On being a humaneitarian

How meat eaters can turn away from factory farms.

by Caroline Abels, founder of Humaneitarian.org

Perhaps you recently read a book, saw a documentary, or heard a news report about factory farming. As a result, you no longer want to eat factory farmed meat, but you still want to eat meat. How can you do it?

For years, those of us who detest factory farming had only two choices: become a vegetarian or keep eating factory farmed meat. We couldn’t buy pasture-raised pork or free-range chicken because we couldn’t find it: the emergence of factory farming in the 1950s quickly led to fewer American farms raising animals naturally.

But thanks to a recent surge in consumer demand, more farms and food companies are shifting to humane practices, and a third choice is available to us: we can become a humaneitarian. It can be easy or challenging, depending on where you live and what you’re willing or able to spend. But whether you’re in Missouri or Maine, in Oregon or Oklahoma, being a humaneitarian means:

  • Knowing the kind of animal farming that’s acceptable to you
  • Eating meat from acceptable farms, sometimes or all the time
  • Keeping animals in mind at every meal by trying to know where the meat came from

When I gave up factory farmed meat in 2009, I took the big-tent approach and switched to a range of alternative meats: grass-fed, organic, free-range, pasture-raised. Today, I never willingly eat meat that isn’t raised in one of those ways. If I can’t find humane meat, I go without meat for a meal. You, on the other hand, might decide to eat only pasture-raised meat, or organic meat, or meat raised by farmers you can talk to.

It’s one thing to purchase a pasture-raised turkey at Thanksgiving or select a grass-fed steak in a fancy restaurant. But humaneitarianism — like vegetarianism or veganism — is about shifting our eating habits daily. It’s about making a few sacrifices for the sake of animals and going farther than one or two purchases a year.

Here’s how to get started!  (Click on the green links below.) And then write to me with your story: what inspired you, what your strategies are, and how it’s going!


Begin at your freezer »

On the door of your freezer, there might be family photos tacked up with magnets, inspiring quotes, the Boston Red Sox schedule. Push those aside and make room for another piece of paper: a list of the contents of your freezer. A humaneitarian life begins by reflecting on the kind of meat you enjoy now, so you can find humane versions of all the cuts you love.

Here’s a recent freezer list of mine (photo at right). It reflects my love of bacon, stew beef, and breakfast sausage. Perhaps as you sort through your own freezer (ouch, cold!) you discover that you’re a guru of ground beef, a lover of lamb, churlish about chicken. Embrace it. Accept it. Don’t attempt to change your preferences as you shift to humanely raised products!

Go to the supermarket »

Take your freezer list to the meat department of your local grocery store, where the employees will wonder what you’re doing as you spend 10 minutes in front of the meat case, searching for the products that were in your freezer. You’re looking for brands that have an alternative label on the packaging, such as “free-range” or “organic.” (A list of these labels is here, along with an explanation of why they indicate better animal treatment.)

At home, return to this website and see if any of the brands you found are on our grocery stores page. Read about the companies’ farming practices and see what you think. Just because it says “humanely raised” on the packaging doesn’t mean the animals were raised in a way that’s acceptable to you. (If you didn’t find any “alternative brands” at your supermarket, see next section.)

Think beyond the supermarket »

As you search for humanely raised meat, go beyond the sliding glass doors. We’re accustomed to shopping at major supermarket chains, but they don’t sell very much humanely raised meat (yet). You’re more likely to find it at farmers’ markets, food co-ops, and natural food stores. In other words, humaneitarians buy meat at pretty unique places and get to encounter interesting things, such as:

So, find a local food co-op here. Find a nearby farmers’ market here. Click on FarmPlate or Local Harvest to find farms near you that sell meat from a farm stand. Here’s a guide to buying meat in alternative ways, such as through CSAs and the mail. And here’s how to find restaurants that serve humanely raised meat.

How much can you spend? »

Be prepared for some sticker shock when you see alternative meat brands. The industrial farming model — which doesn’t exactly put animal welfare first — produces cheap meat. But farms that pasture their animals, give them natural environments to live in, or raise fewer animals in a space, have more costs associated with that kind of treatment.

So chances are you’ll reflexively say, “I can’t afford that.” But dig a little deeper into that assumption. It’s one thing to have very little money for food — people in such circumstances truly can’t afford alternative meat on a regular basis. It’s another thing to be blessed with an income that allows us to buy things we value. If we value a few extra beers at the bar each week (about $10) we’ll pay for that. If we value knowing that the chicken we’re about to cook was able to spread its wings during its lifetime (about $10 more than a conventional chicken), we’ll pay for that. Not to put down beer, but most of us can save a little coin somewhere else in our lives to pay for humane meat.

Get ready to eat less meat »

farmers' marketGiven that humanely raised meat can be expensive — and hard to find in some parts of the country — it follows that when humaneitarians can’t afford humanely raised meat, or when we can’t find it, we simply don’t eat meat. We become “temporary vegetarians.” And we do so happily, knowing that giving up meat for a meal when the right kind is not available keeps our money out of factory farms.

I know… we Americans can’t stand the word “less.” We want it all!  Faced with the prospect of eating less meat, we recoil, revolt, rebel. We think it’s necessary to eat meat every day, or a few times a day. Yet the only reason we can eat meat at every meal is because it’s cheap. Before industrial agriculture (only 60 years ago) meat was a treat. Now it’s as common (and as cheap) as soda. Let’s make meat a treat again.

What kind of a humaneitarian are you? »

Now put it all together. Determine on a practical level what your humaneitarian life will look like. Take into consideration the availability of humanely raised meat in your area, what you’re willing/able to spend on the meat, and what your “line in the sand” is when it comes to what kind of farming practices you will or will not support with your dollars. As I write on this page, “humane” means different things to different people, so it’s especially important that you determine what farming systems you’re most comfortable with.

You may choose to eat humanely raised meat every time you eat meat, only when you eat at home, only when you eat out, or only during certain times of the year. Also, you may drop your principles entirely when you’re at a friend’s house and they’ve slaved all day over a (factory farmed) pork roast. Or you may put your principles on hold when you travel. Be inspired and get ideas from fellow humaneitarians here.

Make mistakes, then forgive yourself »

As you become a humaneitarian, here are some ways you might “mess up”:

  1. You’ll… buy clam chowder at the local deli, then realize it includes bacon of unknown origin (darn!) — but you’ll eat the bacon anyway, so as not to waste the animal it came from.
  2. You’ll… overcook the first dish of pork ribs you’ve ever made, undercook the chicken legs, burn the lamb shanks — but a few weeks later you’ll try all those recipes again and, eventually, succeed.
  3. You’ll… grow weary of searching high and low to find humanely raised versions of your favorite meat, so one day you’ll just buy the industrial version in the store — but at least you’ll be aware that you’re doing it, unlike most people.
  4. You’ll… express your eating philosophy to a friend over dinner at a restaurant and unintentionally make them feel “inhumane” when they order the factory farmed steak — but you’ll reassure them that you’re ok with their choice and you’ll express yourself differently next time.
  5. You’ll… think that your life as humaneitarian should be easier than it is — but who said this is an easy way of eating? Instead, it’s a deeply rewarding one, and makes a real difference in the lives of animals.

Spell 'humaneitarian' for your friends »

It’s a new word — and honestly, not easy to spell. It’s similar to the word “humanitarian” (as in, “She worked for humanitarian causes around the world”) but with an ‘e’ stuck in the middle. The similarity is intentional.  A humanitarian has concern for the welfare of people, and a desire to help them. A humaneitarian has concern for the welfare of farm animals, and a desire to help them.

Some people who want to help farm animals choose not to eat meat; others don’t make any changes in their diet at all. Humaneitarians make a third choice: to eat only humanely raised meat. In doing so, to paraphrase Gandhi, they eat the change they want to see in the world.

 

You choose!

Being a vegan or a vegetarian is pretty straightforward, but there are many ways of being a humaneitarian. This is because there are many ways of defining "humanely raised." Get a sense of what this phrase can mean by going to the page What is humanely raised meat?  There you can figure out your own definition of humaneitarianism.

Then you might choose to eat humanely raised meat every day, or just a few times a month; only when you eat at home, or just when you eat out; or you might set aside your humaneitarian requirements when a friend makes dinner for you. The point is not to be rigid, but reflective.