Today The New York Times published their food issue. (Mmm…) And while all of the articles are interesting (Michael Pollan talks food rules! Jamie Oliver puts Huntington, W. Va. on a diet!) the one that resonated with me the most was “Against Meat” by Jonathan Safran Foer. In it, he discusses his reasons for raising his kids (and himself) vegetarian, and I have to admit they are pretty compelling.
Foer, like me (and I’d guess many of you) originally became a vegetarian when he was an adolescent and began realizing that, yes, meat really does come from animals and yes, you really do have to kill the animals before you can eat them. Says Foer of going veg at that time,
[I stopped eating meat] because it was the extension to food of everything my parents had taught me. We don’t hurt family members. We don’t hurt friends or strangers. We don’t even hurt upholstered furniture. My not having thought to include farmed animals in that list didn’t make them the exceptions to it. It just made me a child, ignorant of the world’s workings. Until I wasn’t.
Of course, like my own teenybopper vegetarianism, Foer’s antimeat lifestyle lasted for a few years, until it became a hassle, and it didn’t seem quite that important anymore. Eventually, (and I am majorly paraphrasing a great article here, so do check out the original) he met a woman who shared his spotty meat-eating past, and the two of them became both engaged and Born Again Vegetarians. Until they weren’t. Vegetarianism can be tough.
The article (which is a chapter from Foer’s upcoming book Eating Animals) includes beautiful descriptions of past family meals of chicken and sushi that have meant much to Foer, and reasons why we as human beings love to eat meat (mostly because it tastes good, but also because of the aforementioned family meals and the ways in which food begets community). However, Foer reasons that this should not be the end-all-be-all rationalization behind our collective meaty diet. Another quote,
A vegetarian diet can be rich and fully enjoyable, but I couldn’t honestly argue, as many vegetarians try to, that it is as rich as a diet that includes meat. (Those who eat chimpanzee look at the Western diet as sadly deficient of a great pleasure.) I love calamari, I love roasted chicken, I love a good steak. But I don’t love them without limit.
It is because of this food consciousness (and darned sense making) that Foer and his wife decided to commit to vegetarianism full time, and to raise their two children in a meat-free kitchen. He makes a great case for the decision, citing statistics we’ve seen before that list meat production as the number one cause of global warming, and reminding us of how difficult it is to get actually ethically-produced meat. Again with the argument,
This isn’t animal experimentation, where you can imagine some proportionate good at the other end of the suffering. This is what we feel like eating. Yet 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.
I am sharing this article here because food is decidedly a feminist issue, and as feminists I’m sure most of us have dedicated some brain cells to this topic. I myself quit being a vegetarian mainly out of laziness (and also because well, bacon is delicious), and have felt sporadically guilty about my eating habits since. When that has happened (the guilty feeling) in the past, I’ve taken a cue from Julie Andrews and thought of a few of my favorite things: tacos al pastor, chicken salad, spicy tuna rolls, etc. I have also taken a cue from food television, where hosts like Anthony Bourdain and Ina Garten make eating meat look amazing and where they basically make fun of you through the television if you aren’t willing to go for second helpings on the tripe casserole.
Foer is giving me pause here, though. After all, there are lots of things I’d like to do (shoplifting, skipping work, telling certain people on the bus how I really feel about their decision to chew gum in my ear, etc.) that I choose not to because it would be unethical. Why don’t I subject my diet to this same scrutiny?
Of course, this is a privileged person’s problem. Many people all over the world don’t have the option of becoming vegetarian, or vegan, or eating organic, or even eating at all. I, however, do. And so does Jonathan Safran Foer, and so do many others of us who read The New York Times and write blog posts and live within a mile of about six grocery stores. Can we continue to eat meat and not think twice about it?
I’ll be honest; after reading Foer’s book excerpt I made myself a vegetarian dinner (which was pretty good). However, for lunch I had beef Pho (which was deeelicious), so I can’t claim to be on the wagon just yet. I’d be interested though, in hearing how others of you are responding to this piece. Do you eat meat? If so, do you feel okay about that decision? How do you rationalize your food choices when it comes to the environment and your own code of ethics? Or are you (like me, though I hope to change) too easily convinced that you should spend your time thinking about other things, like how delicious a club sandwich sounds right about now? What’s a hungry feminist to do?