Editor’s note: Today’s guest writer is Christine Gutleben, senior director of Faith Outreach for The Humane Society of the United States. She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.
WHEN my son was born—from that moment—the reckoning began between the mother I thought I’d be and the mother I was becoming.
So much about parenting is doing what works. Before I had my son, I envisioned only beautiful, handmade wooden toys; cute little cloth diapers; no entertainment from TV, tablets or phones; and daily family meals as rich opportunities for meaningful choices and interaction. I still love that dream for its hopeful naiveté, but our life is very different. If that loud plastic toy keeps him entertained, so be it. If the iPad distracts him while on the plane or in public places, thank goodness. And the cloth diapers, well, we never took them out of the packaging.
Food issues are more important
But, for me, the food issue is different. I am not so relaxed about differences between my hopeful vision and our reality. I am keenly aware of how our food choices impact the lives of billions of animals, the vast majority of whom live lives of complete misery in factory farms. These industrialized agriculture facilities cram egg-laying hens into cages so tiny they can’t spread their wings and stuff breeding pigs into tiny cages where they can’t even sit down properly or turn around for virtually their entire lives.
While my son is too young to understand the horrible system of factory farming, he is not too young to love and appreciate animals. By the time he is old enough to understand where his food comes from, I hope we will have cultivated an ethic of kindness and mercy that will guide him as he makes his own choices someday. Fortunately, today there are many alternatives to the most extreme factory-farmed animal products. We can switch, for example, to cage-free eggs or free-range pork instead of buying conventional animal products. And while prices for these products may be higher due to these more humane practices, we can compensate by eating fewer of them.
Increased cost is minimal
It’s also important to know that, in these cases, the increase in production cost is minimal. Industry studies have demonstrated that allowing over 280 million hens to be cage-free can be accomplished for just 1 cent more per egg. A complete nationwide phase-out of gestation crates for pregnant pigs would increase prices by just $0.065 per pound, according to an article by L. Seibert and F.B. Norwood in the 2011 issue of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. As long as consumers create demand, the market will respond. Of course, food is also central to our own health. Healthy food choices contribute to a healthy child. Let’s be honest, we can all stand to eat more vegetables and less meat. In the U.S. we slaughter 9 billion animals per year. That’s an increase of 2 billion just since 1990. As Americans, we eat more than 200 pounds of meat per person annually; that is more meat per capita than virtually any other nation.
Meals are a time to connect
Meal time, along with careful food selection and preparation, provides us with an opportunity to connect as a family and to teach our son about health and our responsibilities towards other creatures. It’s an opportunity for thankfulness, togetherness and relief from a busy day. It’s one way to push back against a culture that values productivity over family time. It’s a primary way to cultivate health and wellness. It’s a fun and relatively easy way to practice intentionality and to live-out the ideals we believe in. It affords the best way to help stop the destruction of rural America and it’s one of the most effective ways to reduce animal suffering.
By avoiding factory-farmed animal products and choosing plant-based foods in my role as mom, I am choosing what’s right and good for both my family and for creation.
You can often replace meat-based favorites with a vegetarian version. This recipe for Black Bean Sloppy Joes is an affordable, quick and healthy alternative to the usual beef dish.