When Fast Food Nation came out a few years ago, I deliberately kept away from it because I didn’t want to spoil McDonald’s for myself. I wasn’t eating there all the time or anything, but it was something I did every now and then, maybe once a month, as—can’t believe I’m writing this—a treat, on a tired or lazy or self-indulgent day. The book got so much publicity, though, that the facts I had tried to avoid set up camp in my head. One day I found I couldn’t eat fast food any more, certainly not the burgers. Then I came to know other things I hadn’t wanted to know about the way meat gets to us and how it’s treated before it’s meat. As my interest in cooking grew and I devoted more thought to what I was eating, shrinkwrapped supermarket meat looked less and less appealing, finally bottoming out at unacceptable. Things only got worse. A piece in Harper’s revealed an environmentally pernicious aspect of meat production I had never considered: the amount of fossil fuel it takes to raise a steak from calf to plate. And it turned out the salmon I had been enjoying was pumped full of dye and that the techniques used to farm it were polluting the waters and the wild fish stock. It got to the point where the only animal products welcome in my house were precious, carefully selected, not at all shy about proclaiming their virtues; and even those eggs and cutlets, I wondered, were they telling the truth? Was I asking enough questions and shopping at the right places?
Recently I began to wonder whether this had gone too far: maybe I should stop being such a pretentious spendthrift and buy supermarket chuck for stew and supermarket chicken for stir fry. What am I proving to the food industrial complex by spending too much of my own money on wild fish? In the nick of time, this piece in The Believer reminded me that cheap and plentiful meat is not a right and that I should not regard it as such, if only to curb my own greediness. If it’s too expensive to eat responsibly raised meat all the time (and it is), then meat should grace your table less frequently (if you need it at all, which I’m afraid I do). This kind of worry is a luxury, I know, but one of the nice things about the Believer piece is that it makes clear some of the reasons why the meat issue can be so emotionally and personally fraught. I am curious to know whether others agree or I am just neurasthenic!