Friday, January 27, 2012

random thoughts about vegetarianism

I told the Other Adult that I was going to read Eat, Pray, Love because I wanted to read a book about food. Her response: "You know it's not just about food, right?" I think I responded with something like, sure, it's also about loving, which is nice, and probably about praying as well. I've been re-evaluating my spirituality lately so I am looking forward to that part also.

Actually, once I started to read it, I found out that Eat, Pray, Love is about a woman in her mid-thirties having a kind of crisis. She thinks her crisis is that she doesn't want to have a baby, but she does want to get a divorce. The actual crisis seems to be living in New York with too much money and a startling lack of real problems. I'm being unfair and kind of mean, after all, having a baby is a huge thing and you shouldn't have a baby if you don't want one, and if your husband wants a baby but you don't want one, that's a big debilitating problem in a relationship and a legitimate crisis. However, I found the author to be whiny and very self-centered. Other Adult said it gets better, but I put it down before the author had the chance to go on her life changing journey. I may pick it up again.

I switched out EPL for a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals. It's kind of memior-esque, but more of a study, about (obviously) eating animals. I chose it specifically because I read clips of this book over Christmas because it was laying on Other Adult's parents' kitchen counter. The small bits of it I read were so fascinating and disturbing that it has stayed with me for these months.

In this book, the author has had his first child and now he is contemplating his dietary choices because these choices will affect and influence his son.

This may sound callous, but I am not a vegetarian for ethical reasons. I'm not thinking of the animals. I guess I am giving more consideration to the environment, and some consideration to my health. Mostly, I do it because it's a really easy thing I can do that I know is right.

It's not a great sacrifice for me.

It's not weird or disturbing to me that people eat meat. I used to eat meat myself.

I'm currently reading the section of the book that deals with the poultry business. What's astonishing to me is how gross the poultry business is, and that people can eat chicken and survive. I'm not trying to convert anyone to vegetarianism, so I won't go into the disgusting details about how chickens are raised and killed, except to say that it is unnatural and appalling. There are basically no chickens raised on small family farms now--99% of chickens are raised in factory farms, and their lives and deaths are horrifically cruel.

Still, I really don't care that much about the humanitarian side of vegetarianism. I'm not a vegetarian because I have a bleeding heart for the animals. I read these words, I imagine the pain these poor chickens must feel, and I am numb inside. I feel no sympathy. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I've never been a chicken before. Maybe it's because my heart insists it's impossible that chickens could really could feel as much pain as my brain tells me they must feel. (and the life of a factory chicken can be nothing but pain)

What's worse to me--much worse--is what happens to them after they die. How disgusting it is. How contaminated the meat is. The low standards we have; the atrocity that we consider to be "safe" food.

I said a few paragraphs ago that I don't think that eating meat is weird or disturbing, but here I come to one aspect of meat-eating that actually is baffling to me, which would be, the general population's loyalty to meat as a food. It is my belief that most people who eat meat would read this book, set it aside, and still eat meat. This book may not even convince me to be a vegetarian, if I were not a vegetarian already. And let me tell you, this book has some really, really awful details.

We have so fully disengaged ourselves from the process that brings us our food, that we really don't care where the food comes from. We want it to taste good, we want it to be cheap, and (most of us) want the preparation to be fast and easy.

In his book, Jonathan Safran Foer is flopping back and forth in an indecisive, hamlet-esque kind of way between vegetarianism and eating meat, but his book is so packed full of outrageous stories of animal suffering and rampant bacteria that it reads like vegetarian propoganda. You can't read this book and not think that eating meat is a terrible thing to do.

A more subtle analysis of meat-eating, and reasons pro and con, may be found in the lengthy article, Consider the Lobster, by meat-eater David Foster Wallace. In this article, DFW looks at meat-eating from the perspective of someone who eats meat and admits that he can't really justify it, but keeps doing it anyway. Which goes back to what I said earlier: that people who read the book Eating Animals probably wouldn't see it as a reason to convert to vegetarianism, even though the book is full of nothing but convincing arguments against eating meat. For some reason, most people only consider a meal to be a meal if there is meat involved. And the suffering of the animal is second to the pleasure the meal will bring to the person. In the article, Consider the Lobster, DFW is taking a hard look at the practice of eating lobsters, which as you probably know are often boiled alive for freshness. A quote from DFW's article:

"Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero's entertainments or Aztec sacrifices? My own immediate reaction is that such a comparison is hysterical, extreme--and yet, the reason it seems extreme to me appears to be that I believe animals are less morally important than human beings; and when it comes to defending such a belief, even to myself, I have to acknowledge that (a) I have an obvious selfish interest in this belief, since I like to eat certain kinds of animals and want to be able to keep doing it, and (b) I have not succeeded in working out any sort of personal ethical system in which the belief is truly defensible instead of just selfishly convenient."

This is my favorite part of the article because it seems to sum up meat-eating in a way that is exactly correct. People are willing to overlook the suffering of animals for the sake of their own gastronomical satisfaction. They, in fact, don't even care to think about the suffering of the animals, and when they do, they don't see that as reason enough to stop. Perfectly ethical, moral, kind people eat meat. Boil lobsters alive. I did this for years and when I stopped eating meat, I didn't even do it because I felt bad for the animals.

I'm officially a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Unofficially, I am a vegetarian because seven years ago I lost an argument with the Other Adult, and she is a vegetarian, and now we are a vegetarian household. But the better reason is the environmental one.

When we have to raise food to feed to our food, we're wasting land and resources. We're cutting down rain forests to make room for our beef, we're raising cows that contribute more greenhouse gases than our cars, and we're raising corn to feed to our livestock. We could be feeding the planet but instead, we're feeding our food. I believe in eating lower on the food chain. It makes sense. There are almost 7 billion people on the planet--there can't be a chicken in every pot. But I'm not trying to proselytize. I used to eat meat, my extended family still eats meat, and I don't look down on their choices. I think by being a vegetarian, I am trying to set an example. I wish more of the world would eat less meat. That is all.

I miss tuna. I miss it quite a bit. I miss my mom's tuna casserole, and tuna salad sandwiches. I also miss bacon--real bacon (although I eat a vegetarian substitute that pleases me very much). I also miss all-beef, ball park style hot dogs (not the company Ball Park, I mean hot dogs you buy at a ball park). And I miss having a wider variety of menu choices in restaurants. It's hard to be a vegetarian and travel to a foreign country and eat well, although I'm getting better at it.

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