Thursday, October 25, 2007

Food Ethics

So, I'm reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and generally really liking it, though I could do without the input of the husband (mostly stuff I already know) and the daughter (who seems like lovely teenager, but I don't generally read things by random lovely teenagers, or adults for that matter)

Anyway, I'm finally at that part of the book that always (in, say, The Omnivores Dilemma, for example) makes me cringe and want to stop reading.

The "why I am not a vegetarian" chapter -which seems to, maybe only to my oversensitized ears, skate dangerous close to, "how vegetarians are misguided and/or kinda stupid" chapter.


But anyways, it's particularly weird because I'm falling more and more into sympathy with her way of thinking. It's seeming less and less likely that I will be as pure a vegetarian (or one at all) as I have been for the rest of my life.

I even ate a bite of "walleye cake" at the state fair last summer, and the last bites of some free-range chicken that no one else was gonna finish, just to try, maybe just to de-purify myself, or see if I'd get smote by lightening.

Thinking more holistically about food, I have to wonder about eating canned or frozen seitan or packaged and shipped tofu, rather than a locally raised and slaughtered chicken. It's not as clear a choice as it used to seem. Certainly I could eat local and vegan (I've never managed vegan anyway) in theory, but I don't, and I think it might be beyond me realistically, and I do, after all, have to live in reality.

But, man, she tried my patience. She makes some really good points: like not all meat is factory farmed (and her family actually eschews factory farmed meat, opting for the vegetarian option in restaurants, for example, and eating only meat they "know" or at least know more about..) And like the fact that the figures about how much more land you need to produce meat instead of soybeans or whatever are based on a certain system (granted, the system that produces the vast majority of the meat in the US) - and that nomads herding goats in desert landscapes are actually making the most efficient use of the resources available. They would die if they tried to live there on local corn and soybeans.

BUT, mostly I freaking felt like I was back in college arguing with smartass boys who were really only all about defending their right to never have to change anything, or even suffer a twinge of conscience.

OF COURSE eating goat meat if you're a desert nomad makes sense (AND, it has pretty much absolutely zero to do with the food choices of the vast, vast, vast majority of people who will ever even hear of her book)

OF COURSE if we just turned all the farm animals currently alive loose to "survive in the wild" it would be a mess (seriously, if I didn't already have the impression this was an intelligent woman, well I don't know, I'm shocked)

At one point she goes off on vegetarian food grown with GMOs and pesticides, as compared to organically raised free range animals. Right before she berates vegetarians for doing basically the same thing in reverse (except less so)

(Just in case she gets to it, too, I realize eskimos can't live on local tomatoes year round, and I also realize that other animals eat meat - just trying to remember the idiotic arguments I've heard that have nothing to do with the actual lives of the people making them)

She has some weird riff on some famous vegan who apparently wants to have a farm where animals can live out their lives and die natural deaths. Yes, I am at the point where this seems a little odd to me, and yet I don't imagine that this famous vegan would actually, as Ms. Kingsolver proposes, gather up all the eggs her chickens lay and incubate them into more chickens, at which point she would be overrun. It is possible to not kill chickens OR put energy into breeding more. sigh.

So now I'm annoyed. I want to go vegan just to spite her. Why resort to the old moronic arguments when there are plenty of decent ones? Like that a farm as a whole, living system, just possibly works a lot better and makes more sense with animals integrated into it, or that death is part of life and we really need to get over ourselves, or that vegetarians who eat milk and or eggs (like me) are just hypocrites and living in a dream world, especially in a system where the relatively useless males of the species often aren't even used for meat, but simply thrown away (at least with chickens, who are so specialized that you wouldn't raise and eat a layer - as far as I know, nor would you eat or sell eggs from a broiler - heirloom breeds that are useful for both make a lot more sense, though I don't even know how I would find eggs from those chickens, I don't know if anyone in my area raises them.

I would totally go back to eating (some) meat if I could manage to kill it myself. I'm there ethically, I may just be too squeamish, or tenderheartedly in denial. How many of my other food choices am I still effectively in denial about? Lots, I think. damn.

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