What Is An Ethical Omnivore?

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Is there a way to eat meat and stay ethical? That’s a question of great interest to those who think seriously about where their food comes from. The answer, according to ethical omnivores, is absolutely “yes.”

How? By investigating the source of your meat and committing to purchasing it from farms that raise 100% grass-fed cattle that are never given hormones or antibiotics. Those same farms should also never use chemical herbicides or pesticides.

That immediately separates small, sustainable cattle operations from the intensive meat industry that does things such as:

  • Use the majority of the antibiotics it buys for non-therapeutic reasons, such as growth promotion, feed efficiency and weight gain, according to the Pew Trust
  • Contribute to the spread of resistant bacteria, according to Scientific American
  • Dump herbicides (such as RoundUp) in such excessive numbers on crops that it’s now in much of the food we eat and has even been detected by federal authorities in the air and rainfall

Of course, you want to avoid supporting food from such sources. But that’s the whole point of being an ethical omnivore.

The Basics of the Ethical Omnivore

Go to farmers’ markets or local food stands - that’s where you will find ethical omnivores. They believe that eating ethically involves eating local, humanely-reared food. They also believe that humans evolved as omnivores  and that grass-fed, hormone-free meat can be part of an ethical eater’s diet.

Buying local is a great way to start for many reasons. Food bought at farmers markets cuts down on the carbon emissions that result from transporting food thousands of miles. It also keeps you eating vegetables and fruits in season. Ordering directly from local farms who flash freeze meat then send it directly to you means all the nutrients and flavor are locked in.

Certainly, even famous food writers such as Michael Pollan, who is associated with exposing issues with the industrial food industry, makes it clear in his book “In Defense of Food” (and other places) that there’s nothing wrong with eating meat.

Ethical omnivores also point to research indicating that the large human brain developed because of a meat diet. Certain vitamins and minerals, such as B12, also are in abundance in meat.

Ethical Omnivores and the Environment

The idea of an ethical omnivore gets resistance from those who are vegan or vegetarian. Some feel eating animals, no matter how they are raised, is unethical. That’s certainly the right of anyone to feel that way, but it leaves little room for debate.

However, those who decide to be omnivores can learn a thing or two from vegans. Like vegans, they should take responsibility for determining where the meat they eat was raised, whether chemicals were used and how far the meat was transported, to name just a few issues.

Some studies also have shown that being an ethical omnivore could be better for the overall environment. PBS reported on a study that found some omnivore diets proved more sustainable than vegan diets, partly because a vegan diet can waste land that could otherwise be used to feed more people.

While debate will of course continue, the truth is that vegans, vegetarians and ethical omnivores have much in common, including an intense interest in exactly where their food comes from and how it was produced.

That kind of scrutiny is what will eventually lead to more changes in the industrial food industry - and more people deciding to buy from local farms that steer clear of herbicides, pesticides or chemicals of any kind.

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