Archive for the ‘Food Politics’ Category
A couple of days ago I wrote a post about PETA’s sexiest vegan contest. In it, I noted that the runner -up was an attractive young woman named Shayna Wise. In the piece I was critical of PETA for exploiting sex to promote animal liberation. Drawing on my reading of Gary Francione and Carol Adams in particular, I wondered—and still wonder—about the potential downside of using the sexual objectification of humans as a way to encourage us not to objectify animals. Well, Shayna responded. And, I must say, rather eloquently (making me feel bad about referring to her media remarks as “blather.” Shame on me—a reminder to only write what you would say in person.)
Hi, this is actually Shayna Wise – feature of article. I appreciate what you’ve written here, I’m no idiot. When I first saw this competition I too rolled my eyes and thought this was another bit of pointless sexism by PETA. But when I thought about it further I realised this. Sex sells. It sells better than any other method. And the cause we are trying to sell here is SO important (at least to me it is) that I believe that the ends justify the means.If PETA have found that using sexiness is the best way to attract people’s attention to animal rights issues, then I support them in doing so. There is already enough sexism in the media that adding one more article – one that’s ultimate goal is to draw on the huge issue of animal rights – is not going to cause any harm. Ideally it wouldn’t have to be like this, but being that people are so heartless, yet may turn their heads at the sight of a sexy woman, this has proven the most effective method. And so I stand by what I’ve done. As a vegan I will do whatever it takes to get the word out there to as many people as I possibly can. This time I used my looks. And I HAVE received the media coverage that I hoped I would, hopefully bringing to the minds of some people the fact that there is a large issue at hand, and that you can be a normal, healthy and happy person while living a vegan lifestyle.
There’s a pragmatism and level of self-awareness here that I really appreciate. Sex does sell, there is no doubt, and perhaps it’s overly ambitious to take on the evils of speciesism and sexism at once, especially if a little sexism can help alleviate a lot of speciesism. I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t. Either way, Wise’s reasoning reminds us that, when it comes to the project of reducing animal suffering, we’re all wracked by humility, unsure what works, doing whatever we can to make life better for animals.
The inbox was full yesterday. Messages came from Gene Baur at Farm Sanctuary, Wayne Pacelle at HSUS, and Ingrid Newkirk at PETA. No matter what your stance may be on these organizations, one cannot deny the importance of their collective request: oppose the King Amendment to the Farm Bill, a 1,700-page pile of lobbyist muck that will be voted on this week. Personally, I applaud these organizations for making animal welfare a central political issue in the Farm Bill debate, as deflating as that debate can be.
Rep. Steve King is an Iowa congressman with pretty blue eyes and a gentle smile. Don’t be seduced. I wouldn’t trust this guy to walk my dogs. The King addendum stipulates that any state law requiring minimal welfare stipulations in agriculture—think Prop 2 in California—cannot ban the importation of animal products from states that lack those standards. Drawing on the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution, it creates a loophole that effectively negates any and all local initiatives to seek better conditions for farm animals. Concrete if hypothetical example: If you’re an egg producer in California, the motivation will be, under the King amendment, to move to Nevada (or Idaho or Montana . . .), abandon the costly welfare standards imposed by Prop 2, but still maintain access to lucrative California markets. I wrote about this addendum a month ago.
Pacelle, though, is more eloquent. He writes, “There’s so much at stake – for more than 250 million laying hens now crammed in small cages and for more than 150 state laws that could be wiped out if the King amendment survives. The King amendment is not just an affront to animal welfare, but also to the longstanding Constitutional rights of the states to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens and local businesses.” Gene Baur adds, “Arizona’s law banning gestation crates, Michigan’s law banning veal crates, California’s law banning battery cages — they’re are all in jeopardy. And it doesn’t stop there: Every state’s factory farm confinement laws, horse slaughter laws, shark finning bans, and puppy mill regulations — along with environmental protection, worker safety, and other important laws — are at risk. If the King amendment passes, these could all could be nullified.”
Politics is slow and unsexy. Writing letters to representatives might seem like a corny exercise in futility. It’s not. All representatives care about re-election and some might even care about animals. As frustrating as it might be to take action to prevent the reversal of changes that already seem inadequate, I’m going to do what Gene recommends:
Please take action immediately:
Please make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representative urging opposition to the King amendment and support for the Denham-Schrader amendment, which would strip the King amendment from the Farm Bill. You can simply say: “My name is [insert], and I live in [city]. I’m calling about the Farm Bill. I am asking Rep. XXXXX to oppose the King amendment, which would gut state animal protections, and to support the Denham-Schrader amendment. I want farm animals to have protection from cruelty.”If the person you speak with doesn’t know your representative’s position, please leave your name and phone number and ask for a call back.
At the risk of ending on a contentious note, I’d like to use this issue to drive a wedge into another kind of politics—that of animal welfare versus animal rights—and suggest that failure to oppose the King Amendment is tacit support of the King Amendment. The latter strikes me as something nobody who cares about animals could ever do. In other words, no matter what our approach to improving the lives of animals may be, this issue demands a unified response.
Because I spend so much of my life researching and writing about where food comes from, I tend to forget that many people who do not spend their lives researching and writing about this topic couldn’t tell you the difference between a butternut squash and a fish stick. A recent study undertaken by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) confirms this widespread ignorance with some sobering data.
The study examined the food-and-agro literacy of over 27,ooo children. Nearly a third of those surveyed believed that conventional cheese derives from plants; a fifth believed that fish sticks are made of chicken; and about 10 percent thought tomatoes grow under the ground (perhaps because they were thinking of “nightshades”?).
This rather alarming dearth of culinary literacy necessarily predisposes children to make poor food choices. As the study confirmed, less than half the students correctly identified the healthiest plate of grub from a lineup of obvious choices. Moreover, almost 25 percent of 11-14 year olds reported not eating breakfast at all. It goes without saying that these culinarily illiterate consumers are prime fodder for junk food peddlers, cretins who seem overly fond of terms such as “in moderation” and “free choice.”
The animal flesh and fluid industry is especially quick to act under the circumstances of confusion. Whenever these kind of revelations occur, it’s usually the meat industry who immediately materializes like a school of sharks out of the murky deep to oversee “educational solutions.” And, sure enough, John Reed, Chairman of the British Poultry Council, said in response to the BNF study: “The BritishPoultry Council is proud to work with the British Nutrition Foundation at a time when food and nutrition are becoming more and more important in the curriculum.” I bet they are. “Poultry has a crucial role to play in healthy diets and I’m delighted to contribute to this new approach in schools.” I’m sure he’s also delighted that so many lasses and lads think yummy fried fish sticks not only taste like chicken, but actually are chicken.
Of course, food education is politically contested terrain. It’s hard to know whom to trust. What often ends up being churned out by any team of “experts”—even “progressives”— under the guise of education is usually a fragmented reflection of another kind of navel-gazing bias. Here in the United States, for example, it’s not uncommon to find the Environmental Working Group (EWG) using fear mongering over easily-removable pesticide residue to advise consumers not to eat conventional fruits and vegetables. Pay double for organic or don’t eat these foods, it suggests. Recently, and even more baffling to me, Mother Jones published a piece suggesting that we question the value so-called “superfoods” such as quinoa and chia seeds because the term “superfood” is actually a marketing gimmick. Using logic such as quinoa is sort of great but rice and beans are better so quinoa is actually not so great , this piece really makes you wonder if what’s being smoked over at MJ is a lot healthier than what they’re eating.
In the end, the irony is that the healthiest and most ethical and ecologically sound way to eat is to consume an exclusive diet of plants that have been as minimally processed as possible. Simple. Plants such as the ones the EWG and MJ are telling us to reconsider, and plants that British Poultry Council wants to forget even exist (except corn and soy) are the foods that impart the most accurate benefits with the least effort on the part of consumers to understand. But with virtually every food-related source of information using food to promote some other agenda, we should continue to expect children to keep envisioning a world of swimming chickens and amber waves of cheese.
Just when you thought the ridiculous lexicon of foodie fantasyland was finally starting to lose its luster, just when you thought we’d reached a point in cultural evolution where a person only called himself a “locavore” ironically, and just when you thought it was safe to buy Argentinian blueberries without being scolded by the sustainability cops, along comes another band of merry hipsters intoxicated with their own localizing, profit-maximizing, small-batch producing rhetoric. And when I say intoxicated, I mean it. .
I’m talking craft hooch, people. Forget “farm to fork,” it’s now all about at “grain to glass,” and the artisanal perpetrators of this latest DIY craze are bearded and tatted and dressed as if they’re about to storm Ben Franklin’s workshop and build a grandfather clock. For all the sartorial and image prepping required to fabricate artisanal booze, though, the approach to successful peddling ultimately comes down to having an appealingly-shaped bottle and a cool label. By appealingly shaped, I mean something that looks as if it had been exhumed from an eighteenth-century trash pit. Examples might include:
According to a recent piece by Wayne Curtis in this month’s The Atlantic magazine, the rest is as easy as pulling the wool over bloodshot eyes. In the kind of critical journalism that is so rare, Curtis writes,
It’s a little known fact, but you don’t actually need a still to call yourself a distiller. The vodka makers I visited had adopted a simple and surprisingly common business model: buy a large quantity of potable alcohol from an industrial supplier . . ., run it through a tall charcoal filter to remove any trace impurities, cut it with water, decant it into bottles, and then slap on a label touting it as a local craft product worthy of its premium price.
Many years ago I wrote a book critical of the locavore movement called Just Food. In it, one of the cases I made is that if we create a fetish of the “local,” “artisanal,” and “hand crafted,” the real meaning behind these terms will be marketed out of existence by shamans seeking to cash in on an idea with shallow hipster appeal. I didn’t necessarily have Brooklynite twenty-somethings dressed in overalls going to a warehouse to fill bottles with pre-ordered booze and calling it by all the right names, but it seems to be a sober example that proves the point rather well.
Last week the Chinese investment firm Shuanghui International agreed to purchase Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest supplier of pork products (the offer has been accepted but awaits regulatory reviews). Remarking on the deal, one analyst said, ”The combination creates a company with an unmatched set of assets, products and geographic reach.” That’s an understatement. For the price (when debt purchase is factored in) of $7.1 billion dollars, Shuanghui will now capitalize on their unprecedented scope to begin the arduous but profitable project of feeding the growing Chinese upper-middle class an endless supply of industrial pork. Through a single purchase that equals the GDP of Montenegro, one company will have the privilege of slaughtering millions of pigs a year.
The story has been duly covered by the mainstream media. Most critics of the deal have presented it as yet another ominous expression of Chinese economic hegemony. The Chinese have already bought loads of land throughout Africa to ensure that Chinese-owned animals are fed by Chinese-owned farms. With the Shuanghui deal, they are now further extending their reach by ensuring that any pork they import will also comes from Chinese –owned companies. In case you were wondering, commodity mercantilism still lives. The British were once pretty good at it.
Obscured in this accurate analysis of economic hegemony, however, is the thoughtless and degrading extension of human hegemony over animals, in this case animals who are as smart and sensitive as any on the planet. If there’s a farm animal that can step back and conceptualize the horror bring perpetrated upon them, my guess is that it’s the pig. Listen to various media treatments of this story, though, and you’ll find that people speak as if they’re talking about car parts. Such is the inevitable result when sentient animals enter the lexicon of global trade.
While shareholders will become rich as a result of the Chinese buyout, activists will be as effectively silenced as the animals themselves. A critical aspect of this purchase is that Shuanghui is a private company with no intention of opening the books to stakeholders. Global privatization not only makes Smithfield more difficult to regulate, but it prevents activists from purchasing a share, showing up at annual meetings, and raising hell, a la Henry Spira.
Shuanghui has a dismal record when it comes to animal welfare and safety. Most notably, it was recently dinged for feeding pigs a toxic chemical called clenbuterol hydrochloride in order to produce leaner pork. It’s not a nice company. But they have shut the door on the public and are prepared to put billions of pigs through hell without accountability.
One ray of hope in this deal was noted by HSUS’ Wayne Pacelle, who wrote yesterday in his blog that “…we are relieved that Shuanghai’s potential purchase of Smithfield doesn’t appear likely to affect the policies Smithfield has put in place to phase out the confinement of sows in gestation crates (at its company-owned facilities) over the next four years. That policy should be replicated by Smithfield’s major competitors and be applied to the company’s contractors, too.” Read the ray of hope here.
Of course, Shuanghui’s compliance with welfare agreements made by Smithfield prior to purchase must be considered at least somewhat precarious. I suppose, though, if one were in an unusually generous mood, you could hypothesize that Smithfield’s agreement to make nominal improvements in animal welfare could shape the future of industry standards in China, where welfare considerations are effectively nil. Although with Larry Pope, Smithfield’s CEO, saying that the deal “preserves the same old Smithfield,” I wouldn’t get too excited about this neo-liberal nightmare of a deal.
Politics of the Pasture, which came out last month, is my fifth book. If I’ve learned anything about the emotional nature of the publishing experience it’s to prepare myself for what a novelist friend of mine once called “the calm before the calm.” The idea behind this phrase is that you do your due diligence by writing as if in a fugue state, finish, wait for the book “to drop,” watch it drop, and then comes . . . . silence. Silence as calm as a placid lake on a windless day.
Trust me, I’m perfectly happy not to be getting an earful from Green Mountain College. They’ve been admirably disciplined about not drawing attention to the book. And I’m greatly appreciative to have an interview set up with ARZone on August 4th. But, otherwise the only other feedback I’ve gotten has been from an animal rights activist who took issue with my description of her in the book. I’d hoped for more. If it sounds like I’m whining, I am.
Here are the two reviews now up on Amazon:
1) I’ve read Politics of Pasture in less than 3 days. First, I have to note how well-written this book is. It’s a real thriller with fascinating characters. But beyond that, it’s the most up-to-date reflection I’ve read about our relationship to animals and the value of their life. Through Bill and Lou’s story, we come across the main arguments for small scale and sustainable farming only to realize it’s just a cute packaging of industrial farming built to reduce our cognitive dissonance and guilt when we eat meat. The current sustainable farming movement lacks one important thing : compassion. And through Bill and Lou’s story, every reader will come to realize the pleasure we have eating meat is a luxury that doesn’t worth the life of sentient beings. In this book, we also realize the vegan movement is not an extremist organisation. It’s just a group of people that have aligned their values – values shared by most of us – to their practice. 5-star
2) Full disclosure: I am a proud graduate of Green Mountain College. Like most folks I learned with and from at GMC, I am also passionate about animal welfare and the environment. I also happen to have standards. Like I did, I recommend downloading the sample before wasting your money on the whole thing. Like McWilliams’ blog, the writing found here is sub-par and reads mostly as a manifesto, rather than a well-researched thesis. For a book with a subtitle about a ‘national debate,’ he does an incredibly poor job of presenting the sides evenly (plenty of biased authors make their points while still giving their opposition’s voice a fair trial). His writing basically reads like freshman in his first philosophy class, which is fine if you’re actually in your first year of college. As for the actual content of the book, I give him one star for writing about something that so many people roll their eyes at. When so many people don’t care at all about the animals that die so they can have McNuggets, it can seem ridiculous to get caught up in an animal welfare vs. animal rights debate. But I would argue that it’s a valid discussion to have when both parties can remain civil and when both can also present coherent and logical arguments. However, McWilliams spends a lot of time talking down the students and faculty at GMC instead of talking about, ya know, the animals. Misleading or poorly understood statistics and random quotes taken out of context provided all of his information; one would think that he might have actually bothered to visit campus or something if he was going to write a book about us, but that, of course, never happened. He (and most of the actually quite small group of people) who mounted a campaign against us put cotton in their ears and became convinced that the whole world cared and us horrible GMC people were the only carnivorous, cold-hearted, satan-worshipping miscreants in the entire world who thought it would be okay to farm on a farm. In reality, the state’s department of agriculture, numerous other small farmers and farming organizations, animal welfare activists, and so on, all came out in support of GMC’s right to farm on their own farm. . . . 1-star
So, there it is: a one and a five. The best I can say is that it’s “a mild improvement on the average.” Normally, I would not come out and publicly mope, but this book is not about me or you or my publisher or the numerous people who helped me write it. There’s more at stake. It’s about two cows, one already dead the other whose life hangs in the balance. It’s about the decision to kill sentient animals under the guise of “sustainability” and fail abjectly to offer a justification. It’s about the future of eating ethically. So . . . please, please, please circulate this link, share it with your email lists, put it on Facebook, Tweet it, whatever. Forgive my begging, but this issue needs to be heard.
My initial plan for my Memorial Day post was to write something in-depth about vegans in the military. The concept of a vegan soldier fascinates me. I’m eager to learn, for example, about how vegan soldiers reconcile their militaristic role with compassion for animals.
Well, turns out I wasn’t able to churn up very much (would love to have research assistants!). I suppose this lack of information has something to do with the fact that there are precious few vegan soldiers and that the logistics of being a vegan solider are very likely a nightmare. But my investigations, I will admit, were topical. So if you have leads, please send them to me. I’d love to do something more involved than what follows. (For example, are there closet vegans in the military?)
That said, I did not come up completely empty. There is this fascinating profile of a vegan in the military by PETA. This brave soul notes, “The other problem I ran into at boot camp was the ridicule that all vegans are used to. Eventually it dies down, but you just don’t want your drill sergeants to find out you’re vegan. That could end up being, as we say in the army, ‘hazardous to your happiness.’” I also found this discussion thread, in which there are comments such as this one by “Flo”: “I’m actually really digging this idea. I think it would be nice to have a site set up where people can send vegan (not vegetarian) packages to vegan and vegetarian soldiers. In doing some research, it appears that the vegetarian MRE’s they get have dairy in them, and that it is increasingly difficult to be a strict vegetarian or even vegan when you are in the military. How sad.” There’s a vegan soldier action figure.
The only historical case of animal ethics intersecting with warfare that I know of has to do with the Sepoy Uprising in India in 1857. According to some sources, the immediate cause of the rebellion against the British was this:
The East India Company upgraded to the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rifle, which used greased paper cartridges. In order to open the cartridges and load the rifles, sepoys had to bite into the paper and tear it with their teeth. Rumors began in 1856 that the grease on the cartridges was made of a mixture of beef tallow and pork lard; eating cows, of course, is forbidden in Hinduism, while consumption of pork is haram in Islam. Thus, in this one small change, the British had managed to seriously offended both Hindu and Muslim troops.
The story is disputed. However, whether this anecdote is false or not, there is little doubt that a cohort of vegans must exist in the military. It’s hard not to think: if you can make it as a vegan at boot camp, you can make it as a vegan anywhere.
Advocacy of synthetic fungicides is typically not a position one finds coexisting with diehard vegan activism. The desire to eat a plant-based diet evokes, however illogically, an image of agricultural purity that stands in sharp contrast to the destructive connotations surrounding agricultural chemistry. It is for this reason, in part, that many people have questioned, somewhat aggressively, my motivations in both my recent Atlantic piece and the interview I did with the BBC’s Marco Werman (of The World) yesterday based on the article. Listen here. (It’s short–4-5 minutes)
So, a brief explanation. Let’s get a few preliminary facts out of the way.
First, organic agriculture is authorized to use pesticides—scores of them. They simply have to be considered “natural.” Natural chemicals, however, can be just as toxic and ecologically damaging as synthetic pesticides. In fact, in many cases (as with coffee), they are more dangerous.
Second, even the most conservative estimates predict that, without pesticides, we would lose at least 40 of the world’s plant crops. There are 7 billion people that need to eat and that number will hit 9.5 billion in a couple of decades. Even granting all the resources wasted on growing corn and soy for animal feed, this is a loss that we cannot tolerate. It’s also a loss that would hit the world’s most vulnerable the hardest.
Third, there’s a big difference between the indiscriminate application of pesticides (think of airplanes dropping DDT) and the judicious use of pesticides (think of precision farming).It is for this reason that there are many instances in which a non-organic farm using minimal amounts of synthetic chemicals is more environmentally responsible than an organic farm spraying natural pesticides with abandon (something they have to do because rain washes them away more easily).
Finally, if we want small farmers in developing countries growing specialty crops (like coffee) to have a foothold in regional and global markets, they will need access to agricultural chemicals, at least in the short term.
That last fact brings me to an important distinction: long/short term. In the long term I am seeking and promoting and cheerleading and rooting with all my heart for veganic agriculture, the kind that is chemical free and supportive of fostering global biodiversity. These qualities can be accomplished through a variety of strategies, including genetic improvements in crops, a better understanding of the relationship between crop diversity and insect control, technologies such as slow-drip irrigation systems, and all an all around better understanding of the complicated relationship between regional soil quality and crop choice. But here’s the reality: we are very far from growing enough food to feed large populations through such methods. The learning curve here is steep. I think we’ll get there, but not in the short term. Not by a long shot.
Hence the importance of facing the short term, one in which we will have to use some measure of agricultural chemicals. To accept this reality is not to promote the use of agricultural chemicals. Likewise, to deny this reality is to retire to fantasyland. It is for this reason that, even as I support veganic agriculture, I’m on a small campaign to encourage organic standards to make exceptions for the judicious use of synthetic chemicals. Judicious.
This is why I take the time to write about struggling organic farmers in Central America whose crops would be saved by a low level application of Trialozine, a chemical that’s much less toxic than the ineffective copper sulfates that organic farmers are allowed to use. It’s not because I love chemical companies. It’s because I’m grounded enough in the immediate realities of commercial agriculture to understand that to deny this access would be the height of elitist irresponsibility.
Mark Bittman’s new book, Vegan Before 6:00, deserves considerable credit for advocating a substantial reduction in the consumption of animal products. That’s good. It also earns praise for its trenchant condemnation of the standard American diet. Although this is a target fatter than the average American, enough darts cannot impale its expanding bullseye. That’s good, too. In terms of accolades, though, that’s about all the good I got for this ultimately disappointing book.
The primary flaw in Bittman’s advocacy of part-time veganism is that (you know exactly what I’m going to say) there’s no such thing as part-time veganism. The book could just as easily and more accurately have been called “Eating Animals in the Evening.” The problem with my suggested title is that Bittman would, albeit in a noble nod to accuracy, have lost his catchy (and sort of goofy) little slogan (VB6) to hang his part-time plant-eater hat on. He would also have lost the cultural power inhering in the word “vegan,” a power many true vegans, through the cultivation of authentic compassion, have helped embolden. All of which serves to remind us that the kingpins of foodie literature are as much about marketing as they are about making changes in the food system. I guess that’s why they’re kingpins.
Bittman’s bold highjacking of veganism is especially insidious not only because being vegan before 6 is like being pregnant before 6, but because VB6 is essentially more about the timing than the content of our diet. This is ultimately a book about what to eat when. And most of that advice is arbitrary. If you took that slice of bacon the VB6-er guiltlessly ate after six and crumbled it over her afternoon spinach salad, you suddenly have a person who is now eating the same food as a VB6-er but, due to when rather than what she ate, can no longer qualify as a member of the VB6 club. Which is just plain silliness.
Bittman’s defense of half-assed veganism is some seriously tepid swill. And I’m tempted to say he knows better. He’s got to know better. What really gets me about it is that Bittman is usually so freaking good. Here, though, he generally reduces his vast and highly informed culinary scope–one educated over the years through the construction of dozens of often brilliant columns— to focus narrowly on human health. To which I say: yawn.
Sure, eating fewer animals is better for us. We’ve know this for decades. But what’s especially disappointing about this constricted emphasis is that it fails to explore in a meaningful and systematic way the issues of animal welfare and rights, topics that Bittman has covered with growing poignancy in his columns. As for an explanation of why he would cheat his otherwise generous vision in such a way, one might go backwards three paragraphs, count down five lines, and note my sentiments about marketing.
As with most analyses that dip a bit too often in the well of gimmickry, Bittman’s explanation for why he is not a real vegan eventually train wrecks into a contradiction. Now look, as readers know, I’m okay with contradiction if the contradictor can explain, or at least attempt to explain, his contradiction. Bittman, however, not only fails to do this, but I’m fairly certain he’s unaware of the telling inconsistency, one that hinges on the distinction between atomistic and holistic thought.
On the hand, when it comes to how we should think about diet, Bittman is rabidly holistic. He urges us to think not in terms of specific quantifiable nutrients and calories—that is, atomistically—but in terms of a holistic approach that cosmically balances and blends an array of healthy and whole real foods into a cohesive and indivisible way of life. He hints at this liberating mindset, one that I support, in his last column (linked above) when he writes, “you’re better off eating a carrot than the beta-cartene that was once thought to be its most beneficial ‘ingredient.’” Note the q-marks around “ingredient,” thereby designating its implicit and self-defeating suggestion of atomism.
But, on the other hand, when it comes to his conceptualization of veganism, Bittman chops and dices it into a million little pieces. To wit, he writes (in the same defense), “A vegan meal has no implications about what your next meal may be; you can be vegan for the better part of a day, or for a number of days of your life.” This logic is atomistic hair-splitting that puts the most inveterate calorie and nutrient counter to shame. Where did the indivisibility go? The cosmic balance and blend? Naturally, a true vegan knows that veganism is much more about a holistic mindset rooted in compassion than it is about the precise content of plant-based food on our plates at certain time of day. If you are a vegan and not a little insulted by Bittman’s trivialization of the ethical choice upon which you structure your life, you are more patient than I am. If nutrients should not be atomized, neither should ethics.
The greatest shame of this book is that Bittman, who claims to seek radical changes in the standard American diet, marginalizes the very voices that offer the most effective means to achieving that change. Activism before 6, anyone?
Some philosophers argue that the evolution of language grants humans exclusive rights above and beyond non-human animals. This controversial position has been effectively debunked, but the claim provides a nice opportunity to examine precisely how we use formal language to convey meaning about eating animals that some philosophers think, on the basis of this self-serving grammar, we have every right to eat.
A recent study reveals how several European languages have adapted to accommodate specific culinary habits—such as eating ham. Turns out that Norwegians have fewer words than the Spanish to describe ham. It also turns out that they eat about 400 grams of ham a year, compared to 3.3 kilos for the Spanish (the Italians eat 4.4 kilos year).
So let me get this straight. We have language. Animals don’t. We use that language to create a lexicon to describe how animals taste. Animals, lacking a language, cannot provide a verbal rebuttal. This ham is succulent we say. The animal sits there, dead, on the plate. And, based on the one-sided conversation, we claim ourselves in the right. Seems like a lot of verbal sausage to me. (I know that animals do have language, but you know what I mean . . . )
In any case, that verbal sausage is being churned out faster than a carnival barker selling salvation at a hoedown. There’s a great deal of ballyhoo about declining rates of meat consumption in the United States. Great. Maybe more and more of us are becoming vegan before six or eating food, not too much, mostly plants. Whatever catchy little slogan we may have grasped onto, the decline does nothing to counter the emerging tsunami of additional animal exploitation in places like China and India.
Oh, and don’t forget Russia. Russia is now building a pig feed mill capable of churning out 500 tonnes of feed per day in order to supply a 300,000 head pig farm moving nearby from Ireland. In a textbook case of “spread effects,” a processing plant will complete the trifecta, churning out 27 different kinds of pig product. Plan to see a lot more of this kind of expansion in the years to come. If you know how to slow it down, let me know.
And if you’re sitting there all smug and satisfied with your locally-sourced, cave-cured, pig-pampered bacon approved by, who knows, Temple Grandin, it’s time to choke on your little strip of porcine death. Grandin is now working directly with . . . . . Tyson Foods. She’s now expanding her brand of humane exploitation to the company’s Animal Welfare Panel. Behold. She is joined by Ryan Best, former President of Future Farmers of America, and Miyun Park, head of the Global Animal Partnership Label, which I profiled in Harper’s last August.
It would take a very special pair of glasses to see the formation of this board a hopeful development. Also, from a political perspective, I don’t get it. Why would people who purport to care so much about animals place themselves in such a vulnerable position? I mean, the next time Tyson inevitably gets busted for some horrific animal welfare disaster or other, the blood will be on their hands, too.
I could go on. And on.
(Thanks to Jamie Newlin for the tips . . .)