8.28.2015

Inquiring minds want to eat.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 18

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 18: What Should We Eat?

OK.  I've cooled off from yesterday's rant, and I'm ready to discuss the rest of chapter eighteen of The Ethics of What We Eat, What Should We Eat? with you.  All in all it was a good summary of the book, and I largely agree with your conclusions.  Let's take a look at them.

First you lay out five principles that you "think most people will share."  They are 1) Transparency: We have a right to know how our food is produced.  2) Fairness: Producing food should not impose costs on others.  3) Humanity: Inflicting significant suffering on animals for minor reasons is wrong.  4) Social responsibility: Workers should have decent wages and working conditions.  and 5) Needs: Preserving life and health justifies more than other desires.

Well friends, I think we know different people.  In my experience of "people," the answers as to whether people share these five principles are 1) Sure, unless it interferes with me profiting from it; 2) Sure, as long as I can still have whatever I want for dirt cheap; 3) I don't really give a damn about animal suffering unless I have to look at it or if it's a dog; 4) Workers should "bootstrap" and get a better job if they want better conditions and wages; and 5) Preserving MY life and MY health justifies absolutely anything.

Perhaps you're talking about what people say they believe, and I'm talking about how they behave - and never the twain shall meat?  (Ha ha, see what I did there?)  If people believed and acted as you describe, the food industry would not be what it is.

You make the following declarations in the chapter about what is and is not ethical to eat:
  • Not ethical to eat: Industrially produced foods such as factory farmed meat, eggs from caged hens, and farmed fish, are not ethically acceptable foods.
  • Ethical to eat:  Non-industrially produced foods are always preferable.  Sustainably produced shellfish; fairly traded coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, and other items for which there are fair-trade brands in your store; and vegan foods are ethically acceptable foods.
At the end of the chapter (after the section that should be burned and forgotten FOREVER), you espouse more of the reasonableness we saw in the last chapter.
"When we feel overwhelmed, it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking that if you have ethical reasons for doing something, you have to do it all the time, no matter what. ...  [T]his rule-based view isn't the only possible approach to ethics, nor the best one, in our view."
The way I see it, much to the chagrin of the abolitionists, is this: Better is not the same as good, but better is still better.  A person who only eats rennet-free dairy once a month, or who eats dairy and eggs but not meat, or even who just consciously chooses to eat less meat and sources that meat carefully, is doing better than someone who thinks that the choices are all or nothing, Standard "American" Diet or 100% vegan, and choose the SAD.

This is what frustrates me so profoundly about Gary Francione and his ilk.  I fear that the all-or-nothing, "go vegan overnight or don't bother changing" message they espouse chases people off who are ready to make meaningful changes - even if those changes don't go all the way.  On this point I believe that we agree.  It's been noted to me that these "extreme" views could push people to strive to continue going further, and I hope that's true.  But I'd rather support someone to make small changes now - and I believe people willing to make changes, if given the time and space to do so, will make even more changes down the road.  Perhaps this is because of the 13-year-long path of small changes I myself followed to find my way to permanent veganism.

Well, it's been a fun month.  I'm not sure whether my opinion of you has ultimately improved, worsened, or stayed the same - it had improved until that stunt of a section in this chapter.  Sigh.  Ah well, I'm glad that I've now read you.  Take care and keep fighting the good fight.

hearts for good,
mb.

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