When Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1906, readers were exposed to the horrible abuse of those who worked in the meat-packing industry. The book changed how the country thought about food safety and sparked considerable shifts in inspections and labor practices, shaping laws for the last century. Now, it seems that we’re increasingly turning our attention to the other major component of the industry: the animals themselves. Despite the shock-and-awe campaigns of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (which occasionally uses naked women to encourage vegetarianism), ours is a country rife with meat eaters. Health pronouncements about eating less red meat have had some effect, and “meatless Monday” is catching on in many areas, but on the whole, the United States is a paradise for omnivores.
But can you eat meat and still maintain a sense of spiritual health and physical well-being? Those who encourage mindful eating believe it can be done. By treating animals with respect and raising them on diets that are fundamental to their health — letting cows graze on grass, for example — we can improve further upon the efforts of Sinclair. Reducing the number of factory farms (with their complete elimination as an eventual goal) is a major step in this direction. Recently, McDonald’s Corporation announced it would work toward phasing out gestation stalls for pregnant sows, a move that surprised many food activists and sparked some hope that big business would align with advocates for a more sustainable food system — similar to when Walmart started carrying organic produce. Bon Appétit Management Company, which operates over 400 cafés for corporations, universities, and museums, also announced this year that they are rolling out a comprehensive farm animal welfare policy. In all likelihood, more companies will make similar moves, and forward-thinking ranchers and farmers are beginning to sign up for certification programs, like Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved, which assure consumers of more humane practices.
In general, though, the mindful meat movement will rely on individual eaters who demand to know about the origin of what they’re eating. It’s akin to the local food revolution, which rallies eaters to “know your farmer.” Sales of organic meat increased more than 150 percent from 2002 to 2009, and the growth continues. Young butchers like those at Dickson’s Farmstand Meats in New York City are touting their relationships to the farms where they source their meat. Restaurants are including farm names on menus, along with descriptions of how the animals were raised. All of these changes are vital for increasing awareness and forging a connection to farmers and ranchers who make the effort to raise their animals with respect. For many who continue to eat meat, tapping into this movement can be a powerful way to stay out of The Jungle.