Tuesday, December 15, 2009


From a book review of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran.

The old internal mantra of the reformer, “If they only knew, they would change,” beats throughout Eating Animals. This is where I disagree. All people, with few exceptions, understand the inherent cruelty of killing for food, whether in farms or in factories or in the wild. Most who know about industrial meat farms also know that they are ghastly for the animals and employees alike. People know, but still they do not want to change. This is because people need more than education to act ethically — they need reward. Humans have the capacity for good, but we are also scoundrels. Nobly intentioned as we are, we are creatures of appetite. Honorable as we can be, we are perhaps the cruelest of God’s little creatures.
We rarely derive our culinary pleasure from goodness and even more rarely from abstinence. Just as a life of celibacy isn’t a proper reward for refraining from rape, a potato casserole does not a meat substitute make. Take all the naughtiness out of food and you take away much of its taste. What, exactly, do the vegetarians want? A well-reasoned argument or a food revolution? Proponents of meat-eating often hold decadence up as their banner. They imply that no one who really loved food, who loved life, would decline meat. This puts vegetarians on the defensive. Their bulwark is the claim that meat-eaters are selfish, or that vegetarian food needn't be (maybe even shouldn't be) tasty because it is morally superior. ... All vegetarianism is, in large part, artificial. It is based neither on ritual nor on necessity. It is a diet by humans for humans. A diet of modernity, whose survival will most likely depend as much on innovations in food technology as the simplicity of the family farm. I say that is the strength of vegetarianism. It can offer a freedom that meat-eating cannot: a diet that is about choice and a liberation from the prescriptions of "normal" daily life. A whole new way of eating that doesn’t rely on the whims of Nature. In short, a form of decadence. An acceptance that, like artists, we can fashion our own food and ergo, our own lives.

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