Parents Talk Back

A Fracas Over Deli Meat

I deliberately tried to draw attention to what I was about to say.

“I have been thinking about something,” I announced.

Dramatic pause.

“And, after thinking and reading about it for a long time, I’ve come to a decision,” I said. My husband perked up and seemed interested in what was about to go down.

“Yes?” he said, putting aside whatever he was doing in the kitchen.

“I want us to only bring humanely raised meat into the house,” I said. I explained that we should know the source of any meat that we buy, and that I don’t want to eat chickens that have been raised in crowded cages, or beef from factory-farmed cows. I’m pretty sure most of the meat we cook with is of higher quality than that, anyway, but we still get deli meat for school lunches, and cans of chicken noodle soup from chicken of unknown origin. It doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult to buy meat that has been ethically raised by workers who were treated fairly.

My husband seemed to lose interest in my big announcement once he realized it was about groceries, but he nodded in general agreement. That was easy, I thought. I had expected more resistance, since my husband is wary of pronouncements that increase our grocery bill.

The next day, he brought home lunch meat purchased from the local grocery store’s deli counter. I was irritated, but let it slide. Maybe there needs to be an adjustment period, I thought. Two days later, he brought home dinner from another grocery’s hot deli bar, including barbecued chicken of undetermined provenance. This time, my irritation was aggravated by hunger and my inability to eat the chicken due to my previously stated ethical boundary. So I just yelled something about my values not being respected and stomped upstairs.

Perhaps this was not the most mature approach, but hangry is a dangerous mood.

I’m pretty sure something was yelled in return about the confusion and hypocrisy of said values, since I was still willing to eat meat at nice restaurants.

Thus commenced the Cold War of 2018. Long-term couples know of what I speak. It’s when you’re too mad to rationally discuss the issue at hand, yet too tired to get into an argument, so you reduce your spoken exchanges to transactional conversations about kids and household logistics. It is an immature way to try to settle a disagreement, but these things can happen when you’ve been married for a long time.

After a few days, the Cold War fizzled out because we are too old to have the energy to sustain it. But it did give me time to think about what was at the core of my feelings about this issue. Ostensibly, it was about respect. But what was it really about?

Like I said, most of the meat purchased for the house is up to ethical standards, so why did I lose it over sandwiches and takeout? This might have something to do with it: In the past year, several close friends have been struck with life-changing diagnoses. These are healthy people living active lives, randomly hit with cancer and other serious illnesses. It’s a scary, close-to-home reminder of how much is out of our control. And our modern commercial food-manufacturing system makes it difficult to know what is truly healthy to put in our bodies and feed our children.

My newfound focus on meat “origin stories” had something to do with my anxiety about keeping everyone healthy. From my husband’s perspective, the fight was really about personal autonomy and not being forced to follow an edict without discussion about all the gray areas. Like, is it OK to bring home takeout from a restaurant we both enjoy, even if we aren’t sure of how they source the meat?

A week later, once we each had time to simmer down, we talked (at times loudly) about the contrasting research we had read on meat suppliers and standards at various grocery chains.

My friends who have been committed to clean, ethical eating for far longer advised me that the best solution was simply to eat less meat. My 12-year-old son, who witnessed all stages of the feud, finally weighed in: “This argument is so dumb.”

Yes, the initial stomping and yelling and subsequent silent treatment was dumb. But the argument was useful. It made us do more research, be more intentional about our grocery choices and talk more deeply about issues that matter to us.

I just have to figure out the best way to unveil Meatless Mondays.

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