The Inuits living in arctic Alaska believe in a subsistence lifestyle, where hunting isn’t just about putting food on the table for yourself or for your family, it’s about sharing with the whole community.
Excess consumption is a critical problem in today’s society. Red meat – something not necessary at all for the human diet – is eaten several times per week by many if not most people. Think of food chains that offer a quick burger to go so you can eat a hunk of meat for your meal without a second thought.
We’re completely disconnected from our food.
By no means do I consider myself a vegetarian or vegan. I eat fish and meat far more than I should. I indulge in chicken fingers from The Spoke at Western University and treat myself to the occasional steak cooked on my cast iron pan. I love going out for duck when I can and never say no to a delicious platter of assorted local meats.
Recently though, I’ve started to question my own indulgences and those of our society.
When we go to the supermarket to buy our weekly groceries, the chicken we purchase comes in a nice clean package – blood, skin and bones removed – with two or more lovely pieces ready to be cooked. We don’t think about it. We just add it to our cart and go on our merry way.
Across the world chickens are cooped up in masses and slaughtered in inhumane conditions. Being raised “organically” doesn’t make much of a difference to the consumer. You let yourself stop feeling guilty because it ate nicer food and lived a nicer life and maybe it’s healthier for you, but all the difference you really see is a slightly different label on the package of chicken from the supermarket. Your eating habits don’t actually change much.
The inuits living in arctic Alaska hunt for the needs of the whole community. They don’t have access to supermarkets that disconnect them from the rest of the world, meaning they aren’t disconnected from the process of hunting for food and preparing it. They understand everything as being connected (nature, animals, humans, climate).
On the flip side, urbanized societies around the world are completely disconnected. When you go to your favourite burger joint you aren’t thinking about how your hunger and your indulgences affect the needs of the community or its ability to access food. Sure, you’ll think of your family when shopping for the week’s groceries, but the buck stops there.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
A couple months back I proposed a scenario to as many friends as possible. Inspired by a Buzzfeed video, I asked people if they would be willing to go to a chicken farm and kill and cook their own chicken, following the common guidelines and with the direct instructions of a farmer (assuming of course the chicken was going to be killed and eaten anyway). Only one friend said yes out of over 30.
That friend grew up in a place where it was common to witness chickens being butchered – their blood running down the street into the drain – as he walked home from school or to see people buying live chickens to butcher and prepare at home. He, unlike most of us, wasn’t born into a society completely detached from the process.
The rest of the people I asked were taken aback, disgusted by the very notion of being so close to a process. Those who briefly considered it said if they did it, they wouldn’t be able to eat chicken ever again. One friend even called me insane for showing interest in doing such a thing.
We’re used to others doing our dirty work. Out of sight, out of mind. Movies that expose the industry for what it is are hard for us to watch. They make us face realities that we have an inkling about, but are too afraid to embrace. Why? It would ruin our enjoyment of our favourite meals.
Does all this matter really matter? Sure, it would be nice if people appreciated where their food came from, but would it really change anything other than adding a little educational note to our meals?
It’s about eating with the whole community in mind.
Cowspiracy, a movie exposing the impact of the meat industry, illustrates how just one burger takes about 660 gallons of water to produce.
The average American uses about 80 gallons of water per day, meaning over eight days of water goes into that one burger.
According to Cowspiracy individuals eat about 9oz of meat and dairy per day; to be sustainable, that number would have to be about 2oz… Per week.
Who knows, maybe red meat will become the next tobacco and become shunned by the world at large, changing our environment and communities.
But I don’t think that’s going to happen (at least not anytime soon). Nor do I think the solution is to expect everyone to go vegan or vegetarian – an unrealistic expectation given the habits and stubbornness of our generation.
The key here is moderation.
This means instead of having a burger every time we feel like it to having one maybe once a week (or less if possible). It means considering where the meat is coming from (really coming from) and appreciating it as more than just a piece of raw food in a plastic and styrofoam package.
With education and moderation I think we can get a little bit closer to the subsistence lifestyle exemplified by the Inuits living in arctic Alaska.
If each person were to start eating for their community instead of just themselves, it could be another giant leap for mankind.
Images: Cowspiracy (1)