(oh dear, I now have an image of Kermit tap-dancing around hanging sides of beef, joined by some cheerful sheep and the odd goat; chickens to perform their own foot-scratching sensation later, perhaps even juggling their eggs with a flourish...)
So anyway. I've been trying these past couple of years to eat in a way that makes me feel good about myself, not so much for my physical health but the health of my soul. Mostly this has meant avoiding meat from the industrial agricultural behemoth, and looking for local/sustainable/organic/humane flesh. What it comes down to is that I finally cannot ignore the images of cows standing in rivers of their own shit as they are injected with all kinds of drugs and fed a mix of grains and offal, or pigs with their tails cut off so they won't be chewed on by the other pigs, or chickens with Dolly Parton breasts, unable to support their own weight, or any of the other horrible things going on in the world of meat.
There are lots of compelling arguments for eating the good kind of meat: healthier, tastes better, works in harmony with the environment, and so on. All positive, but just kind of the silver lining for me. I am driven by the hope that the animal I'm eating lived a happy life. Guilt (as the Jews and the Catholics know) is a powerful motivator, and if I am going to eat meat at all, I need to find a way to feel good about it. Yes, I realize that in the end they die, no getting around that, but I'm actually ok with that part of things - assuming the slaughtering is also done as humanely as possible. (I do think you have to face that fact, and we actually learned how to slaughter and butcher a chicken a couple years ago, and may do a lamb or buffalo at some point.) Even the big guns (McDonald's et al) are a lot better about that than they used to be (thanks in large part to Temple Grandin), but that's still just the end of their life - which they wouldn't have at all if we weren't raising them to be eaten - and I want to know the rest of it was good, too. You know, visions of the happy farm animals we give to children in coloring books. Sunshine and flowers, cows with big brown eyes and long raspy tongues finding the delicious clover, pigs rooting in the forest for acorns, chickens picking fat juicy bugs out of the grass... Meanwhile, the system takes care of itself, working together as nature intended (more or less). Can't you just hear the hopeful and triumphant soundtrack? I mean, they don't have to play Mozart and massage the beasts, but a certain amount of carefree frolicking would be nice.
These days, with the omni/locavore movements picking up speed, it's becoming easier to do that and easier to explain to people (just mention Michael Pollan and the farmer's market). Where I live, it's even fairly easy to find happy meat at restaurants. Granted, when I travel, I have to decide how much of my principles I'm willing to put on hold (and how many images of suffering animals I'm willing to watch dance through my head - is the pepperoni pizza really worth it? Probably the pig wouldn't think so...) but I have hope that these ideas will spread and people will begin to make choices that will ultimately change the industry.
For our part, we've joined a meat CSA with a local ranch. We get 5 pounds of frozen meat a month - cow, pig, chicken, lamb, and/or goat - and emails with little updates of how the animals are doing (springtime brings babies!). It feels good and tastes good and is good for our local economy and the environment. Everybody wins. One of these days we'll get out there for a visit and meet the meat.