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November 26, 2008

Bad faith arguments from Jonathan Chait
Posted by Patrick at 06:40 PM *

I hope that if I’m ever tempted to take Jonathan Chait seriously about anything, someone will remind me of this. I’m not sure what’s more offputting, Chait’s initial routine about what a kee-razy contradiction it is for Ezra Klein to eat meat and be concerned about the way we treat our livestock and poultry…or Chait’s ingenuous “update,” in which he quotes his target’s (quite reasonable) response while clumsily trying to frame it with an “aw, you take this too seriously” routine. Either way, Ezra Klein comes across as sensible and serious, while Jonathan Chait comes across as a prick.

Note also the comments following Chait’s post, which begin with someone deriding “Pretty boy Klein” and pretty much stay in that mode. Classy operation, the New Republic.

I eat meat, but I don’t think that disqualifies me from being concerned about how it gets to my plate. Klein observes that Chait’s riff here is the equivalent of those people who attack Al Gore for being a global-warming crusader even though he rides in cars and uses light bulbs. Of course it is; the point of such attacks is, first, to deride anyone who says anything that makes us feel uncomfortable, and second, to establish that we need listen to radical truths only if they’re spoken by people who live lives of saintly renunciation. Since such people are very rare, this guarantees we won’t be frequently disturbed.

Comments on Bad faith arguments from Jonathan Chait:
#1 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 07:09 PM:

Good excuse to point to Temple Grandin.
http://www.grandin.com/ though likely too well remembered to be needful.

Myself I don't have much to say on the New Republic.

Doubting as I do in both radical truth and saintly anything I suppose the intersection might well be empty and so it goes.

#2 ::: steve muhlberger ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 07:23 PM:

Idea for a New Year's project: bloggers make lists of people who have demonstrated bad faith and idiocy in political, economic and cultural commentary over the past 8 years. Readers could use their favorite bloggers' lists as a guide to the irredemiable; and someone could compile the results for a more general purpose guide.

#3 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 07:27 PM:

Why are wingers all like that?

#4 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 07:39 PM:

For heaven's sake. Who is more likely to influence the meat-production industry: people who buy meat, or people who don't?

Gah, the stupid, it burns.

BTW, I think I've recommended it before, but it bears repeating: All Flesh is Grass is a terrific book.

#5 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 08:15 PM:

On the other hand, Klein's original post is somewhat problematic. He starts out using the Palin video as a launching point for talking about animal slaughter, saying that if people had to actually see how their food animals were killed, it'd put 'em off eating them. (Do slaughterhouse workers tend towards vegetarianism?) He doesn't say, at this point, that he's contrasting factory farming with more humane farming methods, so the conjunction Chait notices does seem somewhat notable.

Klein's follow-up post does specifically talk about "the brutality of Confined Animal Feeding Operations". And yet, the farm from the Palin video was a small free-range poultry farm, not an "industrial farming operation" of the sort that Klein is talking about. So some confusion was natural.

Which doesn't excuse Chait's "very seriously" comment, a concise classic of the I'll dismiss you as a nerd for actually caring about issues genre.

#6 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 08:20 PM:

To be fair, Ezra is a handsome young man. Just sayin'.

#7 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 08:25 PM:

I'm currently brining a large organic free-range turkey.

I faced this when I visited the ancestral farm in Italy and realized that the chicken we were being served every night as a feast meal were related to the chickens we saw in the yard before dinner.

There is a distinction between being too fastidious to eat meat and being too fastidious to eat meat that's raised in a way that's not only gratuitously cruel but unhealthy.

I don't expect Jonathan Chait, of all people, to be able to grasp it. Judging from his work, he has difficulty making distinctions when people are dying.

#8 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 08:25 PM:

We don't often listen to radical truths spoken by those who do live lives of saintly renunciation, either; they get dismissed as wierdos, or people for whom it's easy, or the scapegoats who make up for everyone else's sins.

#9 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Note: we now have a cooperative farm-slaughter operation available in southern Puget Sound, so there are sources for humanely slaughtered, mindfully raised small farm beef, pork, and lamb here. There are also people who raise poultry for private sale most places, although it takes a bit of looking.

There is no operational necessity for meat to be raised and sold the way it is now. There are all sorts of ways in which animals could be better integrated into the whole food chain (the movie theater where my son works sends tons of unsold popcorn to the landfill every year, which cows would relish if they were allowed it as a pasture supplement) except for weird legal requirements ( the theater would need a license to resell the popcorn, for instance; we were going to buy the left-over solids from a local microbrew operation, only the City of Olympia required whoever took the spent hops and malt to also handle the sanitary waste and greywater).

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 08:48 PM:

Furthermore, people must walk before they can run. If Klein talking about inhumane butchering practices makes a few people more inclined to think about the issue, and more inclined to look for meat that isn't inhumanely prepared, that's a start. Those people will talk to their friends, and eventually the bar they're willing to overlook will get higher, and... it's a slow process, but it has to start somewhere.

I used to have this argument (over issues like racism) with my parents when I was in college. They'd say, "One person can't change the world!" and I'd say, "No, but I can change the little part of it that touches me -- and if enough of us do that, then the world will change." Sounds like the classic conservative/liberal argument, n'est-ce pas? The conservative saying that we have no choice but to accept the status quo, and the liberal saying that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

#11 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 09:08 PM:

Arrrrgggh! This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine.

#12 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 09:59 PM:

I admit having been trying to figure out for several years why people take Chait seriously, as a Voice of the Liberals.

But he's got national syndication and television appearances, and we have blogs, so he must be doing something right. Right?

#13 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 10:15 PM:

Avram@5: Do slaughterhouse workers tend towards vegetarianism?

One I once knew wouldn't eat certain things on account of what he knew about how they were made. But if you're particularly sensitive about that sort of thing you're probably not going to be doing that kind of job in the first place.

JESR@9:There is no operational necessity for meat to be raised and sold the way it is now.

Apart from price, alas.

#14 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2008, 10:58 PM:

Well, be fair. If Al Gore was to live like a hermit and forswear all modern conveniences, then his opinions wouldn't count because they'd dismiss him as a crazy nut, and the same would apply to Klein if he stopped eating meat.

#15 ::: myrthe ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 12:05 AM:

James @ 3
I think it's derived from the original British - "whingers".

Lee @ 10
Margaret Mead's quote has long stuck with me. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

#16 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 12:28 AM:

Several confirmed carnivorous friends here on the island are concerned about what goes into their meat. Unlike most people though, they have some acreage, so they raise their own. Cattle, pigs and chickens are common, though I've seen goats as well.

#17 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 01:18 AM:

Lila @ 4: "For heaven's sake. Who is more likely to influence the meat-production industry: people who buy meat, or people who don't?"

That's the argument I always make to my veggie friends: By providing a demand for ethically-grown meat, I'm doing more to end factory farming than simply not eating meat would do. They seem unconvinced.

clew @ 8: "We don't often listen to radical truths spoken by those who do live lives of saintly renunciation, either; they get dismissed as wierdos, or people for whom it's easy, or the scapegoats who make up for everyone else's sins."

Yeah. Humans have come up with any number of very clever reasons not to listen to people telling them things they don't want to hear. It's why ad hominem exists.

#18 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 01:25 AM:

Shaw had a great way of mocking this general attitude. He was a vegetarian and a socialist, and he would often end his speeches along these lines:

'As you exit the lecture hall, you will note a Rolls Royce parked on the street in the midst of this working class neighborhood. This illustrates perfectly the issue I've discussed of the contrasts between wealth and poverty. And please don't damage that Rolls Royce in any way. Its mine.'

#19 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 03:38 AM:

And, of course, concerns about humane treatment of animals aren't even the only issue with industrial-scale animal farming. There's the health and safety of people who live near it, too.

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 05:06 AM:

Some people forget that there are tracts of land which will produce food from livestock, yet cannot be cropped.

And, yes, some of the regulations on using waste are ridiculous. "Brewer's grains" have been a recognised cattle feed for a long time. Nobody in the UK is stupid enough to insist they can only be bought with the other waste, including the sewage.

Though we have out share of silly rules, when some things might be better classed as by-products, traded for centuries and suddenly encumbered by regulations on waste.

#21 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 06:37 AM:

1) Who is Jonathan Chait?

2) Why should I care what he thinks about anything?

#22 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 07:49 AM:

Let me put in a good word for kosher meat here, since it reliably means that the meat animal was raised in a sanitary and humane manner and slaughtered accordingly. As the ad for Hebrew National hot dogs used to say, "We answer to a higher authority."

#23 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 09:23 AM:

Connie H #22: There has been some controversy about the humane status of Kosher/Halal meat, as the animal cannot be stunned or drugged before slaughter.

#24 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 09:24 AM:

This carnivore prefers that her meat come from animals that have been humanely raised and slaughtered. What's so hard to understand about that?

Sometimes I think that the people who don't are people who feel guilty about eating meat -- who don't want to know where it comes from, and who would prefer that the production be kept hidden, under cover, and as far away from them as possible.

#25 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 09:49 AM:

Connie H. @ 22: As someone who keeps kosher I wish I could agree with you, but I'm not sure the kosher slaughterhouses are really that much better off than the rest of the meat industry.

It's true that humanely-raised animals are less likely to have the sort of lesions that render them un-kosher[*]. However, when an animal is slaughtered in a kosher fashion and it turns out to have those lesions, the carcass is just sold to a non-kosher vendor for processing. So even if humane farming practices could reduce the reject rate from, say, 30% to 20%, the cost of instituting those practices does not make up for the benefit.

Kosher consumers interested in humane farming practices might want to check out Mitzvah Meat.

(Disclaimer: I am not a customer of Mitzvah Meat; they're out of my price range. I deal with the ethical issues by just not eating very much meat.)

[*]An animal that would have died in a year had it not been slaughtered is considered neveilah, one subcategory of not-kosher; the rabbis consider lesions on the lungs as one sign that an animal is a neveilah, so animals are inspected for this problem after slaughter.

#26 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 11:58 AM:

I assume that Chait also thinks that kashrut-observant Jews are idiots; if you're going to kill an animal, why have silly laws about a slaughter method intended to make sure the animal does not suffer?

#27 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 01:03 PM:

What a number of people said about kosher meat. Also note that over the last couple of thousand years the total number of people who have kept kosher or halal while eating meat is quite large. Would Chait claim they are all hypocritical poseurs?

I try not to conflate the ethical and health issues around raising and slaughtering meat animals, in much the same way I try to keep separate the ethical and pragmatic issues around torture. It's harder to be clear if you mix your arguments, and easier to be refuted by reference to false or debatable implications resulting from the conflation. Changing slaughtering methods in the industrial meat industries wouldn't make a dent in the problems of pollution, fostering of germ resistance, and contamination of our food chain with biologically active chemicals. Conversely, cleaning up the healh and public safety problems won't make the slaughter any more ethical.

I eat meat, but I agree that we need to solve both those ethical and health problems, and the first step is probably to remove the subsidies that make it so easy and cheap for agribusinesses to ignore the problems*. I try to buy meat from smaller companies that don't use BGH and massive applications of antibiotics; I have, but don't routinely (and should, but it's inconvenient for me), bought meat from local butchers who buy the animals from local farmers. As more people turn away from the factory meat, and it becomes less profitable, more stores will provide meat from ethical, health-concerned growers.

* Also, let's remove the subsidy that lets ADM flood the food chain with sugar, and strike a blow against diabetes.

#28 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 01:39 PM:

Ezra wrote on his blog to the effect of "I keep getting accused of moralism. Moralism is good !"

Quite. Accused of having moral qualms about CAFOs ? exactly what the problem is with that, I cannot see.

We buy mostly meat from animals we've met.. there's a growing number of organic/grass-raised lamb and beef suppliers here in CO. It's more expensive, but it ensures I'm not feeding my children that witches' brew of antibiotics, hormones, and ground-up cow corpses, that the feedlot animals get.


#29 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 01:47 PM:

The best rule of thumb for 'The New Republic' is to give them no benefit of the doubt, for two reasonse:

1) They spent a number of years disearning it, workin' hard at it. By now the odds are simply against them having anything to say worth hearing, and if they did, the next upteen items would make up for that, in a negative way.

2) The people who work there were recruited and remained employed at a highly disonest and disgusting rag. If that becomes a career injury, rather than a steppingstone, it might lead to a better mass media.

#30 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 03:41 PM:

Lila @ 4 and heresiarch @ 17,

There are a number of prominent vegetarians, including Mollie Katzen, who have come to the same conclusion and have changed their activism (and diet) accordingly.

#31 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 04:12 PM:

Adrian @ 9 --

Turns out not to be the case, about that cost thing.

If you have direct or nearly direct distribution -- your butcher buys meat from these five guys, who have farms, and a long term reputation/business relationship with the butcher, and sells it to you -- the price is about the same and the quality is impressively greater.

Most of what gets sold now goes through cartelized (or naked monopoly) distribution systems, where the interests of the cartel are reflected in the entire operation. (And they've been acting to secure control for a long time; it's not about food quality, and it's not even mostly about profits. It's been about strangling all competition for ages.)

For instance, some clever scientists have been trying to figure out for some time what, precisely, is used to create a fast food hamburger; their results indicate that it's pretty much purely corn. Which is a stupid choice, but it feeds into a pattern of concentration in agribusiness and a pattern of established subsidy.

Best thing an individual can do, short term, whether or not they eat meat, is to find somebody who is selling via direct ("I grew this!"/"My mom grew this!") or nearly direct ("I been buying cabbage from dat guy these thirty years") distribution, and to pay attention, politically; there are all sorts of efforts to shut down direct food distribution channels. If you find one, grab every political lever you can.

Medium term, the whole SLOW (Sustainable, Local, Organic, Whole) food thing is a good idea and could use some legislative support.

Eating meat, well, if you weren't planning to eat them, why did you feed them?

#32 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 04:19 PM:

#3 ::

"Why are wingers all like that?"

Because being "like that" is part of our definition of "wingers"?

(Mind you, the association I have with "wings" at the moment is the turkey wings (and neck & giblets) that are simmering to make broth for the gravy (& soup, later) that will accompany the rest of the bird, now placidly being zapped in the microwave oven, and the dressing (packaged corn-bread type, with added onion, carrots,celery, & mushrooms), mashed white potatoes, and yams. These items, along with (tinned) cranberry sauce, and (supermarket) pumpkin pie, squash ('Delicata', this year), bean soup, and hominy, compose the short-shrift Thanksgiving feast characteristic of my living-alone last few decades.)


#33 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 08:26 PM:

Bruce @27 Also, let's remove the subsidy that lets ADM flood the food chain with sugar, and strike a blow against diabetes.

Oh, hear hear. Did anybody notice how damned hard it was this year to find a turkey without a "solution" in it which, upon further inspection, invariably contains sugar?

Answer: in Ponce, Puerto Rico, there were none. None. (Well, one brand at Wal-Mart didn't have sugar, but by this week they were all gone, leaving only sugary turkeys. Our freezer is only so big -- no room for a turkey.) So we had turkey breast baked with pork chops, bacon, and sausages instead.

In our case, it's not diabetes -- our daughter has Crohn's. Or, rather, had Crohn's. Thanks to our dietary modifications, she's been symptom- and medication-free for over a year now. We are firmly convinced that the ubiquity of sugar in the American (and now European) diet is killing us all.

So why can't they sell turkeys without sugar? Even last year it wasn't this extreme. Definitely one place where things are still getting worse.

#34 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 08:54 PM:

I'd heard this sugar is mostly subsidized excess corn made into high fructose corn syrup. Removing unnecessary HFCS in food would free up many ton[ne]s (thousands? millions?) of corn to use in, e.g., biofuels and improve the food & health of USians.

I spat out my maiden mouthful of Krispy Kreme doughnut in shock & disgust – revoltingly oversweet. A terrible disappointment after years of anticipation.

#35 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 08:56 PM:

Graydon @ 31, thank you. I'm afraid I've said that, or the equivalent, so often that people are getting tired of hearing it from me. But locally grown and responsibly fed meats are more expensive mostly because of the cost of marketing, not the cost of production.

#36 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 09:22 PM:

Bruce, #27: I'd actually be happier if we could get rid of the subsidy that lets them flood the food chain with HFCS, and get back to sugar.

Barry, #29: I have never forgotten the TNR cover article about "evidence for the existence of higher spatial dimensions" which proved, on reading, to include as one of its examples "the curious experience of architect Quintus Teal."

After I stopped boggling, I had the unshakable mental picture of the author of the article being unbearably pompous about his theories at a faculty cocktail party somewhere in California, and some smartass young assistant professor saying, "Hey, that might explain what happened to this friend of mine..."

Epacris, #34: I am SO with you about Krispy Kremes! They don't even count as "donuts" IMO, being nothing but fried air, cornstarch, and sugar held together with a little gluten.

#37 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Lee @ 36, re: "the curious experience of architect Quintus Teal" -- that sounds, um, crooked. You don't happen to recall which issue of TNR that was? I can't seem to find it in an on-line search.

#38 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:03 AM:

JESR @35 --

You're welcome.

I'm an approximation of a farm kid; we ate really well when I was a wee lad, and I know what the good stuff ought to look like. (Also, taste and texture.)

Some things are expensive; buffalo is expensive because they're savage and semi-domesticated and you need a fence like a tank trap. (Also, you're competing, price-wise, with the high end restaurant trade.) Ostrich is expensive because it's relatively new and, dude, hundred-fifty-kilo chickens. Wild boar is expensive because, dear god, wild boar, plus a real shortage of guys named Obelisk to do the wrangling.

But elk? Elk is in the same price bracket as the organic beef; the regular decent grass-fed Bruce County beef is the same price (sometimes less!) than the supermarket version, only, you know, food. Venison is cheaper than elk. (The elk and the venison are both ranched; you can't sell hunted meat in Ontario, which is why I can't get moose.)

Unwatered Danish-style side bacon is about eight bucks a pound of late, but, well, it's not actually going to shorten my life. The sealed, wet, nitrated, over-salted glop they've stuck a bacon label on, that will.

Pork is amazingly cheap; between four and five bucks a pound for loin. (Butterfly chops, rolled roasts...) That's CDN, and the minimum wage is 8.75 in Ontario. So roughly 1/2 hour for a pound of top grade pork.

Now, to get this, I had to make a concerted effort to find a good butcher shop, and Toronto has transit, and all, but the idea that direct or near-direct distribution, or SLOW food in general, is inherently more expensive, is just not well supported by the facts.

#39 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:12 AM:

Joel, Lee's previous comment on this refers to it as sometime in the 1990s. Apparently that issue hasn't been put into the tubes yet.

#40 ::: Nona ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:20 AM:

I resolved to give up HFCS last New Year's, and the difference has been surprising. After only a few months, food with HFCS in it started tasting weird and over-sweet to me. On the few occasions I've had more than a bite of corn-syrup-heavy food I've felt pretty gross afterwards, which makes me wonder if I'd just gotten used to feeling that way before.

The only trouble is, I have to master from-scratch fruit fillings by this coming Purim, because my mom always made hamentaschen with canned pie filling; I used to do the same, but they taste funny now.

#41 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:25 AM:

I like sugar sometimes, and honey sometimes -- but I like it when I want it, in my tea, for example, and not secretly shoehorned into every food I eat. Feeling this way, I have simply stopped eating pretty much all processed food -- which includes Krispy Kreme donuts and indeed, the donuts made at my neighborhood donut shop, which are delicious but also way too sweet, and god only knows what sort of fats they fry them in.

Michael at 33: it's fascinating that your daughter's Crohn's symptoms went away when she cut sugar out of her diet. I am curious: what did her doctor(s) say about that?

#42 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:43 AM:

Drambuie is nice in iced tea.

#43 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 02:13 AM:

P J Evans, #39: Ah, teamwork! I knew I'd told that story before, but couldn't recall where. Given the link you provided, I was able to hunt down the response downthread in which someone claimed to have located the article in question. Unfortunately, clicking on the link in that response brought up an "article unavailable" page; it appears that one would have to be registered with TNR, and perhaps pay a fee, to get to it.

#44 ::: Rozasharn ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 03:17 AM:

Nona @40, what sort of fruit fillings do you want to make for your hamentaschen?

#45 ::: Helen ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 04:26 AM:

#28 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 01:39 PM:
Ezra wrote on his blog to the effect of "I keep getting accused of moralism. Moralism is good !"
Quite. Accused of having moral qualms about CAFOs ? exactly what the problem is with that, I cannot see.

Right wingers can't complain about moral decline of Western Civ and in the same breath, accuse their opponents of being moralistic. Oh wait, they do, don't they?

#46 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 04:41 AM:

43: a naughty university in Kiev has put it online here.
http://scilib.univ.kiev.ua/doc.php?10135758

In addition to Quintus Teal, it also refers to the experience of one Gottfried Plattner.
Suspect it may not be entirely serious.

#47 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 07:31 AM:

I also like Wendell Berry's comment that factory farming "turns a solution into two problems"; on a small-scale multiple-crop farm, the animals' manure fertilizes the pastures. In factory farming you have huge waste lagoons from the feedlots AND you have to apply chemical fertilizer to the hayfields.

We get an increasing amount of our food through Locally Grown; the ordering software was written by one of our local guys, but he's been exporting it widely, so some of y'all might have something similar in your neighborhood. (Note: LG is taking Thanksgiving week off, so if you get a "temporarily unavailable" on the link, you can look here.)

Graydon, re ostriches, the USDA-recommended method of egg collection is amusing. (Get inside a plywood box. Scootch over till you're next to the egg. Lower your box over the egg and pick it up so the male won't see you. Scootch away again.)

#48 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 08:28 AM:

Graydon@38, I've seen elk steers being fattened at a farm in the Oregon Coast Range just inland from Astoria; they take impresssive fences, too, but since even the wild ones are so very much saner than bison it's mostly a matter of height rather than mass- and since elk proof fences are an off-the-shelf item for orchardists and the Department of Transportation, relatively cheap.

Cheap pork gets paid for in some pretty scary ways, including the possibility of new diseases. Thing is, small-scale pig farming still produces very cheap meat, but just not the quantities that factory processing demands. It's the processing and marketting section of the process that's the biggest problem in local sustainable meat/dairy/eggs and poultry production. The local cheese plant which was the market for the last couple dairy farms in my neighborhood was closed down because they couldn't get a permit to discharge their waste water into Puget Sound- the unacceptable contaminent being salt. They were asking to put salt water at the same temperature, pH, and salinity into the saltchuck, and couldn't. One of the farms is a housing development now; the other one raises dairy replacement cows.

I should be asleep, and since the ibuprofen I got up to take should be safely dissolved, I'm going back to bed before I get maudlin about the necessity of a healthy farming community in the production of healthy food. I'm going to have to get up in three hours and ready myself for a trek across town on Black Friday to attend a going out of business sale at the only independant art supply store in thirty miles or so. It's hard for me to separate out my feelings about food, good paintbrushes, and the current economic clusterfuck (viz Jon Stewart) right now. Diversity equals stability, and all that jazz.

#49 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 09:59 AM:

Graydon@31: If you have direct or nearly direct distribution -- your butcher buys meat from these five guys, who have farms, and a long term reputation/business relationship with the butcher, and sells it to you -- the price is about the same and the quality is impressively greater.

Can they really match the price of battery chicken? I'm not saying anyone should eat that stuff, but AFAIK quite a few people are looking for the cheapest animal protein they can afford.

#50 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 10:34 AM:

Right wingers can't complain about moral decline of Western Civ and in the same breath, accuse their opponents of being moralistic. Oh wait, they do, don't they?

I'm courageously taking a stand for important values and principles. You're moralising.

(But yes, they do. And not just in the USA- throughout the Western World.)

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 10:59 AM:

According to the Webster...

moralistic
Function: adjective
Date: 1865
1 : characterized by or expressive of a concern with morality
2 : characterized by or expressive of a narrow moral attitude

#52 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:02 AM:

Just out of curiosity, is there anything Jonathan Chait takes very, very seriously? Something that he curiously seems to be exempting himself from having to make any personal sacrifices himself to do something about?

Hmmm, lemme think for a few minutes. I'm sure something will come to mind.

#53 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:04 AM:

Adrian @49 --

In Canada? They can beat price of battery chicken.

This is because dirt and transport are relatively cheap; you can free-range chickens for very little, whereas the battery guys have a substantial capital investment and operating costs.

The battery operations are not -- fundamentally -- price driven; they're driven by consistent schedules and volumes, because the guys making McNuggets have very specific needs and do not want to deal with eleventy-many independents. The needs of large institutional customers, like the guys making McNuggets or the folks buying for a large grocery distributor, completely drive battery farms, and they have almost no interest in food quality as such nor consumer prices. (Prices other batter operations sell at, yes; prices paid by the consumer are more or less invisible to them. That's not true of the guy doing direct or near-direct distribution.)

I could get free-range chicken for about 2 CAD/pound if I was interested in being as cheap as possible; that's in one of the Chinese markets, feet still on. Organic free range chicken's price varies by season, but last I checked was something like 6 CAD/pound. Plain old free range is less than that, and a willingness to buy just legs is less than that still.

JESR@48 --

Cheap pork in Ontario isn't quite what it is in, say, the Carolinas; all farming in Ontario is pretty heavily regulated. Not quite in the ways I would best prefer, but there is very substantial oversight, including for waste storage.

We also simply don't have the maize lobby the US does; it's never much better than a marginal feed crop up here.

#54 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:21 AM:

Ajay @46: Considering that the article ends with the author recounting his experience with a disappearing chinese magic shop, I don't think there's a drop of seriousness in the whole thing.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:32 AM:

Are battery chicken the non-insulated counterpart to rubber chicken?

#56 ::: Betsy-the-muffin ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:49 AM:

Lizzy L @41:

Exactly; there are places where sugar is a good thing (tea) and even places where it is a necessary thing (lemonade, cookies, cranberry sauce).

But I do not like living in a world where I need to check the ingredients lists of canned vegetables to make sure that they contain un-sugared tomatoes or green beans or whatever.

Generally:

I am a college student and cannot really afford to buy free-range meats more than occasionally. I wish my budget better let me back up my morals with actions.

But at the same time--it seems to me that while ethical meat production is inherently more expensive, a lot of the reason "good" meat is so much more expensive is because it's sitting on the wrong side of the supply/demand curve. It seems to me that, ultimately, regulation driving the meat industry in the direction of CAFO will not make meat prices rise that much; lowest-common-denominator products can't charge specialty prices, even if the lowest-common-denominator is raised by regulation.

#57 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:02 PM:

I second or third or whatever the recommendation to read what Temple Grandin has to say on the subject of slaughtering. Her book "Thinking in Pictures" talks about it a fair amount, and the articles on her website cover a lot of the same ground.

Read the sections on kosher slaughter and you may not be quite so confident that kosher necessarily equals humane (that it should is mostly not in question, the problem is that in practice it doesn't always). The recent Agriprocessors expose showed serious mistreatment of both animals and workers at a large kosher slaughterhouse, but that's not the only problem; some kosher slaughtering is still done by hoisting the animal first, which is painful, may break their legs, and of course induces panic. Upright slaughtering using a knife seems to be as humane as the captive bolt method, assuming both are done with care.

I actually found the book and the writings on her site made me feel a little better about eating meat, which is something that causes me a lot of guilt and which I have a very hard time defending. But what she had to say is that there are ways of treating animals during slaughter that keep them calm, unworried, and kill them instantly without suffering; and just as importantly, that keep workers from having to treat animals inhumanely. Many slaughterhouses already operate by those rules. I'd like to see them instituted uniformly - clearly they can be done and remain commercial competitive, so as with so many things it's just laziness and "we've always done it this way" that keeps plants from converting. If we could be sure that all meat produced here met those minimum standards I'd be much happier.

Setting a higher standard for treatment would also prevent things like the chicken farmers who used a wood chipper to kill thousands of adult chickens but couldn't be prosecuted because a USDA vet had approved it. Setting standard practices for all cases where animals need to be killed would mean no such impromptu methods could be used. (This is distinct from the use of very high-speed macerators to kill male chicks, which is viscerally repulsive but is probably as painless a method as any.)

#58 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:04 PM:

Serge, #51: So Chait is using definition 1 for himself and definition 2 for Klein. Well, that's nothing new, as Raphael's declension points out.

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 12:31 PM:

Lee @ 58... Oh, I was agreeing with Raphael. I had originally thought of adding a snide comment after the definition then got lazy and decided not to.

#60 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 02:20 PM:

Note that the largest reason humane meat is more expensive is regulation, most especially slaughter regulations. If you want to sell meat, it has to be* slaughtered in a USDA-licensed slaughterhouse, with a USDA inspector on-site, with a bathroom for the USDA inspector, and so on. The marginal expense per animal is much much higher for a small slaughterhouse, and it's very difficult to have a part-time slaughterhouse and be able to sell meat. (Last I heard, there are only two USDA-licensed slaughterhouses that slaughter for owners in all of Virginia.)

There's a workaround, but it requires capital and organization. You can buy a live animal, and have it slaughtered. That doesn't require a USDA licensed slaughterhouse. There are many more slaughterhouses available. If you do that, though, the cost of pasture-raised beef is about the same as beef from the grocery store.

(Or, you can do what I do and kill what you eat. That isn't recommended for city people.)


*There is some exception for poultry, which is why pastured poultry is so important to the small and local farm movement. Getting a similar exemption for larger animals would be huge help.

#61 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 03:23 PM:

Lee @ 36

I'd actually be happier if we could get rid of the subsidy that lets them flood the food chain with HFCS, and get back to sugar.

You're right that ADM's contribution to our diet is HFCS, and that it appears to be the worst ingredient our national diet from the point of view of inducing diseases like diabetes. But even in foods that don't have HFCS in them, some other form of sugar is often added. I believe that in many cases this is a deliberate attempt by the manufacturers to make the food at least somewhat addictive, to increase sales. Even if not deliberate, it has that effect on many people.

I'm really angry these days about the way that so many industries have become, one way or another, addictive drug pushers.

Krispy Kremes, yuck.

#62 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 03:35 PM:

Sam Chevre @80, the other problem is restrictions on the amount of meat an on-farm slaughter/custom butcher operation can sell: anything less than one half-share of half a carcase of beef or pork is illegal. That means you need around $250 and a 4cu ft freezer to purchase small producer meat, and it has to be picked up from the meat cutter. There are capital intense means for small farmers to have single farm operations that sell supermarket amounts of meats, but for people who are already in a cow/calf pasture based situation, there are complications having to do with existing usage.

In fact, for people who have been farming the same land for a couple-three-four generations, everything which makes a viable direct-to-consumer high value operation is prohibitively complex (in the US, in my state, in my experience). Getting organic certification when one is burdened by decisions made fifty or eighty years ago, when there has been no break in the ownership chain, is nightmarish because of record-keeping requirements; just changing course when one already has a herd of cattle and a suite of barns, sheds, and fences is like trying to turn an ocean vessel in a river channel.

#63 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 03:35 PM:

Sugar and salt - huge amounts of both of these hidden in lots of processed foods, and if you don't eat them much, your tastes/tolerance changes. We got some "nice" bread rolls a couple of weeks ago. Both spent the evening drinking huge amounts of water and finally worked out it was probably due to lots of salt in the rolls, when we normally have fairly low-salt diet (not too much processed food, don't add salt when cooking etc.)

#64 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 03:52 PM:

Back to the subject of meat, one of the reasons I became a vegetarian, 26+ years ago, was a rejection of factory farming and inhumane slaughter methods (yes, I've spent time in slaughterhouses - part of veterinary training). If people are going to eat meat (and I know many are), then the animals should have a life before death. Yes, I know that extensive farming systems are not welfare-perfect, but intensive agribusiness livestock farming is not good for the animals, not good for the environment and, in my opinion, not good for people either.

Howver, when medical opinion recommended that people here in the UK cut back a bit on eating meat - say, not eating any a couple of days a week - there was a huge outcry from farming representatives. Funny, I thought that what they ate as alternatives was also likely to come from farmers...

If we went back to raising animals mostly on land not suitable for growing crops, and using grain for feeding people rather than converting it inefficiently to beef, and returned to fertilising land with manure instead of artificial (highly subsidised) fertilisers, and used more locally-grown produce, I think most people (and the environment, and small farmers) would be better off - but big agribusiness would not - and they are the ones with clout.

#65 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 05:56 PM:

Chalk me up as another person who think Patrick is giving Chait too much credit for good faith. It's Morton's Fork. Someone who doesn't live a life of ascetic renunciation can be dismissed as an effete hypocrite, and someone who does live such a life can be dismissed as a weirdo who crouches in a cave instead of engaging with the modern world. Either way, you don't have to listen to the argument.

#66 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 07:46 PM:

I don't want to crouch in a cave unless it has a reliable broadband internet connection, and access to delivery services.

#67 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 08:53 PM:

Ah, Earl (#66), so you get speared by the “effete hypocrite” tine of the fork (like the vast majority of us).

#68 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 09:17 PM:

ajay @ 46: I agree that the article seems to be at least partly tongue-in-cheek. Which then leads to the question of whether that was understood by the editors and/or the readers.

#69 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 09:36 PM:

Eh, if faux hermitage is good enough for Thoreau, it's good enough for me.

#70 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 10:27 PM:

dcb, 63: I have to keep an eye on my salt intake, and I'm convinced that the amount of sugar/corn syrup in some foods you wouldn't expect them in (the one that threw me was Progresso New England clam chowder!) is to offset the remarkable amounts of salt they put in.

I wish there were a way to compare nutritional labels from, say, 20 years ago to those out there now, just to see how sugar and sodium levels for some of these things have changed over time.

#71 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:43 PM:

I'm not convinced that salt and sugar levels in canned and processed foods are any higher than they were when people were into home canning and preserving. Back then, it was to put enough into the liquid that it was a hostile environment for microbes. Meat and fish used to be salted for storage. Fruits get a ton of added sugar for preservation. Now, we have freezers, inert gas and long distance transportation of fresh food.

That's not to say that processed foods are low in salt/sugar/hfcs, or that they could be beaten by well cooked fresh ingredients, because of course, they aren't and they can.


#72 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2008, 11:46 PM:

Matt, #65: !!! I would never have thought to describe it that way, but you're absolutely right.

#73 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 01:34 AM:

We canned/preserved a lot of stuff when I was growing up. As I recall, canning fruit does take sugar to make the syrup the fruit is canned in.

But the other way we preserved things was in the freezer - and that meant that green beans, peas, etc., didn't have extra salt or sugar.

And speaking from personal and recent experience - when I make jam, I control how much and what king of sugar goes in - and it is possible to make completely sugar-free jam.

#74 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 11:27 AM:

The sugar in canned fruit preserves structure and texture as well as conserving flavor. You can waterpack many fruits either sweetened with artificial sweetners or completely unsweetened as long as they're processed in a pressure cooker rather than open kettle. They're safe to eat, but dessert plums and very ripe peaches or apricots are prone to turn into a slurry.

Salt in canned vegetables is another case of old tech carrying over into the pressure cooker era: the most dangerous pathogen in canned food is Clostridium botulinum, which is not effected by salt. Green beans are notoriously the worst offendors, and are, in addition, nearly impossible to salt properly once they've been cooked, so the misconception that proper canned beans are salty for food safety reasons came about.

(Once I've given a 4-H demmonstration on any set of information, it's never going to go away, is it? 44 years, and I could still stand up and recite all that and more, but I'd miss my flip chart.)

#75 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 12:28 PM:

Joel Polowin @ 68:

Partly tongue in cheek? He ends with a story about coming across a hypercube in a Chinese curio shop, deciding that $12 is too much to pay, being unable to find the shop later when he changes his mind, but continuing to search: "When I do, I shall certainly buy the thing and bring it to Washington. There I'll make an offering of it to Mrs. Clinton as a sort of seed or crystal around which American society, politics--and indeed life--can be reconstituted along four-dimensional lines, for a truly millennial millennium."

My guess is that he had to be treated for a perforated cheek after that, unless it was a sprained tongue.

I would guess this is the same Jim Holt who wrote an article in the Oct 2, 2006 New Yorker entitled "Unstrung: In string theory, beauty is truth, truth beauty. Is that really all we need to know?"

#76 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Yarrow @ 75... I'll make an offering of it to Mrs. Clinton as a sort of seed or crystal.

#77 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2008, 07:28 PM:

Regarding kosher: the kosher rules apply from the moment of slaughter onwards, through packaging. They say nothing about the raising of meat, other than that the animal has to be otherwise healthy at the moment of slaughter. So most kosher processing facilities buy cattle and poultry from local farmers, sight unseen, and receive them and slaughter/butcher them according to the kosher rules.

Any meat that is not kosher, as well as the hindquarters of mammals (which can be made kosher, but with a lot of expensive labor, so it's generally not done in the US, where meat is plentiful), is sold then to non-Jews.

What constitutes "humane" slaughter is subject to a lot of controversy. Jews maintain that kosher slaughter (razor-sharp knife cutting the neck, which severs the carotid artery and jugular vein, thus instantly draining the brain of blood BEFORE the nerves react with pain impulses) is the most humane method; most US state laws state that stunning before slaughter is more humane. Kosher operations generally have to get a specific exemption, often on a per-session basis, to state slaughter requirements.

When I say "per-session", I mean that once a month, a group of slaughterers and butchers hired by a kosher meatpacker will rent a processing facility, clean it, spend a day killing and packaging animals, and go away again. Many kosher operations work like this.

Regarding Chait/Klein - sounds like my brother. He has been veg (although he eats eggs/milk/fish) since 1991, when he drove across country to grad school (UC-Davis, entomology) and was shocked by the amount of land given over to feed corn. Now, it turns out, that in the past year or so he has started to eat meat. It started with eating "organic" meat, that is, grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, chickens that he grew himself, etc. But he realized that a) he likes meat, and b) it's a slippery slope from ethically pure meat to regular meat. So he has been sliding down the slope, and doesn't seem to mind that much. He had never insisted that his wife & kids eat veg, which may influence things - he does a lot of the cooking, and the rest of the family eats meat.

#78 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Connie #22: ''As the ad for Hebrew National hot dogs used to say, "We answer to a higher authority."''

In re Hebrew National, believe it or not, they don't actually sell kosher meat anymore. At least, not in any supermarket I regularly check. There's not a single hecksher of any description on their packages.

Which is disappointing, especially given that Best's Kosher is now out of business, so if I want to buy hotdogs my kosher-keeping family can eat at a summer barbecue, or whatnot, I have to make a special pilgrimage into a kosher-keeping enclave neighborhood hours from my house -- because there are currently NO brands of hecksher-marked franks (beef, turkey, or whatever) available in the mainstream supermarkets I frequent.

I live in Chicago, btw.

#79 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 07:47 PM:

I thought Hebrew National was now Triangle-K? Yes, here it is, they say that all of their products are under Triangle-K. Apparently, HN is part of ConAgra.

Call them up if you want to make sure that they're supervised, even if they don't have a mark on the package.


#80 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 10:52 PM:

Michael Pollan's book The Omnivore's Dilemma has a wonderful chapter about a "grass farmer" who raises beef, pork and chickens that are thoroughly happy and healthy, until they go to the great beyond. And the farmer is doing it sustainably on hilly pasture. For the cows and pigs, he wrestles with the miserable USDA slaughter rules that are described above, but he can get away with (humanely) killing his chickens himself. My favorite part is the PETA member who shows up to kill a chicken. He just had to have some meat, and this was the only way he could see doing it.

Full disclosure: I eat vegetarian most of the time, but occasionally satisfy a craving for a slice of bacon, a bowl of pho, or some crab.

#81 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 11:41 PM:

#20 David Bell:
"Brewer's grains" have been a recognised cattle feed for a long time.

What about the "swill-milk dairies" that cartoonist Thomas Nast crusaded against?

#82 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2008, 11:42 PM:

Carrot juice is murder!

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 06:16 AM:

Many restaurants use animal fat and stock to cook their vegetables. For me, that's a "best of both worlds" situation; for others, not so much.

#84 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:49 AM:

Erik #82: A fruititarian[1]!

[1] Movie reference.

#85 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:02 AM:

I'm a humanitarian.

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:08 AM:

And a veterinarian, Ginger, but not a Rotarian? Do you live in an area considered riparian?

#87 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:12 AM:

Yes, I'm in a riparian area, so I am also a Pastafarian but not a seafarin' one.

#88 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 11:24 AM:

Ginger.... Are you also an Edith Piaf fan, also known as a nonjeneregretterian?

#89 ::: Stevey-Boy ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 12:51 PM:

As a former slaughterhouse employee I can honestly say there was not much that occurred in the slaughterhouse that would stop me from eating almost any cut of meat. However, where and how the animals were raised and their transport to the slaughterhouse were another matter entirely.

Also, hormone additives etc... make me very wary of meat suppliers. How does a Tysons chicken manage to move around with such disproportionately large breasts?

#90 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 01:42 PM:

All I can see are millions of chickens with tiny support bras.

#91 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 04:30 PM:

They don't have any room to move, so it doesn't matter, does it?

Abi @84 - there are real fruitarians. I've known a few - one a homeless guy who was always so hungry, he'd eat a juice mix of every bruised fruit donated to Food Not Bombs that week. And there was a famous US comic who was fruitarian and wrote a book about it. Dick Gregory, maybe?

The fruitarian rule is "only the ripe fruit that comes off the plant and leaves it living." So it includes things like berries, nuts, tomatos, garlic scapes (but not bulbs), tree fruits, kiwis, etc.

#92 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 04:30 PM:

They don't have any room to move, so it doesn't matter, does it?

Abi @84 - there are real fruitarians. I've known a few - one a homeless guy who was always so hungry, he'd eat a juice mix of every bruised fruit donated to Food Not Bombs that week. And there was a famous US comic who was fruitarian and wrote a book about it. Dick Gregory, maybe?

The fruitarian rule is "only the ripe fruit that comes off the plant and leaves it living." So it includes things like berries, nuts, tomatos, garlic scapes (but not bulbs), tree fruits, kiwis, etc.

#93 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 05:14 PM:

I just went to a program on ethics of [kosher] food production at Yeshiva University on Thursday morning. One of the speakers was a veterinarian, who talked a lot about egg production. The chickens are given 67 sq in each, where to flap one's wings would take 300 sq in.; the floor of the cage is on an angle so that the eggs roll down, but that gives the chickens permanent food problems; etc.

Since there are no specifically kosher egg facilities (all chicken eggs are kosher, unless they have a blood spot), this was about standard battery farming.

#94 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 06:42 PM:

The fruitarian rule is "only the ripe fruit that comes off the plant and leaves it living." So it includes things like berries, nuts, tomatos, garlic scapes (but not bulbs), tree fruits, kiwis, etc.
Is it just my imagination or is everything on that list a reproductive organ/embryo (AFAIK the distinction is not quite clear for plants) of the plant that produced it?

Also, since milk comes out of the cow and leaves it living, are there ovo-lacto-fruitarians?

My view is, at some point you're going to have to accept that you're an animal and must eat living or formerly-living things to survive (that is, if you don't do so, you won't in fact survive). (Until the invention of genuinely synthetic food, and then it's just really expensive to not eat living things.) Given that fact, one line is as arbitrary as another, so why moralize about it?

#95 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 08:36 PM:

Chris @94:

There's a large logical gap in your argument: that you must eat living or formerly-living things does not imply that all lines are equally arbitrary, any more than the need for money to buy food and fuel means that rules against armed robbery are as arbitrary as a policy against wearing pink shirts to work.

#96 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2008, 10:27 PM:

Chris @94: My view is, at some point you're going to have to accept that you're an animal and must eat living or formerly-living things to survive (that is, if you don't do so, you won't in fact survive). (Until the invention of genuinely synthetic food, and then it's just really expensive to not eat living things.) Given that fact, one line is as arbitrary as another, so why moralize about it?

That this is nonsense is easily demonstrated when one draws the line, ad absurdum, past killing and eating one's fellow humans. Still an arbitrary line? If not, why not? Got to eat living things to survive, innit?

#97 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 12:48 AM:

Cannibalism presents potential health problems, doesn't it? Mad cow disease comes to mind.

Filed under "Another County Heard From": I never could buy the argument that "having a nervous system" or "having a face" meant "having a greater right to live."

#98 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:36 AM:

Tangential comment: It's often both interesting and illuminating to hear about the different ways and places that lines are drawn between people who eat vegetarian* for health reasons and those who do so for philosophical reasons.

* Or whatever variation thereof they have chosen to follow. I've heard a lot of diets called "vegetarianism" by those who practiced them; some even included eating fish, shellfish, or chicken. My personal opinion is that if you eat meat (or meat products), no matter the source, you are not a vegetarian; conversely, ovo-lacto seems perfectly within the range of philosophical vegetarianism to me because the animal is still alive afterwards. But there are those who disagree, and I don't feel strongly enough about it to want to argue.

#99 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 01:42 AM:

Lee @ 98... eat vegetarian

"It's made with people!"

#100 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 08:22 AM:

@96: Killing something is different than eating it. (Although once you've decided that you can kill it for your convenience, and that you can eat it, then it becomes convenient to kill it when you're hungry - and to keep it around in case you might be hungry in the future, etc. That way lies, well, agriculture, which I don't regard as particularly a bad thing.)

I do, in fact, think the taboo against eating humans that are already dead is arbitrary (aside from the health concerns, which might be alleviated by adequate cooking if anyone was willing to try). I happen to share it, and would probably extend it to other sentient species if we knew of any, but I still think it's arbitrary.

There's a sense in which any moral judgment is arbitrary, but I think that "don't kill humans without a darn good reason" and "don't eat humans even if they're already dead" are on different levels of arbitrariness: a society that lacks the former is dangerous to the living, while a society that lacks the latter is only "dangerous" to the dead.


P.S. If there's anyone here who *does* think that killing cows is equivalent to murder, is hitching horses to your wagon/plow equivalent to slavery and neutering your cat and keeping it indoors equivalent to mutilation and false imprisonment? And if so, isn't that a position incompatible with any human society, past or present, civilized or non? And one which is clearly incapable of supporting anything like the present human population of the Earth, and would therefore require the deaths of billions of humans in order to attempt to implement it? This seems to me like a slight snag that is rarely, if ever, addressed by people who claim a moral equivalence between sentient and non-sentient animals.

#101 ::: Rosa ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:00 AM:

Chris @94 and later - I believe the original impulse towards fruitarianism is not ethical so much as magical - the idea being that in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve ate only the fruit they could pick without tools or cooking, and living that way is depending on the love of God in the same way His first creations did.

I've heard that same argument from several disparate sources, not all of them actual fruitarians, but I don't know where *they* got it from - it may be a Rasta idea, or one from somewhere in the Black Nationalist subculture, because those are the people I've gotten that explanation from (I met a fruitarian in the UK but he was doing it for health reasons.)

And isn't the definition of fruit that it has seeds? I'm pretty sure all fruits are a plants tactic to spread seeds through being eaten.

#102 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:23 AM:

I do, in fact, think the taboo against eating humans that are already dead is arbitrary (aside from the health concerns, which might be alleviated by adequate cooking if anyone was willing to try). I happen to share it, and would probably extend it to other sentient species if we knew of any, but I still think it's arbitrary.

One of the things that bugged me about Gur Png Jub Jnyxrq Guebhtu Jnyyf was the protagonist's big secret. The guy was already dead, why did it matter that they ate him? Similarly, Stirling's Dies the Fire et seq. includes people who start killing for the purpose of cannibalism, which is rightly condemned as unacceptable--but he assumes that anyone who ate another human's body was irredeemable, whether or not the body was already dead when the eater got to it, and that I don't get. We are not ancient Egyptians; dead people don't need their bodies...

If there's anyone here who *does* think that killing cows is equivalent to murder, is hitching horses to your wagon/plow equivalent to slavery and neutering your cat and keeping it indoors equivalent to mutilation and false imprisonment?

I have been in an argument (I don't think it was here, but I can't remember where it was) with a woman who said precisely that--that keeping cats and dogs as pets was slavery. That the "freed" animal would sit on the porch whimpering in frightened bewilderment was "proof" that it had adopted a slave mentality.

#103 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:50 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little #97: Cannibalism presents potential health problems, doesn't it?

Some search terms: Kuru. Mortuary cannibalism. Prion diseases.

#104 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:52 AM:

I am an ovolactovegetarian, and have been since 1978, when I decided to "try it for a week and then see how it goes."

My reasons for that diet have varied over the years, but actually I don't think anyone's reasons for following a particular diet are anyone else's business. If they're ADVOCATING it, that's another story, and then you get to say things like "well, fruitarian, the cow is still alive after you take milk from it, so why isn't milk included?"

That said, I will say that I believe I have a geas (personal behavior restriction that comes from the Otherworld) that forbids me to eat the flesh of animals (including sea creatures). I consult no authority but my skin, my bones, and my heretic heart (aka my "inner light" or what have you) on this. Some years ago some friends asked me if I would eat pasta that had been colored with squid ink; I searched my feelings for a moment and came up with a weak no.

Was that based on my surmise that they probably got the squid ink by killing the squid? No. It was because my geas manifests itself in my feelings, and my feelings say "No, don't eat squid ink."

Now, as I said above, geasa are personal (in the sense of being different for every person), and I have no way of knowing what anyone else's geasa might be. If someone I know eats meat, is it because they're not listening to their inner voice, or because their inner voice is saying different things than mine? How arrogant would I have to be to impose my geasa on them? Well, I don't know, but I'm not, in fact, sufficiently arrogant, so I don't do that.

As a consequence of all this, I don't think I particularly have any more right than Patrick does to object to cruelty in the raising of meat. People might listen to me more, but that's because of their prejudice (in my view), not because I really have more moral standing. I understand and have some sympathy with people who are vegetarians because meat animals are treated cruelly (and it's virtually impossible to get humanely-raised veal, for example, in this country).

However, I draw the line at people who don't eat meat because "it's wrong to kill animals" under any circumstances. I will always ask why it's not wrong to kill plants in that case, and what gives an animal so much more "right to live" than a plant. If I had to kill either a 500-year-old redwood or a chicken, I would kill the chicken without hesitation (call me a treehugger if you want). If you want to have that argument with me, I warn you that I've heard a LOT of arguments for the privileging of the animal kingdom, and didn't buy any of them.

So the moral stand that it's wrong to kill to eat is one I generally will listen to only from someone who has achieved photosynthesis, and can teach it to anyone who wants to learn. I guess the fruitarians have some moral standing in that regard too, but I've found them to be vanishingly rare.

Also, everyone draws some line between things they'll eat and things they won't eat, usually based on being too close to human for them. Everyone sane excludes human flesh from their normal diet, and includes at least some food of some kind. Not all lines between those two extremes are equally arbitrary, but I believe people have a right to be as arbitrary as they want; I once knew a guy who wouldn't eat the flesh of anything that had eyes when it was alive (so he'd eat some mollusks but not others, and no, I don't think he'd eat beef if you bred an eyeless cow). He didn't tell anyone else that THEY should, so I have no problem with that.

#105 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 02:20 PM:

I consult no authority but my skin, my bones, and my heretic heart....

I can has earworm! Thanks, Xopher! ;-)

#106 ::: Jason B ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 04:33 PM:

heresiarch 17: By providing a demand for ethically-grown meat, I'm doing more to end factory farming than simply not eating meat would do. They seem unconvinced.

Well, they should be unconvinced. That's not to say that your stance has no impact--it does, and it's valuable. But to say that the decision to not eat meat is somehow less impactful that demanding a certain kind of meat is a bit strange. It might keep animal-killing operations from abusing the animals on the way to the killing, but since the killing of the animal is the ultimate abuse anyway, the abuse-diminishment seems slight, if the animal-killers even pay attention.

That said, I spent thirty-six years (enthusiastically) eating meat, so I can hardly condemn others for that.

#107 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Michael Roberts @33 Whatwhatwhat? Crohns? Dietary modifications? Please say more. (I suffer from colitis and am eternally in search of clue.)

#108 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:05 PM:

Carrie S@102

The last paragraph reminded me of something in Diane Duane's "The Book of Night With Moon" (the first novel of the "Feline Wizards" sequence).

The main viewpoint character Rhiow notes that some cats were of the opinion that those cats associated with humans are inherently prisoners and need to either be freed from "captivity" or at least convinced that they are prisoners.

(Rhiow understands this opinion but doesn't agree with it. Among other things, she happens to like her particular humans.)

#109 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 07:25 PM:

I once knew a man who would eat meat only if it did not look or taste like meat. Everything had to be disguised, beef could not be rare, he could eat no food with bones in it, though meat off the bone was tolerable as long as it was tasteless and indeterminate. I don't know how he handled fish, or if diary presented a problem. It was a phobic or traumatic reaction of some sort. I do not know if it had ever occurred to him to just be a vegetarian, or if that would have "worked" for him. An oddity...

#110 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:29 PM:

#102One of the things that bugged me about Gur Png Jub Jnyxrq Guebhtu Jnyyf was the protagonist's big secret. The guy was already dead, why did it matter that they ate him?
Just possibly because by the author's standards - see e.g. Fgnefuvc Gebbcref recovering the body is a sacred duty. Lots of stories from reality omitted.

I am reminded of the fact that it is healthier to be vegeterian in India than to eat the same nominal diet in England. There's enough contamination be it only chiten and insect parts to give a little B12 to the diet in India - in the UK not so much.

I've long tried to distinguish killing and murder in assorted contexts and I have real issues with slaughter as a form of murder - as does e.g. Temple Grandin who considers herself an obligate carnivore - she doesn't feel quite right without meat. I'm not sure how I would feel about dealing with the folks who free their animal slaves by turning them loose into a poorly suited ecosystem - a gerbil into the piney woods on a wet and snowy day for instance or just cats and dogs in the country - but I'd be tempted to express a value choice.

Obs SF Deep Range.

#111 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Serge, #88: Is it an ear worm if you can't quite sound out the growl at the end of nonjeneregretterian?

#112 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2008, 11:03 PM:

Chris #100: you said @96, regarding the welfare of food animals, you're an animal and must eat living or formerly-living things to survive (that is, if you don't do so, you won't in fact survive)...Given that fact, one line is as arbitrary as another, so why moralize about it?

The moral logic I see here is:

1) Humans need food.
2) Any action taken to fulfil a need is permissible. (implied)
3) Therefore, it is permissible to eat animals without any regard for their welfare, because it fulfils a need.

The problem being that, simply because one has a need, it does not follow that absolutely any action taken to fulfil that need is permissible, especially when multiple alternatives exist to satisfy that need.

I do not think that being willing to eat meat, but not wanting food animals to suffer unduly, is arbitrary. Animals do not have rights (no obligations, no place in society), and thus no right not to be killed, but their welfare is nevertheless of value (or is it okay to torture them?). The line between "raising animals in great pain and distress, then killing and eating them" and "raising animals in comfort and security, then killing and eating them" is not the divide between "killing animals" and "killing humans", but it's there and it's not arbitrary. The difference is whether you care about hurting animals unnecessarily.

Xopher #104: ovolactovegetarian

I'm reading that as "vegetarian who eats eggs and milk", is that correct? I've heard the same term as a substitute for "vegan".

#113 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 12:02 AM:

SeanH @ 112 re: "ovolactovegetarian", I'm reading that as "vegetarian who eats eggs and milk", is that correct?

That's correct.

I've heard the same term as a substitute for "vegan".

No, a vegan is a vegetarian who consumes no animal products of any kind.

#114 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 12:53 AM:

joel addressing seanh,

No, a vegan is a vegetarian who consumes no animal products of any kind.

right. "vegetarian" is a vague term on its own, so the "ovolacto" designates what kind of vegetarian, it doesn't denote a different group from the understood term "vegetarian."

whereas "vegan" is a rather specific term (although vegans have varying views on, e.g. wearing leather, consuming yeast, or buying gelatin-print photographs), & i don't know why someone would need a longer, more confusing way to say it.

#115 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 01:17 AM:

Given the vagueness of "animal product" and "consume" (as beetle's mention of leather, yeast &c), I don't think "vegan" by itself is a very clear category, and most self-described vegans I've met seem to hold to "does not eat or drink meat, eggs or dairy products, or wear leather or hide".

#116 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 08:42 AM:

#107, Jacque -

I suspect he is referring to the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I don't know much about it personally - my sister's colitis responded to it well, but that was likely because she was an undiagnosed Celiac and it removed most of the sources of gluten from her diet.

I'm sure Michael can help you more, but at least you can poke at Google in the meantime.

#117 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 04:57 PM:

One chocolate manufacturer around here had a discussion of that in their FAQ: is their dark chocolate vegan? Well, it turns out that it depends on what you mean... They don't put animal products in the chocolate. On the other hand, some sugar refining uses charcoal, and some charcoal is manufactured from bones. Does using an animal product as part of the manufacturing process make it non-vegan? Depends on which vegan you ask.

#118 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 05:09 PM:

Asking a vegan how they feel about charred bones is not something I'd prefer to attempt without an exit strategy.

#119 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 05:13 PM:

earl,

Asking a vegan how they feel about charred bones is not something I'd prefer to attempt without an exit strategy.

well, you just have to have a drink prepared that you can spill on your chest (/crossthread). maybe a drink with milk, so that they won't be tempted to mop it up for you.

#120 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 06:28 PM:

A mixed drink with a cocktail weenie in it would work for that, too. Admittedly, if you're holding a weenie in a glass, you probably won't be able to talk to said vegan long enough to get to the part about the charred bones.

ARE there any drinks with cocktail weenies or similar in them?

#121 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 06:37 PM:

#120
Today's LA Times has a piece on 1001 things to do with bacon, including a cocktail with bacon (whatever that might involve). It sounds ideal for keeping vegans away.

#122 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 07:10 PM:

I see a number of people subscribing to the notion that 'vegan' means "militant member of PETA who will do violence to anyone caught not being sufficiently pure of animal product use." Not true. PETAphiles are vegan, but not all vegans are PETAphiles.

Please make a note of it.

#123 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 07:21 PM:

R.M. Koske @116 Ah! 30 seconds on Google turns up Breaking the Vicious Cycle, and their Beginners Guide actually makes sense. Kinda the general direction I've been vaguely headed myself. Hm. Have to look into this...

#124 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2008, 07:35 PM:

Hm. ML doesn't seem to like my anchor code.

#125 ::: R.M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 08:18 AM:

#123, Jacque - Ah yes, that was the book my sister used. I couldn't recall the title until I saw it. Good luck finding a solution.

#126 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 09:15 AM:

Just possibly because by the author's standards - see e.g. Fgnefuvc Gebbcref recovering the body is a sacred duty.

Was FG before or after FvnFY? Though the military context of the former is much closer to GPjJgJ than the sacred cannibalism of Fgenatre.

#127 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 03:38 PM:

Jaque: the pattern here (with the requisite is a href"=url" The quoteation marks are needed. I had some troubles remembering it.

#128 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 04:11 PM:

Jaque: the pattern here (with the requisite boundary markers) is a href"=url" The quoteation marks are needed. I had some troubles remembering it.

#129 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 04:12 PM:

the pattern here (with the requisite is a href"=url" The quotation marks are needed.

Correction: <a href="http://www.example.com/">example</a>

example

#130 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 04:56 PM:

Jacque, Terry, Earl – Using codes, links, &c, here:

If you want angle brackets to show in your comment, use the HTML entities for 'less than', &lt; (<) & 'greater than', &gt; (>)

For a working link, apart from quotation/ditto marks, it's important to remember the http:// section of the URL inside them. In the recipe at the bottom of the comments page, the only permissible substitutions are the contents of www.url.com and Linked text

#131 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 05:33 PM:

Epacris, did my example not look correct to you? I used HTML entities that were the correct ones, as far as I know.

#132 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 09:12 PM:

Earl Cooley III @131: Can't speak for Epacris, but looked perfect from here (Firefox 3.0.4, WinXP; but I don't think the coding would be sensitive to local conditions).

#133 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 09:54 PM:

Wrt the Heinlein, the idea of recovering the body as a sacred duty is, I gather, not uncommon in military units and traditions. It also has significant traction in civilian life, leading to people risking serious danger to retrieve the bodies of hikers, divers, boaters, etc. Not even "well, he might still be alive, so it's worth the risk to find and save him" but cases where nobody thinks the missing person could have survived the conditions. search-and-rescue operation has become a "find the Yes, the Coast Guard nowadays will note when a bodies" operation (though I think they have a politer term for it) and wait for calmer seas, but there are places that are never exactly safe.

In 1999 a team went up Mount Everest specifically to search for the body of George Mallory, lost on the mountain in 1924. They succeeded, and buried him at 27,000 feet. They might not have considered it a sacred duty, but it was a real risk for the sake of this essentially symbolic act.

#134 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2008, 10:16 PM:

Rob Rusick @132, Ah, that's a relief; for a moment, there, I was afraid that I'd forgotten how to suck eggs. heh.

#135 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Earl @131, no, your formulation & how it showed up was perfectly fine.

[House]
One bit of my comment was for those others who don't yet know how to show the angle brackets;

The other was to emphasise the need for the http://

It's like the "s, people look at the example you give them and just don't see them, saying “we put it in just like the example”.

I'm still worried I didn't specifically note the ;s at the end of the entities are also necessary.[/House]
Should sleep now.

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