One of the glorious moments in Kate Rawle’s highly entertaining book The Carbon Cycle (see here) was when she arrived in Alaska and turned into Sarah Palin. As a vegetarian, Kate had struggled to find suitable food on her 4,553-mile journey through America but found herself questioning her vegetarian principles when she met the moose-hunting Alaskans. This is what she wrote: “I was finding something deeply attractive about the hunting culture- when it was associated with people who lived in these places and who shot to eat or to be safe…This is almost what I’m looking for I thought, almost the place to stay awhile… My response to these hunters took me a bit by surprise, given that I’d been a vegetarian for a good twenty years… I would, in fact, be happy to eat meat occasionally if it was raised “traditionally” with a low environmental footprint and with very high animal welfare… If I lived here I thought, I’d want to go hunting and let the experience- and my emotional response to it- help me think it through. It was an odd conclusion to reach”.
Kate had become a vegetarian after reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. “It was the description of how intensively farmed animals lived out their lives as much as the argument that really got to me. Chickens in tiny cages so tightly packed together they could not stretch their wings”. It was a revelation which changed her life. She became a University lecturer teaching environmental ethics, doing her best, as she said, to be a mini Singer. On her ride across America Kate eschewed meat but relied heavily on eggs and cheese, often from burger joints. She describes with relish her meals in the wild south: “Huevos rancheros was my mainstay in cafes throughout New Mexico. It has to be up there with the best biking meals ever. Beans, potatoes, eggs, tortillas, cheese and chilli (green or red). Vast portions of course.” I wondered about all that eggs and cheese. The eggs will have come from chickens in tiny cages, the cheese from dairy cows whose male calves will be routinely shot after birth- a topic which is as gruesome as any she is likely to find (see What’s in a McDonald’s burger) There’s a logical disconnect here which I was surprised to find in a philosophy lecturer.
In the Slow Life we agree with Kate that it is morally wrong to eat meat which has been produced unethically. The important point, to use her words, is that the animal is raised traditionally, with a low environmental footprint and with very high animal welfare. Kate lives here in the Lake District, and this is something we can achieve very easily here. The trick is never to set foot in a supermarket or fast food joint and choose your supplier carefully. You don’t have to become Sarah Palin in Alaska.