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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.


January Reading

8 Feb

Here are the books I enjoyed in January!  Did you read anything you especially enjoyed?

Ladies and Gentleman, The Bible! by Jonathan Goldstein

Stuffed by Patricia Volk

The Complete Book of Butchering by Philip Hasheider

Cleaving by Julie Powel

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Dislikes #1

24 Jan

I don’t like being scared.  The idea that I would even need to say that (or type that) seems crazy to me.  Isn’t this a given?  A universal truth?  It’s like saying “I don’t like breaking my hip” or “mistaking a rock for a pistachio is a bummer.”  I mean, I enjoy a good chase scene (like those bits in Finding Nemo that are touch-and-go) as much as the next guy.  And who doesn’t like a suspenseful story line (remember when we didn’t know for sure if Julia Stiles was going to be admitted to Julliard for her raw and tortured urban angst ballet?)?  But volunteering to watch someone get stabbed in the shower?  No.  My threshold for horror lies between books 4 and 5 of the Harry Potter chronicles.  I do not pursue terror in my leisure hours for the same reason I don’t spend that time repeatedly stubbing my toe on my ridiculously sharp bed frame.  It’s unpleasant.  I don’t like it.

But for some, bafflingly, this is not the case.  As I write this my dear husband is reading some terrifying story by Stephen King (do NOT get him started on why Stephen King is and will remain history’s greatest author.  Or… on second thought, do – it’s a glimpse into Nathan’s strange perfection).  He will perhaps follow that with one of his other favorite activities – a late-night solo viewing of a horror film (we’re talking obscenely scary Japanese business and the like – the really, REALLY terrifying stuff) .  He doesn’t feel afraid when he reads or watches these things.  He doesn’t feel the need to look in the closet, or double-check that the door is locked, or create his own ghost-busting backpack-dustbuster-hybrid (more on this some other time, perhaps).  Curious….  I can’t imagine what that’s like.  I can’t fathom taking any kind of pleasure in a horrifying scenario.

I bring it up, because the other night some friends were over and we got to talking about scary books and movies.  It was a good time to share what is perhaps (according to Nathan) the origin of my hate for all things horror.

In the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I was in Germany at the end of a 4 week tour with a youth choir.  I was homesick and thoroughly sick of sausage (which, if you know me, is really saying something).  The only thing standing between me and my flight home was one more night with one more host family.  I plastered on my largest, be-braced smile (and what I’m sure was no small amount of Mary Kay makeup), stuck out my hand and said “Gutten Tag!”  A couple of hours of nodding and sausage later, I went downstairs to meet my 17-year-old host sister and her friends who were mid-slumber party and certainly really psyched to add a 14-year-old choir nerd to their festivities.  The decor in her basement room (or lair as I soon re-categorized it) consisted mainly in pentagram posters, drawings of demons, and all manner of Hot Topic wares.  Satan chic.  I’m sure it was much less menacing then I remember it, being that I was an 8th grade DC Talk devote at the time.

All I wanted to do was curl up in my sleeping bag, let 8 hours painlessly elapse, and wake up the next morning.  But they took great pains to wait for me to begin the main event – a viewing of Silence of the Lambs (and by “great pains” I mean “deep slugs” of vodka).  Even pals who enjoy being voluntarily terrorized by books or movies admit that this particular film is especially scary, but I would venture that it’s made even more so by the german language.  Overhearing a deutch conversation about even the most mundane topic can make you feel like a fist fight is about to break out.  So – to break it down – in my homesick and nerdy state, I spent an evening with people I believed to be aspiring Satanists, watching Silence of the Lambs in German with english subtitles (so that I had to LOOK at it the WHOLE time once I had been sucked in by the story).  It was a bad night.  There were many quaking tears and fervent prayers and it was sometime around the revelation that pulleys can be used for great evil that I swore off horror of any kind.

I really don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  Nathan (who believes that if you’re not reading Stephen King, you’re not reading at your full potential) begs to differ.  Hopefully our marriage can survive this tremendous divide.

Productivity in Jeopardy

4 Jan

Those of you who are close to me should prepare yourselves for the inevatable intervention.  A fellow, morbidly curious pal gave this to me the other day.  Why can’t I be this interested in learning about physics, or computers, or….. well, really anything useful?  If my google searches continue to lead me to such madness, I’m going to have to censor my internet access so that I can’t get to all of this outrageous Christian content.  Zing!


Those unfamiliar with the quiverfull movement…… I was going to say “should probably stay that way”, but instead – this.  And, now for the good stuff.   Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  The Christian Patriarchy Movement produces some disgusting stuff to be sure, but I was in no way prepared for the violence being perpetrated against food.  The recipes alone will aggravate your sense of decency (and perhaps your gag reflex…… and maybe your tear ducts).   I’m sorry.  You’re welcome.  (you can pick one, or, like me, pick both.)

Community, but…..

27 Dec

I just started reading Radical Homemakers by Shannon Hayes.  Now, before you lose your mind, and decide that I’m one of those people, let me assure you that the term radical is fully employed here.  Hayes is not advocating for any kind of cloistered, “keep sweet”, silent and supporting-role kind of life for women.  Feminism isn’t just a consideration, but the genesis of Hayes’s thought.   She doesn’t necessarily envision women as the ones to be doing this homemaking.  She’s mostly just uncovering and celebrating a network of people who have decided that Wendell Berry had the right idea – that we should try to make lives that are productive rather than consumptive and that we should focus on being good to people and the earth.  Keeping a really nice home (which to me has never meant anything about size or perfection or whatever) has always been really important to me.  I like to live in a nice place, with delicious food, and traditions, and good vibrations and it’s nice to read about other people who value those things too (and, who aren’t, well, you know, crazy).  People who want to find ways to make a wonderful life for themselves and their families without wrecking the world – even making it better.  Anyway, I digress.

I mention the book because it is bringing up all kinds of interesting ideas for me.  Firstly, it appeals to my growing sense that I want to live in community.  Except when I don’t.  Let me clarify.  I envision a space – sometimes it’s a 6-flat in the city, and sometimes it’s a farm in rural Michigan – where I’m living in a larger group of people with my family.  My family has our own little spot – an apartment or a little house – but there are community spaces too.  Everyone is contributing in their way.  For me, this means a lot of cooking, some creative making of things (for practical purposes and maybe art), taking care of Ida, participating in some kind of radical school co-op, and tending to earth-based projects like gardening or farming (says the girl who has never successfully kept a houseplant alive) tending to livestock, and definitely butchering – which I have never done, but will hopefully start learning soon.  I know I’m going to be awesome at it – the butchering that is.  I envision people to raise kids with, fellow adventurers for Ida, and general support – you know, community.

It’s a beautiful life the way I imagine it.  Everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do.  There are enough people so that no one has to take care of their kids when they’re sick, or do things alone that are easier with other people, or figure hard things out in a vacuum.  Everyone works hard.  Everyone is nice.  Everyone is happy.  Things are fair.  Money is magic.

Except…. what about how I like to sometimes read a book all day and mostly ignore my responsibilities?  Or what about how I do really uncool things sometimes?    Things that I wouldn’t want any of my hip, community friends to know about?  Or what about how I sometimes want to keep shopping at Target?  Or driving my car?  Or ordering pizzas?  Or netflix?  Are you allowed to have netflix in the community?  Even if you’re using it to watch crap tv?  Or what if I still want to celebrate over-the-top-commercial-Santa-loving-Christmas?  And what about those times when I want to be a hermit – not because I don’t love people, but just because I really like being alone?  What if the community people hear me and Nathan fighting… or worse…..?  What about how I only like to share on my own terms?  How I sometimes resent demands on my time or resources?

I don’t know how to negotiate all of this – my desire to live this sort-of utopian fantasy combined with all of my reservations and THEN combined with knowing a little bit about the way that shared efforts can get really ugly?  I really want to live in community, but I sometimes feel like in order to do it, I need to be a totally different person.  She’s someone I really want to be, for sure.  But I’m not her and truthfully, if I really wanted to be her, wouldn’t I be by now?  It’s overwhelming.  But even still, at the end of thinking about all of these things, my brain is still scheming…. still imagining my little shed where I’ll smoke meat (or, my little Chicago back-porch), Ida running around with other children, finally feeling like I have enough people to cook for, helping teach, helping grow, just plain helping.  Making something beautiful out of my little life – contributing to something rare and special.  Anyway, I digress…