Thursday, July 24, 2008

Apologia

I really appreciate the comments people have made on Bitten and other online forums about my writing and my project, and (without stooping to pettiness, I hope) I'd like to respond to some of the interesting criticisms I've seen.

Many took offense at my assertion in my Bitten post that “Taking the life of an animal for food is a morbid, ironic affirmation that we are alive.” I admit that, as Luke put it on Bitten, "that entire paragraph about meat, culture, and tempeh is a bit muddled.” This is in part because, of all the discoveries I've made about meat, this is the one that I find most difficult to articulate. It has much to do with the symbolism of meat, its sacrificial connotations. I find an emotional charge in sharing meat with others that comes from the fact that an animal had to die for our meal - the stakes are higher, as it were, when you're eating steak. Certain vegans replied that they sense a higher bond in sharing a vegetarian meal with other vegetarians, which is certainly valid, but I must admit that tapping into the tradition of eating meat has been more intense and rewarding than I expected. However, this is meant to be an experiential observation, not a moral defense of meat.

I was surprised by the outrage expressed on a forum on the vegan site Post Punk Kitchen, mostly because I think, ideologically, I have more in common with vegans than with meat-eaters. Many objected to what they see as hypocrisy; as mollyjade wrote on Post Punk Kitchen, "The blog is one post after another of 'I ate X, here are all the reasons not to eat X.'" It's a pithy summary, but, in my defense, I've been trying to look at meat from a variety of standpoints - moral, culinary, social, psychological. I prefer to think that the self-contradictions on this blog are a result of the complexity of the issue at hand rather than insincerity on my part.

Over on Bitten, Audrey commented, "Faced 'temporarily' with peer pressure, you've compromised conviction, and animals pay the price." I am sorry that some see this experiment as a compromise or a betrayal. Certain vegetarians see the "exploitation" of animals for food as an absolute wrong, which is their prerogative, even if it's not an opinion I share. I think that more good will come from trying to understand the reasons for which people eat meat than from dismissing them entirely. (And I appreciate the more nuanced view of the Erik Marcus at vegan.com, though I wouldn't call this experiment a "mistake" so much as a learning experience.)

I've been charged with other offenses, too: naïveté, narcissism, elitism, stupidity. Perhaps some of these accusations are not entirely without basis, but be kind, please: I am relatively young (though I don't think this fact automatically invalidates my opinions, as some seem to think), I am practicing my writing, and I am trying to find an appropriate balance between the personal and the political in what I write. In any case, no one is obligated to read this blog if they find it to be drivel.

There are also comments in such a low register that responding seems futile. (Although to the person on Post Punk Kitchen who called me "an arrogant bisque," I will say: I welcome your corny puns, sir, but I'm probably not the only one who wishes you would leave your casual sexism at home.)

But I'm always up for a discussion of ideas, so thank you to everyone who has responded thoughtfully and eloquently. You've given me a lot to think about, and I hope to sort my thoughts out and write more about it here in the near future. And by all means, let's continue the dialogue.

18 comments:

redneck muppet said...

See, now you're going to make me go read all the comments at Bitten too. There goes productivity on a Thursday.

jordanpattern said...

It's interesting and largely unprecedented to read your timely response to the comments and reactions to your original piece. However, you're still getting it wrong.

When you write that, "certain vegetarians see the "exploitation" of animals for food as an absolute wrong, which is their prerogative, even if it's not an opinion I share," you are pretty neatly expressing just how little you share with vegans. If you want to eat meat or dairy or other animal products, that's your prerogative, but please stop associating yourself with vegetarian or veganism. You are not a temporary omnivore. You are an omnivore and may as well own it.

Andrea said...

I like reading your responses "in process"--that is what makes blogging so interesting, different from other forms of writing, and also risky and creative all at the same time. I commend you. (I am also a blogger who has confronted these issues).

I was surprised by the level of animosity and hostility that some people expressed toward you. I thought some of it was really out of line.
I think that says more about the other person than you.

I think your writing has touched a nerve in many of us, myself included, and I see that I need to write and think more about this issue too. Please keep writing.

mollyjade said...

I didn't mean to call you a hypocrite. I thought my earlier sentence that you didn't quote expressed what I meant better. Your vegetarian beliefs are being severely tested for the time, and you're struggling to reconcile your beliefs about morality with your beliefs about community and relating to the world around you. I think this is something most people go through. And no one starts out having great logical answers to these questions from the the beginning. You're just exploring the issues much more publically than the rest of us do.

Stella said...

"I find an emotional charge in sharing meat with others that comes from the fact that an animal had to die for our meal...I must admit that tapping into the tradition of eating meat has been more intense and rewarding than I expected."

Could that be because eating meat is normalized in our violent, macho, corporate-controlled culture? You're being rewarded for behavior that is supportive of abusive systems of power and profit; much like some strippers derive "power" from their work. You may be getting rewarded individually, by the dominant culture, but what you are doing is hurting animals, and veg*ns.

Finding "an emotional charge" comes from "the fact that an animal had to die"? I am at a loss for words. Except, perhaps, to say that one's own personal emotional gratification is not usually the best reason for choosing behaviors. What if I get an "emotional charge" from hitting children, or raping women? Is this really the best you can do?

Also, when you say "certain vegetarians see the 'exploitation' of animals for food as an absolute wrong, which is their prerogative, even if it's not an opinion I share," why the quotes around "exploitation"? Do you not agree that animals are exploited for food? If you are really this ignorant of the philosophical underpinnings of veg*nism, I can see why you're eating beef, and are conflicted about your years of ill-defined vegetarianism. It's fine if you don't agree that every single time a human eats an animal is *absolutely* exploitative (many veg*ns would agree with you, and point to isolated human communities with limited food sources such as the Inuit, people with rare diseases that require special nutritional requirements, historical conditions, war conditions, etc. as examples), but to frame the term in quotes, as you have done, serves as a signal to the reader that you are mocking the very idea.

I would also like to say, in closing, that ad hominem attacks directed at you, and, specifically misogynist ones, do not reflect the majority of vegans, vegetarians, or PPKers that I know, and are, indeed, out of line.

I appreciate you trying to honestly discuss these issues and responding to criticism in a fair manner.

Anonymous said...

I like your blog. Your perspectives are interesting, your writing stile is casual and engaging, and your "experiment" is pretty enlightening. Are you a global authority on meat-eating and/or vegetarianism? No, but that doesn't matter. Like the rest of us, it appears you are muddling your way through the world trying to do what's right the best you can. All the best.

Ron said...

Hi Laura,

While I don't want to beat a dead horse, I do want to take a few more swings, just for fun!

"I find an emotional charge in sharing meat with others that comes from the fact that an animal had to die for our meal - the stakes are higher, as it were, when you're eating steak."

I think the thing here is that YOU are getting an emotional charge out of this because of your current turmoil over meat consumption. I feel, however, that assuming that those who eat meat every day do so in order to experience this charge/thrill/whatever is erronious. Most meat-eaters enjoy a wonderful steak with the same amount of excitment that a vegetarian would approach, say, a wonderfully prepared palak paneer. I don't think the bloodletting plays any role in it, honestly.

Anyways keep it up, and don't let the comments wear you down! As a former vegetarian, I went through a lot of the same thought processes that you're going through. In fact, I still spend time reading, listening, debating and changing my feelings about things every day.

Hey, at least you're thinking, right?

ron said...

Also, this idea that you've betrayed yourself, or anyone else, is ridiculous. It's your life, your experience and your decision about how you wish to approach, participate in and learn about things that matter most to you. You call the shots, not us in the peanut gallery.

Anonymous said...

Fact check: the person on the PPK who called you a "bisque" was a woman, not a "sir."

Alyx said...

Also, the pun was not intentional. The word "bitch" automatically gets filtered into "bisque" when it is posted anywhere on the PPK.
That's not to say I think it was entirely appropriate, though.

Anonymous said...

"I have more in common with vegans than with meat-eaters."

You eat meat and admit that you don't think the exploitation of animals is an "absolute wrong." Why on earth do you feel you have more in common with meat-eaters than vegans?

Laura said...

I evidently posted this without full knowledge of the PPK's censoring policy (and of the gender of a certain commenter). It's too bad, though, that the pun wasn't intentional...it would make me happier to think that it was just the result of a lame sense of humor.

The word "exploitation" is in quotes because I am quoting a commenter on Bitten (see the link I just added). It is not a term I personally would use to describe the treatment of animals, and, as noted by PPK commenters, it's a term that carries more than a little ambiguity. I'm more interested in animal welfare than animal rights, and...well, I guess that's just one of our differences, though I stand by my assertion that I share more ideologically with vegans than with meat-eaters.

Sorry I didn't quote the first part of your comment, mollyjade (which was, for the record, "I think her blog makes it a lot more obvious that she's giving into peer pressure and feels really uneasy about her decision"), and thanks for your tolerance and civility.

Joy said...

Laura, thanks for the interesting guest post on Bitten, as well as for your interaction with the readers.

For all you vegans and vegetarians, especially the ones coming down hard on omnivores and temporary omnivores, I have some questions. At what point in human history did it become unacceptable to eat meat? Obviously, we are (at least given present climatological conditions) able to feed ourselves an exclusively plant-based diet and survive, but we are animals, and from an evolutionary standpoint, we are omnivores. Was it morally and ethically wrong for early humans to hunt for their food? Was it morally and ethically wrong for somewhat later humans to domesticate cattle and poultry? If the answer to those last two questions is no, then at what point did it become wrong? Have we evolved, morally or biologically, past a need for animal-based nutrients? If the answer to those questions is yes, then how do we understand the relationship between *other* animals that kill each other for food?

These are not rhetorical questions. I'm curious how contemporary vegetarians view the historic relationship between humans and the animals they have eaten.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joy,
Thanks for the thought provoking questions. :)
I'm of the school of thought that if we can get by without harming other creatures for our sustenance, that would be the preferable route. I can't speak for early humans or what is right or wrong for other people or animals. All I know is that we as humans have evolved to be creatures capable of great intelligence and compassion, and if we elect to, we have surpassed the necessity to consume other animals. The health and environmental benefits are a nice bonus, along with encouraging creativity and community.
Other animals may not be able to make this decision, but I don't doubt the capacity of cows, chickens, all creatures to experience emotion and intelligence. I feel it isn't my call to say that my life is more valuable than theirs if I have an alternative.
If you're interested in learning more about plant-based diets, I encourage you to visit the PPK, the food porn and kitchens boards in particular, to see how fun we make food. :)
-buddhist cupcake from the PPK

Matthew K. said...

regardless of the criticism, you are brave to express your views.

Matthew K. said...

bad grammar - I meant brave for expressing...haha

Anonymous said...

Joy - I believe it became ethically wrong to use animals for food when it was possible to have a nutritionally adequate exsistance without meat. At this point, the human race had already developed a sense of compassion and in tandem with that, could lead perfectly healthy lives without needing to harm another animal.

This is my personal opinion and obviously won't be shared by everyone. People eat meat for many reasons, and most of them aren't because they don't care about animal suffering. In any case, we can all make decisions for ourselves and I prefer not to push my beliefs on others, the same way I'd prefer not to have theirs pushed onto me.

Nikki said...

Although it was hard to do, at the beginning of the year I watched footage of animals in factory farms and in slaughterhouses. I would encourage everyone to do the same. Without that insight, it is impossible to understand the motivation behind people’s food choices and furthermore: choices of materials and products. It is a relief to know the truth and I’ve never felt better about myself as a person and the choices I make. I’m a complete foodie and I’ve rediscovered my love for cooking and eating since going vegan. Ultimately, you gotta make it fun and roll with the punches.

Also: I was a teaching assistant in Amiens, France for the 1999-2000 school year and I found it a great country to be vegetarian. I’m not so sure about vegan, but I’d love to see someone do a Vegan in Paris blog. That would be some funny entertainment. Maybe I’ll have to go back just to do it.