Eating Animals – tangential musings

27 Feb

Alright, I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma just like everyone else.  I, too, freaked out (am still in a sustained freak-out) about the state of Factory Farming and the inevitable apocalypse.  I watched Food Inc.  I developed a small crush on Alice Waters.  I give a crap about the food we eat and (with oscillating strategies and commitment)I try to make responsible choices.

But I recently finished Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and I’ve got my pants in a fresh bunch.  The hipster king has lots of extra-sincere stuff to convey, as usual (I had a chortle when I read one reviewer refer to him as the “extremely annoying and incredibly precious author”).  Don’t get me wrong, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close changed my life.  It remains one of my favorite books and probably always will.  The sustained heartbreak over Oskar and his business cards will stick with me forever.  But for some inexplicable reason, sometimes when I’m reading, I can picture JSF typing in a cafe (it’s really obscure – you haven’t heard of it) and a little tear slides down his cheek, and all of a sudden I want to punch imaginary JSF in the face.  It’s probably mostly about me and my issues.  I just needed to get that off my chest.

But just because he occasionally pushes my buttons and annoys me in my imagination doesn’t mean he’s not right.  After being accosted (in the benevolent “take your medicine” kind of way) with stats and stories of the environmental, health, and crimes against base humane treatment of animals that are being committed in the name of our weird diet, I can’t imagine anyone not taking pause to wonder how we got here and if we should perhaps get the hell out.  At best this whole food nightmare seems senseless (get it?  Whole Food nightmare?  No?  Just me?).  Which is pretty hip these days, I guess.  Senselessness, I mean.  We’ve perfected the short game.  We’re hoping to deny Medicaid to the children of drug addicts (that’ll teach ’em?)!  We’re killing people who kill people to teach people that killing people will get them killed!  We’re throwing up charter schools faster than you can say “Superman!”  We are carpe-ing the crap out of the diem.

But what about the long game?  What about how we’re being confronted with overwhelming evidence that suggests that the way we eat is wrecking us on every level – it’s wrecking our bodies, the earth, and the people we live with?  Are we going to deal with this? Am I going to deal with this?  Those who have read the book (like, a year or more ago probably) are thinking to themselves “Ah, so Liz has entered the vegan phase, which will last approximately 4-6 months and end in a breakdown of willpower sparked by someone’s birthday dinner at _________ restaurant.”  Those who know me well are probably thinking “I bet that kid ate meatloaf WHILE she was reading the book.  At Denny’s.”

I will neither confirm nor deny these possibilities, but I will say that I already did my vegan stint during high school.  In case you were wondering how hardcore lent can get (and just how annoying for your friends and family – not the vegan aspect, but the sanctimonious asshole bit), herein lies the answer.  You’re welcome.  Oddly enough, the meal that I chose to break my 6-month streak (because if you’re practicing hard-core lent, it needs to laaaaaaaaast – you need to BEAT lent, not merely observe it) was school hot lunch.  As always, good choices.

In any case, the overwhelming evidence is in.  Eating factory farmed meat  is creating all kinds of real and immediate problems.  And, you know, it has been for a while – Peter Singer has been harping on us for quite some time now with his reasoned points and persuasive arguments.  It doesn’t look good, my friends.  It looks like we need to deal with this.  I’m hard pressed to find a defensible reason for my behavior any longer.  I think I’m on the wrong side of this (you know, the apathy side……. where I often like to set up shop).

So I’ve stopped buying meat at the grocery store.  I joined a CSA that doles out tasty animal bits on a monthly basis and I supplement that supply with regular visits to The Meat Van (what?  You don’t have a farmer who pulls into a bus stop around the corner with a refrigerated van and sells meat and eggs on a weekly basis?).  I’m dangerously close to becoming a cliché.

But, when confronted with the need to grab a quick lunch due to poor planning or a pressing case of the hangries (hunger+anger) I go to Wendy’s and eat unspeakable evil.  I’m not sure I can say no to Ba le’s chinese pork…. I’m not sure if I want to.  Moreover, I REALLY don’t want to be the douche bag who isn’t eating my sister-in-law’s casserole for ethical reasons.  I pride myself on my willingness to eat anything (and methodically exercise myself of any dislikes – for instance it took me two years to develop a taste for olives, but now I love ’em).  I don’t want to be the difficult friend with an annoying diet to accommodate.  Basically, I don’t want to return to my days as a sanctimonious pain-in-the-ass.

I guess the folks who declined to eat meals prepared by slaves felt similarly.  Shit.

I think we have to deal with this.  As always, I’m not sure how to balance abstaining from evil and avoiding becoming an insufferable pile of judgement and sanctimony.  I want to do the right thing, but I don’t want to be a snob or a jerk.  As soon as I get it all figured out, I’ll be sure to let you know.  Those who are interested in these things may want to develop a contingency plan in the case that this takes me the rest of my life.

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4 Responses to “Eating Animals – tangential musings”

  1. Jordan March 2, 2011 at 2:27 am #

    You’re my hero. I’m reminded of a comment my Steve Martin about college. “if you study geology, it’s all just facts and after graduation you forget it all. But if you study philosophy, you remember just enough of it to screw you up for the rest of your life.” I’m in the same boat. Hate to share this, but it looks like we’re in a lifeboat. … Pass the canned spam.

    • lizjoyntsandberg March 4, 2011 at 12:34 am #

      I’m going to need a better costume. Probably with a cape. Also? I’m not so great at rowing – just to give you a heads-up.

      Steve Martin – that guy is all kinds of awesome. Kind of like someone else I know…

  2. Amy E. March 30, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I’ve had similar feelings re: the sanctimony of my choices. Recently though, I’ve started to own them a little more. They aren’t actions that I’m taking to hurt someone else–they are things that I’m doing for me, maybe selfishly. It’s hard to unpack all the reasons we make certain choices: because we want to belong; because we’re afraid; because we want to be loved; because it’s the right thing to do. Honestly, that last one usually comes in dead last in my motivations to do anything. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. I mean, trying to get some love while doing the right thing could turn out to be a win/win.

    And I know that “doing the right thing” is awfully subjective. But all we can do is what’s right in front of us, making decisions based on the best info we can get. I’ve been so afraid of inconveniencing anyone, that I’ve laid low on a number of my personal choices. But I think the dominant culture has a stake in the status quo–so it nicely reframes change as sanctimony and we (meaning me) buy in. A popular phrase from my time as a sexual assault crisis counselor was: All an abuser asks us to do is nothing. I think the same is true of American culture in 21st century late capitalism.

    I think the key is to *try* and live without judging others for their choices, while still asking for respect for ours. This is challenging, but I think it’s the judgment (of others, of ourselves) that leads to charges of sanctimony. (And there’s a whole other slew of things to say about having the education and privilege to make certain choices, but my rant cream is about to wear off.)

    So, I’d better shut up. I really just wanted to validate any choice making that goes on, with the hope that I can move away from sanctimony–both as a reaction and as a threat that keeps me from myself.

    Love always.

    • lizjoyntsandberg March 31, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

      Thanks for sharing this, Amy. Thanks too for the phrase “rant cream.”

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