The quick answer: In the end, our care of animals will say everything about what kind of humans we have become.
The Devil’s Herd
I love the old West . . . the ranches and barns . . . cattle in the fields . . . the smell of the tackroom . . . even the aroma of corrals . . . all those cowboy values and traditions. My late Uncle Fred was as good a cowboy as you might meet. He cussed a little and got to church late but was good to the core. The picture above is his daughter Peggy—who I got in plenty of mischief with as a child—sitting pretty on a handsome cutting horse.
I love western music too. A favorite song is Johnny Cash singing Ghost Riders in the Sky. The song, I think, could be a warning for the exploitation of animals by the food corporations. It tells of a group of ghost cowboys who had fallen short in their lives and were doomed to endlessly ride the skies, chasing the devil’s stampeding herd. It closes with this cowboy call to repentance (it helps if you sing):
As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil's herd, across these endless skies
The good Lord gave man dominion over the animals but with that power came a duty of care. This post is a call to reconsider our relationship with the animals of the world, lest we too wind up chasing the devil’s herd. Yippie yi yaaaaay.
Fanny Farmer (1837-1915) was a remarkable American woman. At age 16 she suffered a crippling stroke, sometimes had to use a wheelchair, but gained fame and comfortable wealth by writing the Fanny Farmer 1896 Cook Book, a bestseller still in print. Ms. Farmer introduced careful measurement (tsp, tbsp, cup) to recipes. She also taught diet at Harvard Medical School and was director of the Boston Cooking School.
So Ms. Farmer can be considered a guide to proper dining in the early 1900s. Her cookbook provided a month of dinner recipes and each recipe started with meat and potatoes. In America, as the 19th Century opened, meat was in the center of the plate at every meal. Though not all that healthy, a meat-based diet was possible then. It would be catastrophic today, which brings us to our modern problem of chronic disease.
Meat is good for us—it’s the only natural source of vitamin B-12 that is essential to our health—but too much meat is problematic. In the modern American diet (MAD) we eat three or four times more meat than needed. An Oxford University study of the English diet found that reducing meat intake to three servings weekly—the amount a person might consider “sparing”—would reduce mortality from chronic diseases. Specifically, they projected these benefits for England:
- 31,000 fewer heart disease deaths each year.
- 9000 fewer deaths from cancer.
- 5000 fewer deaths from stroke.
As America is a much larger country than England, we can expect commensurately bigger benefits.
A Family Council
I like meat. We enjoy fish, poultry, and red meat. We’ve found a local source of good pastured beef and enjoy a roast if we have guests for Sunday dinner. But, following the Word of Wisdom, we eat meat sparingly. Each person gets to decide what “sparing” means for them but as a rule, guys will want more than women.
So meat is a family issue, one that is best addressed in thoughtful and respectful conversation. Many homes have the practice of using “family councils” to address important decisions. Diet issues like the ratio of meat to vegetables qualify as such a decision. As women tend to outlive men, if you wish to be together for more of those last golden years, it’s really important that guys get serious about healthy eating when they’re young.
Please comment: Share the ways you feature meat in your diet. Where do you find healthy meat? How do you use it as a condiment, rather than the main course? What do you do to show reverence for the Creation of animals?