Food Is Life

» December 16th, 2014

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Bob the philosopher the other day. When I talk to philosophers, I realize how much I love philosophical thought. But I also realize that, much as you might rather coo-coo over someone else’s adorable baby rather than have one of you own, I’m glad I’m not an actual philosopher. I suspect I’d fall into a cycle of premise questioning that would suck me into an abyss.

But anyways. We talked about the meaning of life. What gives life meaning? There’s nothing ironic or tongue-in-cheek about this question when you discuss it with a real philosopher. Bob raised an idea that has stuck with me. He explained that many philosophers posit that life is given meaning by the experience of pleasure. That is, our sense that life has worth is rooted in the soil of subjective experiences that make us happy.

This all seems rather simple–until you think about it in terms of food. Eating makes us happy and, in this sense, eating gives us reason to find meaning in life. Meat and dairy. moreover, gives most people added pleasure. These items, from what I recall, can taste very good. I realize that committed vegans often reach a point at which animal products lose their appeal. But it’s very likely that at one point in time, these goods puts a smile on their faces.

The implications of this connection strike me as important. In an environment that fails to question the ethics of eating animals—which is to say, in most environments—there’s nothing to interrupt the conclusion that, as the saying goes, food is life. And if you include animal products as food, well then animal products are life. ¬†If eating meat becomes synonymous with a meaningful life, any attempt to disrupt the association will be met with wrath.

Two lessons to draw from this observation. First, understand the wrath. Rather than scoff at it, or get in yet another facebook fight, just be appreciative of why the call to stop eating animals sends so many people into fits of apoplexy. Second, do not stop delivering the message that we must stop eating animals raised for food. Too often we think it’s a matter of convincing individuals, one by one, to stop. Really, though, it’s about creating an atmosphere in which the assumption that eating animals is integral to the meaning of life is questioned.

It’s the larger culture that must be destabilized. The converts will then follow.

Please check out my latest Pacific Standard column here

8 Responses to Food Is Life

  1. Sailesh Rao says:

    “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away” – Pablo Picasso.

    “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    Unlike Bob, both Picasso and Emerson are emphasizing our contribution to the whole, not self-indulgence. Then happiness follows as a consequence, not as the primary pursuit. By choosing individual happiness as the primary pursuit, the American experiment has now brought us all to the brink of planetary catastrophe.

    It’s time to correct that.

  2. Catherine Case says:

    I’ve given it a lot of thought. Many times in that abyss. I believe the meaning of life is to evolve such that we are able to contribute to making the world a better place–protection of those most vulnerable being first in order of imperatives.

  3. John T. Maher says:

    Meaning of life inquiries are a form of mental onanism. Where this post gets better is in questioning the normalization of meat eating and the possibility of structural change. I would like to point out that several columns have an underlying thread concerning affect and its importance in transforming human behavior. This needs to be addressed directly. Last, beware anyone who admits to being a philosopher.

    • Doug says:

      John..whenever I see one of your posts I first pull up the dictionary. Today’s new word was not one that I expected. Thanks. Your posts are always an intellectual challenge. I appreciate that.

  4. Karen Harris says:

    The notion that the important thing is not to necessarily convince individuals to top eating meat, but rather to contribute to an atmosphere that challenges the assumption that eating animals is integral, is one that helps me in my work and thinking. Anyway – makes me somewhat less hopeless! I am always stunned (I should know better) by the level of anger that people display toward the limited activist outreach I do in the liberal enclave of Austin.
    By the way, have you followed the news about Mars 1?
    Seems the food of choice for the first settlers on Mars will be insects!!

  5. Isabella says:

    “Too often we think it’s a matter of convincing individuals, one by one, to stop. Really, though, it’s about creating an atmosphere in which the assumption that eating animals is integral to the meaning of life is questioned.

    It’s the larger culture that must be destabilized. The converts will then follow.”

    This is one of the many reasons I am active with Direct Action Everywhere
    and why I encourage all of you to join!

  6. Rhys Southan says:

    Anyone who claims that pleasure is never a justification for causing harm will run into this problem: there’s no point to humanity existing if life isn’t somehow pleasurable, and human existence will always cause some amount of harm. Why do we go on living and propagating humanity? If it’s not because life is enjoyable, than why?

    The Picasso and Emerson quotes aren’t denying the importance of pleasure, they’re just saying that we shouldn’t be total egoists and that it’s good to help other people experience pleasure too. Even when we agree with them, the justification for living still comes down to life being enjoyable somehow — experiencing pleasure for ourselves and trying to help other people experience it too — since there is no apparent grander purpose than that.

    This potentially undermines one of the vegan slogans, that pleasure is no excuse for causing harm to animals. Most vegans say it’s okay to harm animals if our survival is at stake, but what’s the point of survival other than to live longer because life is pleasurable? So unless vegans want human extinction, they are okay with harming animals for pleasure.

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