Friday, June 19, 2009

Even Non-Meat Eaters Endorse the Eating of Animals

My early morning read pretty much clinched it for me today that people need a stronger grounding in both semantics and basic logic. Yesterday I heard about lacto-vegetarians wanting to call themselves lactovegans; today, I read that the writer of a column called "Vegetarianismism" is now calling people who eat meat "fellow vegetarian[s]". What's next, really? (This is going to be a little long.)

Max Fisher, The Atlantic's token vegetarian foodie, has now gone on record as 1) endorsing the eating of animals and 2) conflating vegetarianism with the eating of animals. In his piece from Wednesday called "The Case for Semitarianism", Fisher revisits ethical relativism with that same delight recent Pollanite foodies have been oozing while oohing and aahing over their hands-on involvement in the slaughter of some non-human or another. In Fisher's case, his oohing is over someone else's participation in the slaughter of a pig. Fisher uses terms like "beautiful" to describe how the Greeks have (here comes the euphemism) "celebrated pork". He immerses himself completely in his Pollan-gasm, writing:

I looked at the bright, smiling faces in Aglaia's photo as they held the severed head of the pig and resisted my knee-jerk reaction that meat is "wrong." I thought how silly it would be to tell these people to eat tofu instead, and what a loss to Greek culture, to all culture, it would be if they did. Food is absolutely central to the cultures that make the world so interesting, and that food includes meat
then invites us all to "understand why the cost of universal vegetarianism would be perhaps too high". Heaven forbid that we wipe the gleeful expressions off the faces of those Greek children during photo ops with severed heads--that would just be plain ol' mean.

Fisher does admit that this fixation on meat is "bad for the animals who die to produce it", but I guess that how bad it is for the animals isn't a particularly weighty or relevant concern for him, since his solution is that there should be "compromise" and that some animals are just going to have to be collateral damage so that humans can still cater to their taste buds and indulge themselves in their bloodlust.

Predictably, he quotes New York Times foodie Mark Bittman who recently co-opted the term vegan to help promote his book and latest food fad) and uses this as his stepping-stone to advocate the occasional eating of animals. He calls this "mitigated meat". As if the name-dropping, bandwagon-hopping and euphemisms weren't annoying enough, he then redefines the term vegetarian by providing the example of a "lifelong vegetarian [sic] friend [who] allows herself meat on holidays and special occasions". (One has to wonder whether Fisher extends this own redefining of the term to himself, since he frequently reminds his readers that he's a vegetarian.)

So what to do? According to Fisher, it depends on whether you view animal flesh as "an indulgence similar to alcohol: a social norm harmless in careful moderation" or if you view it as being "more like cigarettes--a harmful vice at any level". I guess that viewing it as the product of the torture and slaughter of a sentient creature isn't an option anymore. It's either naughty to eat animals, or naughty and unhealthy. It's all about us and not about them. Fisher's take (and introduction of yet another foodie term crafted to make people feel hip and lovely about eating animals)?
For me, the latter view makes sense, though that has a bit to do with my addictive personality (I can either eat three burgers a week or no burgers at all) as well as my moral qualms. But I see no problems--ethical, dietary, or culinary--with what I like to call semitarianism: A diet of sometimes vegetarianism, sometimes omnivorism.
So now I wonder, just how much meat do you have to eat and how many times a day do you have to eat it to qualify as an omnivore? 'Cause it seems to me that by definition, if you eat it at all, that makes you an omnivore. Is it just me, or does it seems as though foodies would like to make the word taboo, without actually condemning the eating of animals itself?

In asserting that he sees no ethical problems inherent in eating animals, Fisher contradicts what he'd written earlier about his own vegetarianism stemming from how he'd "long thought that eating a (once) living thing seemed fundamentally immoral". Fisher takes his philosophical meanderings further off-track by contrasting his proposed new "semitarianism" to (another foodie term for omnivorism) flexitarianism, stating that his new form of vegetarianism "is borne out of philosophical conviction, and that conviction is no less legitimate for food-lovers who abstain from meat one day a week or all seven". Furthermore, sounding more like Palin than Pollan, he asks all vegetarians and vegans to "recall that even the most fervently ethics-based vegetarianism isn't really about an ideological purity of all-or-nothing, us-versus-them purism activist groups foster".

Fisher then explains that what vegetarianism and veganism are all about is reducing animal suffering and he absolves humans of any sense of agency or accountability by reassuring us that "[w]hether one person gives up meat or three people cut out a third, it's all the same to the cow, and it should be the same to us". So if someone kicks me in the shin hard enough to bruise it or three people kick me in the shin a little less hard to produce the same bruising, should it be all the same to me? More importantly, should it be all the same to them?


Stephanie E. said...

Thanks for responding to Max's post. I read it with my jaw dropped. I had my own angry row with him (part 1 here:; part 2 is linked to from there) over his "Fervor of the Vegan" ridiculousness, but at the time, I encouraged others, in particular via an e-mail list, to give him a chance; I thought he had the potential to get it and grow. This latest post from him stripped me of any desire to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Mylène said...

Hi Stephanie! I read your response to that article a few days ago and enjoyed it quite a bit. You were a lot more patient with him than I was. He's not a particularly good writer and comes off like a bit of a petulant brat who's pretending to be a vegetarian to somehow give more credence to his obvious hostility towards most vegetarians and vegans (e.g. his piece from last week).

I have a hunch that the next thing we'll be reading of his will be concerning his transition back to meat-eating (or as he would probably call it--semitarianism). This week's piece just feels like too much of a lead-in to that. Maybe he figures that he can be The Atlantic's Mark Bittman.

Dan Cudahy said...

I agree that it seems like Fisher is leading into his announcement that he is no longer a vegetarian (not that there's much rational difference between a vegetarian and an omnivore, except perhaps in general attitude).

I wonder if Max sees slavery and genocide the same way. Slavery isn’t wrong, per se, it’s just wrong to have as an institution the size of the institution it was in the antebellum American South. Murder of the innocent, and even small-scale, ‘backyard’ genocide, aren’t wrong per se, it’s just wrong to take it to the level that the Nazis took it. We can engage in injustice and atrocity as individuals; we should only be ‘moderate’ about our personal acts injustice and atrocity, correct Max?

Max, with moral reasoning like yours, we have no need to distinguish between civilization and savagery.

Cavall de Quer said...

Yes, what a disgrace to the name of "rational being" this person must be. I particularly dislike the idea that cruel and/or lethal practices must be kept up because they're part of a "tradition" - we can all list disgusting traditions that humanity should be glad to say goodbye to - and the "occasional" meat-eating idea (like occasional paedophilia) is so incoherent, coming from anyone with the slightest grasp of the issues, is breathtakingly illogical. first comment here - I like the blog very much.

Mylène said...

Well said, Dan. I agree completely.

And thanks, Rita. I'm glad that you like the blog. I agree that tradition isn't a valid justification for the perpetuation of anything that ends up harming others.

amelia said...

i always get a good frustrated laugh from these people who make excuses to shuffle around in the kiddie pool instead of jump right into the deep end. veg*nism IS an all-or-nothing lifestyle, and this dude needs to get off his high, meaty horse and say, "hi, my name is max fisher, and i'm an omnivore." i could easily write a long rant about it myself, but i'll spare your eyes. you know what you're doing, keep it up!

Kristen M. said...

I think people are forgetting the philosophical concept behind vegetarianism and are just using the term to state that they "obstain from meat, most of the time" for dietary reasons, not for animals, as is the case with my roommate who occasionally eats fish. While I find it infuriating I would rather keep the peace in my house than go on an all out war over semantics...but in this case he should be fired as a writer or at least give up the BS that he's a vegetarian for animal rights.