Ethical Omnivorism: Another Name for Real Foodie

Photo Credit: Buffalo cows on the pasture by CameliaTWU

I never knew that my real foodiness actually had a name, with a Wikipedia page and everything (even though it is admittedly small!).  All that trouble we go through to get local, pastured chickens and beef?  It’s called ethical omnivorism, defined as “a diet that encourages the consumption of meat that can be traced back to a farm that raises grass-fed, free range, and hormone-free livestock.”

Many of us have read Nourishing Traditions, or at least become familiar with the perspective that it offers: soak, sprout, or sour your grains, nuts, and legumes, eat meats from pastured animals, drink and eat raw dairy, eat whole, organic foods, seek out traditional superfoods like fermented cod liver oil, learn how to prepare food traditionally, and become truly nourished!

But did you know that when it comes to meat and animal products in particular, some people will throw us real foodies under the proverbial bus?  There seems to be this animosity between the vegan community and the real food community.   I have a problem with is the militant attitude…on both sides. Where is the common ground we share?

To be clear: I have no problem with people making their own decisions.  I don’t fault anyone for choosing a certain food philosophy, and in return, I expect the same amount of respect.  And so while I think a varied, whole foods, omnivorous diet is best for most people, I also don’t need to force anyone to agree with me and follow what I say.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can find out where vegans and real foodies (hereafter referred to as “ethical omnivores”) crossover.

Denise says she vehemently opposes factory farming. Can’t she at least then commend veganism as a diet that doesn’t support factory farms? With the vast majority of animals being raised on factory farms, people in many parts of the country can’t even find non-factory farmed animal products, and if they can, they might not be able to afford them. Omnis who are opposed to factory farms should at least admit how difficult it is for most people to continue on an onmi diet but only eat “ethical” animal products.
a comment by exexvegan

It’s true you know.  We do have a lot in common with vegans, even if we eat sustainable, grass-fed, pastured meats.  We both have an ethical position about how animals are treated.  We may disagree about whether or not we should eat meat, but we agree that animals need to be treated better.

On way that you can make a difference is to vote with you food dollars every day.  If you make it a priority to buy local, then the part of the economy you live in is affected.  If you can afford to take this stand and put your money towards these happy animals, then I think you should.  But what if you don’t?

The simple truth is that some of us can’t afford that.  We don’t all enjoy the same privilege, whether it comes from money, knowhow, time, or other factors.  So is the answer that those with less money should be vegan, and those with more money to afford the expensive cruelty-free meats should be ethical omnivores?  Of course not.

The real answer is that you need to find a niche that works for you.  Do you care about the treatment of animals?  How determined are you to change your budget to accommodate buying foods that support your position?  It will take work, but you can find a way.  Only if you want to.

I was reading this fascinating post about vegans and ethical omnivores, and I was struck by one excerpt in particular:

For the sake of convenience, an ethical omnivore could say “I’m vegetarian,” as long as there aren’t any nearby vegans to catch them on label abuse. This could be confusing if the hosts know that the ethical omnivore normally eats meat, but hadn’t realized they were selective about the source. The ethical omnivore now has to explain this nuance while pleading with the hosts not to go out of their way to buy morally tolerable meat (or suggesting an easy option, like wild-caught fish). All of this requires more conversation than just “Meat? Yuck!” But for many people, the occasional explanation is worth being able to eat meat sometimes.

I would be remiss if I didn’t throw a little Matt Stone-esque relaxation into this post: even if you take a moral stand on the treatment of animals, it’s not worth it to value perfection over all else.

And so I have a polarity within in me, pulling me two directions: I care about sustainability and animal cruelty, and I care about my own well-being.  But if I care about sustainability and animal cruelty, then I need to assess my own financial situation and decide what I  And if I care about my own well-being, that doesn’t just mean the purity of the food I eat (which is an idea that has taken me a long time to get): it means my stress, my sleep, my metabolism, my happiness, and my diet all rolled into one.

I don’t think that any one food philosophy is 100% right.  We always must take the personal into account.  I don’t get on my real food soapbox much around here.  I mostly just say: “here’s how to make food in the healthiest way that works for me”.

So what do you think?  Do you care about the animal cruelty aspect of eating a real food diet?  Do you find yourself frustrated that you don’t have the economic freedom to eat ethically?  Do you think that if more people buy pastured animal products, it will change the supply and demand of our food economy?  Do you have any solutions?  Please share!

This post is a part of Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter, and Full Plate Thursday, Real Food Wednesday, The Mommy Club, Allergy Free Wednesday, Fight Back Friday, Fresh Bites Friday, Friday Food Flicks, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog.


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  1. This has always been a MAJOR challenge for me. When I was vegan I spent way less money on food, because I didn’t buy a lot of packaged stuff. Most of my food came from bulk bins or the produce section. I still eat a very unprocessed diet, but it costs me so much more and it is sometimes a real strain. I calculated it recently and about 70% of my bill goes to animal products, and that’s even with eating them sparingly.

    I have made compromises, because I feel the impact in my health when I just “go without” on meat purchases. My chickens don’t receive organic or soy-free feed, for example, because I just can’t afford it, and I really need those eggs, so I’d rather keep chickens on less-than-perfect feed than not have chickens at all. Sometimes I buy health-food-store meat and dairy instead of all local, all pastured meat and dairy. I don’t have the electricity to keep a large freezer, so I can’t make major bulk purchases, and buying it bit-by-bit is SO expensive.

    Honestly, it’s very frustrating to hear people say, “If you really care about it you’ll make it work.” There’s an unspoken assumption that if you just stop hitting Starbucks or lose the satellite TV bill, you could afford $5/dozen for eggs or $15/pound for beef. It’s a classist assumption that is not reflective of everyone’s experience.

    My family has always lived below the poverty line. My partner and I both work full-time. We live in 300 square feet, off-grid. We have no luxuries where we live, no TV, no Internet service, we drive a very efficient car, we grow a lot of our own food, we barter when we can. But when I go to the farmer’s market the price of beef or lamb feels like a physical ache. Local pastured chicken (not even organic) are about $20 each. I already stretch meat with vegetables and use cheap cuts and do not have it at every meal — what else can I do? There is nothing else I can cut from my budget to make it happen. So when people assume it’s all about the “luxuries” of modern life, I can’t help but feel insulted.

    I do care a great deal about the animal cruelty aspect. That was the primary reason I went vegan in the first place, and when I stopped being vegan it was in part because I thought I had so many options for relatively cruelty-free food. Now I’m finding it to be a much greater challenge than I hoped. I am coming to think of it as a work in progress. I can’t do everything all at once, but I understand the ideal and I’m moving toward it. That’s the best I can do while maintaining sanity.

    With all this being said, I don’t care about lowering the price by increasing demand. If this way of life becomes mainstream, corners will be cut and economies of scale created and all the same problems will crop up again. I don’t buy raw milk from a certain large-scale company because I just don’t see how they can be so big and still be safe, and recent recalls would seem to confirm that suspicion. I’m not interested in seeing grass-fed beef in Walmart. But that’s because I think our food system has a fundamental flaw that can’t be corrected by switching out ingredients. It is a strain for me, financially, but I still think it’s right to maintain these systems locally and with authentic sustainability.

    Sorry for the novel. 🙂

  2. I too am an ethical omnivore and I am also stressed by the money it costs to do so. At this moment in time, my grass-fed beef comes from as far away as is possible (Australia) but the money it would take to buy half a local beef is just not there. We don’t do luxuries. The last time we went out to eat we used a gift certificate and it’s been 10 years since any of us were in a movie theater. I don’t go to the spa or the salon and I make my own clothes when the old ones are see-through. To stretch my dollar, I invest it in animals that we grow ourselves. Right now we have a small herd of cattle that provide milk and our first beef will be processed in October. We have a laying flock and roosters that free-range all over the property and provide eggs and also replenish themselves. We have a breeding flock of turkeys that provide a lot of meat and supplement our income. We are always looking at ways to both support our farming and contribute to the availability of local, grass-fed meat. The idea of a meat CSA intrigues me. For people that have limited space and budget, getting a weekly/monthly shipment of meat may just solve some of their problems. I’ll have to look into it more thoroughly.
    I think the issue of cheaper food goes so much deeper than supply and demand. Conventional farmers are subsidized by the taxpayers and that automatically stacks the deck against the grass-fed operator. The associations and corporations that have a vested interest in conventional food spend millions, if not billions, to make sure that the average person cannot access locally grown food. Our entire government is a mess and making local food the mainstay will take a lot more work than most people are willing to do.
    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents.

  3. I used to be vegetarian 30 years ago back when I was an idealistic college student. I had gone vegetarian for health, political and ethical reasons. That ended when I married a man who hated vegetables and I was working full time and didn’t have the energy to cook two meals for us. We compromised and I added chicken and fish back into my diet and he started eating more vegetables.

    For 20 years I’ve been eating organic. That started when I got pregnant and I wanted the best food for my body and we were making enough money to buy organic produce. It was also when I discovered that the organic food tasted like the food I loved when I was growing up. The conventional produce had been bred for travel at the sacrifice of taste. This had been done via hybridization. GMOs didn’t exist yet.

    Last fall as organic meats disappeared out of my local supermarkets to be replaced by the store’s “all natural” crap brand. I found a pastured meat supplier that shipped to my door. This was an added bonus as I am currently very sick with a chronic illness. I’m housebound because of it and often bedbound. If I can have healthy food shipped to my door all the better.

    Because I teeter on the precipice of being bedbound I find that any little thing can make me better or worse. Things I have noticed in my diet:
    -eating pastured meats helps my brain function better
    -eating clean relieves the toxin load on my system
    -eating Paleo/Primal has eliminated many of my gastric symptoms
    -eating Paleo/Primal has improved my mood

    So here is where I’m at now, food is my medicine. It improves my symptoms. My body needs the animal fats and beef to rebuild itself. I feel better when I eat pastured animals and organic produce. Because I know the meat I eat is raised and butchered in an ethical manner, I feel marginally less guilty about eating. If I could eat vegetarian without putting myself back in bed, I would but I refuse to do that. I want to heal or at least give myself the best quality of life possible with this illness.

    Is it expensive? Compared to medical bills no.

    Will things change? They are already changing. People are starting up more small farms to supply the burgeoning farmer’s market trade. People are going into butchery when it was becoming a lost art. Farmer’s markets are more popular than ever. The cost will come down as things go more mainstream. However, they will never be competitive with conventional food because it is heavily subsidized by the government.

    BTW, poverty sucks. Been there, done that. I count myself lucky that I can buy the food I need to feed my family.

  4. What an important issue. Everyone has to figure out their own path and no one should be blamed for not being able to do what’s beyond their means. Our financial situation has been precarious, though not so tough as Chandelle’s, but foolishly or not, we have prioritized organic and pastured meats as much as possible. We don’t have kids, so that’s easier. We both care deeply about animals, and indeed live a very animal-centric life, with our 4 dogs, 5 cats, 40-plus chickens, 7 goats.

    We are both former vegetarians who met after we individually found Weston A. Price and had returned to meat eating. We’re living on a farm, paid for with non-farm income and not yet sustainable, but we’re working towards that. We’ve been fortunate to be able to buy quarters of beef and halves of hogs (and soon lamb) from local ethical producers. It hasn’t really been sustainable financially, but my partner is about to start a new job that should make things more do-able.

    I’m blown away by Chandelle’s commitment to a sustainable lifestyle. What a great example.

    We’ve been buying organic soy-free layer feed for our chickens, and it just kills me that it’s twice as expensive as conventional. My solution has been to feed the chickens more and more alternatives such as sprouted black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS) and wild bird seed mixes. Alas, those aren’t organic and I really have no idea of how sustainably they’re produced, but the birds are thriving on their sprouts and love, love, love them. Sprouting increases food value and volume so ends up cutting my overall feed bill quite a bit. It took a bit of investment in buckets ($1 each at Rite-Aid, made-in-China junk, but they’re working for us) fitted with mesh baskets that allow for rinsing and draining large amounts of sprouts (made by Polder, bought from These should last us forever. Those are for the BOSS. I sprout the smaller seed mixes in half-gallon mason jars fitted with sprouting lids. I soak each overnight in very warm water, then drain and rinse twice a day and feed to the birds usually on the third day, or whenever the sprouts are long enough. But I digress…

    There is no easy answer to this. I, too, fear the Walmartization of organic food, which is why I prioritize local and sustainable over certified USDA organic. And as we get goat-proof fencing set up around our garden (once we have the $$ including for labor, since we are getting older…), we will return to growing more of our produce. Meanwhile we try to support local farmers and shop the organic section of local grocery store (not the nationwide chain in town). I do think the nutrient-dense animal foods are the most important in the diet, but lots of veggies for variety and enjoyment are important, too.

    We render lard, make chicken stock, and otherwise extend every meat purchase as much as we can. Scraps and juices aren’t tossed or washed down the sink, they are cleaned up by the dogs, which protects the plumbing as well!

    Poverty sucks, indeed. But doing one’s best and getting better over time is priceless!

  5. It’s interesting to read each person’s story and how they try to solve problems of money, food, and sustainability for themselves. I would like to add that one mindset change/addition could be to work on cooperation vs individualism.
    I am a single gal living in a city. I can’t afford too much grass fed meat available at the fancy farmers markets so I began to look outward to local farms and buying a larger part of an animal. (Bear in mind that I live in a studio apartment with a studio sized fridge/freezer) At that time I began to ask around for my friends to share this animal with me. Despite the significantly lower cost per lb. it was a tough sell. Eventually, I did choose to buy 1/2 a steer at 4.00lb butchered. But I did not find anyone to share it. Luckily I did find a friend who rented commercial freezer space to store all that meat. The reason I tell this story is that I consider my self-reliance and cost cutting a success, but I really wanted to find a way to share and cooperate for the benefit of my friends and family. If we had all found a way to cooperate I wouldn’t be the only one enjoying healthy grass fed meat at a substantial savings. So for me I would say that my goal is to work on sharing/cooperating/ and working together for the benefit of all. It’s just that important to me.

  6. Many vegans rely on soy for their protein and soy is one of the major causes of deforestation. Just think of all the flora and fauna that have become extinct because of this. Do vegans consider this?

    Many products are sold as being eco but simply aren’t. For instance there’s a trend for biodegradable packaging such as those made from sisal. However in order to grow sisal great areas of forest have been cut down and turned into a monoculture.

    Our very existence on this planet can be argued as unethical. We can only ever do our best.

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