Friday, March 12, 2010

"What Farmed Animals Are For"

During my customary morning tea-drinking and Google News perusing this morning, I found yet another reason to roll my eyes at Jonathan Safran Foer. I'd mentioned a few times around the holidays that I was reviewing his book Eating Animals. The review grew more and more lengthy and then my issues with it became so numerous that I decided to hold off on blogging it and to instead turn it into a paper for school. Once I'm finished with it, I may share it on the blog in installments (if it turns out half-decent). But back to this morning...

The British trade website Farmers Weekly Interactive ran a short article by a guy called Adam Bedford today ("My pint with a vegan") that calls for a shrugging off of the "meat vs. no meat" approach to considerations of raising animals for human consumption. Bedford's piece has all of the typical elements of pro-animal industry and anti-veganism articles that show up in this sort of context. First, there is a reference to a real or fictional encounter with some token and/or stereotypical vegan(s). Bedford describes his encounter with unfettered derision as a "vegan love-in" where he claims to have shared "a pint" with a couple he admits are "generally nice people" albeit "militant vegans". What exactly he mans by "militant", the reader is left to fill in himself / herself depending on his or her preconceptions of vegans. I figure that it was merely a trite attempt to reinforce a stereotype , since he describes the most "scary" and "uncomfortable" thing about them that they held a "deep-seated and fundamental opposition to the farming of livestock".

The next typical element in such articles is the token unapologetic (and very often exaggerated and sensationalistic or even sexualized) reference to the tastiness of (or to the vital act of devouring) this or that animal body part or secretion. In this case, Bedford counsels his domestic partner to help him muster up the wherewithal to get through a newspaper excerpt of Foer's Eating Animals he coincidentally comes across the morning after his outing with the "militant vegans": "'Best chuck a couple of extra rashers in there love,' I cried wearily, 'and 3 kilos of beef dripping. I need some psyching up.'"

The next typical element in such articles is where I often mention that the author has completely missed the point or has engaged in something akin to speaking in tongues. Often, it's merely the author's indulgence in using a
straw man fallacy. In Bedford's case, he goes on to cite Foer extensively to make his point that when considering the use of nonhuman animals, we must move away from (he quotes Foer) an '"all or nothing framework on food choices"', going on to say that he agrees with Foer that doing so could " help the industry to engage in a better, more sensible debate", but tipping the scales in adding that it would be "very useful for British farmers". Bedford calls this "[s]ubverting an ethical argument used as a justification for not eating meat". (I choose to call it regurgitating Foer honestly, instead of pretending that Foer is not actually condoning the consumption of animals, but I digress.)

Bedford, you see, views Foer's watered down rendition of the ethics of using and consuming animals as a great opportunity for farmers to grab to promote--
the use and consumption of animals! Bedford doesn't acknowledge that the use of animals is an issue. He is no promoter of humane choices or of "happy meat". He makes it very clear that enslaving and slaughtering nonhuman animals for human consumption is perfectly legitimate. He does, however, give the slightest token nod to Foer's mention of "factory farming" as presenting a potentially valid ethical quandary worthy of being weighed. However, clarifies his stance by saying:

"Factory farming" aside, I personally don't think eating meat or not eating meat is an ethical decision, it's a food choice. One's views on capital punishment, supporting Manchester United and kicking a cat are an ethical decision. I have no issue with someone who doesn't eat meat, as that is a personal decision for them to make. I personally choose to eat meat because I believe that that is what farmed animals are for.
No, Bedford views Foer's "arguments" and assertions as great stepping stones to talk to consumers about "the system in which UK meat is produced, the environmental credentials of livestock farming in the uplands, and the provenance and localised nature of livestock production". What's particularly noteworthy is that he seems quite fond of the fact that he found fodder for those in agriculture to promote the cycle of enslaving and slaughtering nonhuman animals for human consumption in what he calls "the arguments used by the 'anti-livestock' lobby". Go, Foer, go!


Vincent said...

There's a lot of this faux conflict in the industry right now. Nintendo might as well be accusing Sony of discouraging gamers by not creating a more user friendly controlling device. The regulated animal use industry only reflects the "competition" between several pro-use business plans.

Panda said...

Oh dear, here we go again with the 'animals are here for our use' rubbish that I see far too often!

I must say that some Vegan friends of mine reckon that it makes no difference as long as people are "waking up to Veganism", but I think differently...

Surely while people still believe that animals are somehow below them, the enslavement of animals will never end!

Sam said...

How is "kicking a cat" more of an ethical decision than paying someone to kill a cow?

Mylène Ouellet said...

Sam wrote:

How is "kicking a cat" more of an ethical decision than paying someone to kill a cow?

Exactly. This is where speciesism comes in. Some humans will pay thousands of dollars in veterinary bills to keep their feline or canine friend alive, but think nothing of the enslavement and slaughter of the animals customarily raised for food. This all gets even more weird when you consider the popularity in recent years of people buying miniature potbellied pigs, when you consider that the butcher shop's refrigeration units are filled with the body parts of pigs. The bottom line is that we live in a society where the "go to" position of most humans is to view nonhuman animals as existing for our use and pleasure. We need to change this status quo.

JⒺssica said...

I saw an interview he did on Ellen once to endorse his book, I had my fingers crossed the whole time hoping he would not be just another welfareist PETA type. I think I jinxed that, cause towards the end of the interview he starts going on about how 'you don't have to be vegan if you feel it's to hard, just eat "happy meat" '. So disappointing.

Mylène Ouellet said...

Jessica, I don't know if he still does, but for the longest time leading up to and just after the US Thanksgiving, he featured a link on his website for the book that led to a site where people could do geographical searches for "humane" turkey farmers. He's a vegetarian who promotes the consumption of nonhuman animal parts and products--the exploitation of sentient beings. It's no wonder that those who make their living raising animals for human use see value in Foer's "work".