A response to my last piece by Jennifer Molidor. Jennifer is a staff writer for a major environmental organization. She also has a Phd in English---and the writer of a popular blog that is shared on the Coyote Network with another amazing writer, Chris Clarke. I was so impressed with her response, I felt that it just had to see the light of day.
Thank you for this thoughtful response, post-lamb dinner :)
Good for Kylie--she sounds like a great kid. Kids can teach us quite a bit sometimes, and sometimes have nobler, purer motivations (and the other times, not so much). I had an experience like hers but stuck with it going on 18 years now.
I'm not sure it is piety, this choice. Piety I associate with the social valuation of female sacrifice (in sexual restraint, good housekeeping, etc) combined with the denigration of female desires and subjectivity, for example. Rather, I see it as an ethical choice one makes, if one makes it for the reasons I do, more akin to a feeling of kinship with all life around you, compassion. Is that the same reason people don't use plastic bags or ride their bikes to work? I suspect it is different. I suspect green recycling and restraint is more akin to vegetarianism, localvore-ism, "humane" meat (what a myth that is), choices that impact one's *idea* of "the planet" and their carbon footprint, ie against industrial agriculture and its pollutants, not a recognition of the sentience of other beings and a moral choice to protect them. My concern is much more for the latter--concern with causing suffering. Concern with utterly devastating the planet through air, water, and soil pollution just happens to coincide with it, as does concern for the toxins one ingests in one's body by consuming animals, particularly from factory farms.
We did legislate the proper size of chicken cages and ban foie gras. But the foie gras ban was relentlessly mocked and broken by chefs and restaurants and the law was recently overturned. And 99% of chickens still come from inhumanely, unimaginably small dark cages the size of a sheet of binder paper. Would I feel better if these chickens could run about freely in the sun? It's a start. But I still wouldn't eat them--because as you say boy chicks are ground up alive, and chickens cycles are artificially reset over and over again, producing hundreds more eggs than they would naturally, until they are spent and then butchered. Those eaten must be first bathed in what is essentially bleach before consumption, their bodies so pumped with toxins. And if they were raised on the same scale, even if more humanely, they would still be massively polluting the environment with waste.
We are omnivores. It is our evolution. It is what is natural. This of course is the common response given by thoughtful, sensitive, thinking creatures who delve into the issue upon considering that humans are, by eating other animals, destroying themselves, the animals, and environment.
As for barbecues--yesterday I threw a hugely fun, mostly vegan barbecue for family and friends. No big deal was made, but I easily, through practice, presented delicious, cruelty-free alternatives. My stepmother brought pork ribs and some people had them and some people didn't. We had a feast, besides those ribs, almost all of it was plant-based, high-protein, inexpensive, environmentally friendly, and mostly local. We got the good smell of campfire, briskets and barbecue in the air, and fun was had by all. Nobody was left wanting for food.
Michael Pollan of course writes of the Omnivore's Dilemma but he gets several parts wrong. But certainly it is possible, as an omnivore, to consciously reduce one's consumption of animal products to a much more agreeable level--we overconsume now in a way we think is normal but is nowhere near it, in terms of what our bodies need--and we can have more of a conversation as environmentalists about the impact of animal agriculture on the planet we claim, and believe, we care so much about. And we can come more face to face with the bloodshed of eating meat, and less distant from where our "meat" comes from.
But for me the omnivore, piety, lifestyle, evolution, biology argument isn't convincing. For one thing bonobos, our closest primate relative, are vegetarian. So too are gorillas. And factory farming is not in our genetic code.
But there's more, and this is for me the key. Here is where nobody has been able to dissuade : we humans are not mere creatures of biology. We make choices. And so it doesn't matter to me what we can eat, used to eat, once ate. I don't want to eat things that cause suffering to animals. I'm not resisting temptation. I'm resisting that which is repulsive to me. I care as much for the chicken as the coyote, the cow as the dog, the pig as the endangered elephant.
I see those animals as individuals--and I think meat eaters have found ways not to do that, and that is what allows meat eaters to eat meat and environmentalists to unconcern themselves with animal agriculture--despite being a massive contributor to climate change and environmental degradation of wilderness. Environmentalists seem more concerned with "species" than with individuals.
I recently read something about how "prey animals" (what a convenient label for them that simultaneously absolves us of guilt and vindicates what we hope is true, despite all evidence to the contrary) want to be eaten, it's their destiny and they enjoy it. I think it was in a crime novel and spoken by the serial killer. This notion is too ridiculous to entertain further.
Ultimately, for me, it is this: do I need to stuff young ducks so full of grain three times a day that their livers grow diseased, in order to be an omnivore, in order to satisfy my hunger? Do I need to eat processed hamburger, chicken patties, pork chops. Do I need to? Really? I don't. Humans in their entrepreneurial compassion have come up with delicious, healthy, increasingly affordable alternatives.
I'm not living in a yurt eating raw, locally-produced kale three times a day in between bouts of yoga and holistic cleanses. Nobody's perfect. Truthfully, I don't at all feel that I'm denying an appetite. It must seem that way, but it doesn't correlate with my experience. I don't feel deprived to have a "plant-based" or "cruelty-free" or "vegan" diet, whatever label suits. I just feel better because I don't eat crap. I do feel hugely guilty that I eat while others starve, but that's another conversation (or is it?--Bill Gates has been supporting plant-based alternatives as a revolutionary way we can adequately and effectively feed the planet, which is not something we can do with animal products: omnivore or not we simply CANNOT feed the planet with animals, it is not sustainable in any way).
So if something is unhealthy for me, bad for the planet, and is the result of great suffering of a nonhuman animal (and likely human also, as workers in slaughterhouses are often economically disadvantaged and emotionally traumatized) why do it? Here are some possible answers and my personal feeling about them. 1) it's what we've always done (do something else, we have done lots of stupid things) 2) I need protein (I'm an athletic person and consume plenty of protein, as do gorillas) 3) It tastes yummy in my tummy (after eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, the processed crap that used to taste delicious honestly tastes and smells repulsive and I am known for being a good cook, so everything I make is yummy in anyone's tummy) 4) it's cheaper and easier (easier possible, in terms of what you can get at a convenience store but who wants to eat that diet? cheaper is changing because of the costs of health-associated diseases that come from eating animals and alternatives like Just Mayo, an eggless, delicious mayo that is cheaper than any other brand and sold at the dollar store).
So it again comes down to this. If I don't have to do it, why would I? Why would I consume something that is bad for me, for others, for our earth? This is the same argument that occurs to us about our "addiction" to consuming fossil fuels. Enviro responses have been creative -- I bike more, recycle more, drive smaller car, etc, because I don't want to have to rely on oil. So WHY, what is the obstacle, can't enviros apply the same logic to animal agriculture, which is in so many ways MORE harmful to the planet, to wilderness, to clean air, to healthy bodies, to topsoil, to species diversity, and so many other things?
I have no interest in fads. I don't do raw, paleo, gluten free, or anything else. But veganism/vegetarianism is not a fad. As I said, it is seen in other primates, and it is a cultural and individual choice that has been around as long as we have.
It's interesting to note, as you say, that our concerns have changed in the last decade. We've become disconnected from the wilderness. I agree. But I think in the last decade we've become disconnected even further from the where-our-food-comes-from in terms of the big and the small picture. My original question was regarding what I see as environmentalists backing off from addressing the impact of animal agriculture--in terms of cattle grazing on public lands and in terms of factory farming. Animal advocacy conferences, for example, have panels on animal agriculture and the environment, and these conferences do not serve animal products at their receptions. Environmental conferences have panels on species extinction, biodiversity, population growth, and yet serve animal products, without seeming to recognize or discuss the irony of that leading industry's impact upon species extinction, loss of biodiversity, and population booms (industrial agriculture results from and allows for enormous population growth).
So I'm still left wondering why environmentalists refuse to see the greater picture and act upon it--and why they seem to be backing away from issues of cattle grazing and factory farms. It's not that none of them care, it's that it doesn't seem to be reaching the leaders and driving force of the movement.
It's like Edward Abbey--caring about the wild snakes, mice, horse, and other animals he encounters, but cruelly dismissing the cow. I suppose that bothers me that he failed to extend his logic (not piety, but logic) the full extension, but also that he blamed the cow for the situation we put her in. And where, today, is that irate fury with those who permit grazing on wild lands anyway? I agree we need more writers and activists as the general cause of "nature" isn't valued in our culture at the moment, and our world grows more urban--and possibly less humane, while telling ourselves that we are more humane.
Anthony Bourdain is a dbag.