Sunday, January 31, 2010

Someone Read A Book!

My God! I'm 22, half-drunk, sitting at the Deadwood and the marginally attractive sophomore anthropology major whom I had Western Civ from 1865 with just sat down next to me.

It's a flashback of historic proportions.

A piece from Natalie Portman written for HuffPost a few months ago.

Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals changed me from a twenty-year vegetarian to a vegan activist.

Is it just me or don't a lot of vegetarians seem to treat their vegetarianness like they went through AA or something, hoping against hope that they can make it to the next year and collect their new chip. Alcoholism is a disease. Eating meat isn't. Sorry.

I've always been shy about being critical of others' choices because I hate when people do that to me.

Me thinks there's a 'but' comin'

I'm often interrogated about being vegetarian (e.g., "What if you find out that carrots feel pain, too? Then what'll you eat?").

That's the best witticism that's been thrown your way? Kinda weak. I'm dubious if that's what she's putting in the first graf to lead off this 'transformative' proclamation.

I've also been afraid to feel as if I know better than someone else -- a historically dangerous stance...


...(I'm often reminded that "Hitler was a vegetarian, too, you know"). But...


...this book reminded me that some things are just wrong. Perhaps others disagree with me that animals have personalities, but the highly documented torture of animals is unacceptable, and the human cost Foer describes in his book, of which I was previously unaware, is universally compelling.

Whoa! She's been a vegetarian for 20 years and didn't know that animals were tortured in the meat-making process on factory farms? Geesh! Read a newspaper and watch one of the 14 million documentaries made in the last 30 years on the subject.

The human cost of factory farming -- both the compromised welfare of slaughterhouse workers and, even more, the environmental effects of the mass production of animals -- is staggering. Foer details the copious amounts of pig shit sprayed into the air that result in great spikes in human respiratory ailments, the development of new bacterial strains due to overuse of antibiotics on farmed animals, and the origins of the swine flu epidemic, whose story has gripped the nation, in factory farms.

Using that logic, with Toyota having issues with accelerator pedals and 40,000 people dying each year from car accidents (#1 cause of death for people between ages 1 and 34), we should just outlaw cars. Seems like that's a reason for better environmental/farm rules and regulations, not outlawing meat.

I read the chapter on animal shit aloud to two friends -- one is from Iowa and has asthma and the other is a North Carolinian who couldn't eat fish from her local river because animal waste had been dumped in it as described in the book.

Anyone else get the feeling that hanging around Natalie might be like hanging around an Amway rep? But, you know, A LOT WORSE. You just KNOW the pitch is coming at some point. Where's the tipping point? Three appletinis? Two hits on the bong?

They had never truly thought about the connection between their environmental conditions and their food. The story of the mass farming of animals had more impact on them when they realized it had ruined their own backyards.

But what Foer most bravely details...

Glurp how eating animal pollutes not only our backyards, but also our beliefs.

He reminds us that our food is symbolic of what we believe in,

Bow at the altar of the wise Mr. Foer!

and that eating is how we demonstrate to ourselves and to others our beliefs: Catholics take communion -- in which food and drink represent body and blood. Jews use salty water on Passover to remind them of the slaves' bitter tears. And on Thanksgiving, Americans use succotash and slaughter to tell our own creation myth -- how the Pilgrims learned from Native Americans to harvest this land and make it their own.

Well, first, most Christians do the 'body and blood' thing. Not just Catholics.

Mostly, though, I heart the religious overtones (and the alliteration) here, connecting the eating of meat to some sort of wrong-headed religious practice. So if I'm to take that comparison literally, are Christians cannibals for taking a representative body of Christ wafer every Sunday? This religious conspiracy is more sinister than I thought!

Gee, I wonder if Natalie's going to talk about unthinking zealotry and then fall into the trap herself.

And as we use food to impart our beliefs to our children, the point from which Foer lifts off, what stories do we want to tell our children through their food?

I'm going to tell them to not listen to a Hollywood actress that makes bullshit assumptions about my supposed lack of knowledge and conscientiousness of the food I eat.

I remember in college, a professor asked our class to consider what our grandchildren would look back on as being backward behavior or thinking in our generation, the way we are shocked by the kind of misogyny, racism, and sexism we know was commonplace in our grandparents' world.

Oh sweetie. You ARE in your 20s, aren't you?

He urged us to use this principle to examine the behaviors in our lives and our societies that we should be a part of changing. Factory farming of animals will be one of the things we look back on as a relic of a less-evolved age.

So far, I've been told by Mrs. Portman that factory farming is bad, which, by and large, it is, especially with lax environmental laws not regulating the air, water and human effects historically well enough to inhibit said problems with such things. All that is well-documented and I agree.

What I haven't been told is why this is a reason to be a vegetarian or vegan, or how 'succotash and slaughter' means anything in this context. Did Native Americans run factory farms? My history teachers did do a terrible job!

I say that Foer's ethical charge against animal eating is brave because not only is it unpopular, it has also been characterized as unmanly, inconsiderate, and juvenile.

Um, what? Unmanly? Some dope reviews the book ($20 this came from an Amazon reviewer) and calls it unmanly so that covers the 'it has been characterized' label.

If that's the case, Obama might actually be a communist because some commenter on the National Review website said so.

But he reminds us that being a man, and a human, takes more thought than just "This is tasty, and that's why I do it." He posits that consideration, as promoted by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has more to do with being polite to your tablemates than sticking to your own ideals, would be absurd if applied to any other belief (e.g., I don't believe in rape, but if it's what it takes to please my dinner hosts, then so be it).

WHOA!!!!!!!! (and the impetus of this SNC post)

That, quite possibly, is the most offensive thing I've read here at the SNC (and that's saying a lot). Her little 'e.g.' there puts her in the category of mind-blowingly stupid. Is she equating rape with eating meat? Probably not but not outside the realm of the more fanatical vegan world. Is she juxtaposing them? Yes. In an attempt to be provocative, she meandered into a realm and opened a door. The logic of typing that (and keeping that after editing) paints her into an extremely precarious ethical corner. Let's go down that road, Natalie and see where it leads. Wanna see where putting the eating of meat and such a reprehensible criminal act into the same discussion gets you? Let's.

And Natalie takes a page from Jessica Wakeman! Her choices are unpopular, yours are unthinking. She is brave and willing to be a martyr for her cause in the face of such ignorance.

But Foer makes his most impactful gesture as a peacemaker, when he unites the two sides of the animal eating debate in their reasoning. Both sides argue: We are not them.

Ah, 'The Other' argument. I've been transported back to freshman rhetoric.

Those who refrain from eating animals argue: We don't have to go through what they go through -- we are not them. We are capable of making distinctions between what to eat and what not to eat (Americans eat cow but not dog, Hindus eat chicken but not cow, etc.). We are capable of considering others' minds and others' pain. We are not them. Whereas those who justify eating animals say the same thing: We are not them. They do not merit the same value of being as us. They are not us.

If a vegetarian/vegan wants to enlighten you as to the immoral act of eating flesh, you have to be a willing participant, right? You have to be open to such things. You have to be open to someone telling you, as Ms. Portman said in the intro to this piece, that they are allowed to feel as if they know better than you and that he/she is allowed to be critical of your choices.
You know how that person shouldn't start off such a discussion, if allowed? By couching it in religious terms, evoking the body of Christ, saying Native Americans taught us Americans 'succotash and slaughter in the 'creation myth' (another doozy), by juxtaposing rape and meat-eating, by saying meat-eating is on par with misogyny, racism and sexism and should also be seen as a relic of some unenlightened, less-evolved age. Not only is doing such a thing offensive, presumptuous and laughingly silly, it's not how you go about making a point. It's bad thinking and bad writing. She just evoked the entire history of the damn world with nearly every struggle in the history of mankind to make a point about eating.

Always the first sign of a desperately unimaginative mind.

And so Foer shows us, through Eating Animals, that we are all thinking along the same lines: We are not them. But, he urges, how will we define who we are?

Um, not buying factory farm meat?

Being considerate and thoughtful about where you buy your meat. Knowing where your food comes from.

Just a thought.

And for the record, I was a vegetarian for a year or so (got my chip!) for health reasons with a dash of 20-ish moralism.

You know what I didn't do?

Proselytize with a presumptive and unthinking zealotry usually reserved for the Tea Bagging crowd.

Because, you know, that makes you a fucking asshole.


Anonymous said...

I used to hate her for the pretentious delivery of this line from the Star Wars prequels: "So, this is how democracy ends. With thunderous applause..."

Now, you've provided kindling to that fire. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing

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