Friday, April 4, 2008

My protest against the conduct of the world

Here's another passage I like from that New York Times article that I mentioned below:

Talking about how the rise in oil prices creates a corresponding rise in food prices, and the effect this will have on the level of meat consumption, the author writes "If price spikes don't change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals."

In a way, that quote makes me want to scream. You know how we all go through our daily lives saying to our meat-eating friends "Hey, I'm not judging you, this is just right for me" - well, a sentence like the one above that so plainly and simply makes the vegetarian argument kind of makes me want to explode and say to people "What the f$%^&*K would it take to convince you that eating meat is messed up!!!???"

Grrr.... okay... calm down...

Anyway, that quote made me think of my post about trying NOT to explain to some old friends why Annalise and I went vegan, and it makes me think of this Isaac Singer quote, which I have on my Facebook account:

"To be a vegetarian is to disagree-to disagree with the course of things today. Starvation, world hunger, cruelty, waste, wars-we must make a statement against these things. Vegetarianism is my statement. And I think it's a strong one."

And it also made me think about The Omnivore's Dilemma, that Michael Pollan book that I went on about so much last summer.

In that book, Pollan talks about how powerful the vegetarian argument is, and since he spent a lot of time on factory farms in writing the book, Pollan speaks of how it is quite simply impossible to argue that millions of animals do nothing but suffer en route to our dinner plate. When faced with this terrible fact, what do North Americans do? We either look away - or we stop eating meat.

Most people just look away. They know how terrible the situation is, and refuse to make the connection between the 20 million animals going through the factory farms, and the fact that this requires them to make a life decision.

As much as I usually try to ignore what other people do, the looking away just blows my mind.


Krista said...

I feel your pain Tuco. You and Annalise aren't looking away though. You've taken matters into your own hands, and I think you are doing an incredible job of living by example! But I don't know how folks can look away either...

Perhaps we need to look at the consumption of meat like an addiction. The way some people so passionately defend their meat consumption reminds me of an alcoholic in denial. They know it's wrong, but it feels so good...

Karen Stilwell said...

Well, there are a few things I would say in response to all of this:

First, there are all kinds of global problems that we might be much closer to solving if everyone gave up his income, donated it to starving countries, and lived like monks. You (meaning people in general, but yes, also you and also me) hear about those problems everyday and yet, instead of living like a monk, we all "look away."

My point is that vegetarians aren't the only people out there with a claim to moral superiority, but that the indignation they can sometimes show is myopic and offputting. Polemics designed to make everyone else feel hell-bound for not following along is hardly an advertising strategy.

My other thought in response to this is this: I really think that the issue of meat-eating in and of itself has to be separated from the issue of factory farming. They are different and carry completely different moral considerations. Though humans don't *need* to eat meat, we *do* eat meat, and have since the dawn of time that I know of. Nonetheless, I think lots of meat-eaters would agree that factory farming is horrendous.

But here is another thought to consider before comparing meat eaters to alcoholics in denial: because of its high production outputs, factory farming has kept costs low and has, a result, allowed lots of poor people access to things like milk and meat -- protein and fat-dense food that keep people alive through the winter. I use to laugh at myself when I was in university that the most important number to me when shopping for food was calories per dollar. It's occurred to me later in life that that is a very real consideration for some families, not to be laughed at. It is a luxury in life to be able to pick and choose what food you can afford and will morally allow yourself to ingest -- a luxury a lot of people don't have.

While I'm as persuaded as most hardcore vegetarians about the environmental and health and other problems that are in part a result of our approach to food, I truly recoil at the moral outrage directed towards people who are doing their best to feed their kids, work (and sometimes have to drive there), and not feel like they're going to hell in a handbasket as a result. I think veggie energy is better directed towards governments and industries who are now in a position to change their ways given the new wave of information out there. I really believe change is coming ... it's slow, but I think it's out there.