Posts Tagged ‘predation’

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?”


Happy Meat and Religious Sacrifice

June 11th, 2010 No comments

There really is nothing new under the sun especially when you look at today’s rituals of animal slaughter with the critical literature on religious blood sacrifice.  In my cultural time and place we think of “animal sacrifice” as something spooky and violent that other people do.  We ‘other’ it either by geographic location, cultural location, or temporally with some designation of “primitive”.   We also distance ourselves from it, mystify it, simply by labeling it “religious sacrifice” or conversely in the secular sense, by hiding it away out of sight.  So for the sake of conversation, let me put it in the most simplistic terms possible.  Blood sacrifice involves one individual or group killing a victim (human or animal) in order to receive some expected benefit from its death, a benefit that putatively can’t be obtained otherwise (favor of the gods, i.e. communal cohesion, agricultural success etc., communication from the gods, i.e  divination-reading entrails etc., “spiritual energy”, the ‘power’ contained in the victim, etc.)  That’s it.  That’s the brute fact that unites the backyard bbq, the temple cult of ancient Israel, the Aztecs, etc.   At this most basic level there’s nothing spooky, mystical, religious, or even really interesting about it.  It’s calculated and mechanistic, this for that.  It’s predatory.

The level that is interesting to me is the cultural narrative.  Though the act remains the same, it’s the narrative, the cultural packaging, the language describing the logic (what the benefit is and how it is supposedly being obtained by the killers) that changes.  What does this have to do with Happy Meat and Conscientious Carnism?  And aren’t I just being polemical constantly referring to “meat consumption” with the language of religious sacrifice?   (if you’re really, really interested in this perspective see The Cuisine of Sacrifice Among the Greeks.) Well, no, I don’t think I am.  Much of blood sacrifice is alimentary in nature, having roots in some notion of literally feeding (propitiating) the heavenly gods – if you don’t keep them properly fed they get really grouchy and things get screwgy.  made in the image of God.

<tangent> That’s the thing about the Genesis story.   Unlike the creation myths of the surrounding cultures, it was a peaceful creation, at least the first story is.  I think the second story would count as peaceful too, in the sense that there wasn’t any battle.   At any rate, creation in Genesis didn’t come into being by way of thievery, angst, mischief, or some cosmic cage match.  If we were created in the image of that god then that means something very special as far as creation stories go.  I hate to see it treated as the lay person version of ‘justamyth’.  It may be a myth in the technical literary sense but creation myths are the most important foundations of culture.   Language goes a long way toward creating and maintaining our perception of reality, our grounding if you will.  God spoke the world into being.  I don’t think you can say, “just a myth”, and understand the work true myths actually do.  I also hate to see the extent to which, in some versions of Christianity, the cosmic cage match or the idea of violent creation has been put back into the story, substituted for the real one .  By that I mean the way in which some Christians see the cross as the beginning of their world as if that was the beginning of the world … if the cross is seen as the necessary holy violence in which the Christian creation myth is grounded, rather than as a critique of it, then you’ve totally undermined the whole thing.  That may be some sort of Christian creation myth but in my opinion, it’s given up any claim to relationship with the story in the beginning of the book.</tangent>

Anyway, when you blow away the smoke of both religious and secular obfuscation it looks pretty much the same; slaughter is as slaughter does.  Here’s one example.  Think of the narrative around more ‘humane’ food animal husbandry.  Food animals of course are sacred, sacrificial. They’re set apart to be used by and killed for others.  We think their death gives us life. Better yet we think their death is necessary for our life.  Anyway.  In reaction to the utter inhumanity of factory farming, the new marketing focus is on how caring the farmers are, how they have respect for their animals.  The caring farmer treats his animals more like ‘family’ compared to the animals in the care of those other farmers who end up on those horrible expose videos.  The “conscientious carnivore” gets to know the animals they pay others to kill for them, or at least wants to know the farmer knew his animals.  Some go so far as insisting on doing the killing themselves.  Often times this getting close to the animal before you kill it will be described in positively nostalgic, even romantic terms.

That’s so religious.

Compare it with the following description of a religious ritual of the “primitive” Ainu people of Japan:

The Ainu celebrate a bear feast; a very young bear is captured, suckled and carefully reared by a woman, pampered and spoilt for several years and finally killed; in the slaying the whole community participates, at least symbolically; it is then sincerely mourned, and consumed ceremonially in a communal meal.  It is the animal of the community; and this follows from the fact that it can be a sacrificial animal only if it has grown up in the tribe, so that a wild bear would be useless for the purpose; it is as it were the child of the woman who brought it up, and who laments it.

~ excepted from G. van der Leeuw,  Religion in Essence and Manifestation in Understanding Religious Sacrifice: a Reader, 157.

They care for it.  They nurture it.  They literally bring it into their metaphorical circle or tribe or family. It’s domesticated.  It’s one of them. They kill it.  They mourn it.  They consume it.  It’s sacred.  And they either do it or reenact it according to some need or schedule.  Killing for selfish gain and wrapping the whole process in the blanket of nurturing and caring and relationship. That’s the shared meta-narrative of happy meat and of much “primitive” ritual killing / religious blood sacrifice.  Truly, they pity and eat the object of their compassion.

(Now, I get the extent to which this process is metaphorized, spiritualized in Christianity.  But the fact that the ritual killing of human “animals” (conversion) is spiritualized doesn’t change the fact that real animals, sentient and morally innocent creatures, are still being actually, literally scapegoated and sacrificed today.)

Once you get out of it, once you see the extent to which the veil of “tragic necessity” really is just a veil (it’s tragic, but not a necessity) it all seems so … bizarre.   Let me clarify that … the killing of real animals is, for most people, nothing like a necessity.  The metaphorized killing of the human animal, more so than ever.  If only we could see the extent to which our behavior toward other real, literal creatures makes us worse than those real animals by an almost unimaginable degree.  Unimaginable, that is until you actually see it, literally and spiritually.  Seeing it – now that’s an Apocalypse.  Maybe that’s why we work so hard to keep it both literally and linguistically hidden.

Real Men and Diet

April 1st, 2010 No comments

Based on a sexist stereotype, I know.  I had a hard time not putting quotes around the phrase in the title.  But still, the stereotype of manhood somehow being based on or qualified by flesh eating is a live one with a long history in stockbreeding cultures.  That’s a book in itself.  But for now, some glimpses into the world of men who are not part of the the man=meat equation.   Yes I know this is dumb but it is, sadly, necessary.

the vegetarian athlete

Well, now I’m 6′ 6″ tall and weigh 200 pounds – all while maintaining my vegetarian diet and playing ball in college.  I was  also one of the strongest guys on my team. Basically, I’m livng proof that you can be athletic and build muscle – without eating animals.

trend piece on men and veganism

To stay competitive during rugby games, athlete and writer Jay Atkinson of Methuen substituted soy cheese for the real deal last summer and cut out turkey sandwiches. “I needed to extend my career by staying lean,’’ says Atkinson, 52. He was already eating well before he turned to veganism. Commuting to Boston to teach magazine writing at Boston University or slapping on skates to whiz across a frozen pond, he needs as much fuel as he can get. The vegan diet delivers.

Austin firefighters and the Engine 2 diet …

Professional athlete-turned-firefighter Rip Esselstyn is used to responding to emergencies. So, when he learned that some of his fellow Engine 2 firefighters in Austin, TX, were in dire physical condition-several had dangerously high cholesterol levels (the highest was 344!)- he sprang into action and created a life-saving plan for the firehouse.

professional hockey player

…  I also continue my free public viewings of the movie Earthlings and want to thank everyone who has purchased the documentary through my website. Buy it and pass it along, it will make a difference. I also want to thank all the people who came to the Anti Seal Hunt Protest on March 13. There were more than a hundred people. That was awesome ‘cause people are seeing a change. The movement is growing and that’s how you make a difference; that’s how you force the government to make changes because, at the end of the day, they need us. They need our votes and the more people that can unite against animal cruelty, the more of a change we will see. At the end of the day, all activists just want to achieve three goals, in a peaceful matter: we want to spread compassion towards all animals; improve your own health and our environment!!!

vegan bodybuilders

Vegan Bodybuilding is one of the best things you can do for your body, your mind, and the environment.

aggressive strength and extreme fighting

For the record, I cut dairy completely out of my diet in 1999 (over 5 years before I ever committed to a full-Vegan diet)… This was due to an allergy that I developed in my adolescent years to dairy that effected my sinuses and everything connecting to them. For a good part of my teenage years, I suffered from severe ear infections and chronic Vertigo (which is completely miserable). It took me a few years of to finally realize that the antibiotics were only temporarily subduing a much bigger problem. I did my research and finally found the source. A lot of people don’t realize how hard milk, whey, and other dairy products are on the sinuses and respiratory system, and the dairy industry would like you to believe that you need milk to get calcium. That notion is as oxymoronic as you can get.

I have to include Howard Lyman here.  “Plain truth from the cattle rancher who won’t eat meat.” …

The question we must ask ourselves as a culture is whether we want to embrace the change that must come, or resist it. Are we so attached to the dietary fallacies with which we were raised, so afraid to counter the arbitrary laws of eating taught to us in childhood by our misinformed parents, that we cannot alter the course they set us on, even if it leads to our own ruin? Does the prospect of standing apart or encountering ridicule scare us even from saving ourselves?

As a bit of a post-script … a vegan dietitian suggests vegan nutrition websites.

I’ve been writing in my examiner column about some things to watch for when evaluating vegan nutrition resources. Today I listed my favorite websites for finding reliable information on vegan diet and, for those who don’t read the Seattle Vegan Examiner, I want to reprint them here.

How to Kill and the Denigration of Difference

November 17th, 2009 No comments

Richard Beck, in a series on Christians and Torture, recently posted some thoughts about the cognitive conditions necessary for or at least correlated with killing and or torturing other human beings.  In it, he noted that “Violence requires dehumanization.”   I agree completely.  However, I suggest that with a broader focus we begin to see that there is a larger mechanism at work and that mechanism can be seen to control not only our violent behavior towards other humans but our behavior towards other species as well.  “It is not difference per se, but rather the denigration of difference” is the significant point that Andrew Linzey makes at the beginning of this article, ‘The Powers That Be’: Mechanisms that Prevent us Recognising Animal Sentience“.  Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

Read more…

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…

Mimesis and Stepford Theology

July 26th, 2009 No comments

“Real Men” vs. Jesus?  an examination in 3 acts.

Act 1.  Gender construction via beef jerky.

Act 2.  Metaphor therapy and confusing gender roles with “issues of agentic psychology”.

Act 3.  This last one will cost you an hour and a half, but it’s worth it.  Granted, at a few points I find myself rolling my eyes, as if there isn’t already a “new” standard bearer for what healthy ‘real manhood’ looks like. (His name is Jesus, do you know him?  (HT: hp :->)  Strength of character first, all the rest is just window dressing.   My favorite part begins at 10:15, he shows examples of the hiddenness of dominant power structures. Second favorite section begins around 15:00-20:08, cultural representations of gendered bodies and guns.

Is masculinity something that can only be constructed over and against the feminine? Where does the idea of mutual exclusivity come from?   Jesus embodied both male and female characteristics.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37 NRSVS)
“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42 NRSVS)

Evolution, Design, Killing, and Christianity

June 12th, 2009 No comments

My pastor recently did a multi-week series on the topic of the interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1.  His purpose was not to tell us how we should think but only to show that there are different faithful interpretations; broadly speaking they are metaphorical, 6 literal 24 hr. days, and something called the day age interpretation.  Shortly thereafter we had a guest speaker, the author of the book “Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Inspires Faith“.   Again, none of this was in order to standardize belief for our congregation but to allow room for discussion on a topic that is usually polarizing to the point of paralysis.

All supremely good and brave stuff.

Here’s my take.  My educational background is equal parts anthropology and psychology.  I’m all about evolution.  That’s not a problem.  My problem is highlighted by two of the comments/questions that were posed during the question and answer time after the author spoke.  They were something along these lines:

  1. “I heard that cooking meat is what made us have bigger brains and that’s essentially what made us the humans we are today.”  – maybe not the exact words but something about eating cooked meat makes us human.
  2. “We’re different from animals because animals don’t fear death, they will lay down and bare their throats to the blade.”  – that one’s more close to the actual wording, it was so disturbing it’s easier to remember.

Read more…

Let life be life

March 11th, 2009 No comments

If science sets is sights on the acquisition of power, then scientific knowledge is dominating knowledge.   We know something to the extent in which we can dominate it.  We understand something if we can ‘grasp’ it.  Through scientific terms we define, and through definitions we pin things down and make objects identifiable. 

But belief in creation only arrives at the understanding of creation when it recollects the alternative forms of meditative knowledge.  ‘We know to the extent to which we love’, said Augustine.  Through this form of astonished, wondering and loving knowledge, we do not appropriate things.  We recognize their independence and participate in their life.  We do not wish to know so that we can dominate.  We desire to know in order to participate.  This kind of knowledge confers community, and can be termed communicative knowledge, as compared with dominating knowledge.  It lets life be life and cherishes it livingness.  Christian theology must remember this, its own wisdom …

Jurgen Moltmann, God in Creation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 32.


This was a picture on a hunting website.  I couldn’t have made this up.  The truth is always stranger than fiction.  And much much sadder.

ugly duckling

Sexuality and Meat, part 2

February 1st, 2009 No comments

There are two magazine covers I’d like to describe.  If you want to see them you can do a Google Image search for them here.  The first is a Hustler magazine cover from June 1978.  The photo is like a still life, except instead of fruit and flowers its of a manual meat grinder with the bottom half of a woman’s torso and glistening legs sticking out of the feed chute, she went in head-first.   There’s fresh ground flesh still clinging to the grinder plate and a white paper plate to the left collecting the mass of lifeless surrender.  There’s a stamp to the right with these words:  *LAST ALL MEAT ISSUE* PRIME*GRADE “A” PINK.  Really, it doesn’t get any clearer than that.  Ok, never mind … here it is:


The second image is from the January 1996 issue of a publication titled MUSCLEMAG.  There’s a Mr. Olympia physique looking man coming out of the water with a limp woman thrown over his right shoulder, all you see of her are her legs up to her butt.  His left hand is forward, crossing his body, and holding a bang stick (like an underwater rifle).  Just in terms of how that physical space works out (body language, or think of it as building that same image on a computer with individual components in layers) it’s rifle and limp body in the foreground,  muscle man in the background.  Again … here it is.


While we’re on the subject browse through a couple of hunting websites or magazines and you’ll notice a trend.  The “look at what I bagged” images will often feature the man kneeling behind the body of his prey.  But it’s not just the bloodied lifeless body of the deer anymore laid out cold on the earth, it’s been posed to look like it’s just resting quietly, all signs of struggle or resistance erased.  Some examples here.

These images don’t need much exposition for what they say about a particular view of manhood.  But when we stop at the fact that women shouldn’t be viewed as meat we’re stopping short of the real issue.  Where does the idea that women are like meat come from in the first place? This is important so let me repeat that … why do we have the problem of men thinking about women as meat at all?

From the chapter titled “The Things That Are”, in Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, by Matthew Scully, p 24-25.

C.S. Lewis thought animal pain a serious enough topic to give it a whole chapter in The Problem of Pain, noting the “appearance of reckless divine cruelty” since no animal, in any moral sense, can either deserve its suffering or be improved by it.”

It is likewise true that when we look out upon the natural world, “mercy” is hardly the first word that comes to mind.  Most animals in their natural state are born precariously, live in perpetual danger, and often die in horrible ways.  One recoils from the sight of human cruelties, but then again one recoils from many sights in the wild, the world of parasites and disease and death ….  “Death by violence,” as Theodore Roosevelt observed in his safari diary, “death by cold, death by starvation – these are the normal endings of the stately and beautiful creatures of the wilderness.  The sentimentalists who prattle about the peaceful life of nature do not realize its utter mercilessness.”

The problem with this outlook is that it obscures our own singular capacity to make choices, for good or evil.  It doesn’t refute the demands of mercy, it renounces them, choosing instead violence and conquest and self-aggrandizement, like Roosevelt himself composing those very words during a lull in a full year of his life devoted only to killing.  It sees in nature’s violence an invitation to compound nature’s violence.  It is the outlook of men who can see terror and cruelty and malignancy everywhere – everywhere except in their own hearts.

… At times the whole debate over animal welfare strikes me as a clash not between reasoned arguments but between rival mythologies: animals as Victims, oppressed by Man, versus man the Conqueror, guided by God.  Human beings tend to be sentimental about animals one way or another, if not in the delight and wonder of seeing them alive then in the ignoble rituals accompanying their torment and death.  If it is a choice of myths, I’ll take man as the Creature of Compassion. It is better to be sentimental about life.

Amen.   It’s also worth pointing out that the idea that all nature is about ‘death by fang and claw’ simply ignores that part of the natural world that exists in harmony.  All animals aren’t predators. What does it say about us if we choose to model only the part that is predatory (in a fallen creation no less)?  If we took the bodily resurrection of Christ seriously, if we really believed it, better yet if we really believed in the possibility of our own, would we still be the same desperate savages living in a “kill or be killed” world?  Or would we be free to live up to the unique potential of our humanity which is, at its core, the ability to not become the animal we fear we are?

2 Cor. 5:17  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old things have passed away.  Behold all things have become new.

Soulful Savages

October 20th, 2008 No comments

Today I’d like to work through something that comes up a lot when I try to talk to my church friends about the concept of ethical vegetarianism.  I usually hear something about how Jesus fed fish to the masses and God killed an animal to clothe Adam and Eve in leather.   I guess the implication is that if you read these passages this way it’s somehow justification for the idea that God doesn’t care about animals, he kills them so we can … etc. the logic of which I disagreed with in the Slippery Fish post.  So, onto the miracles …

Jesus turned water into wine.  That was a miracle – he isn’t bound by the usual laws of time and matter.

Jesus multiplied bread to feed thousands.  That was a miracle – he isn’t bound by the usual laws of time and matter.

Jesus multiplied fish to feed thousands.  That was a miracle – he isn’t bound by the usual laws of time and matter.

So how then do the feeding/multiplication miracles have anything to do with whether or not we have a moral obligation to not cause suffering to sentient beings when we have the ability to do otherwise?   Did Jesus have to go through the usual processes to make wine?  Not that we know of.  Poof, it’s wine.  Did Jesus have to go through the usual processes to feed fish to thousands … no, poof there’s enough for everybody.  Even taking a literal reading of this miracle story, I don’t see how this supports a  rejection of the argument for ethical vegetarianism today.  At its most literal … Jesus multiplied dead fish … he personally didn’t do any killing in this story.  At another level it’s about him actually being concerned with (literally) hungry  people. If we’re concerned about feeding hungry people in the world we should know that given a limited amount of agricultural land we can feed more people with plants than we can with flesh.  At another level it’s a spiritual metaphor which isn’t about literal food but spiritual nourishment.  (Which brings up another point that I’ll talk about in a separate post … that when you mix the imagery of physical and spiritual nourishment … you still get more support for a less violent trajectory through Jesus.  Wow that’s pretty bad wording, huh.)

The other example of this kind of thinking comes up with Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the garden. Even if you take this to mean literal skins, as in animal skins, like leather … how is it that the Creator God who just got finished speaking the universe into existence is somehow not given credit for being able to “clothe them in skins” without going through the usual processes of killing an animal?  He created the entire universe with a word but he can’t create an outfit without slaughtering an animal?  If anything this looks to me like a commentary on our natures outside of our intended relationship with God.  In my opinion the writer is describing God giving us over to our lesser natures, describing us becoming like animals.   You don’t even have to read it as implying we weren’t corporeal before that. The point to me is that when we exist outside of what God wants for us we are clothed in our animal nature.

The point though isn’t about how I interpret this passage.  The point is that the passage itself doesn’t go any further than it does and is therefore open to interpretation. The passage simply does not say that God killed the first animal. Proponents of penal substitution interpret it this way because it fits with the idea that “something has to die” and God was the one who started / institutionalized animal killing for us.  I think much theological discourse has been approached from a position of assuming the right and/or necessity of killing animals and that has lead to concepts like penal substitution.  Once you get out of that paradigm, out from under the idea that killing animals is a necessity, then scripture looks very different, start to finish.