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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

Interacting with “The Vegetarian Myth” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

September 22nd, 2010 No comments

The Vegetarian Myth –

->  A general review by Ginny Messina, RD, whose husband Keith misquotes in her book …

“On page 227, she notes that “Mark Messina, a champion of soy, thinks the Japanese eat 8.6 [grams of soyfoods] per day,” or less than a tablespoon. Really? Well, I happen to be married to Mark Messina, so I have a fairly good idea of what he “thinks” about soy intake. But even if I didn’t know him, I could read his 2006 analysis of soy intake data that was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nutrition and Cancer. Apparently, Keith didn’t or she would have seen that Asian soy intake is the equivalent of 1 to 1 ½ servings or more per day. Why did she get this so wrong? It’s because she doesn’t understand that there is a difference between soy protein intake and soy food intake. A cup of soymilk contains around 7 grams of soy protein, so the 8.6 to 11 grams of protein that the Japanese typically eat is equal to at least a serving per day.”

-> Or, check out The Vegetarian Myth Myth.  It’s a blog whose singular focus is “deconstructing [Keith’s] book by chapters and themes, in order to give some perspective, as well as offer what we consider some vitally important alternatives to Keith’s ideas.”  A debunking of the debunking, if you will.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma –

-> Over at  Say what, Michael Pollan?, Adam Merberg writes a blog designed “to encourage Pollan to check facts and think through arguments more carefully.”  Again, a single issue blog.

-> B.R. Myers writes an early review of Pollan’s book in this article, Hard to Swallow – The gourmet’s ongoing failure to think in moral terms. I think this paragraph can just as easily be used to respond to all the Paleo-Diet, “man” the cave-dwelling hunter type arguments … which all baffle me in this same way.  It shouldn’t take long to recognize the problem with relying on “we used to do it” reasoning.

“One might as well describe man the way the anthropologist Ernest Becker did, as a digestive tract with teeth at one end and an anus at the other, and claim that the soul is shaped out of that. In which case, I don’t want one. But most of us use soul to mean the part of humanness that is not shaped out of that. In contrast to the fearless Becker, Pollan thinks that taking a hard look at human nature is more a matter of leaning over the museum rail at the caveman exhibit. Seeing only the painted mammoth on the horizon, so to speak, he derives the rightness of meat eating from the fact that humans are physically suited to it, they enjoy it, and they have engaged in it until modern times without feeling much “ethical heartburn.” (Only a food writer would use such an appalling phrase.) According to Pollan, this “reality” demands our respect. The same reasoning could be used to defend our mistreatment of children: In body and instinct, we are marvelously well-equipped for making their lives hell. If many cultures now object to abusing them, it is thanks to new values, to people who refused to respect the time-honored “reality.”

Feminism, vegetarianism, and cultural imperialism, cont.

September 20th, 2010 No comments

I’ll be summarizing Cathryn Bailey’s observations about foodways and racial identity in a subsequent post.  For now though, consider her response to Kathryn George’s feminist anti-vegetarian arguments …

One of the problems with George’s argument in Animal, Vegetable, or Woman? and in a 1994 article that received much criticism, is that many, if not all, of the reasons she cites for why vegetarianism may be out of reach for many poor women is precisely a result of the patriarchal system that devalues women and animals in the first place. It is not a randomly produced feature of the world that women and children make up the greatest poverty class or that the health of women and children is especially precarious. Nor is it an accident that “animal protein” in the form of cheap lunchmeat or fast food is often more readily available than vegetables in the United States. From the point of view of feminist ethical vegetarianism, these conditions result from the very racism, sexism, classism, and anthropocentrism that is being challenged. As Greta Gaard and lori Gruen have pointed out, “What she [George] ignores is the well-known fact that, around the world, it is the men and boys who eat the first and most foods, while the girls and women eat last and least” (1996, 236).

Not incidentally, George’s suggestion that feminist vegetarianism is classist and ethnocentric ignores the fact that “most non-Western diets are largely vegetarian (perhaps by virtue of necessity): consider Chinese, Indian, and African traditional cuisines. If anything, it is meat-eating that is a Western norm that ‘development’ has imposed upon non-Western nations” (Donovan 1995, 227). Ironically, George’s position erases the number of poor women who are vegetarians by ethical choice, revealing the hidden privileged perspective that serves the edifice of her argument.

Cathryn Bailey,  “We Are What We Eat: Feminist Vegetarianism and the Reproduction of Racial Identity,”  Hypatia 22, 2 (2007): 51-52.

On “Eating Animals”, book

November 1st, 2009 No comments

Mainstream coverage in advance of Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book Eating Animals, officially out tomorrow.

CNN,  WSJ online,  NPR

and an earlier longer excerpt from the NYT

Of course daring to make this argument will get played as a trendy, new, UnChristian thing.  Of course it is anything but. Ferrier (1903)  on Tertullian (circa 200):

Tertullian, the most learned of all the Latin theologians, was bold enough to proclaim his convictions. The second century in which he lived needed it. It is not to be wondered at that the orthodox party of his time separated from him. His trenchant words which have come down to us are required by this Age also. The customs of the western Christian Churches have been a blot on the teaching of the Master and the Fathers. Westernised Christianity, in seeking to conquer the east, has too often only materialised the faith. And the failure of missionaries to win over the cultured of the east is through our gross western habits in living. For the man whose religion teaches him to hold all life sacred, is not [13] likely to be converted to a faith that deems no life sacred but man’s.

These things Tertullian taught—that flesh-eating was not conducive to the highest life, that it violated the written and unwritten moral law, that it debased man in intellect and heart, and that it closed the doors of the Inner Temple of his Intuition.  Ferrier continues, “It is quite evident Tertullian had the same arguments to meet from the lovers of flesh-meats as we have to-day. And the fact that they tried to place Christ amongst the flesh-eaters and wine-bibbers in order to find an excuse for gratifying their own low tastes.…Thus [Tertullian] reproaches those who defended gross living, comparing them to Esau, the merely animal man; and that like him too they would even sell their birth-right for a mess of pottage, sacrificing their souls for the life of flesh. And then we have [Tertullian’s] scathing indictment—”Your belly is your God, your liver is your temple, your paunch is your altar, the cook is your priest.…It is in the cooking pots that your love is inflamed—it is in the kitchen that your faith grows fervid—it is in the flesh dishes that all your hope lies hid.…Who is held in so much esteem with you as the frequent giver of dinners, as the sumptuous entertainer ?…Consistently do you men of flesh reject the things of the Spirit. But if your prophets are complacent toward such persons, they are not my prophets.”

For a contextual treatment of food and the belly in Paul consider this.

Darwin, Jesus, Nietzsche, and the Pope

August 1st, 2009 No comments

What does not kill me makes me stronger.  ~ Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power is growing, that resistance is overcome.  ~ Nietzsche, The Antichrist

Nietzsche.   I can’t believe it took me so long to put my finger on what’s been bugging me but that’s it.   As someone who came to church with evolution already installed, I’m particularly interested in how Darwin and evolution get discussed in that context.  Before I go any further let me admit that I’m open to being totally wrong, I’m open to the fact that Genesis absolutely can be read in a way that precludes the evolutionary process completely.   I also admit that pre-Fall animal pain and suffering is a problem for theists.   On the other hand, post-Fall animal pain and suffering is also a problem for theists who bother to examine it closely.   When addressed fully, that’s a huge topic that I’m not yet comfortable tackling here.  This post, then, is about one aspect of the church meets evolution relationship, and basically it comes down to telos, or ultimate aim. Read more…

Books: Why Animal Suffering Matters

July 16th, 2009 No comments

I’ve just finished reading Andrew Linzey‘s latest book “Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics”.

General impressions first.  Christians who believe “the earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it” (Psa. 24) will wrestle with how to rightly represent Him as image bearers; how, as new creations in Christ, we reflect Christ’s lordship over us in our lordship over that which we’ve been given dominion.  Thinking Christians will want reasoned arguments and will find them here.   If you’re a Christian and you are new to the topic theologically, if you’re reading this and thinking something like, “God put them here for our use”, then I’d start with any of the books on the Resources page.  If you want to investigate the philosophical and ethical standpoints too then this book will serve you well.

I am particularly grateful for the format of the book.  Rational arguments laid out in clear style.  Counter-points addressed at every turn.  Not since Matthew Scully’s Dominion have I felt like such a reasoned and precise case has been made for the serious, thoughtful consideration of animals and against the positions of the powers allied against them.  Linzey’s latest book furthers that project and condenses the case.  He notes in the introduction that the text is aimed at students in high school and undergraduate classes that consider such topics as animal welfare, animal rights, human-animal studies, animal ethics, animals and philosophy, animals an religion, animal law, and even animal theology at the university level (6).   It’s laid out like a textbook with summary points at the end of the sections and generous notes for digging deeper.  For anyone interested in these topics at this level it is an easy and satisfying read.  You know what to do.

I especially enjoyed the way in which the author lays out six of the most common arguments against the moral relevancy of animal suffering and shows that these arguments actually imply precisely the opposite conclusion; they make a stronger case for the moral relevance of animal suffering rather than weaker.  (40-42)

The six most common premises and basics (my own interpretation unless otherwise noted) of the alternative stance:

1) animals are naturally slaves (via Aristotle and Aquinas) … since when does power provide its own self-justification, especially for Christians?  might makes right?  that’s  Nietzsche not Jesus.

2) animals are non-rational beings … this only matters if lack of rationality can be proven to decrease suffering, and it is completely plausible that non-comprehension of pain and anxiety and stress and the situations that cause them lead to increased suffering in animals, as well as humans.  take babies for example … they don’t yet understand what’s causing their pains and fears, do they therefore suffer less or more than an adult who can?  the first step to managing your stress, anxiety, and pain is understanding what’s causing it … if animals don’t have that they’re short  the most important tool we use to lessen our own suffering.

3) animals are linguistically deficient … so what?  pain occurs at a pre-verbal level in humans … if I put a hot iron to your face you don’t experience that moment in language, you just experience pain and horror … even if they don’t have semantics like we do that doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer in their own ways.  how about this study that shows one way in which we use language to lessen the experience of pain.  if we use it to lessen pain and animals don’t have that ability then what?

4) animals are not moral agents … that is the most twisted argument that I ever see being made … we are moral agents and it isn’t about the victim it’s about us and how we behave, surely our morality isn’t limited to those beings who can be expected to reciprocate?  That seems a lot like the notion of do ut des … giving to get ... that whole notion strikes me as selfish (cf. Luke 12-13, not to mention the ways God gives to us and yet we can’t really “give” anything in return)  If we are the morally superior beings we claim to be then it would seem that we should act towards lesser creatures (whether we consider them to be of ‘our own family/tribe/race/kind’ or not) from that morality, as Christ did and does for us,  … to suspend it is to deny the principle we begin with.

5) animals are soulless … (if you assume this to be true, scholars differ) “beings that will not be recompensed in another world for their suffering in this one logically deserve more, not less, moral solicitude”.  See also:

But the Torah does more than acknowledge physical life, briefly describing also its inception. As a result of God’s creative activity, both animals and people are “living creatures.” In this sense, all of animate nature is on similar standing. While most translations imply that Gen 2:7 is in some way different from 1:20, 24, the Heb. is the same in each instance (chayya nephesh). What separates human beings from the animal world is not that they are living souls rather than living creatures, but that they have been created “in the image of God.” ~New International Dictionary Of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, “chayya”

6) animals are devoid of the divine image … “if a Christological understanding of power is engaged, human power over animals means responsibility, even service”.   So it seems a good bit rests on agreeing to what “image of God” means.  Linzey addresses this specifically as well elsewhere in this book.