Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Fourth Thing You May Not Know about Me

Bob and I are hopelessly about ten years behind everyone else when it comes to watching movies, so we only just recently saw The Cider House Rules. In fairness, this one took a while, because he read and I re-read it for a book discussion group we were both in circa 1998. Putting a distance of nearly ten years between reading a book and seeing the movie can turn a horrible movie that didn’t come close to doing justice to the book into a terrific movie.

Neither Bob nor I has ever had any strong yearning to be a parent, but this movie reminded me why I’m so glad we don’t live anywhere near a Chinese or Romanian orphanage. I can just picture Bob volunteering to share vegetables from our garden and dragging me along to deliver them. We’d enter as a pair and exit as an instant family of fourteen. The children in the movie so hopefully trying to make themselves as presentable as possible every time a fancy car drives up the drive broke our hearts.

These soft hearts of ours are not limited to unwanted children. Rudolph's (of red-nosed fame) Island of Misfit Toys breaks our hearts, too. We’ve discovered that as children, we were both traumatized by such books as The Yearling. When we finally decided to adopt a dog, we had to turn to the classifieds. A trip to an animal shelter would have required the purchase of a farm.

So, you may very well wonder why we aren’t vegetarians. After all, when we saw Babe, we gave up eating bacon and ham for months. And I can promise you, one movie we won’t be seeing is Fast Food Nation.

Truth be told, we have no, good, rational reason for being omnivores, except that, on occasion, we really like a good hamburger; we’re no good at drawing lines; and we find it too difficult. I know, to some, saying I like a good hamburger is like saying I love a good baby’s foot, but I know myself well enough to admit if I’d been born and raised in a cannibalistic society, I’m sure I’d enjoy a good baby’s foot just as much as the other guy.

I also know saying it’s too difficult to be a vegetarian is a pathetic excuse, especially for someone who loves to experiment in the kitchen, and who’s been known to spend whole days making such things as pesto ravioli. I mean, suppose someone stood up in a courtroom and said, “I’m sorry, Your Honor, but it was just too difficult not to kill my neighbor who liked to get up on Saturday mornings at 6:30 and rake and blow his leaves.”

I wish I could plead ignorance when it comes to the subject of vegetarianism, but I can’t. I edited an entire encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare. A different sort of person would have sworn off meat the minute she turned over the last page of the manuscript and laid down her colored pencil. I’ve often been described as being “different.” Must be in one of those callous sort of ways.

One of my lame arguments for eating meat is that animal species of all kinds have to kill in order to survive. And if some have to die in order for others to live, I’m not sure we should only be concerned with dying animals. What about the carrots that get yanked up out of their nice, cozy, dirt homes to be set on dinner plates long before they would have decayed naturally? Why should trees have to suffer the indecency of having apples and pears plucked from their branches? If we think it’s so horrible to raise chickens for the sole purpose of killing and eating them, why don’t we extend that sympathy to potatoes?

I have friends who would say, “Because vegetables can’t feel pain.” These are the same friends who will claim it’s “speciesist” to assume turtles don’t love their children just as much as humans do merely because turtles just lay a bunch of eggs and then desert them to fend for themselves. Well, it seems pretty “speciesist” to me to assume plants don’t feel pain just because they don’t have a nervous system. Tomato plants don’t have mouths for drinking water, but they still need water to live. But, then again, let me remind you that this argument is coming from a woman who was as appalled by the carnage of Christmas trees on a truck she passed headed South over the Thanksgiving holiday as she was by the truck full of baby cows.

Here’s another difficulty with my trying to become a vegetarian: I can’t do anything halfway. Therefore, I’d have to become a vegan. You realize, in this day and age, the only way truly to be a vegan is to move to a hut in the middle of the Amazon somewhere, living solely off the land, hoping you occasionally come across some sort of animal that’s died of natural causes to provide you with some clothing. Being a vegan in America would require massive amounts of research with every purchase, since every single company is quickly being gobbled up by one megalithic corporation that owns everything.

A true vegan can’t just walk into a store (even an independently-owned-and-run store, if she can find such a thing) and buy a pen. Sure, the pen may have been manufactured by the innocent-sounding Wet Ink, Co. However, Wet Ink is owned by Only Publisher Inc., which was just bought by Last Tractors Left Manufacturers, whose parent company is We Torture, Maim, and Kill Cows Brothers.

So, yes I eat meat. And, yes, I’m ashamed of the fact. However, as Bob recently noted, “Look, if we gave up red meat, you and I would be confronted with some new movie called Cluck: The Story of the Sad, Unwanted Chicken. Then we’d give up chicken and along would come Stalk: The Celery that Longed for Friends." Really, the most difficult thing for us is just to survive while feeling sorry for everything we eat. I'm amazed we manage to eat anything at all.

Meanwhile, I will note that we buy organic and humanely, sustainably-raised food. I draw the line at knowingly buying factory-farmed dead animals. Also, I have a burning question for the vegetarians: what about all those poor rabbits, moles, field mice, insects, etc. whose homes are destroyed and who die hideous deaths at the helm of farm equipment, just so humans can plant rows and rows of vegetables whose sole purpose for living is to provide us with food?


Anonymous said...

I liked the Christmas tree carnage part: it ringed a bell with me and IKEA's "rent a christmas tree with roots and all and return it afterwards money back" operation a few years ago. They said they'd replant them, find them a nice and cosy Swedish forest spot of sorts. And when we came to claim our money back with a brownish tchernobyl-dry skeleton of a fir tree, the vision of the IKEA car-park was that of a nuclear-grilled desolate forest with brownish tchernobyl-dry skeletons of fir trees in all directions as far as the eye could see. What a fine allegory for consumer-society Christmas greed, and its synonym: IKEA.

Maybe I'll decorate a Christmas cow this year.

Anonymous said...

PS: on vegetarianism. I believe that being 90% vegetarian is 90% right. If everybody was 90% vegetarian, there would be ten times less animal killing, ten times less intensive-breeding-induced pollution, which really is not that bad.

I also believe that near-vegetarianism will come sooner than many think: I've heard (no time to check sources) there there are three pounds of oil for each pound of lamb meat. As oil prices reach 300$ a barrel in just a few years from now, so will the price of fish and meat. The further up along the food chain you feed, the harder it will be on your wallet. Money is so much more powerful than morals...

BikeProf said...

I, too, am an omnivore. You can have my steak when you pry my cold, dead fingers from it. But seriously, I completely empathize with your point about vegetarianism. Part of me thinks that the only really moral way to live is to forego eating dead animals. But I think that we tend to fetishize life. That is, death, dying, consuming the dead are all part of life, and we ignore that at our peril. All living things feed off of the dead, and from an ecological point of view, the only reason anything exists is becasue it is part of the food chain. And that includes delicious hamburgers. With bacon.

Anne Camille said...

I have said for a long, long time (probably started saying this soon after the last time I was a vegetarian) that if you were to be truly vegetarian, you would need to completely disrobe and go squat in an open field somewhere until exposure to the elements did you in; for seeking clothing or shelter would be a contradiction as you would be relying on those elements of living nature for your own benefit.

I know vegans who think it is morally wrong to eat honey, because it is an animal product and you are depriving the bee of food for her young. Isn't this just a bit ridiculous -- the beekeeper doesn't starve his hive. But my vegan friends didn't find it funny when I told them there was plenty of bee-barf to go around.

One of my niece's favorite possession is a duct-tape wallet. Yeah, no animals are used directly in providing material for the wallet, but what about the natural resources that went into the making of duct tape? Doesn't it make more sense to be good stewards of nature/natural resources? I'm not one for quoting the Bible, especially when it is something as metaphoric as Genesis (I hope that comment doesn't clog your blog with those who might take offense at that), but maybe the idea of G*d giving us dominion over the animals is the right approach: not to abuse, but to be good stewards of those resources. And perhaps that does mean not eating honey if the production of it leads to the complete domestication of a native species; of thinking about how much oil it takes to commercially produce lamb; of whether it makes sense for us & our offspring to eat produce that has been genetically altered or milk/beef that has been shot full of growth hormones.

Ah, crap....there I go again writing a comment that I should have just made into a blog post. Didn't know where I was headed on this one & my fingers just typed away.....

litlove said...

I do admire people with strict moral reasons for being vegetarian, but at the same time, I don't get it. What's the problem in raising an animal, giving it a happy contented life, and then killing and eating it when the time comes? That's what's happened to animals since time began. If we don't eat them, they'll be eaten as part of the natural food chain. It's not like cows are saying, damn it, another five years and I'd have mastered needlepoint. I'm sorry, I mustn't be flippant or I'll upset people. All I think is that we should undoubtedly be kind to animals, and treat them well, but that they do not have self-reflexive consciousnesses that think about life and death the way we do.

Amanda said...

I'm a vegetarian- but I'm not a vegan and I will wear leather shoes & I don't scrutinise the labels of everything I eat because that would be the place where I'd draw the line of it becoming too hard. I don't claim to be morally consistent & I don't judge people who draw the line elsewhere. But for me personally- I don't have to eat meat so I choose not to.

Rebecca H. said...

I think you've got the best solution -- to be aware of where your meat comes from and to avoid eating meat from animals raised and killed in cruel ways. Do I follow my own principle here? No. Should I? Definitely.

Emily Barton said...

Yet again, I find I'm in great company.

Mandarine, and I have vegan friends who swear IKEA is the greatest place to shop. I love the idea of a Christmas cow. Let's start a trend.

Hobs, "fetishism of life," yes, that's it! Exactly the phrase I've been trying to come up with for years. Thank you.

Cam, my resident recent seminary grad has always argued your point over "dominion" and what it means.

Litlove, as so often happens, you made me laugh. Mind if I use your needlepoint line with others when necessary?

Ms. Tea, you have my everlasting admiration.

Dorr, don't feel bad. I mean, one can't enjoy the bliss of The Sycamore Diner while worrying about where that hamburger came from, but being more aware most of the time is probably a good thing.

litlove said...

Emily - just to say, consider it yours.