Fresh meat is a sustainable choice

This commotion over slaughtered rabbits on the grounds of my home, Kingman Hall, reveals the stark reality of our food system but brings about a hopeful set of alternatives. I too often find myself distanced from the realities of my food. The frozen chicken breasts sitting in Safeway bring us as close to the animal from whence they came as Corn Flakes do to a corn field.

Here in Berkeley, many people learn and understand that the meat industry is unhealthy, cruel and ecologically unsustainable. The industrialized food system commodifies our food, cutting costs at the expense of the consumer, the workers, the animals and our ecosystems. The solution is to create small-scale and local food systems — a diet that respects labor, keeps ecosystems sustainable and builds closer communities.

When I slaughtered locally raised rabbits at Kingman Hall, with an open invitation to friends and housemates, it was a locavore consumer choice. A friend of mine raised the rabbits for food on kitchen scraps in a backyard six blocks from my house, proving that local eating can be both feasible and affordable. In addition to decoupling ourselves from industrialized meat, butchering the rabbits brought home the realities of animal protein. Sourcing meat in this manner affords consumers like me the transparency necessary to make ethically conscious decisions on the humane and ecological implications of meat consumption — a level of transparency impossible with commercial meat sources, even organic ones.

Meat is a critical part of small-scale local food production in the Bay Area’s semi-arid ecology. Michael Pollan has noted that in climates with less rainfall, animal protein is key to a local diet. While intensive plant-protein agriculture often requires lots of water and good soil, animals like cattle and rabbits will thrive on plants and scraps that humans will not eat. In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Pollan kills and butchers a hog to demonstrate sustainable meat production.

I had the space to have such an educational and political experience at Kingman Hall because the community is committed to being conscious consumers and intentional actors in our ecosystem. Although as a restaurant-grade kitchen we cannot buy or serve this type of unregulated meat, we do, as a house, have food policies that make all our meat, most of our dairy and all our produce local and organic — almost all from within 150 miles. Because we buy our food collectively, we are able to source from organic and local farms while keeping within a five-dollar-per-person-per-day budget. Furthermore, these rabbits stand in line with a cooperative culture that values and actively protects our branch of Strawberry Creek, raises chickens to turn our food scraps into eggs, composts on-site and grows our own herbs and oyster mushrooms.

I would challenge you all to make our community even more of a leader in the sustainable living and local food movement.  Part of the solution lies, I would argue, in the opportunity of alternative meat-sourcing made feasible by small-scale, local animal husbandry uniquely enabled by the growing East Bay DIY urban agriculture movement.

Gabe Schwartzman is a junior at UC Berkeley and a resident and kitchen manager of the Kingman Hall co-op.