Mike Map

View Mike Map in a larger map

Monday, October 12, 2009

Jonathan Safran Foer on Vegetarianism

A guy whose seemingly awesome works I have only read excerpts of has submitted an article to NYT about vegetarianism. It's called "Against Meat," but its tone is much less strident than its title. It is nice to read and fairly compelling without being stuck-up or aggressive. I heartily recommend it.

But, in case you don't feel like reading it, let me just pull out one quotation. I've heard arguments in this vein, but never put quite so clearly:

"...taste, the crudest of our senses, has been exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses. Why? Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to confining, killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals."

By the way, I've been eating about 95% vegan-style for the past two weeks (I had some Indian goat cheese on a pizza a while back, and there's milk in the awesome 9-cent chai tea on the street) and am not any scrawnier, weaker, or tired-er than usual. Try it one day a week! I may try to post a recipe or two, like mashed potatoes with tahini or Tzatziki with tofu or birthday treats made from bananas, dates, shaved coconut, palm sugar, cocoa powder, and spices. Not to mention pumpkin and dahl soup. It is indeed possible to be considerate and well-fed at the same time!


thesnowleopard said...

Wheww I am the first commentor! Just to present the 'other side' of the picture so to speak, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdcrEo1eCBY&feature=player_embedded


thesnowleopard said...

Wheww I am the first commentor! Just to present the 'other side' of the picture so to speak,


Mike said...

By "other side," did you mean dumb British side?

Dave said...

That quote definitely makes one think. That said, I'm still looking forward to raping, er, eating a chicken quesadilla tonight.

Speaking of pumpkin soup, are pumpkins a year round food source in India, or are they saved for this time of year?


Mike said...

I was using the word "pumpkin" in a generic sense. What was in the soup was not pumpkin proper, but rather something similar to an acorn squash. I am pretty sure that it's available year round or at least seasonally. In Korea, you can get a sweet bowl of hobakjuk (pumpkin porridge) any day of the year.

As for looking forward to eating that quesadilla - one with beans and some veggies would taste just as good, be better for the environment, and cause less suffering.

thesnowleopard said...

The difference between that bean burrito and the chicken burrito wouldn't mean nearly as much to the environment as not flying halfway around the world would have. In order for you just to recoup the environmental cost of your flight from Incheon to India and back, you'll have to stay there about 6 months, more than a year if you want to make up for that and your flights to the US and back. I suggest you cancel your plane ticket and bicycle back to Korea. Let's face it man, we are the SUV-driving soccer moms of the 21st century.

Mike said...

Yeah, I'm aware that the environmental cost of a plane ticket is gigantic and has a bigger impact than anything else I do. I'm slightly comforted by the fact that the plane would have flown with or without me and that my effect was marginal, though one could say the same about meat.

I think it's also worth mentioning that where I'm living now is one of the few places in the world really dedicated to living conscientiously and sustainably. I use very little transportation, eat no meat or animal products, produce no waste, am completely off the electric grid, and through the forest work am, though marginally, contributing to carbon-sinking and water conservation efforts which benefit locals other than me. It's probably impossible to add up the numbers and see whether or not my flying counteracts all this. But there's a good chance that living here will provide me with some experiences that will help me live low impact no matter where I am for the rest of my life.

Also, I completely disagree with your soccer mom comment. You say "let's face it" as if there's nothing that can be done. But there are plenty of things, some big, some small, that we can do to try to live "better." I prefer trying to resigning.

Lastly, I can and fully intend to offset my carbon emissions with a donation to an organization that funds carbon-sinking projects and research. I know it's not as good as not flying, but it's not bad either.

Let's keep in mind also that there are non-environmental arguments for vegetarianism that have nothing to do with whether or not I flew anywhere. You can buy carbon offsets, but you can't give an animal compensation for what happens to it on a factory farm.

thesnowleopard said...

Mike, I didn't include the non-environmental arguments for vegetarianism because, as you know, I don't buy into them. Also, I called us the 'soccer moms of the 21st century' not because we can't do anything about our situation, but, because like soccer moms, while we may care about our impact on the environment, there is a certain lifestyle we want to maintain which causes an inevitable amount of damage to the environment.

For you, your goal to live an extremely low-waste lifestyle in the short term have taken precedence over some of the consequences of that goal. I think you're doing something really cool, and that, as you said, you probably will learn a lot that will help you live low-impact in the future, but check out any carbon footprint website and you'll see that one long-haul roundtrip flight causes a huge amount of pollution. I calculated mine and it was by far the largest single pollution-causing part of my life.

That said, I wasn't aware that factory farming was such a major cause of pollution. That, to me, is a compelling reason to quit eating meat, or at least drastically reduce the amount of meat I eat. But if you're looking strictly at numbers, the best thing you can do for the environment by far, is not fly anywhere at all. I definitely don't want to stop travelling, and I'd be willing to bet you don't either.

All I'm saying is don't bash the chicken quesadilla just yet.

stepper said...

I'm having a problem distinguishing whether you're not eating meat because you don't want to support factory farming or because you've decided that eating any animal, regardless of how it's raised, is wrong. Can you clarify for me? What, in your mind, is wrong with eating an animal that wasn't part of a factory (e.g. a wild rabbit, squirrel, pig, etc)?

It seems to me that eating animals is not intrinsically wrong; humans have been doing it for, well, years, way before factory farms, even farms for that matter, existed. Also, the argument that raising animals takes an incredible amount of resources seems moot for wild animals.

If it's a "harmony with nature" ideal, that just seems argumentatively weak and morally ambiguous...are other natural predators not in harmony with nature?