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more on “The Vegetarian Myth”

October 27th, 2010 No comments

Another critique of Lierre Keith’s book from a new blog, Philosophical Overview … definitely worth a full read.  Here’s a bit that caught my attention …

Keith implies that her “animist ethic” is the same as the worldview of “indigenous cultures”. At one point she identifies it with the worldview of the ancient Mayans (5), which is strange as the Mayans are mainly famous for having founded a civilized, agricultural society in the New World. I doubt that her animism has much to do with the religious ideas and practices of Native American cultures, though. The sense of relatedness to plants and animals described in accounts of many indigenous American cultures has more to do with the totemism of tribal systems than an ethic of leaving a light ecological footprint. Some have theorized that the extinction of New World megafauna at the end of the last ice age was a result of the hunting practices of the newly arrived Clovis humans (although this theory remains controversial). Somewhat less controversial is evidence of hunting practices at buffalo jumps, which appears to upset the view that Native Americans only killed as many animals as they could use. Whatever the case may be, these archaeological observations would not imply any moral condemnation of Native Americans, who like all other people developed methods for surviving in their environments as best they could. It is absurd to consider such observations racist, as some have done, and one is not doing Native Americans any favours by romanticizing them to serve one’s own ends.

This angle of romanticizing The Native Americans™ is one that I’ve personally encountered.  The most thorough response to and analysis of this move is covered in one of my favorite Compassionate Cooks episodes – Honoring the Animals We Eat – Just Like the Native Americans – which is now added to the new Podcasts and Papers page here.  Make sure you listen all the way to the end where Colleen reads a short essay by a Native American woman about this very topic.  It’s beautifully written and gives much needed perspective on how we use Native Americans™ as punctuation in our own narratives rather than listening to them tell their own.

Like the Mayans … I’m pretty sure we don’t want to be doing things like the Mayans per se.

H/T  PaleoVeganology

World Hunger explained for 12 year olds

October 20th, 2010 No comments

Oh deliciousness

October 19th, 2010 No comments

I don’t actually know why … but what’s cookin over at Vegan Dad made me want to write a Haiku.

–>  Chocolate Cinnamon Babka <– hello … click it already :->

I didn’t actually come up with one.  But I know what I’m cooking this weekend.

“as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”

October 16th, 2010 No comments

(Luke 13:34, Mat 23:37)

The background sound for the Virtual Battery Cage came from the undercover video “Inside an Egg Factory Farm” from Compassion Over Killing.  Turn the sound off this one (bottom right corner) before you watch the one below.

If you care about animal welfare, please consider this perspective on “humane” egg production, from the Faces of Free Range Farming, presented by Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary who asks these two questions:

1. What happens to ALL of the male chicks – not just few token roosters – but ALL of them?  Here’s a Hint. More here.

2. What happens to the hens when they are no longer laying enough eggs for this facility to be profitable?

What are you actually paying for at the grocery store?  Take a look at the state of “organic” and egg labeling generally from these links:

–  the Cornucopia Institute

–  the Humane Society

“laughing at the linnet”

October 15th, 2010 No comments

Elegy Asking That It Be the Last

by Norman Dubie

There’s a bird the color of mustard.  The bird
Is held in a black glove.  This bird
Has a worm in its heart.
Inside the heart of the worm there’s
A green passage of blood.
The bird is a linnet.
The glove is worn by a Prince.  There’s a horse
Under him.  It is another century: things are
Not better or worse.  The horse is chestnut,
The horse
Is moving its bowels while standing in the surf.
The cliffs behind him are dark.  It is
The coast of Scotland.  It’s winter.
Surrounding the Prince and also on horses are men
Who are giant;  they are dressed in furs.
There’s ice forming in their beards.  Each is
A chieftain.  They are the Prince’s heavy protection.
They are drunk, these men who are laughing
At the linnet with a worm in its heart.
This is a world set apart from ours.  It is not!

via or here.

Sabbath rest, 600 lb. gorillas, and absent referents

October 9th, 2010 No comments

So there’s a new NAS paper out about climate change, greenhouse gasses, and animal agriculture, here.  The claims of that particular paper are not what this post is about though.  I’ll need you to check out this short (less than 2 min.) video, based on that paper.  Notice the tag line at the end?  “Your heart and the earth will love you for it.”  That’s what this is about.

The idea of not just being the recipient of gratitude and affection, but earning gratitude and affection, is appealing and motivating to people. Generally speaking, it’s part of who we are as social creatures.  But that’s where this focus lies.  Neither the earth nor an internal organ can be said to actually ‘love’ you for anything.   I know it’s metaphor but  it’s the use of metaphor in this situation that I want you to take a closer look at.

Someone might say that we can surely speak of  things going better or worse for the earth and for our internal organs.  They can be subjects of sentences but they’re not actually subjects; they don’t, they can’t actually love you.  They can be effected, or merely changed, but not affectively changed by our behavior.  The only way in which we can say that is purely self-referential.  If things go better or worse for our environment or for our biological organs it is going better or worse, existentially, for ourselves.  What we really seem to mean when we say ‘the earth will love you’ or your ‘heart will love you’ is simply that it is in our own self-interest to do these things.  Saying the earth or your heart will love you is synonymous with saying your own behavior towards them isn’t somehow, in the end, detrimental to yourself.  It’s simply saying *you* will love you for it.   So to say something can go better or worse for the earth or for bits of our biology is to deal strictly in self-reflective metaphor.

To say those same things about the cow, a sentient being, is to speak literally and truthfully.

But we don’t speak of the real cow that could really suffer.  She is completely  erased.  Cows are subjects of their own lives and could actually appreciate differences in our behavior toward them.  But we don’t speak about them.  We talk around them.  I find that telling. We don’t speak of the only other part of the equation that could literally appreciate something going better or worse for itself.

By analogy, imagine overhearing Fred and Linda talking about whether or not it’s ok to burn children with hot irons.  Imagine if the conversation went like this …

Linda:  You know, scorched flesh really mucks up the soleplate.  And then, with the steam, yuck – that awful smell.

Fred:  I know.  Sometimes it can damage the iron so much that you have to get a new one, and that’s what $50?  By not burning your child with your iron you could use that $50 for something else.

Linda:  Right. That settles it.  Stop burning your children with hot irons because the iron, and your pocket book will love you for it.

That’s what we’re doing when we frame our behavior towards animals strictly in terms of ourselves.   Cows are not humans but neither are they “earth” or “mere biology.”

There’s a difference.  That difference matters.

Our trashy lives and what we choose to make invisible

October 8th, 2010 No comments

Trash is an amazing thing.  I remember learning in my introductory archaeology class many moons ago about all the things you can learn about people from their trash.  Robin Nagle has taken that fascination to book level.  Here’s an excerpt from an interview at The Believer in which she’s anserwing a question about the cognitive problem of trash …

RN: Well, it’s cognitive in that exact way: that it is quite highly visible, and constant, and invisibilized. So from the perspective of an anthropologist, or a psychologist, or someone trying to understand humanness: What is that thing? What is that mental process where we invisibilize something that’s present all the time?

The other cognitive problem is: Why have we developed, or, rather, why have we found ourselves implicated in a system that not only generates so much trash, but relies upon the accelerating production of waste for its own perpetuation? Why is that OK?

And a third cognitive problem is: Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything. So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can’t acknowledge that, because it’s kind of scary, because I think ultimately it points to our own temporariness, to thoughts that we’re all going to die.

BLVR: And the fear, the way you’ve described garbage as being scary, it’s an avoidance of addressing mortality and ephemerality and things like that?

RN: It’s an avoidance of addressing mortality, ephemerality, the deeper cost of the way we live. We generate as much trash as we do in part because we move at a speed that requires it. I don’t have time to take care of the stuff that surrounds me every day that is disposable, like coffee cups and diapers and tea bags and things that if I slowed down and paid attention to and shepherded, husbanded, nurtured, would last a lot longer. I wouldn’t have to replace them as often as I do. But who has time for that? We keep it cognitively and physically on the edges as much as we possibly can, and when we look at it head-on, it betrays the illusion that everything is clean and fine and humming along without any kind of hidden cost. And that’s just not true.

BLVR: You’ve written that a sanitation department that does its job well will make itself invisible, and, more generally but along the same lines, there is a sense in which garbage is the negation of culture. And William Rathje, whom you mentioned just before, has noted that humans are the only animal species not drawn in by garbage’s smells and colors. And yet, sanitation is such a gigantic component of city budgets and urban life, and, in New York at least, has created a landfill that can be seen from the earth’s orbit. That suggests that this blind spot is doing a lot of ideological work.

Animal death is the same way.  Not just death but the kind and amount of death that we cause is everywhere but yet “invisibilized.”  There too we “keep it cognitively and physically on the edges as much as we possibly can, and when we look at it head-on, it betrays the illusion that everything is clean and fine and humming along without any kind of hidden cost. And that’s just not true.”

Tragic Irony Fail

October 5th, 2010 No comments

Have you seen this one yet?  It’s made it into my email inbox from a couple of different people.  I suspect none of them ever considered what they are saying.

“This is undoubtedly one of the best I have seen. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Have a fun filled day.”

(the rest reads like it’s copied from a newspaper article)

“In a zoo in California , a mother tiger gave birth to a rare set of triplet tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to complications in the pregnancy, the cubs were born prematurely and due to their tiny size, they died shortly after birth.

The mother tiger after recovering from the delivery, suddenly started to decline in health, although physically she was fine. The veterinarians felt that the loss of her litter had caused the tigress to fall into a depression The doctors decided that if the tigress could surrogate another mother’s cub’s, perhaps she would improve.

After checking with many other zoos across the country, the depressing news was that there were no tiger cubs of the right age to introduce to the mourning mother. The veterinarians decided to try something that had never been tried in a zoo environment. Sometimes a mother of one species, will take on the care of a different species. The only ‘orphans’ that could be found quickly, were a litter of weanling pigs The zoo keepers and vets wrapped the piglets in tiger skin and placed the babies around the mother tiger. Would they become cubs or pork chops??

Take a look…”

(And then the moral exhortation comes at the end of the note …)

“Now, please tell me one more time ……..? Why can’t the rest of the world get along??”

In case the irony isn’t obvious, know that all the people who sent this to me all kill (or rather hire out the killing) and eat pigs themselves.  The people who sent me this email literally embody the negative imagery they imagine (and celebrate) this image negating.

“Why can’t the rest of the world get along?”


Entitlement and the American way of life

October 2nd, 2010 No comments

I don’t post too much on other issues but sometimes the overlap between my usual topic and others is instructive.  My usual topic generates from a fundamental bewilderment at the extent to which our notions of what constitutes necessary consumption seem to have degraded our ability to exercise our very humanity in relation to non-human animals.  Learning about the ways in which our basic concrete need for food has been completely subsumed into a dispersion of other abstractions, the way in which food is more the thing signified (class, ethnic, and gender identifier, emotional pacifier, etc.) than the thing itself (mere nutrition), has opened my eyes to the other areas in which we seem to prefer to deal with the symbolic over the real.

We’re  dealing with war and oil in the same ways in which we deal with animals.  We don’t have a framework to deal with the new specifics, the new realities so we just don’t … as if what we don’t want to see won’t hurt us.  We don’t have a framework for parsing knowledge about the extent to which they (other animals, or other people if they stand between us and getting what we think we’re entitled to)  are sentient, self-aware, conscious beings into behavior change so we try mightily to deny that they are and clutch ever more tightly to the fiction of our own uniqueness in those respects.  Similarly, we deny that our lust for cheap meat is coming at a price we don’t want to pay ethically and environmentally.  We’re entitled to it after all.  It reminds me in a way of the story about Israelites longing for meat and being destroyed by their own desire.  Kibroth-hattaavah means “graves of longing.”

“If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—” (Num 11:18–20 NRSV) … But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD struck the people with a very great plague. So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving.” (Num 11:32–34 NRSV)

We seem to be at a place where we prefer seeing through the glass dimly for fear clarity will come with a call.  It’s as if the positive aspiration of freedom to choose how we meet our needs has morphed into the negative notion of freedom from having to choose at all, and isn’t that the essence of entitlement?

In that light I share these words from an interview with Andrew Bacevich

Guernica: Throughout this interview you’ve suggested America scale back its global presence and its policy of interventionism. But that seems increasingly unlikely in light of our dependence on foreign oil. We’ve passed peak oil and it seems likely that many future wars will be fought over it.

Andrew Bacevich: This gets to the heart of the dilemma. What we call the American way of life is premised on expectations of a very high level of personal mobility, which presumes the availability of large amounts of very cheap energy. Given the way the economy has evolved over the last eighty or one hundred years, to cut to the chase, American freedom as we understand it requires lots of cheap oil. Therefore, in order for us to make a serious effort to wean ourselves from this ever-growing dependency would require us rethinking American freedom—revising the American way of life. Were we flexible in that regard, then options to significantly reorient our energy policy would become available. But there is very little evidence that we are willing to bend. The Jimmy Carter malaise speech of 1979 that I wrote about in my previous book continues to be a very telling episode. Carter was courageously and farsightedly trying to get Americans to recognize that there was something very insidious about this dependence on foreign oil. He connected it to our understanding of freedom and he challenged us to re-think freedom. We rejected that council and opted instead to listen to Ronald Reagan who said we could have everything we want forever. We are living with the consequences. And Carter’s abject failure to get Americans to acknowledge the negative consequences of the American way of life scared the bejesus out of the entire political class so nobody is willing to talk about sacrifice; nobody is willing to talk about American culture as part of the problem— but it is part of the problem. It is that fact which emphasizes the extent to which there really are no easy solutions. We are our own worst enemy.

Guernica: When you say ‘revising the American way of life,’ what do you mean—a simpler life?

Andrew Bacevich: To define freedom in a way that is not as intimately connected with conspicuous consumption and individual autonomy. And yes, that probably means in a material sense to be willing to live with less. Try to have that be your campaign slogan and run for the presidency: ‘Vote for me and I will help you live with less.’ [Laughter]

Moses had that problem too.

Books: Theology on the Menu

October 1st, 2010 No comments

I’m reading Theology on the Menu: Asceticism, Meat and Christian Diet.  I’ve just gotten through the first section on early Christian asceticism and so far it looks pretty good.

This is my first experience with e-book format (Kindle for Mac) and one of the things I notice is that I don’t have page numbers to give with the quotes below.  Odd.  Apologies for that.

In situating early monastic asceticism and the associated hagiography the authors make these positive points in particular:

1)  They compare the difference between the Christian and Greek ascetics by how each type of specialized community related to the population at large and by the nature of their asceticism.  They characterize the Christian ascetics as remaining engaged with the greater community and having stricter dietary regimes.

The authors conclude that “the ultimate hope of the hagiographers  was that the desert would spread into the city as fascinated readers themselves voluntarily adopted these practices.” (Given what the modern reader can see in some of these texts about the differential presentations of gender and ideals of what we would call “physical health,” I’d have to raise an eyebrow at the notion of “fascinated readers voluntarily adopting these practices.” Then again, some contemporary representations of the idealized female body can be shocking on the same terms … emaciated, prized for an explicit lack of femininity.)

2) They rightly point out the extent to which “modern accounts of early Christian asceticism frequently fail to acknowledge its origins in political theology and biblical theology” and place undue focus on the sexual aspects of their practices.  This results in an understanding of those practices that view dietary abstinence as “little more than pathological denial of desires that are fundamental to human flourishing.”  The anchorites did connect food with lust, and this wasn’t unique to them, but then that in turn was connected with the larger conception of how the individual relates to the community.  Lust “implicates the individual in social networks of consumption that would impede spiritual contemplation … [by way of] the social ties it would be likely to bring.”

Further, they note that rather than interpreting monastic life through the modern lens of sexuality, the “prominence and quantity of detail about the paucity of foods eaten suggests, instead, that the bodily temptation uppermost in the minds of many desert fathers was not lust but gluttony.”   By the very nature of the anchoritic communities, these concerns are rooted firmly in larger social and economic contexts.

Finally, from the conclusion of chapter 1,

In accounts of early monastic practices, meat abstinence transforms the whole natural order, reconfiguring the relationships existing between humans and animals, and among animals themselves.  Nonetheless, in seeking to understand the importance of this tradition for theological reflection on food, excessive focus on the status of animals detracts from more significant issues.  These include the ancient tradition of Christian reflection on the meanings of food, in which biological and social considerations are interrelated and both are understood theologically.  The physical body of the ascetic and the social body of the monastery become sites of blessing for a wider community.  Food practices, especially abstention from meat, both enact and convey this shared blessing.