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One woman's quest to enjoy her dinner without guilt

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"A cage system in which breeder sows can turn around is better than the cage system they're in now," Regan says. "But that kind of reform doesn't address the fundamental question of their exploitation to begin with."

One interesting eating policy comes not from an expert, but a friend. Daren Firestone, a law student in Chicago, developed a three-rule system to balance his love of animals with his love of good food.

Rule No. 1 is the most basic: He doesn't want to contribute to the demand for meat. It's a market-based way of expressing his visceral sense that animals shouldn't be food, but it also allows for some flexible vegetarianism. While he won't buy meat or order it, he might, for instance, have a bite of a friend's steak or eat the remnants of a big Thanksgiving meal before they get tossed out. Institutional buffets are off-limits; a buffet at a friend's party is in-bounds.

Better but not best

Rule No. 2 allows for eating "insignificant creatures": He just doesn't care much about scallops, snails, mussels, and clams. And Rule No. 3 is the "Paris exemption" (which, he admits, also applies to the very occasional four-star restaurant or gourmet meal in other parts of the world). In such places, he can eat what he likes.

"I'm OK with it if I'm not the best vegetarian in the world, if I can reduce my meat intake a lot," he says. "This way I can still have the things I really, really want."

Daren's system offers something many all-or-nothing systems don't: nuance. But what about eaters who don't share that innate sense he and Regan have that eating animals - particularly domestic ones, that have evolved for human use and no longer have a biological place outside of that - is wrong? Personally, I've plucked a chicken and eaten a sheep a few minutes after I watched it slaughtered, and was fine with both.

Conserving the environment, may be a greater concern for some eaters, which means looking at issues like land use and where food is shipped from. Others might abhor the abusive practices in factory farming - the battery cages and veal pens and hog farms that Regan describes - but still want to support small, local, family-run farms for both meat and produce.

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