Thursday, June 14, 2007

the willingness to avert your eyes

This shall be the last time I mention Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. I've finally finished it - speed reading through the last chapter where he hunts his own meal - and the last thing I want to talk about is his take on the ethics of eating animals.

Pollan isn't a vegetarian, although he did go veggie while he was in the process of trying to justify to himself whether or not he could eat meat. Although he never actually states his position, it's fairly clear that Pollan is an omnivore who finds it defensible to eat animals raised on organic / natural farms who lived a good life and had a quick clean death. What he does not find defensible is eating animals - like the billions going through the factory farms - that did nothing but suffer for their entire existence before they reached our plates.

Pollan emphasizes several times the fact that it is incumbent upon the eater to truly look at, and make a conscious moral decision, about what he/she is eating. On page 312 he writes about the choice you have to make after you accept the evidence that an animal was tortured to get to your dinner table You look away - or you stop eating animals.

On page 317 after briefly mentioning CAFO's and how they treat animals as "production units" which can't feel pain, he writes Since no thinking person can possibly believe this anymore, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert one's eyes on the part of everyone else.

On page 332:
Sometimes I think that all it would take to clarify our feelings about eating meat, and in the process begin to redeem animal agriculture, would be to simply pass a law requiring all the sheet-metal walls of all the CAFO's, and even the concrete walls of the slaughterhouses, to be replaced with glass. If there's any new right we need to establish, maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look...
... Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals the way we do. Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end - for who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We'd probably eat a lot less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals we'd eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve.


Smudgemo said...

I have always contended that there would be a whole lot more vegetarians out there if people had to at least once kill and prep their dinner.

Krista said...

Would you recommend this book to a fellow vegetarian Tuco?

Tuco said...

Well Smudge, they'd either go veggie or become full on hunters! Joining deer hunting gangs every autumn, etc.

Krista - it took me a while to read this book, but the good parts are really really good. A lot of the scientific deconstruction of where the meal comes from (i.e. how corn is in everything), you might already know, but I think it'd be for sure worth getting out of the library - and the paperback version should be out by the end of the summer.

The Vegan Vagabond said...

hey Tuco - just wanted to say hi...saw that you commented a few times on my blog. I look forward to reading yours when I'm done my trip and have more time! cheers, tanya

Marathon Maritza said...

I HAVE to read this book.

So what's your stance? From what I've read, you're a vegetarian, but how do you feel about the it's-okay-to-eat-animals-who've-been-treated-humanely? Just curious.

Tuco said...

Hey maritza - well I've been a vegetarian since 2003, and a vegan since Christmas (a vegan who still eats honey and who doesn't check to see if his beers were filtered through fish bones or not).

I don't think I can ever eat meat, dairy or eggs again, so basically I'm a vegan for good.

As far as the ethics of eating humanely raised and killed animals goes - I still think it's a shame that in this day and age an animal has to die in order for a person to enjoy his/her dinner, but I do think that you can morally defend your choice to eat an animal that was treated well.

I'll probably read something tomorrow that will make me rethink this, but for now that's where my thoughts are at.

Curt said...

Sounds like an excellent read--I'll have to pick it up. I've been doing well with vegetarianism, although this year's drought has pretty much squelched my hopes for a successful garden. :-/