Sunday, July 20, 2008

Other Omnivores: Leah

This is the second installment in an occasional series exploring others’ alimentary habits and thoughts about food.

Talented violinist and singer Leah Germer, my sophomore-year roommate at Columbia, is one of the most thoughtful vegetarians I know.  As a precocious five-year-old, she decided to give up meat and convinced her parents and sister to do the same.  The Philadelphia native is still a fervent defender of animal rights, but her respect for animals is tempered by a healthy dose of respect for people and their traditions.  A gracious guest, Leah (whose name is pronounced “lay-uh” rather than “lee-uh”) has been known to have the occasional non-vegetarian meal when visiting the homes of people whose culinary backgrounds draw heavily on meat.  “I’ve never had a hamburger or steak, but when I’m confronted with unusual meat, I’ll sometimes make an exception and try it for the purpose of experiencing culture,” she says. 

The alabaster-skinned beauty is currently finishing up a semester in Berlin, where she enjoys eating banana ice cream, frequenting biergartens, and getting to know the locals. 

Below are Leah’s responses to the “Other Omnivores” questionnaire.

Name:  Leah Germer

Age:  21

Profession:  student

Favorite vegetarian food:  Indian food (is that specific enough?), like Palak Paneer (spiced spinach with Indian cheese), Vegetable Curry, Malai Kofta (dumplings in cream sauce)

Favorite non-vegetarian food:  tuna fish

Food you will never give up:  cheese

Favorite food memory:  Homemade mozzarella cheese I had in Sicily.  It changed flavor four times in my mouth. Also the bear in a mushroom cream sauce that I tasted in Romania, which literally melted in my mouth. 

Biggest food worry:  I'm not sure what kind of "worry" you mean. I worry that things like bananas will disappear from supermarkets because of the energy costs of overseas transport.  That all those international goodies at Zabar’s that make us foodies feel so cosmopolitan are actually a factor in pollution and the deterioration of the environment, as well as the global food crisis. That the vast variety of foods we enjoy every day is costing us, and the planet, a lot.

Would you eat meat grown in a laboratory?  This requires more  thought...leaning toward yes, though.

Favorite Anti-Vegetarian Society of Meat Eaters slogan [Disclosure:  I accidentally didn’t include the link to the AVSME site when I sent my questions to Leah, so she provided an answer based her own experience]:  This isn't exactly anti-vegetarian, but it does display the confusion among carnivores about what we're about: "So, like, I don't get it...if there were a cake, but in the shape of a cow...would you eat it?", or, someone once said something to me to the tune of, "Well, I don't waste my time worrying about the rights of chickens, I worry about the rights of people."


Stella said...

"The Philadelphia native is still a fervent defender of women's rights, but her respect for women is tempered by a healthy dose of respect for men and their traditions.

“'I’ve never had a sex slave or a forced marriage, but when I’m confronted with unusual women, I’ll sometimes make an exception and try it for the purpose of experiencing culture,' she says."

Laura said...

Oh, so you know Leah, too! Man, it was so annoying when she used to bring unusual women back to our dorm while I was trying to sleep, and then when I said anything about it, she was always like, "I'm just trying it to experience culture, Laura!"

Stella said...

Plenty of men do it. Shrug.

Nikki said...

Tradition and culture are tricky terms. Pretty much anything flies if you mention “experiencing the culture.” Yet no one arrives in Africa and says, “Genital mutilation? Get me one of those. I’m here to experience the culture.”

In Shirley Jackson’s classic short story “The Lottery”, she writes about a small town tradition of stoning to death the person who “wins” the lottery (that is, whoever draws the slip of paper with a black dot on it). At the end, they hear of nearby town who is thinking of banning the practice and they’re like, “But why? This is the way we’ve always done things.”

I just wish more people would respect kindness as much or more than they do tradition.

Anonymous said...

Not all things can be justified by referring to "experiencing culture". Some things can: eating meat every once in while is one of those things. Genital mutilation is not, therefore it is a bad example since it is rationally proven and commonly excepted that it is wrong. Eating meat does not have such a status (except of cannibalism and eating of sea horses).
And, consuming meat once in a while does not mean one is not a vegetarian anymore as long there is still (1.) a regularity in not eating meat and (2.) a corresponding rule that one actively, by will power, follows. Not all rules are suspended by breaking them, say, once, only s o m e are.

Leah said...

The comment from Oct. 9 2008 attempts to situate this dialogue within the context of what is "commonly accepted". He or she draws a distinction between eating meat and mutiliting genitals by identifying the former as commonly accepted and the latter as commonly unaccepted.

However, those accusing me of crimes equal to sexual misconduct most likely believe that "common acceptance" is not a good measuring tool for morality. (I agree.) The implication is that eating meat s h o u l d be viewed with the same condemnation as genital mutilation, despite its common acceptance; that common judgment errs in regarding the two "crimes" differently.

Anonymous said...

Supplement."commonly accepted" is, by itself, not a good argument. - I agree too. Therefore I wrote "rationally proven and commonly accepted". Please note the first part of the quotation. But: in ethics one should never assume that, even though there is some degree of objecitivity, the argument will be f u l l y objective (meaning independent of the preexisting view) - ethics is not physics. An ethical argument will end up beeing a negotiation between those two elements.
Other than in physics those radical contra-society-views will end up appearing to be rather subjective and personal attitudes. The lack of objectivity prevents the personal normative attitude from being binding to others.
Randomely paralleling all kinds of ethical v i e w s is just not fair. It is, do to the special character of ethical argumentation, even wrong.