.     

But then, he simply says:

{Italics are Amber’s words.}

Now, of course, most Thanksgiving turkeys aren’t lucky enough to be raised in nice places with room to run around and be greeted by cute carnivorous children. Most turkeys are raised in places like this:

I wouldn’t really want my kids to see how those turkeys are raised.

Because that would be a truly Crappy Picture.

Compassionate carnivory is costly, sure. But it sure paints a better picture for our children.

How does your family deal with the dynamics of (not) eating animals?

My New Favorite Cookbook

Okay, so well before “buy nothing day” I bought myself a present: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine. I love Cook’s Illustrated (though I’ve never subscribed) and the previous cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen, which also produces the magazine, although I don’t own any of them.

There are a few reasons why the recipes, magazines, and books from America’s Test Kitchen appeal to me–first, I love how obsessively they test each recipe. Have you had recipes from cookbooks fail? I certainly have. And let me tell you–it’s not always your fault. What I love about the recipes from ATK is that they’ve been tested and re-tested to achieve a very particular result (hence the very different recipes–ingredients and techniques–to produce soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies versus thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies.)

Related to this, each recipe comes with an explanation for why it’s formulated as it is. I love knowing why a recipe works as it does–why it’s important (or unimportant) to cream the butter and sugar first when making muffins, why to use a certain variety of flour, why to cook things over a certain temperature. It seems to me that knowing some of the theory behind the choices of ingredients and techniques makes a better cook, and ATK resources provide just that.

Much of that theory includes science, which is the third reason I love this new cookbook. I was never too keen on science in school (except for biology, because I liked dissecting things and learning about genetics and the digestive system) but this cookbook delivers just enough practical cooking science so as to make me take delight in the earthy job of cooking.

As Robert Farrar Capon wrote:

“Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large. The number of water-filled interstices in my three tablespoonfuls of flour runs the interstellar distances a fair second; the appeal to size [implying that people, small in relation to the universe's magnitude, are insignificant] is a self-canceling argument. Plying my whisk, I know that what goes on here is neither less mysterious nor less marvelous that what happens there…saucepan in hand, I refuse to be snowed.”

{Fr. R.F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb}

So all that to say, I heartily recommend this cookbook. Take up, read, and follow closely–with lots of love and attention!–and the results are very likely to bring you (and others!) joy.

Is it a Sin to Eat Meat?

I have a piece up this week at RELEVANT magazine–a review of What is the Mission of the Church?–and couldn’t help but notice this article, “How Faith Connects to Food,” with the tagline: “is it a sin to eat meat?”The author, Jennifer Dykes Henson, doesn’t come out and say that eating meat’s a sin, but she does say that Jesus, if he were walking the earth today, wouldn’t eat meat. Her arguments for vegetarianism–animal cruelty, environmental sustainability, and world hunger, are pretty simplistic, even though there are elements of truth in each argument. To tell the truth, the article reads very much like something I might have written 5 or 6 years ago, when I was first becoming aware of the various ethical issues surrounding food. At that time, to eat or not eat meat seemed like the biggest question–and almost the only question–to ask with respect to the ethics of eating. For periods of time since, I and my family have eaten much as vegetarians do. But we still do eat some meat. (I wrote about why–and how–here.) One reason we do is that we’d rather spend some money toward supporting meat that’s raised responsibly and ‘vote’ for that kind of meat, so to speak. What’s often left out of pro-vegetarian arguments is that conscientious carnivory–choosing meat that has been raised on pasture and humanely–escapes many of the problems cited as reasons to eschew meat. For example:

1. Pastured meat makes use of land that is unsuited for crop-planting and turns it into usable food. This point is especially important when one considers the needs of people living where the land is largely non-arable–

2. At the same time that cattle, goats, and other ruminants convert grass and weeds to meat, they enrich the ground. They are good for the environment.(Read Heifer International’s answer to vegetarian/vegan concerns with respect to people in the developing world.) Henson’s declaration that we ought to simply feed the grain destined for animal feed to starving people really, really misses the mark.

3. Meat raised on pasture is good for you. Not only is it less likely to contain antibiotics and hormones, it’s also got high levels of those important Omega-3s, B-12, and the kind of fat that’s actually good for you. Henson’s right that overeating meat–especially factory farmed meat–isn’t so great. But moderate meat consumption is not unhealthy. (Nina Planck–herself a former vegan–did much to convince me on this point in her book Real Food.)But I think the part that annoyed me most about Henson’s article (like the last food article on RELEVANT that annoyed me) is the sanctimonious, ascetic, and guilt-based tone that reads like “Eat for health ‘because your body is a temple’ “; avoid meat so as to not “live to please your stomach” but instead, to care for “starving children and tortured animals.”

Gee–who wants to contribute to children starving and animals being tortured? No one! But I just can’t see how this kind of guilt trip will motivate anyone to eat with joy–and I think that’s really important. There is no perfection in any kind of diet–and no matter who you are and what kind of choices you make, you–like me–are living from mystery. The food we eat–even when it’s less than ideal–is a gift of God for which we can give thanks.

Should we choose food that’s raised and prepared in ways that speak clearly of God’s goodness and kindness and love for Creation? Absolutely! But we have a better chance of doing that when we’re motivated from a place of gratitude–not guilt.

{You might also like to read Grace and A Steak Dinner or The Last Last Meal}

A truly frugal outlook has a long view.

I’m delighted to welcome to the blog today Cathleen Hockman-Wert, the co-author of Simply in Season, one of my favorite cookbooks!

It’s always a pleasure to connect with people who share my interest in good food, food that is good in every way: food that tastes good, food that is good for our health, good for the environment, good for local communities and good for people worldwide.

Rachel asked me to share a little about the story behind Simply in Season, a cookbook that I co-authored with Mary Beth Lind to celebrate good food. It encourages people to choose seasonal, locally-produced and fairly traded foods, with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Simply in Season is the third in a series of cookbooks produced by the international relief and development organization, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The first, More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, was first published in 1976. This was a time when global food shortages loomed, and in response MCC asked its constituents to eat and spend 10 percent less on food. More-with-Less explained how to do that – to eat less meat and more rice and beans, for example – but even more importantly made a persuasive argument: that faith and food are deeply connected. And that, moreover, eating more simply was not about “cutting back.” Rather, it meant “living joyfully, richly, creatively.”

Fast forward 30 years.

I grew up with More-with-Less, and it strongly influenced my values. I believed that “eating justly” meant two primary stewardship issues: health and cost. I wanted food that was good for me, and cheap. The intention was that by spending less on food, I would have more to share with others.
Frugality is part of my Mennonite DNA; my people tend to believe thriftiness could give cleanliness some solid competition for that place next to godliness. But my perspective was also shaped by broader culture. Compared to other nations, we Americans don’t spend much on what we eat, and we like it that way. We feel entitled to cheap food.

My perspective began to change as I learned more about the stories behind my food and realized that as a consumer with purchasing power, I am a part of these stories. One tomato might look like another, but because of the way they are produced, they may have wildly different stories in terms of economic justice, environmental impact, and so on. The stories are in fact so different that I came to see that food choices are not morally neutral.

When I choose which tomato to buy, this action has ramifications beyond my own pocketbook. It takes place in the context of a community, human and nonhuman. I am participating in systems that make life better for others, or worse. Grocery shopping is in fact an exercise in ethics.{a well-worn page from More-with-Less}

In Simply in Season I wanted to continue the conversation that began in More-with-Less about faith and food, and how our everyday actions reflect our values.
I still value frugality! But now my view is a little more holistic. A truly frugal outlook has a long view. Even the most devout penny-pinchers know it doesn’t save money to buy something cheap if it’s so flimsy it will have to be quickly replaced; it’s better to spend more at the outset and use it for a long time. In a wider sense, likewise, a frugal approach to grocery shopping – to any shopping, really – takes into account the hidden costs: the costs of cleaning up our environment, the health care costs for farmworkers sickened by pesticides, the military costs of protecting access to cheap oil. And our Christian calling to care for “the least of these” makes us ask, who is bearing the real costs?

It isn’t always easy to move from “spend less” to “spend for a better world.” When I shop, sometimes I repeat a little mantra: “cheaper is not always better.” I also like to repeat a prayer from Blessed Be Our Table, a collection of graces from the Iona Community: “Let me not seek a bargain that leaves others hungry.”

I’ve found it helpful, too, to view eating/shopping as a spiritual discipline. To me this reflects several things. First, as with the discipline of charitable giving, there’s an economic impact: choosing good foods can cost more. Equally significant is the impact on time. Amidst busy schedules, it can be hard to find the time to buy and prepare fresh food. Framing this practice as a spiritual discipline honors that reality. Spending time in worship or prayer requires making these things a priority. So does cooking a meal.

Finally, seeing food choices as a spiritual discipline speaks to their ordinariness, their daily nature. In contrast to a big decision like buying an electric car or choosing a house within biking distance of work, choices about food are small, and we make them constantly. We might make one choice today and a different choice tomorrow, but there’s always another chance to move toward greater consistency in matching our values with our actions.

A spiritual “practice” speaks to both the noun and verb meanings of “practice”: it’s an enactment of our beliefs as well as something we’re working on – like practicing the piano. We do it over and over again and get better.

I hope that idea is helpful for people when they ask about how they can afford to choose good food. Each of us has a different situation. Choose a place to start: maybe one local meal per week, or switching from regular to fair trade coffee. After a while, change something else.


Like our spiritual journeys themselves, this journey with good food choices is gradual, partial, imperfect, and ongoing. And ultimately, I believe, that is good news indeed.

{thank you, Cathleen! It’s a pleasure to have you at Eat With Joy today!}

{It really is a great cookbook! Try it!}