Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Vegans vs. Foodies?

A friend forwarded a blog entry he read that he thought I might find interesting, knowing I like food stuff and that I love David Foster Wallace. (You should avoid reading A Supposedly Fun Thing on a plane because all your plane mates will give you funny looks for the weird noises you make trying to suppress convulsions of laughter). And for whatever reason, I ended up writing back a little rant which I'm now turning into a blog entry. So for your reading pleasure, the rant.

The gist of the situation is that DFW wrote an article for Gourmet magazine about a lobster fest and DFW ponders the dilemma of the death of the lobster, and how that can't be much fun for your typical foodie. In response, Erik Markus writes a blog entry about Gourmet Magazine being likely to alienate many readers over this article and that foodies can't stand to think about the fact that their food comes from (here's the kicker) animals. Foodies simply don't think about this, and those who do, don't care. A quote from the blog:

"If the tone of my description strikes you as being dismissive towards foodies, it’s for good reason. I personally love to cook, but I don’t think that great food demands hours upon hours of fussy preparation. And that’s even not my main complaint. What I find most galling about foodies is that they seem to go out of their way to purchase precisely the foods that inflict the most suffering on animals. Delighting in exotic meats from such unfortunate creatures as suckling pigs, pheasants, and veal calves, these people generate more misery for mouthful than perhaps any other food consumer."

I don't consider myself a foodie (basically defined: a follower of food trends) but more of a chowhound, so you might say there is no good reason that my beans got burned after reading this article. But they did, and I think it is because there is this idea that gourmet food/cooking and caring about animals and/or the environment are mutually exclusive.

Saying foodies inflict some of the worst pain on animals is unfair. Sure, they are more likely to eat foie gras than your average Joe here in the US, but that number of people seems pretty small compared to the millions of people eating fast food, Tyson chicken, and factory eggs every single day. That's plenty of misery per mouthful.

And it neglects a large category of gourmet cooks who are willing to pay the extra bucks for organic locally raised produce, meat and eggs (as opposed to factory raised), which certainly relieve the suffering of some animals, and help support local economies, the environment, etc. These folks choose local partially because that kind of food TASTES better, as well as partially because it makes them feel good to help in this way. The editor of Cooks Illustrated wrote an essay last month discussing how his family only eats meat/eggs that he or his neighbors have butchered or raised. His kids participate in both the raising and the killing of the cute little lambs and pigs. It seems at least to be honest -- if you're going to eat meat, knowing the creature is a pretty powerful part of the process. Barbara Kingsolver talks about this as well in her book Small Wonder. It seems to be an acknowledgment of something more real. This is a discussion in which I'd rather be a part.

I hear Erik Markus saying, hey, let's be conscious of the animals here and not just our own pleasure. And he's right. And there are ways to do this and to still experience pleasure. How about we educate instead of dismiss? Connect instead of separate?

It's a tangled web we live in -- our food, our clothes, our transportation ... all the basics of everyday life and how they are related to others. Trying to lead a good life is pretty overwhelming, especially on days when just getting through the day is a lot of work. Okay, end of rant.

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