Feeding Meat to the Homeless and Hungry
When I signed in today, I was told that I'd be putting entrées on the trays. I assumed that this meant the meat dish, and I actually welcomed the opportunity to find out once and for all how I would feel in that situation. It turned out that I put the collard greens, not the chicken, on the trays, which didn't present any perplexing problems. But after serving greens for two hours and seeing a woman near me handle hundreds of pieces of chicken, I realized that I wouldn't be comfortable doing her job.
I've been vegetarian for more than a decade and vegan for roughly half that time, and I try not to handle meat or other animal products. Last night when I was helping my mom babysit for my nephew, she asked me to feed him pieces of chicken and I insisted on using a fork to do so (which wasn't a completely satisfying compromise). When my dad was in the hospital in December and asked me to put mustard on his turkey sandwich, I did it. Situations like that are pretty rare in my life.
The soup kitchen is a different scenario because I go out of my way to volunteer there. I see the need to feed the homeless and hungry and am eager to help them, particularly when I encounter so many homeless and hungry people on the streets and subways of New York City. While there are vegetarian avenues for feeding the homeless and hungry, I recognize that there is a larger system, which often relies on food donations, and I don't have any desire to challenge that system.
I recently sought out the advice of my friend David Perle, who wrote heebnvegan's first guest post in 2006 and cofounded a chapter of Food Not Bombs, which serves vegan meals to the homeless and hungry. Here's his take:
Food Not Bombs embraces and practices veganism for different reasons, including peaceful justice for all as well as a protest against the waste that goes into filtering a large amount of the world’s produce and water (not to mention energy) into a relatively small amount of meat and other animal-derived foods. ...
I personally passed nonvegan items on for distribution by the likes of the Salvation Army and the Catholic Workers. Food Not Bombs practices vegan ideals ... but clearly we don’t see any good in throwing away nonvegan food when it could still get to hungry mouths through other groups.
I probably wouldn’t feel too comfortable serving meat at a soup kitchen, unless perhaps I knew that the meat would have gone to waste otherwise, and that’s a big tenant of Food Not Bombs—making good use of food that would otherwise go to waste. That’s less likely to be the case with meat, though, since it and other animal products don’t keep as well, as long, as many vegan foods. So, it’d be more likely that the meat in question would be a specific sacrifice, so to speak, of a corporate or other business entity (or perhaps a hunting group) for the otherwise good deed of feeding the hungry. And while I can appreciate the good intentions of helping out our human brothers and sisters, I do not appreciate sacrificing animals for the purpose, particularly those raised in the hellish realities of factory farming.
I plan to keep volunteering at the soup kitchen. I am accepting of the situation and am happy to volunteer so long as my personal interaction with meat remains indirect. More so because I find it gross and unpleasant than anything else, though, I don't want to be the one to put chicken body parts on the trays.