There is hope in honest error; none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist.
- J. D. Sedding
However, Mark Bittman’s continued portrayel of meat as “bad” and produce as “good” is starting to annoy me. My background in science, especially agroecology, instructs me that everything needs to be looked at in context to it’s connections to other organisms and natural processes. Well managed livestock, for example, can be a nice complementary activity with other forms of agriculture and can reduce input dependency. In terms of human health and sustenance, we all know that animal products contain more calories, protein, and fat (i.e. nutritional density) than most plant-based foods. In a world of dwindling food supplies, those things are important. Instead of labeling one food as good or bad, let’s look at some of the nuances and grey areas of meat production (part of the whole reason behind this blog!). Although I do agree with Mark’s labeling of some food as “nonfoods” and other food as just “food”. Soda and Hot Cheetos are undoubtedly “nonfoods”. Let’s say bye, bye to them…
So while Mark was railing against the supposed ills associated with animal agriculture (as if it’s all done the same exact way around the world), I began to think about the old farm we used to have. We rented 20 acres of land in a floodplain that was not appropriate for crop production because much of it was under water for 3-5 months a year (flooded fields are considered a food safety hazard for crops). However, because it flooded, it kept the pastures greener much longer into the dry California summer. The hard clay held onto moisture and nutrients, but would scare most fruits or vegetables away by constricting their roots. Hardy perennial grasses, clovers, and mustards did just fine there and supported a diverse menagerie of animals that we raised. So I think you get my point that pasture and animals were a good fit with the land.
Over the years, organic farmers have told me they relearned this important point: Many found out the hard way that they could not make their operations balance out — both biologically and economically (they’re the same in the end) — without bringing animals back into the equation. Handled right, animals control weeds and insects, cycle nutrients, and provide a use for waste and failed crops. Healthy ecosystems — wild and domestic — must include animals. Now there’s a chance we may realize how very important this idea is to the life of the planet.
…before we cede the entire moral penthouse to “committed vegetarians” and “strong ethical vegans,” we might consider that plants no more aspire to being stir-fried in a wok than a hog aspires to being peppercorn-studded in my Christmas clay pot. This is not meant as a trite argument or a chuckled aside. Plants are lively and seek to keep it that way. The more that scientists learn about the complexity of plants — their keen sensitivity to the environment, the speed with which they react to changes in the environment, and the extraordinary number of tricks that plants will rally to fight off attackers and solicit help from afar — the more impressed researchers become, and the less easily we can dismiss plants as so much fiberfill backdrop, passive sunlight collectors on which deer, antelope and vegans can conveniently graze. It’s time for a green revolution, a reseeding of our stubborn animal minds.
Coincidentally, horse meat was then found where there should have been cow. All over the UK there is outrage and shock that twenty-nine percent of the beef they call burgers is that of horses: “People should be able to go into the supermarket,” one Labour politician said, “and be confident that what they are buying for their families is legal and safe.” That it is what? Legal and safe? Why is horse meat neither legal nor safe when the pigs we deem “dirty” are a staple at breakfast? What is so fundamentally different about the flesh of a horse than that of a cow, a sheep, a dog?
Nothing. And herein lies the issue: meat-eaters are not flabbergasted by the sale and production of horse per se, for they eat the flesh of countless species; neither are they sickened at the notion of eating a chicken’s kidney, for they eat hot dogs made of penises and eye balls and much more. Meat-eaters are upset because they have been challenged. They have been challenged to face their inconsistencies. They have been challenged to confront their choices. By eating animals and parts of animals that they have been programmed to believe they absolutely never should, they have been challenged to ask why they eat some and not others, or any, for that matter, at all. And they hate this. They hate to be challenged when they could much more easily be ignorant. They cannot answer the questions because there is none that makes sense.
D.R. Hildebrand (via veganarcommunism)
David Hildebrand assumes too much. Namely that non-vegans think the same way that vegans do, that they share the same values in the same way.
1. I think we can all agree that people have a right to know what they are eating, & from whence it came. To be told something is 100% X & then discover that you have been lied to, is enough of a betrayal of trust without any other issues being considered.
2. There may not be a fundamental difference, but there is a conceptual difference between eating cow or sheep flesh, & eating dog or horse flesh, & that is - to those who aren’t vegan - a pretty big one. The difference is that horses & dogs are companion animals,not that they are pets necessarily, but that their history, their tandem evolution with humans, is that of working animals: they work closely with humans who rely upon skills & intuitions that they have that humans do not. More than this, they can form reciprocal emotional bonds with those humans. Cows & sheep are domesticated food animals; while a human may become very fond of, & very attached to a cow or sheep, it is not reciprocated in that they do not pine & fret if the human goes away for a long time, & they do not sense that the human is upset & so worry & attempt reassurance.
3. In light of the above, it may be determined that there is not so much inconsistency after all. Meanwhile, it can be argued that it is inconsistent to value animal life over plant life. Plant life strives to live; it can feel pain; & it can communicate with other members of its species, including conveying warnings of predation. This being the case, is it really consistent to regard it morally acceptable to kill plants for food, clothing, paper, building, furniture, fuel, toilet paper & the dashboards of luxury cars, yet regard it morally unacceptable to kill animals for food & clothing - not to mention all the other products made out of the rest of the animal’s body?
4. The notion that there are some animals that we shouldn’t eat, I’ve addressed in part above, the background to this idea has other threads though, tied up with why people don’t like to eat certain parts of an animal. Yes, it is a socially constructed notion, more than that, it is one that is heavily imbued with class & wealth. Once, the elite, the lords, received the best cuts of meat, while the peasants made do with what they could. As Western society has become more wealthy, the notion of eating poor peoples food has become increasingly distasteful. If it were not for sausages & dodgy fast food chains this would make our society even more wasteful than we already are.
In sum, it is not especially useful to try to interpret other people’s responses & motivations through the filter of one’s own beliefs & world view. If we wish to understand, & possibly even influence, other people, we should always start by trying to understand how they think, rather than assume that they are, underneath it all, a carbon copy of our own sentiments.
Animals are a critical part of any healthy agricultural system – when we de-coupled plant and animal agriculture and moved towards enormous monocultures, we broke entire ecosystems and embedded unnecessary and abhorrent animal suffering. Clearing rainforest for beef or soybeans or palm oil, building vast concrete-floored sheds and then trying to figure out what to do with the effluent of 10,000 miserable pigs, and spraying thousands of acres of corn with megalitres of pesticides is not and never will be sustainable, nor ethical. Any ethical system knows this.