THE BLOG
10/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Is Eating Local Meat Kinder Than Vegetarianism?

In Catherine Friend's book, The Compassionate Carnivore, the argument is made for meat. While it seems kinder on the surface, vegetarianism isn't necessarily the most compassionate choice in the broader spectrum of animal welfare. Which may sound like sheer lunacy to some of my fellow vegetarians, but hear me out, because her points are beyond valid. In the book she explains that for every dollar you're not spending on sustainable meat, you're sending a message to those farmers: that their humanely raised livestock isn't worth your money.

Small farms like Catherine's are the front lines in the war against cruelty to animals and climate change. They place quality of life and the farm's impact on the environment above the bottom line. And when you, the all-powerful consumer, start handing your money over en masse to these farmers, the lives of factory animals will start to improve. The larger industry will realize cruelty is simply bad for business. So bad that people would rather pay more for a kinder product. And as sad as that reasoning is for not beating sows to death - I'd rather have cruelty stopped in the name of the dollar than not stopped at all.

Vegetarianism is definitely a gentler way to govern the earth's resources, and I am in no way disparaging it as a legitimate diet (after all, I am one) but by avoiding meat, we vegetarians have become silent protesters. Not taking part in the debauchery, but also doing anything with our cash to change it. Remember folks, money doesn't just talk - it votes. If we want to see a real change in how farm animals are treated, perhaps boycotting meat isn't the best way to go about it. Boca Burger purchases will never fully turn the heads of meat giants because we're no longer stockholders in the check out lines. Since we're out of the meat-buying business they no longer have to acknowledge our values. And so the meatless consumer becomes white noise. Fodder for water cooler jokes. And all the tofu in the world can't change that.

So now I'm a vegetarian on the edge. A few logical steps from returning to the carnivorous life. For me, it's based on the realization that logic can overturn pride. Specially (and embarrassingly) if pride is masking as compassion. Which I worry is the case with myself. Am I avoiding meat because I want to help animals - or help my own green-tinted ego? My research and recent experiences seem to prove that eating meat raised in my backyard is a lot better for the environment than trucking plastic bags of organic salad from California. Yikes.

While of course, the choice is yours, I think I'll be straddling the line between the two. Eating a little meat, but when I do it'll come from my own farm or from other local sustainable farmers. It's a harsh reality to chomp back into a Thanksgiving turkey after years of abstinence, but I'd rather be boosting the livelihood of kinder practices than handing more money to Tofurkey. Because fake turkey isn't suffering in a cage right now, and doesn't need the paradigm shift in the market to make it's life better. So let's show this industry that we care, and demand a more humane product. It's a sad truth, but for millions of animals across America, that red plate could be a vote for a greener future.