?

Log in

No account? Create an account
The Omnivore's Dillema or, How Do You Spell "Hypocrisy"? - The Annals of Young Geoffrey: Hope brings a turtle [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Young Geoffrey

[ Website | Edifice Rex Online ]
[ Info | livejournal userinfo ]
[ Archive | journal archive ]

Links
[Links:| EdificeRex Online ]

The Omnivore's Dillema or, How Do You Spell "Hypocrisy"? [Jan. 18th, 2007|08:17 pm]
Young Geoffrey
As I think I've mentioned before, I've dropped about 30 pounds in the past six months. The process began as the silver lining to the cloud of misery that was my break-up with Laura - for once, sadness and rage led me to eat less instead of more.

When I realized what was going on, though, I started paying attention to my diet. More to the point, with how much I was eating, not what I was eating, since I have always eaten well. Living on Kraft Dinner and potato chips has never been my style.

That said, the quality of my diet has changed in a couple of significant ways since I stopped cooking for two. On the one hand, I've been eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, along with such things as granola, nuts and cheese, while on the other, I have been eating much less meat, largely because - used to cooking for two people - what I would cook would far too often go bad in the fridge.

I have by no means become a vegetarian (let alone a vegan), but having now often gone days in a row without the flesh of an animal passing through my gullet, I have come to the gut-level realization that vegetarianism is not an impossibility for me.

A couple of weeks ago, fadefromnothing posted an impassioned rant about the evils of carnivorism. From a strictly pragmatic point-of-view, I thought her piece was poor propaganda - too easy to dismiss it as "emotional" (that the argument, that basing a belief on one's feelings is "irrational" is bogus is an argument for another time) - but I had a hard time rebutting the rational arguments that underlay her feelings. In fact, I found it impossible to do so.

I don't care how good murder tastes. It is archaic, brutal, unecessary, and unethical. By supporting the industry, you are supporting the unecessary torture and death of innocent beings...STOP LYING TO YOURSELF. STOP KILLING PEOPLE AND ANIMALS. (fadefromnothing)

Getting away from the anger underlying that post, I find three basic points to Sidra's argument:

  • (Other) animals are thinking and feeling beings;

  • We in the rich world have no necessity to consume animal protein; and so,

  • It is morally wrong to butcher (other) animals, whether for food, clothing or (presumably especially) for sport.

(Sidra further compared our modern willingness to torture and slaughter our fellow (thinking and feeling) animals to women's rights, slavery and concentration camps. And, though the comparisons may seem over-the-top to you, when you think about it, the idea is hard (impossible?) to rebut.)
Last Saturday, after my friend Vernski and I had talked ourselves out about Borat, I paraphrased Sidra's post, and described my discomfort in the fact I had been unable to argue against it.

Now Vernski, despite his long-term co-habitation with a vegetarian, is to my mind notoriously carnivorous. Where I make stir-fries, he broils thick, bloody steaks.

And so I was more than a little surprised when he agreed with me (and with Sidra).

Yes, he said, there is no justification for eating meat, no more than there was for the slave trade in the 18th century, or than there is now for sex tours of daycare centres in Thailand.

And yet, we both acknowledged, that this intellectual understanding of a moral fact was not going to stop either of us from frying up some bacon in the morning.

I like to think that I am a pretty good human being. I try not to lie, I make a point of not taking advantage of the weak or vulnerable and on at least a couple of occasions I have fought down fear and put my face on the line to protect a stranger from possible violence by people who could most likely have easily broken my body the way a child smashes her grand-mother's antique china tea-cup.

Long story short, Vernski and I agreed that eating meat is wrong. And yet we also agreed we will both continue to consume the flesh of what were once living, thinking and feeling creatures, into the foreseable future.

If you grant (as I do) that he and I are at the very least reasonably good people, how do you explain our willingness to engage in a practice we both agree is - in a word - evil? How is it that I am not emotionally tortured by the dichotomy between what I think and what I feel?

[Edit: According to this month's Harper's, "The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that livestock such as cows, pigs, sheep and chickens are among the world's top three environmental threats:the agency said that livestock production, largely driven by the demand for meat, pollutes water, destroys biodiversity, and, when the entire production cycle is taken into account, produces more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector."]
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: vienneau
2007-01-19 02:24 am (UTC)

Presumably because of the level of intelligence - killing mosquitos and viruses probably doesn't bother you that much.

There's also the distance - you're not hacking apart the cow yourself so it's not immediate enough to be emotional.

And it's awfully convenient to eat meat - vegetarians have a lot of hassles from finding the right restaurants to politely saying no when a guest.

And the "moral" argument is not really relevant - presuming a lack of belief in absolute morality, there is nothing inherently wrong with killing something, especially something that only exists because we engineered its existence so that it could be killed. The very fact that your writer is allowed to have such "morality" is due to her rich and cushioned lifestyle in the first world which makes it a tad artificial (I presume "human need" must outweigh the moral rights of other animals? Or should starving humans die instead of eating flesh?)

That being said, I'm stuck in the same quandary - in theory I know I should eat vegetables as it's better for the planet and better for me and I'm uncomfortable with the living conditions of the animals and the knowledge that I couldn't hack them apart myself. I find it to be a flaw in myself that I can't be bothered to go to the effort of restricting my meat intake when I'm already eating so many other healthy foods that I wish were chocolate. I share your dilemma. Let me know if you find and easy and tasty way out of it!
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: superficiality
2007-01-19 02:48 am (UTC)
And the "moral" argument is not really relevant - presuming a lack of belief in absolute morality, there is nothing inherently wrong with killing something, especially something that only exists because we engineered its existence so that it could be killed. The very fact that your writer is allowed to have such "morality" is due to her rich and cushioned lifestyle in the first world which makes it a tad artificial (I presume "human need" must outweigh the moral rights of other animals? Or should starving humans die instead of eating flesh?)

Totally agreed.

That being said, I'm a strict vegan. Residual habit, I guess, from being a super emotional and self-righteous sixteen year old. It's surprisingly easy, though, once you get into the habit.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: tacky_tramp
2007-01-19 03:33 am (UTC)
Actually, Godwin's Law says nothing about losing arguments. Godwin merely noticed and axiomized the prevalence of Hitler analogies -- it's later observers who've decided that such analogies consitute an automatic argument loss.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2007-01-19 03:30 am (UTC)
(Other) animals are thinking and feeling beings;

We can prove the latter but not the former. Generally speaking, I think it's worse to kill a monkey than a chicken, worse to kill a dog than a shrimp, etc. It also depends on how desperate one is to survive.

We in the rich world have no necessity to consume animal protein; and so,

This, to my mind, is the most compelling argument, again, because it has to do with how desperate one is to survive. It's the worst kind of Western chauvinism to lecture starving people about their dietary choices, but this limits the argument to people who economically have a choice.

It is morally wrong to butcher (other) animals, whether for food, clothing or (presumably especially) for sport.

And this is where the complication arises. Is it morally wrong to butcher other animals for sport? Yes, for the most part, because it's unnecessary. Again, assuming we're talking about the First World, it also seems to be unnecessary to butcher animals for food or clothing.

But but but. That isn't looking at it holistically. How much petroleum goes into transporting and manufacturing synthetic clothing substitutes? You can certainly get by with plant-based fibres if you're living in a warmer climate, but not so much in Canada. How far do fresh fruits and vegetables have to travel to get to your table? How much pesticide does it take to sustain a soya bean farm, and what happens to the run-off, and how many animals does that kill?

To me the first question is sustainability of the ecosystem as a whole. Simply cutting meat out from your diet doesn't address that. There are ethical concerns beyond the suffering of individual animals. You could be less wrong than a lot of vegans by eating local free-range meat, for example.

And, of course, I'm a vegetarian and I frequently make less-than-sustainable dietary choices. And I wear leather. I am bad.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-19 04:29 am (UTC)

Worse and Worser

Generally speaking, I think it's worse to kill a monkey than a chicken, worse to kill a dog than a shrimp, etc. It also depends on how desperate one is to survive.

Granted, on both counts. And I feel absolutely zero remorse when it comes to killing as many as I can of those little red ants that flourish around my bathroom sink.

As for survival, as I have pointed out to others, Sidra was explicit in condemning meat-eating in the rich world, not the poor.

But but but. That isn't looking at it holistically. How much petroleum goes into transporting and manufacturing synthetic clothing substitutes? You can certainly get by with plant-based fibres if you're living in a warmer climate, but not so much in Canada. How far do fresh fruits and vegetables have to travel to get to your table? How much pesticide does it take to sustain a soya bean farm, and what happens to the run-off, and how many animals does that kill?

Thank you. This is what I was trying to get at when I said that Sidra's post has vulnerable; she loves animals, but it wasn't clear whether she had thought through all of the repercussions of that feeling.

For sake of argument, let's assume it is environmentally more destructive to ship me a handful of almonds (from where? Brazil?) than it is to ship me a steak from Perth. Am I morally obligated to eat the steak, even knowing that the cow didn't have a good life?

To me the first question is sustainability of the ecosystem as a whole.

Are we still talking about morality now, or simple survival?

Simply cutting meat out from your diet doesn't address that. There are ethical concerns beyond the suffering of individual animals. You could be less wrong than a lot of vegans by eating local free-range meat, for example.

I don't remember the figures off-hand, but it takes a lot of pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat. I'm sceptical about your implicit suggestion that an animal-based food-and-clothing regime is less ecologically destabalizing than one based strictly on vegetables.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: fadefromnothing
2007-01-19 06:40 am (UTC)
Well, considering I'm a stark environmentalist, I purchase plant-based clothing, or recycle/thrift otherwise. Yarn is made from cotton and is extremely easily found.

I try my best to eat locally grown and organic plants, and yes, GMO or non-organic soy is out of the question for me because of how sensitive the plant is to any tampering.

Being vegan for me, is about making the best choice possible. When I lived with my parents, being a strict vegetarian was the best option for me under the circumstances I was. I encourage people (my own boyfriend, for example) to eat organic, healthy and lean meats, because I know that a dramatic lifestlye change is not nearly as plausable for some people as it was for me.

Again, best decision peossible, and it's a good idea to look into the health benefits of cutting dairy and meat to a minimum and increasing your intake of plant-based foods - we're all aware that it's good for us. :)

Lastly, no one has the right to tell you whether you're a bad or a good vegetarian/vegan. It is YOUR personal decision and you are to make the decisions you are comfortable with.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: tacky_tramp
2007-01-19 03:31 am (UTC)
I simply don't value animal life as much as I value human life. I don't have any rational basis for this; neither, however, do I have a rational basis for valuing human life at all.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-19 04:35 am (UTC)

Values

I don't value animal life as much as I do human life, either (for that matter, I don't value your life as much as I do mine.

Nor, I think, does Sidra. Her point (and mine) is that animal life has some value - animals are not just things, put here for our use. Every being is its own and - I am convincing myself even as I type - it is simply wrong to use them as though they are inanimate objects.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: justred
2007-01-19 12:36 pm (UTC)
Point form because it's too early:

Humans are biologically omnivores. We haven't evolved sufficiently enough to get past this. No one screams at a polar bear that the seal pup it's eating is murder. Why do we attach such morality, when we too are animals?

For the record when I found out about the energy hierarchy in high school, I tried vegetarianism for six months. I saw my doctor and nutritionists so that I got all that a body needed. I still wound up miserable, sick and highly anemic. My mother out of sheer frustration fixed me a steak and put it on my plate. I haven't looked back since. I accept that I'm a hard wired carnivore. I do better with meat protein than vegetable protein. I don't process a lot of vegetables properly either. This is my biology and I accept it. I feel no more guilt than a lion thinking, "Yum zebra." This is the way my body is. Why should anyone deny me my RIGHT to live within my biology based on their moralistic objections.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: fadefromnothing
2007-01-19 01:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Values

This is where an interesting issue comes up. There are just as many scientists and medical professionals who are willing to claim that man is naturally a pescetarian, instead of an omnivore, as there are scientists who claim that a strictly animal-based-products diet must be followed.

I'm of the school that man is a natural pescetarian (eats fish, no meat/fowl/dairy/eggs).

The polar bear hunts its own animals, it is tailored to do so with sharp incisors, sharp claws, agility, the ability to widthstand cold weather when it swims through freezing water for its prey. Similarly, the omnivores of our planet are capable of catching their pray without the use of farms, guns, knives, sedatives, etc...

Our incisors aren't sharp enough to comfortable tear through raw meat, we aren't agile enough to catch much more than fish and some small rodents, and we most definitely are not of the strength where we can rip a cow to shreds.

I agree that vegetarianism isn't for everyone. Especially if you were raised on a high meat-based diet with quite a bit of sodium, processed foods,etc..., and our culture does an excellent job of relating these things to comfort, and that you must be consuming these to feel at ease with your health. If we've been raised like this, then it is hard to change our lifestyles.

My argument, however, was not about wanting everyone to be a vegetarian/vegan, I think I cite that quite clearly. It was about getting people to stop denying things and trying to sugarcoat things for themselves. We lie to our children about how our food comes from big, beautiful farms where animals are taken extremely good care of... where in fact, the majority of the meat we consume comes from giant factory farms which operate much like prisons, and I think it is important that people research the source of their food. I'm sure we would make different decisions if we all knew what exactly happens to what we are eating, especially in terms of hormones and such.

There is a vital difference between the way we do things, and the way polar bears do things.

Nutrition is nutrition. I get what I need from a plants-based diet but unfortunately, many people would prefer a steak over a cup of spinach... whereas there are countries in this world where the latter would be the feast of kings.

I'm not trying to enforce how eating meat is wrong on anyone, but living by buddhist principles, I do think that unlawfully taking the life of another creature without necessity is murder, and I am tired of people denying it.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-27 02:16 am (UTC)

Evolution

Humans are biologically omnivores.

That's been my belief as well, though I've had some cause due to this post, to question that thesis. But I haven't yet been convinced it's wrong.

If your body really is built to eat meat, then I don't think even Sidra would have a problem with it. She did - even when writing a self-admitedly emotional rant - differentiate between need and desire.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: shara
2007-01-19 01:13 pm (UTC)
I can think of a good reason to eat meat:

Because we have to kill things to get sustanance on account of we can't perform photosynthesis. This myth that mammal and avian lives are somehow worth more than vegitable and fungal lives is exactly that: a touchy-feely myth perpetuated by people who view life in a heirarchy based on how much a life form looks like a human. The more human it looks, the more important it must be. Please.

I agree whole heartedly that everyone should eat less meat on strictly environmental grounds. I eat meat two or three times a week. I *never* eat meat as a center-piece of a meal - i.e. I don't eat steaks, roast chickens, pork chops or whatever. I eat in in quantities like "sausage in a sausage, white bean and vegitable soup" or "ham in a ham and cheese croissant".

Just because you're eating less meat doesn't mean you have to go all extreme and eat NO meat. Just... eat less. All things in moderation, neh?

And don't try to go with the moral argument, it doesn't wash. "Life" is not sacred, it's a way of describing discrete objects we share DNA with. Everything we eat was alive. Some lives are not better than others simply because they have eyes.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: ed_rex
2007-01-27 03:23 am (UTC)

Two Reasons, Not Just One

Meat also tastes really good, sometimes. Which is why I am feeling so conflicted.

This myth that mammal and avian lives are somehow worth more than vegitable and fungal lives is exactly that: a touchy-feely myth perpetuated by people who view life in a heirarchy based on how much a life form looks like a human.

Is it a myth? That's not a rhetorical question. My knee jerks towards the idea that, the more complex, the more (morally) valuable a life-form is.

As I've said a couple of times now (in response to others), I think morality is a strictly theoretical construct. I do think there is more (moral) value in a cow than there is in a fungus - or maybe I just feel that there is.

No, I think it. In a universe in which life eats life, complexity is the only scale that even approaches being an objective measure of a living thing's "worth".

A mouse's suffering is more morally significant than a fungi's because it has a nervous system and at least a rudimentary consciousness. So far as we know, fungi don't have either. The mouse feels pain, and maybe more complex emotions and we have little or no reason to believe the same is true of the vegetable kingdom.

"Life" is not sacred, it's a way of describing discrete objects we share DNA with. Everything we eat was alive. Some lives are not better than others simply because they have eyes.

Arguably though, some lives are better than others, because they have brains.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: sooguy
2007-01-19 03:39 pm (UTC)

Hypocrite #1

My argument for eating less meat would be purely environmental.

A book that opened my eyes, but admittedly did little to change my lifestyle was Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe.

I am more interested in protecting our environment so we have a future as a species as well as ensuring there is enough food to go around. The resources necessary to raise animals is crazy.
(Reply) (Thread)