Thursday, July 09, 2009

Since When Is Self-Preservation Ethical Eating?

Scanning through things in the news early this morning, I found yet another article that seeks to blend interest in supporting local farmers and in eating healthily with the idea of not harming animals. This new "conscientious consumer" fad has lumped so many things in together that they've become interchangeable to some as they're each given equal moral weight. It's enough to make you dizzy to read these pieces like this one from Tuesday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Take, for instance, the 20-year-old described as the first exemplar of conscientious eating who "doesn't want to hurt anything or anyone as she goes about her life" so she eats meat from "animals who are raised on the range, not in a cage". According to the article:

For decades, ethical eating was largely limited to vegetarians and vegans, who don't eat milk or dairy in addition to forgoing meat. But the movement has grown to include many kinds of foodists.

Their reasons are many: Some want to improve their health. Others hope to sustain the environment or to stop the mistreatment of animals. And a growing number of people hope to support local growers and businesses, rather than out-of-state — or even out-of-the-country — conglomerates.
So, how is it that wanting to improve your health makes you an ethical eater? I always thought that was just about self-preservation. And although I've certainly understood some of the ideals behind the locavorist tendency to buy from area farmers, I can't help but sense that it's turning into this whole us vs. them mentality, where it's no longer so much about protecting the environment anymore as it is about not supporting outsiders. But I digress...

The article goes on for the next few paragraphs to talk about people's interest in buying fresh local produce for health reasons. I glimpsed the word "vegan" for the second time in the article, only to find them describing a token vegan couple who run a vegan deli:
The Menseys chose to give up meat and its byproducts after learning more about the antibiotics and steroids used in some animals. Mensey said they both want to take care of the "best investment" they have on the planet, their bodies.
What does wanting to avoid polluting your body with chemicals have to do with veganism, honestly? I guess I'd hoped that in an article that's purportedly about ethical eating that someone--anyone--would have thought to actually discuss not consuming animal products at all for ethical reasons, rather than talk about veganism in terms of self-motivated health concerns, which really aren't what veganism is about. The article drones on about Oprah, healthier eating, organic foods, eating locally and includes a quote from some guy who "aspires to be more of a vegetarian" but who eats fish and chicken, because "'[i]f you eat meat that's high in fat, it's not good for you'". It's not exactly "good" for the party being eaten, either.

I thought that maybe there'd finally be some focus on animal ethics upon reading the title of the article's next section, "Treatment of Farm Animals", but then read its first paragraph:
Another factor is the environment. Rhodes believes a lot of land that is used to grow grains for animals in confinement could be used to grow crops to help curb worldwide hunger.
Aha! So it's wrong to confine animals since they eat up grain that could be used to feed hungry humans. Got it. The article then quotes a token vegetarian who is "opposed to concentrated feedlot operations" and quotes him as saying something about carrots not suffering when they're eaten. This vegetarian goes on to quip about his friends who are "devoted carnivores" and how he juxtaposes himself with them as someone who's thought about what he eats, while they have not. I can't help but think that he hasn't really thought things through, since if you really think about what you eat, not eating animals or their products at all (and the ethics of not doing so because they have an interest in not being eaten or enslaved) should, at the very least, be some sort of consideration on your radar, shouldn't it? At least, you'd think that it would have gotten a passing mention in a newspaper article about ethical eating. But who's really thinking these days, anyway?


Stephanie E. said...

Um, yeah. I saw this article this morning too; this is my own city's paper. I'll be penning my reaction later today or tomorrow. There was so very much to be disappointed in here. But apparently, neither "vegetarian" Ken Midkiff (whom I've met) nor the article's author even understands what "vegetarian" means--he calls himself a vegetarian while also talking about where he gets his salmon--so no surprise that "vegan" passes them right by.

And I can't tell you how disappointed I was to read the VegaDeli owners' remarks--that is, the focus solely on human health and the complete lack of reference to the ethics of eating animals. I really hope they had much more to say that was just cut out from the article.

Cavall de Quer said...

People who espouse vegetarian - or even vegan - diets to save their own hides make me ill.
I'm also convinced that these people don't stay the course, partly because health ideas change and partly because, oddly enough, the ethical motive not to exploit animals seems to supply more power than selfish one unexpected hope for the human race, really.