No badgers were mangled in the production of this post.
The much coveted and fiercely contested
Here she is: Natalie Portman on becoming a Vegan in The Huffington Post (which is as perfect a conservative sentence as my poor wit can conceive.)
Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals changed me from a twenty-year vegetarian to a vegan activist.
Sigh. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned American water fluoridation and rock ‘n roll music for corrupting youth?
How I miss the old days.
I've always been shy about being critical of others' choices…
Voting’s a kind of choice, isn’t it? In
….because I hate when people do that to me. I'm often interrogated about being vegetarian (e.g., "What if you find out that carrots feel pain, too? Then what'll you eat?").
I believe that.
I’m utterly certain that in
Also they probably ask stuff like: ‘Why don’t we make the heroine too stupid to notice that her abduction and abuse by the secret police are in fact indoctrination undertaken by the Resistance to change her political consciousness, because they don’t rape her which is what genuine torturers would surely do?’
I've also been afraid to feel as if I know better than someone else…
And that, luvvies, is how to do great comedy: play it absolutely straight.
-- a historically dangerous stance (I'm often reminded that "Hitler was a vegetarian, too, you know").
Well, me too. Mrs. Northwester is a vegetarian for animal welfare reasons, and so I am for her sake. Of course, I’m also authoritarian Right-wing, non-smoking, and kind to animals nationalist. I’m also a lousy draughtsman but a dab hand with a paint brush.
Say. You don’t think?...
I mean, you never see us together in photos, do you?
But this book reminded me that some things are just wrong.
We now return you to the Elvis/Bigfoot interview.
Perhaps others disagree with me that animals have personalities,…
Not at all: many animals have personalities (or at least characters) - unlike many of the cast of
rom-coms, but I may disagree with Portman that many A-listers have brains. I mean, I’ve know of folk musicians who never did anything as idiotic as walking through a country that lost 70,000 victims to Maoist terrorism carrying a Maoist-slogan handbag.
…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.
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…
‘It’s Christmas in heaven, all the angels sing…’
… 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.
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. 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.
Hey lass, have you heard what they’ve got now? They’re called ‘laws.’
Laws are really cool: they’re almost identical to every single liberal belief in t euniverse apart from the one tiny difference which is that - like - they can actually be made too work in this particular space-time continuum where we’re all living right now. Laws are awesome! Say there’s something that you don’t like - whether it’s ‘just wrong’ as you put it with adamantine lack of relativity or even something that’s merely utterly wacky but not actually so abhorrent that it ought to be punished; such as reading the Washington Post instead of the New York Times. It could also be spraying - you know, stuff, into the air or letting other stuff leak into the rivers to poison the ichthyovores, or publicly encouraging people to kill Jews or sticking cutlery into peoples’ bodies. Then what you do, see, is to make a ‘law’ that forbids anyone doing just such things and if people or organisations do the bad thing after that, then the police are allowed to stop them doing it and the courts are allowed to put them in prison and/or take money from them to try to make the people who suffered from the bad thing feel a bit better, if possible. We used to have Laws in
Take the cutlery thing for example. For millions of years, human beings and their predecessors only had one or two kinds of technology: cutlery being the principal one. They got hold of sharp-edged or pointed stones and sticks and bones and antlers and stuff and stuck them into animals to slow them down so they could eat them; that being the main way they could avoid starving before agriculture was invented and with it a high-calorie vegetarian option. Please don’t take my use of the word ‘calorie’ to heart, dear starlet: in some primitive cultures beyond Los Angeles it is still commonly held by otherwise rational people that it’s necessary to eat a thousand or more calories every single day to protect against a medical condition known outside California as death.
Now, human beings all over the world have over the millennia survived only thanks to this cutting technology and, later on - say for the past eight or nine thousand - years occasionally stuck cutlery into each others’ bodies for a number of motivations, possibly even including the promotion of liberal ideas. Who knows? However, except for special stabathons known to your pals as wars, this kind of killing was mostly held to be wrong and so laws were passed to punish those who informally (that is, without the permission of their traditional line managers or certain religious texts) stab each other. And you know what? Stabbing didn’t stop altogether, but lotsa crazy folks never did it any more after the laws and their enforcers found them out. What you need is a bunch of folks to make laws against spilling stuff into food and water and darn well punish them if they still do it, because the alternative might well be worse than dungy fish. Imagine that! Now, imagine a prehistoric world in which people like you felt afraid of the harmful side effects of food technology such as stabbing. Say that they had then banned the use of cutlery for fear of harm to human beings, yeah? How many of our primitive ancestors could have survived to reproduce and hence to produce modern humanity if cutting technology had been taken away and all they had left to hunt with were rudimentary accordions?
So, maybe a law against polluting food and water would be better than banning or severely limiting those technologies that feed almost everyone on the planet apart from those who maintain their clear complexions and perfect figures with a handful of raw leaves, fruit, nuts and roots each day.
But what Foer most bravely details is 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, 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.
It’s important to remember at this point that before the Columbian colonization of the western hemisphere by witch-hunting Spaniards and Englishmen and rack-hunting Italians and Japanese, the native Americans lived at peace with the plains bison, turkeys, and whatever Orioles are made from. The woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, terror birds and giant cave bears died out on the very day that
Sorry, his Luger.
Sorry, his Colt 45.
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?
How about; “There’s a little kid in Africa who’d love to eat that chopped liver, but unfortunately they’ve got something like a vegan diet over there thanks to all that land reform their governments got into when the colonial left, so eat up kiddo because Granny Weismann nearly starved to death and both her parents did starve thanks to 1930s-style ‘anti-war protesters’ and, frankly, it sucks.”
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.
I think I know the kind of college professor she’s talking about, don’t you? He never remembers the millions of ordinary Americans and others who uprooted themselves and faced death and intolerable hardship against the genuinely genocidal Axis Powers and later to underwrite his freedom from the multi-million murderous Soviet world so that college professors such as him can sit and sneer without fearing a single round sent his way unless some crackpot breaks and come loaded for disarmed students…
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.
Fair point. We do know how to farm intensively and without great cruelty to livestock, and many farmers do indeed farm that way. Also vegetarianism is an option with a wide variety of commercial suppliers, so if you feel it’s morally wrong to kill to eat, then they don’t have to do so. But by the same logic now that almost no-one outside the Greater Los Angeles Area believes that The Great Goddess sends babies to the world, and most people are aware that it takes an activity a little like that most reminiscent of liberal politicians but with at least one more adult human being involved to bring children into the existence, then if people can refrain from eating meat every single day in favour of something less harmful then they might be justly held responsible for their sexual actions without any killing involved, yeah?
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.
“Brave?” I wonder how many ranches, steak houses, biker bars, US Marine Corps barracks and taxi ranks he hangs about at, handing out vegan screeds to their unfriendly denizens? Matrix-like, I suspect that he’s the other kind of brave: the one where you only say stuff to extremely like-minded people in carefully controlled environments where no-one seriously has a chance of disagreeing in any sustained or acceptable manner.
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).
Liberal rationalism; “That’s a silly superstition that wouldn’t work anywhere outside its particular cultural context.”
English translation – morals are historical constructs derived from centuries or millennia of experience and the competition between voluntary behaviours. Liberals just make them up to suit the itch or appetite of the day.
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. 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.
Look for The Silent Scream on the Movie Channel tonight, huh Nat? Will you and your pro-choice Democrat friends be watching and supporting its message of protecting the weak and the notion that human beings have moral agency and aren’t merely big bags of glands that just want to do stuff, huh?
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?
And just what kind of a chump is it who thinks it’s okay to portray a supposedly feisty and heroic individual who just gives up the ghost and dies in childbirth just because her husband turns out to be a jerk in the end?
She’s small and sweet and so’s a humbug and I wouldn’t want either in charge of the human race’s food supply.