Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snowbound and Wondering What to Eat

There's been a lot of talk lately about why we eat what we eat and whether or not we should rethink what we eat not just for reasons of health but with questions of morality in mind. It's amazing anyone has any time to consider what tastes good, never mind what he or she might crave what with all the talking about food we have to do.

For example, the most emailed article in The New York Times today is Natalie Angier's column titled "Sorry Vegans, Vegetables Like to Live, Too." It's a snarky title, and, really, being snarky (and defensive) about veganism is, I hate to say it, like shooting fish in a barrel. But it is an interesting article. Everything, even plants, it seems, works hard to live. That's what it means to live, to work hard to make sure you keep living. Sometimes the hard work means cooperation and sometimes it means playing full on in a zero sum game. The two seem at odds but both are without a doubt a familiar part of everyone's experience. We might be what we eat, and when it comes to eating, I suppose that makes many, many, many people, myself included, conflicted.


marjorie said...

i risk posting this b/c you are my friend.

this discussion reminds me of pro-choice talk. the absolute moral argument (i only eat things that don't suffer, etc, i believe in abortion up to the TK week because that's when a fetus can live outside the womb) is doomed to fail, the more science we know.

i think we have to acknowledge ambiguity. we're all imperfect. we have to make choices every day. a fetus is not just a lump of cells. there was another study this week that showed that we can learn the gender of a fetus at 5 weeks. and yet i remain pro-choice.

i haven't read the NYT piece, but i imagine science will tell us before long that plants feel agony. yet vegetarians can decide this is their line in the sand -- they won't eat animals, but they will eat plants. i draw a similar line with kashrut, perhaps ridic to the outside world: i buy kosher meat but only have one set of plates. i won't mock anyone for creating their own parameters that they feel help them live consciously, ethically, morally.

i still have issues when others decide what the rules should be for everyone else. i feel that way about laws concerning fois gras (i don't eat veal, even kosher veal, and i wouldn't eat fois gras if i knew where to get kosher fois gras) and i feel that way about abortion. i'm sure if you pin me down i'll find plenty of areas that make me uncomfortable and uncertain, but that's part of being human -- trying to work this shit out in a way that lets us sleep at night.

Robin Aronson said...

You make an excellent point. There's no absolute morality when it comes to eating -- we all draw lines in the sand somewhere. The abortion analogy is very powerful on many levels; I would argue pregnancy in general and miscarriage too works as an analogy. The symbiotic relationship humans have with the worlds of animals and vegetables means that sometimes animals are loved and sometimes they're eaten--just like humans to evolve had to know when to cooperate and when to decide that a winner would take all. Both tactics are fundamental to our existence. I've thought a lot about acceptance and awareness of the implications of our choices through this whole discussion, esp. after reading E. Kolbert in the New Yorker revived JS Foer's book. I quote her, probably for the second time:

But is even veganism really enough? The cost that consumer society imposes on the planet’s fifteen or so million non-human species goes way beyond either meat or eggs. Bananas, bluejeans, soy lattes, the paper used to print this magazine, the computer screen you may be reading it on—death and destruction are embedded in them all. It is hard to think at all rigorously about our impact on other organisms without being sickened.


Which is to say when we choose things like meat or shoes or computers or brussel sprouts from FL when we live in NY, we can't pretend not to know about the implication of our choices and if our choices change because of that knowledge, so be it. But as you say, that can only be for one person at a time. I can't deny i think it'd be great if everyone ate less meat for all sorts of reasons, but I'm not going to argue that anyone must do it. Pro=choice. That's what I am.

marjorie said...


i realized i wrote a half-completed thought -- i don't eat fois but i am not in favor of banning it.

it's tough, living with ambiguity, but it's part of being a rational real-world grownup, constantly weighing lesser-evils and personal agency and all that dreary nuanced stuff!

Robin Aronson said...

it's true, the nuances are so exceedingly dreary! foie gras gives me a belly ache anyway....