I recently finished reading Barbara Kingsolver's memoir, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of food life." While I'm not so crazy about the title, and some of her descriptions ring a little false, I agree with her premise that eating locally can benefit yourself, your community and the environment. So many of the health problems in society today can be traced to industrial farming practices. Also, as someone who is passionate about food, I tend to appreciate the locally grown vegetable not only because of where (and, frequently, how) it was grown, but also how it tastes.
I'm not a vegetarian by any stretch of the imagination, though I have toyed with the idea before. The last time I seriously tried it was about two months before I left to study for 6 months in China; that didn't last long over there. After reading Kingsolver's book, I feel more than ever that the ethical choice for me is not going to be about meat v.s. veg, but about local v.s. (fill in the blank). It's funny to think that I would puzzle more over buying a banana or orange than I would a grass-fed steak, but that's what I've been doing lately.
There are four main reasons, that I see, why it's not a good idea to buy meat raised and produced in factory farms:
1) Not good for your health (bad fats; meat is pumped full of antibiotics; e coli)
2) The animal led a miserable existence, if you can call it an existence
3) Huge amounts of waste are produced - from the natural waste of the animals, to the gas burned up in trucking the meat cross-country.
4) It's expensive. Maybe not as expensive as the locally produced, free-range and grass-fed meat that you might get at your local farmer's market, but at least that I see as an investment (and reasons 1-3 do not apply).
Obviously it's not something that happens overnight, and her family has the means (and the land) to live on locally produced products for a year (their established radius was 50 miles). There are some things that are easy for me: not buying soda or processed, packaged food; shopping at the farmer's market; baking my own bread when I have the time; growing tomatoes and herbs on my balcony. When I think about it, the hardest thing, if I were to embark on a project like this, would be to give up citrus and other tropical fruits. Oh, to live locally in Southern California...
The other really hard thing for me would be to give up so-called "ethnic food." As evidenced by my entries here, a lot of the restaurants that I enjoy eating at serve dishes containing ingredients that winged their way to my table from thousands of miles away.