8.30.2015

Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Concluding Thoughts

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, Concluding Thoughts

Well folks, that's a wrap.  I had a good time writing my letters to Peter and Jim; I wonder if they'll ever read them.

Overall, I wasn't thrilled with this book.  As with Berry, I'm glad to now say that I've read Singer.  I was fully expecting him to be a hardcore abolitionist and even more, so his moderation was pleasing and surprising.  But oof, that whole "obesity is amoral" mess really just prevents me from being able to respect these guys.

Big picture: if you've never ever addressed the idea that there may be ethical concerns around food, go ahead and read this book.  It would more aptly be titled The Ethics of the Animal Products We Eat, particularly since there are HUGE ethical issues in the food industry (food advertising, racism / classism in redlining and food availability, WORKERS) that are barely if at all touched on here, so don't go expecting a full discussion out of it.  If you're already aware that food has extensive ethical considerations, skip this one.  It'll just annoy you.

See y'all soon for our next book, The Politics of Food Supply -U.S. Agricultural Policy in the World Economy by Bill Winders.  Should be a riotous good time!

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.

8.27.2015

WHAT the hell just happened?
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Bigot Edition

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?... sort of.

Well friends, it's finally happened.  Here in the very last chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, I am *spitting* mad at you.

Let's talk about why, shall we?  My anger stems from a one-page section within the chapter What Should We Eat? entitled "The Ethics of Obesity."  In it, you state that people "choose to overeat and develop obesity-related health problems that require medical care," and that "[c]hoosing an unhealthy diet may seem like a personal choice, but it's not fair to the people who ultimately have to pay for it."  You do concede - in a supremely, classically fat-shaming way, that "[s]ome have eating disorders or metabolic problems that are difficult to control."  And immediately follow that with, "others just eat too much and should show more restraint."  You argue here that people who are overweight are overwhelmingly unethical and lack self-control.

AND MY MIND IS BLOWN.  Yikes!  Way to completely and utterly miss a major issue in food justice.  Could two such highly educated men as yourselves, who have spent so much of your lives studying the food industry, be so motherf*$#ing ignorant?  Apparently so!  You clearly require some educating.  Pay attention.
  • There is a multi-billion dollar food advertising business that is positively hell bent on convincing every United States resident to overeat.  Promotion of overeating is literally why this industry exists.  We are bombarded with messages to overeat, and specifically to overeat the least healthy foods available, from all possible media sources in every possible venue, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, from the moment we're born.  (And our mothers were subject to them during our time in utero.)  Telling people they can be immune to this ubiquitous and powerful messaging, and that failing to be immune to it is amoral, is delusional and ugly.
  • Food that is lacking in nutrients and high in "empty calories" is cheaper and easier by many factors than food that is healthy.  You can preach eating beans and rice all you want, and you're right, that's healthier and better in every way.  It may even be cheaper.  Except that it takes hours to prepare beans and rice starting with dry beans and dry rice.  And it requires gas or electricity, a stove, a pot (or several), and the physical ability to go to a store to procure these foods and to stand in front of a stove - things that not everyone has.  So essentially what I'm saying here is check your f*$#ing privilege.
  • Tens of millions of people in the US are food insecure, and many of them are children.  Are fat children unethical, in your view?  Many parents live in food deserts, relying on corner stores that only offer calorie-dense, nutritionally devoid "food" for their family's food needs.  Would you prefer that these parents not feed their children at all, rather than feeding them the obesogenic foods available to them?
  • As a highly privileged, solidly-middle-class, college educated white person who has a car, shops exclusively at Whole Foods and farmers markets, and has been researching food and nutrition for 15 years, I still have trouble figuring out what I should be eating and finding the time and energy to make it happen.  We live in an incredibly complex food environment that has been designed to force us all to eat poorly.  The less privileged a person is, the less time and resources that person has to navigate the labyrinth.  So once again, check your f*$#ing privilege.
  • THERE IS MORE THAN ONE REASON THAT PEOPLE BECOME OVERWEIGHT.  It has been so completely assumed that overeating - taking in more calories than a person expends - is the sole reason for overweight that no one has ever bothered to generate numbers on other possible causes of obesity.  We assume that if someone is overweight it is because they are eating more food than they need, period.  This is a function of healthism with no scientific basis.  If by chance we manage to pull our collective heads from our collective assess and put down this neoliberal, personal-responsibility view of overweight for long enough to actually study the causes of overweight beyond overconsumption, I believe wholeheartedly that we will discover that overeating is not only not the only cause, but isn't even the primary cause, of overweight.
For these reasons and so, so many more, it is positively disgusting - POSITIVELY DISGUSTING - for you to even imply that being overweight is an individual ethical issue.  You should be ashamed - yes, ASHAMED - of publishing these ideas and perpetuating one of the most appalling and damaging beliefs held by our culture.  Doing so is the epitome of behaving unethically.  Irony!

And so, Peter, Jim, I implore you: put down this neoliberal healthist Reagan-loving classist asshat bullsh*t.  Immediately.  Check your f*$#ing privilege one more time, just for good measure.

You are absolutely correct in that there is an ethical problem with overconsumption in this country.  But the transgression lies with the food industry that would literally physically cram its terrible disease-causing food down our throats if it could, not with the individual consumers who are at its mercy.

We'll talk about the rest of this chapter tomorrow.  I'm too disappointed by your behavior to talk to you any more right now.

mb

8.26.2015

Meater Meater Pumpkin Eater
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 17

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 17: The Ethics of Eating Meat

Ooooh, Peter.  Ooooh, Jim.  We are really getting to it now aren't we?  This seventeenth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, The Ethics of Eating Meat, jumps into one of the most contentious topics in the food movement.  I love it.

Early in the chapter you take a definitive stance on which I think we can all agree: there is no ethical justification for eating meat that comes from the industrial food system - at least, not for anyone who can obtain proper nutrition without doing so.  The truth is that most Staters could easily opt out of eating factory farmed animal products, but continue to consume them out of pleasure and habit.  This is decidedly unethical behavior born of an often willful ignorance.

You state that "[i]f a widespread cultural practice is wrong, we should try to change it."  This reminds me of Temple Grandin's refrain of what happens in the food industry itself, when bad becomes normal.  I agree; we should try to change it.  And we should also expect extreme pushback.  People don't like to be told that something they do every day, that their mothers taught them, that their doctors encouraged, that every facet of their lives tells them is the normal and good thing to do, is in fact wrong.  No wonder we vegans are so reviled.  Our mere existence points to the idea that there are concerns about what (who) other people are eating.

People frequently push back with the "concern" that there are many mouths to feed in the world.  How ever will we feed them all without industrial food?  Well, as you point out, "in developing countries the industry caters to the growing urban middle class, not the poor, who cannot afford to buy its products.  In developing countries, factory-farming products are chosen for their taste and status, not for the consumer's good health."  Again (and again and again and again), we must note that there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone already, with many calories to spare; the problem is access, not quantity.  Creating more food in no way guarantees that everyone who needs it will have it.

Accepting, then, that eating industrially produced meat is wrong, we're left with the question of whether eating animals is wrong.  Ethical vegans have, of course, reached the conclusion that it is wrong to eat animals under any circumstance (and reasonable ethical vegans will make a concession for people who will suffer malnutrition without doing so).  I believe that many of us agree that it is better - if not anywhere near good - when animals are allowed to live normal and healthy lives up until the time of their slaughter.  You raise the question of whether it is better to exist and have a short life than to not exist at all, and arrive at the conclusion that it is.  I disagree.  Not existing is not better or worse than anything, because those are comparisons and there is nothing to compare.

The following paragraph is probably the most reasonable approach to the subject:
The choice is not between business as usual and a vegan world.  Without factory farming, families with limited means would be able to afford fewer animal products, but the would not have to stop buying them entirely.  Nutritionists agree that most people in developed countries eat far more animal products than they need, and more than is good for their health.  Spending the same amount of money and buying fewer animal products would therefore be a good thing, especially if those animal products came from animals free to walk around outside, which would make the meat less fatty, and if the reduced consumption in animal products were offset by increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
I have wondered if, were this how we as a culture approached eating animal products, whether I would feel the need to be a food activist.  Given the problems in crop production, probably.  But would I be vegan?

See you soon to discuss the final chapter!

hearts,
mb


8.24.2015

Veganer than Thou
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 16

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 16:
Are Vegans Better for the Environment?

Hi Jim and Peter!  Oh, this is a fun one.  Are we gonna blow up the egos of vegans even more while discussing chapter sixteen of The Ethics of What We Eat: Are Vegans Better for the Environment?  I jest, I jest.  Kinda.

The salient point of this chapter seems to be that meat production is wasteful.  As you explain, both overall calories and specifically protein are both drastically reduced when grains are channeled through cattle to produce meat.  At best, raising animals for food requires two pounds of feed for every one pound of edible meat produced (in the case of chickens).  At worst, it takes 13 pounds of grain to grow one pound of beef, and in the mid-range pork takes 6 pounds of grain per pound of edible meat.  (We won't even mention here how bad grain feed is for animals raised for food, as that's not an environmental issue.)

I often hear a specious "solution" to this problem of waste: just feed the crops grown for animals to humans instead!  Well, it doesn't really work that way.  The corn and soy grown for animal feed are not the same varieties of corn and soy eaten by humans.  You state far more correctly that "[i]t would be more efficient to use the cropland to grow food for humans to eat."  That specificity is important.

Here's an educational video on corn, just for funsies.


You are right to point out that there are some animal food products produced in environmentally sustainable ways.  Its availability is so scant, though, and sustainability so difficult to determine, that to be truly dedicated to only eating such animal products is practically a decision to eat a plant-based diet anyway.  For instance, "[f]or the purchaser of beef or lamb ... it usually isn't possible to find out how well the rancher on whose land the animal grazed cared for the land."  A Portlandia skit takes this issue on pretty beautifully.

Overall, I agree with your conclusion that following a plant-based diet and/or living a vegan lifestyle is better for the environment.  Better than what?  "[V]egans are right to say that their diet is far more environmentally friendly than the Standard American Diet."  Hooray!

Jeez, how am I gonna carry around my now-even-more-inflated vegan ego?!  JK, I already knew this.

hearts,
mb

P.S. - I both drive a hybrid and am a vegan.  Do I get a prize?

8.23.2015

Won't SOMEBODY think of the children?
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 15

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 15:
Is It Unthical to Raise Children Vegan?

Hello Peter and Jim!  In this fifteenth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, you pose a simple yet frequently asked question: Is it Unethical to Raise Children Vegan?  Long before I began reading your book I had surmised the answer that y'all reach.  No, it is not unethical.  Or to phrase it without the double negative, YES, IT IS ETHICAL TO RAISE CHILDREN VEGAN!

YES!  IT IS ETHICAL TO RAISE KIDS ON A VEGAN DIET!!!
It may take some planning and paying attention, but then, kids' diets always should.  Medical professionals have repeatedly stated that a vegan diet, when approached properly, is a perfectly healthy way to raise children.  The only caveat here is that, as with adults, some people with special dietary needs may not thrive on a vegan diet.  But of course we're talking about a population-level concept here with these kinds of assertions, and population-level truths should never be applied to individuals.  ;)

Honestly, I don't think we need to say any more on the matter. Take care and see you soon.

hearts,
mb

8.21.2015

So, like, only carbon-based compounds then?
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 14

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 14: Going Organic

Dearest Peter and Jim,

Hello old friends!  I want to talk to you today about one of those buzzwords in food that we just can't seem to get enough of: ORGANIC.  Hey, look, it's not my fault.  Y'all started it, in the fourteenth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, which is aptly named Going Organic.

I recently wrote on an essay by Wendell Berry discussing the roots of the "organic movement."  According to him, a rather idealistic version of farming has been quite simplified from its original intentions.  Your chapter touches on why.  As you discuss, The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements has defined "organic" as follows:
Organic agriculture is an agricultural system that promotes environmentally, socially, and economically sound production of food, fiber, timber, etc.  In this system, soil fertility is seen as the key to successful production.  Working with the natural properties of plants, animals, and the landscape, organic farmers aim to optimize quality in all aspects of agriculture and the environment.
What a beautiful dream!   As you quickly note, though, such a system does not "lend itself to being reduced to a label that can be put on products to show they were produced organically."  Nor does it allow for a list of boxes to check off to meet a government standard.  How would a USDA agent quantify the optimization of quality in all aspects of agriculture and the environment during a site visit?

The drive for a unified standard is, then, what ultimately brought us where we are today: "organic" means little more than crops grown without the use of synthetic agricultural chemicals, and that livestock were given organic feed and not treated with antibiotics or hormones.  Importantly, there are few parameters associated with the conditions in which organically produced animals live.

Organic also of course means that there can be no genetically modified organisms involved.  You speak extensively of this topic, but I said all I can bear to say on the subject of GMOs a while back.  For real, I just can't even.  We seem to see fairly eye to eye on the subject, at least.

From Chipotle.com.  Neat right?

For a span of several-to-many pages, you discuss possible motivations for eating organic.  The first one you list is, of course, health.  Though there is some evidence that there are lower levels of pesticides in organic foods, I don't personally find this a compelling reason to spend the extra money on organics.  Many people do, though, and I'm glad for it.  It makes sense - people are fundamentally selfish creatures.  Appealing to the personal impacts of an issue is often the best way to get the masses on board.

Next you discuss the environment, and this topic even gets several sub-headings.  I agree with every point you make: soil quality, biodiversity, synthetic chemical run-off, energy use, and carbon footprint are all improved in organic agriculture when compared to "conventional" (industrial) practices, even if organic agriculture is still far from perfect.

I am quite surprised, though, that you barely touch on the number one reason that I purchase organic food: the workers.  While the other conditions in which agricultural workers toil to plant and harvest the crops that I eat may be horrendous, by buying organic at least I know that they are not being exposed to toxic synthetic agricultural chemicals to put food on my table.  Given that I can afford to eat primarily organic food, buying organic is the very least I can do.  The positive effects on health and environment are also, of course, bonuses.

I love that you mention Julie Guthman, a person whose thoughts and writing positively blew my mind in April.  She discusses organics in her book Weighing In by noting their connection with healthism and, particularly, with the desire to be thin.

On a final note, you mention that farmers dedicated to organic production fear that "corporations will steadily undermine the true philosophy of the movement in order to increase the profitability of organic food."  Well friends, this summer Costco was set to surpass Whole Foods in organic food sales - and Walmart is a major player.  Are you scared yet?

hearts,
mb


8.20.2015

People for the Ethical Treatment of Vegans
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 13

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 13: JoAnn and Joe

Peter!  Jim!  Why hello.  I hope you are enjoying our correspondence as much as I am.  Today I'll be addressing the first chapter of the third and final section of The Ethics of What We Eat, named after the vegan people it discusses: Joann and Joe.

I am entertained that the Farb family lives in Olathe, Kansas, because believe it or not, I've been there.  Halloween 2004, if memory serves.  What are the chances?  I am not surprised that it is "a bastion of conservatism."  It's intriguing that the Farbs want to move somewhere "more crunchy," given that they seem to be fairly religious - a trait that tends to mesh well with more conservative areas.

In the first paragraph of the chapter you state that veganism "satisfies nearly all of their ethical concerns about farming and food."  Really?  Being vegan only begins to address my ethical concerns about food.  I'm intrigued that JoAnn was set on the path to veganism when working for Merck selling pharmaceuticals for farm animals - I'd love to know more about that experience.  She states that she is most compelled toward veganism because of the suffering and death of animals, and that it was John Robbins' Diet for a New America that put her over the edge...  I could barely make it through that sentimental mess of a book.

All of this tells me that these people are not my kind of vegan.  I, for instance, will never use the word "crunchy" to describe a place or people unless I am mocking that place or those people.  I came to veganism in response to sheer outrage at the food industry, rather than a desire to seek out peace and be one with nature.  I wear a lot of black and will always live in "the city."  Not all vegans are not hippies, in other words.

I do wholeheartedly agree with the Farbs that concerns about the environment, social justice, labor, and corporate responsibility are major factors in my decision to become and remain vegan.    I'm entertained that JoAnn and Joe contradict Jim and Mary Ann of chapter six in discussing how easy it is to get their kids to eat healthy vegan foods and snacks, when those conscious omnivores claimed that eating ethically is harder with kids because their food desires are so influenced by marketing.  I suppose that has to do with the kids' temperament, and how much food marketing they're exposed to, and how the parents handle requests for lower quality foods.  But I'm not really a parent, so this is all conjecture.

I'm fascinated by JoAnn's claim that isolated soy proteins are not organic, which is of course sometimes true but depends on whether the protein was isolated from organic or non-orgainic soybeans.  I'm also interested in what her basis is for being nervous about tofu that was made by pouring hot soy milk into food-safe plastic containers.  Is something leached out?  Is this speculation or fact?  She seems to be making a lot of assumptions.  But then, I guess we all do that.

I'm not sure what the utility of this chapter is; I don't know that this family constitutes a "normal" vegan family, if there is such a thing.  I wonder if they always eat salad, brown rice, cabbage, and tofu, or if they were showing off for y'all.  I love simple foods such as those, but they do get boring after a while.

Until next time.

hearts,
mb


8.18.2015

Peter and Jim want YOU to eat ethically.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 12

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 12:
Eating Out and In, Ethically

Hello Peter.  Hello Jim.  Let's dig in.  (See what I did there?)  I'd like to talk to you today about the twelfth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, which is entitled Eating Out and In, Ethically.

In this chapter, y'all discuss three places at which to by food: a "sustainable" restaurant in Philadelphia called The White Dog, the large Tex-Mex restaurant chain Chipotle, and the supermarket chain Whole Foods.

The White Dog seems like an interesting place to eat - it now has at least three locations, by the way.  I appreciate that it "serves its employees by paying all of them a living wage."  And I understand owner Judy Wicks' feeling that an all-veg restaurant is "preaching to the choir."  So frequently, that is what happens with niche restaurants.  That doesn't make it any less of a cop-out, however.  If she really wants it to be a "vehicle for social justice," she could have a successful all-vegan restaurant that draws in every type of eater by successfully marketing her food to a broad audience.  She could also make it less expensive.  But it sure doesn't look like she's going to try.  Oh well.

Next up, we get to talk about Chipotle.  What fun!  There's no way we can start that conversation with anything but this short film they released a couple years back, a compelling specious hot mess of Fiona Apple and Willy Wonka with Wizard of Oz undertones.



I know many people who continue to boycott Chiptole because of their former association with McDonalds, even though that relationship was severed many years ago.  Others boycott it just for its size, and the fact that they do make a lot of money selling meat.  Personally, while I don't seek them out, I do appreciate that in unlikely spaces (suburban malls like Elmwood, or while taking a road trip) I can find fulfilling vegan food.  As for their policies on the animal flesh they serve, well, they seem spotty.

Chipotle is unusually dedicated to sourcing its pork from the best possible suppliers.  Its website, however, does little boasting about where its other meats come from, and doesn't address its dairy products at all really.  My best guess is that the hyperfocus on pigs stems from some personal sentimentality, justified with arguments that "they're so smart."  I appreciate their transparency when it comes to GMOs, realizing that they are probably hedging their bets on that front.

Sugary cereals at Whole Foods
And now we arrive at Whole Foods.  The first time I ever heard of Whole Foods was from my father.  He excitedly announced to the family that this grocery store sold only local, organic foods!  He was adamant, even when I came back to him with the truth.  He may still believe this is the case.  I am still waiting for such a store.

I have a love-hate relationship with this store.  My husband and I shop there, usually to the tune of about $200 per week.  I can roll you out a laundry lists of why it's "too hard" for me to get to the farmers markets for my produce, or to have things delivered by Hollygrove, or to shop at one of the bigger less expensive chains.  But I'll just cut through it all and admit that it's for convenience.  The newest Whole Foods in New Orleans is less than a mile from my house, and is part of a community development that I think may actually be doing some valuable work.  I am not totally comfortable with them as a corporation, but I'm not totally comfortable with any grocery store that I have access to, and at the end of the day I need to buy food somewhere.

Per your book, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey is vegan but doesn't think that means his store should be.  "Whole Foods exists to meet the needs and desires of its customers, and not to pursue the personal philosophies of the founder/CEO, whatever those personal philosophies might be."  The revelation that Mackey is a libertarian illuminates for me his previously somewhat baffling dedication to capitalism in food.

Three of my five house rabbits.
I was fascinated by your discussion of the influence that Lauren Ornelas, then of Viva! and now of the Food Empowerment Project, had on Mackey.  It's impressive that despite initially shooting her down, he not only investigated her claims of animal suffering in factory farms further, but then admitted he was wrong, told her so, and made substantial changes as a result.

Those changes - going vegan himself, and ensuring that his store does not sell meat from factory farms - are a matter of some consternation.  The great "welfarism vs. abolitionism" debate in veganism centers on one point: whether it is ever OK for humans to use animals, no matter the circumstances of that use.  As such, those closer to the welfarist pole will likely love Whole Foods, and those closer to the opposite abolitionist end will fight them tooth and nail.

I'm wondering when the relationship between Ornelas and Mackey eroded.  Ornelas was recently at the forefront of a fight against Whole Foods efforts to sell rabbit meat; she was even arrested at a protest.  It looks as though her work was in vain, given that the pilot program that began in Northern California only now seems to have expanded to most of Whole Foods' regions.  Capitalism wins again.

UPDATE: As of 9/16/2015, Whole Foods has decided that rabbit meat "sales volume did not justify the continuation or expansion of the pilot to a national program."  As in, we didn't make enough money on this.  They did not stop the sales due to any ethical decision, but because of money.  Hooray?

Claims that for Whole Foods to be a vegan store would be to commit "business suicide" may be true.  Or, maybe, it would be just the sea change we've been looking for.

hearts,
mb

8.17.2015

Doing the Fair Trade Free Trade Cha Cha
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 11

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 11:
Trade, Fair Trade, and Workers' Rights

Howdy Peter.  Howdy Jim.  Let us talk of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.  Or, you know, about Trade, Fair Trade, and Workers' Rights, the eleventh chapter of your book The Ethics of What We Eat.

My primary impression of your discussion of trade is that you don't actually know what you're talking about, followed closely by an annoyance with the philosophical method - that is, to discuss ideas in a vacuum rather than address how things actually play out in the world.  I'm quite curious as to how you got through this chapter without mentioning the profound (negative) effect that Free Trade agreements have had on food and agriculture.  You seem to be of the mindset that international trade is good for individuals, rather than only being of benefit to corporations.  You are, so sadly, dead wrong in this belief.  Let's be clear: free trade is good for those who are already wealthy and powerful, and bad for everyone else.

To illustrate this erroneous belief, you point to the example of the Del Cabo cooperative, which "stands as an ethical alternative to the idea that we should only buy locally produced food."  Your own words belie the fact that Del Cabo is the exception to the rule:  "While many Mexican farmers are selling their land and going to live in the nation's crowded cities," you state, "the Del Cabo farmers are staying on the land... If Americans were all "locavores," the small farmers of Del Cabo would still be living in poverty and almost certainly still using pesticides and chemical fertilizers - unless they had sold their land for tourist developments."  This can only be true under a very specific set of circumstances.

If Staters (ahem) had always been locavores, those farmers would never have gone into farming to start with, or at least not with those crops or a dependence on trade for sales.  Also, if we somehow all magically become locavores overnight, but continue to purchase imported goods for which we've gained a taste because they can't be grown in the states (such as many of the tropical fruits grown by Del Cabo), this argument falls apart.  Finally, I can't help noting that the cooperative was started by some white saviors.  I'm glad it worked out for the Mexican farmers in the end - that's not frequently the case.

You refer to economists who bolster your view that free trade is good.  In the study you reference, "they conclude that a reformed and more open system for trade in agricultural commodities would, overall, 'reduce rural poverty in developing economies, both because in the aggregate they have a strong comparative advantage in agriculture and because the agricultural sector is important for income generation in these countries.'" Wowza.  Can we look at the number of qualifiers there?  Reformed.  More open.  Overall.  In the aggregate.  Comparative advantage.  Treating this as a foregone conclusion is a bit absurd.

Concluding your section on free trade, you state that "there is a strong case for buying from the least developed countries, at least when it comes to products transported by ship or plane and when a significant proportion of the purchase price is likely to end up in the hands of low-income farmers."  Seriously?  I dare you to go into the grocery, pick up a piece of produce that came from another country, and determine whether that specific item traveled by ship or plane and how much of its purchase price gets back to the farmer who grew it.  That task is beyond daunting with all the time, knowledge, and research power in the world; I notice that you didn't even attempt to do this for any item purchased by any of the families featured in this book.  For an ordinary shopper, who likely has maybe an hour a week to complete the task of buying their family's food, it is utterly impossible.  This guidance has zero practical application.

Essentially, y'all are just being silly here.  Free trade, in its ideal state, may look good on paper - to those who look at economic trends rather than the lives of individuals, anyway.  But since when has anything in the real world functioned ideally?  Particularly, since when does anything in our food system function ideally?

I am relieved that we seem to be on the same page about the importance of Fair Trade.  When I first learned of the conditions under which cocoa and coffee - totally unneeded luxury products - are produced, I was aghast.  I still am, and I'm thankful that there is a relatively trustworthy certification scheme that allows me to occasionally purchase these unnecessary but delicious products without contributing to such atrocity.

My jaw may have actually hit the floor, though, when I saw y'all promoting Chiquita bananas.  You explain that 43% of Chiquita's bananas are now produced under Social Accountability 8000 standards.  Of course, that means that 57% of them aren't, and there's no way for a consumer in a grocery store to determine whether or not they were.  I do not think that a less than 50/50 chance of a bunch of bananas being grown in not-the-absolute-most-terrible conditions is basis enough upon which to declare that "buying Chiquita bananas is the next best option" to buying Fair Trade.  I also don't think that a company that engaged in oppression to the point of slavery for over a century now gets a free pass - indeed, an endorsement - for cleaning up a bit.  I would argue instead that, if you can't find Fair Trade bananas and can get by without them (which certainly most of us can), just don't buy any bananas.

I appreciate that you wrap up this chapter by explaining that buying goods harvested or produced in the US does not, by any means, mean that the laborers involved were treated fairly.  The United States treats its agricultural workers shamefully - a fact of which many vegans should be more aware.

I'll be writing again soon.

hearts,
mb

8.15.2015

Get you local right here.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 10

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 10: Eating Locally

What's up Jim?  What's up Peter?  Let's talk about Eating Locally - which is, of course, the tenth chapter of your book The Ethics of What We Eat.

This chapter is fascinating!  I thought y'all would be 100% behind the local food movement.  So imagine my surprise at the statement that to "'keep your dollars circulating in your own community' is not an ethical principle at all.  To adhere to a principle of 'buy locally,' irrespective of the consequences for others, is a kind of community-based selfishness."  WOW!  Them's fightin' words to a wide slice of the alternative food movement.  It's a brave thing to say, and I do agree that there's some truth to it.  Let's unpack this.

You posit that there are three main ethical arguments for eating locally, and then debate them.  In addressing the point that "you'll strengthen your local economy" by buying locally, you pose the question, "is there any merit in keeping our money within our own community?"  You follow with an example:
"If farmers near San Francisco need extra income to send their children to good colleges, and farmers in developing nations need extra income in order to be able to afford basic health care or a few years of elementary school for their children, we will, other things being equal, do better to support the farmers in developing countries."
I'm picking up what you're putting down there in theory (despite your excessive comma use).  But.  Three big points here.

1) At a grocery store or even at a farmer's market, there is no way to determine how well-off a given farmer is financially.

2) Y'all seem to be wholly ignorant of the extreme level of poverty in which most agricultural workers in the US live.  Who are these farmers that are doing so well that they've put aside college funds for their kids?  Are these the bougie, middle-to-upper-class white folks around San Fran selling the excesses of their "urban gardens" that you're referring to?  If so then I definitely agree.  People growing food for fun, or those who've left lucrative jobs in other fields to "get back to the land," do not need my money.  I also don't call those folks farmers.  I also don't live in San Fran.

3) In our food system, buying food produced in other countries is fairly unlikely to create any gains for the producers of that food and much more likely to benefit the corporate food processors getting those products onto US supermarket shelves.  Yes, the pennies that developing world farmers get can take them far, but that doesn't change the fact that they are being abused.  For the privileged few to support a food system that robs them, rather than seeking out local farmers to support, is to perpetuate a bad system - ensuring that that system will not change as a result of market pressures.  In what way is that ethical?

Eggland's Best: Not a family farm.
The next point you take on is that by buying locally, "you'll support endangered family farms."  This one you seem to agree with, stating:
When people see themselves as custodians of a heritage they have received from their parents and will pass on to their children they are more likely to cherish the land and farm it sustainably.  If those people are replaced by large, corporate-owned farms with a focus on recouping the investment and making profits for a generation at most, we will all be worse off in the long run.  So supporting endangered family farms can be an important value."
From your pen to Wendell Berry's delighted ears, friends.  (Or, possibly, from Wendell Berry's lips to your pen?)  We must recall, of course, that even mega-piggeries are local to someone.  Local does not, in any way, equal coming from a family farm.

Finally you quibble with the idea that, by eating locally, "you'll protect the environment."  In this section I learned the surprising information that a farmer using fuel heat to grow early-season tomatoes may be making more of a negative environmental impact than having them trucked in from a naturally warmer clime.  Perhaps I find this surprising because I live in that naturally warmer clime, and would be positively STUNNED to discover any farmer in my area using artificial means to ripen any produce - we're already a good two months ahead of the rest of the country, growing-season-wise.  We eat vine-ripe strawberries in March here.

You conclude this chapter by stating that "[i]f we really want to save energy, we should buy only fresh, unprocessed local food, grown outdoors, and eat it raw, or with minimal cooking" and that "'Buy locally and seasonally' is a better policy than simply 'buy locally' - but it entails giving up a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables we have come to enjoy all year round."  To be frank, we are spoiled and we need to get over it.

I think eating lots of raw fruits and vegetables is a great idea.  Unfortunately, I can't do it.  I have many digestive issues, and my body simply can't process them.  I eat as much of them as I can without making myself sick; certainly you wouldn't ask me to make myself sick?  (That declaration, then, is a bit ableist of you.)  And I love the idea of "eating locally and seasonally" - truly, the seasonality of local food is one of its major draws for me.  But then there's the reality of everyday life, where the strain of arranging my strapped weekend schedule around getting to the farmers market or Hollygrove and the grocery store is enough to almost entirely preclude it.

I blame capitalism.  And Ronald Reagan.

Signing off.  See y'all soon.

hearts,
mb


8.14.2015

Under the Sea
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 9

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 9: Seafood

Peter and Jim,

I am glad for the opportunity to write to you regarding the ethical issues of the seafood industry.  I write of course in response to the ninth chapter of your book The Ethics of What We Eat, titled simply Seafood.

I was surprised when you mentioned in the first paragraph that shrimp are now a more popular seafood than tuna, though I suppose I shouldn't have been.  I have also seen very few estimates of how many sea creatures are harvested for food each year such as the one you provide of 17 billion; the common numbers of 55 to 65 billion animals killed for food annually generally exclude sea life, as aquatic animals are so often measured by the pound rather than as individuals.  There is a logic in this, I suppose: while one pig or cow, or even one chicken, will provide multiple meals, crustaceans and mollusks are often eaten a dozen or more (sometimes many more) in a sitting.

Having spent nearly 2/3 of my life on the Gulf Coast, seafood is an integral part of my culture (even though I don't eat animals anymore).  Shrimp were my favorite food as a child; I was a master peeler.  For this reason, I spent a long time believing that we on the Gulf were somehow immune from the industry's worst practices.  Honestly I still cling to this idea, despite knowing about labor abuses and racial tensions in Louisiana seafood production.  To shrimp in the Gulf we use bottom trawlers, and I'm relieved that you state that it's not as damaging to do this in the Gulf as it is in areas with different biogeography.  But as you explain, the 90% of domestic shrimp that come from the Gulf of Mexico accounts for only 13% of shrimp eaten in the US.  We are mostly eating imported shrimp.  How foolish.

The idea of eating imported seafood here in New Orleans is fairly absurd, particularly when it comes to sea creatures that we could obtain locally.  Eating imported shrimp here is contrary to deeply held cultural values.  I can have no respect for locally owned restaurants that serve imported shrimp.  Even worse are the restaurants fraudulently claiming that their shrimp come from the Gulf - indicating that it's important enough to locals that business owners are willing to lie about it.  Indeed, over 66% of readers polled by New Orleans newspaper Nola.com | The Times Picayune chose "yes" when asked "Do you care where the shrimp you buy comes from?", with another 27% answering that they "want to support our local fishers."

If only 13% of the national shrimp supply is even from the US, and 30% of shrimp claiming to be sourced from the Gulf are mislabeled, how can our residents be sure that they are living their values when they choose to eat shrimp?  Well of course we have a certification program.  The Certified Authentic Louisiana Wild Seafood (CALWS) program, run by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is the only way I know to guarantee that your shrimp and other seafood items are actually from Louisiana Gulf of Mexico waters.

Alarmingly, only 11 restaurants in the New Orleans area are listed in the CALWS database as having obtained this certification.  (One of them is Carmo, a favorite of mine which strives to offer numerous vegan items and hosts special dinners featuring "trash fish" that so often go to waste.) That's not to say that other restaurants aren't serving local seafood, but it's harder to be sure of your dinner's provenance without the assurance of the certification.  Notably more grocery stores have obtained the credentials including all Rouses locations, but noticeably absent from the list is Whole Foods.

And yet here's some weirdness.  As of April 2014, Deanie's Seafood (a huge name in New Orleans local seafood dining) claimed to be serving CALWS-certified seafood.  Their name, though, does not appear in a search of restaurants on the CALWS website database.  Why might this be?  There are many potential reasons, and this casts doubt on the usefulness of the database.  Humph.

But wait.  Do we want to be eating Louisiana seafood in the first place?  Possibly yes.  As of July 2015 Louisiana shrimp are no longer on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch "avoid" list, moved over to a "good" rating - as long as they're caught with an otter trawl and not a skimmer trawl.  I'm not sure how consumers would be able to determine what kinds of nets were used in catching the specific shrimp on their plates, however.  According to data collected by NOAA, at least, Louisiana shrimpers were most often using otter trawls by 2004.

The change in rating occurred because a law prohibiting inspection or enforcement of federal turtle excluder device regulations was finally repealed.  Why would we ever make such a law?  Welcome to Louisiana good ol' boy politics.  How did it stand for so long (nearly 30 years)? Likely because no one filed a lawsuit about it.  If I'm not mistaken, passing a state law that prevents the enforcement of a federal law is in direct violation of the supremacy clause of the constitution.  But I digress.

None of this addresses the ethical quandary of whether it's "right" to eat shrimp and other sea creatures.  From a staunch vegan standpoint the answer is "no," even when it comes to likely-not-sentient animals such as oysters.  We don't eat animals, period.  But as you know, veganism is not the end all be all to food ethics.  I like your proposal that "if we are uncertain whether lobster, crabs, and shrimp {and presumably other crustaceans} feel pain, we should give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them as if they are capable of suffering, as long as the costs of doing so are not too high... For anyone who has other food choices, it cannot be ethically justifiable to risk supporting the infliction of such agony on beings who may be able to feel pain."

Loss of enjoyment from eating certain foods, the only "cost" to most of us in not eating seafood, could only be considered too high a price by someone deeply selfish, I'd say.  (Someone like Mary Ann, for instance?)

For people who take an ethical stance that allows them to consume animals who likely don't suffer, I agree with your statement that it seems better and simpler "not to buy seafood at all, with the exception of sustainably obtained simple mollusks like clams, oysters, and mussels."  Simpler still, of course, is to not eat seafood at all.

Seafood indeed.  What an exhausting and complicated subject.

hearts,
mb


8.12.2015

Eggs Over Easy
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 8

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 8:
Behind the Label: "Organic" and "Certified Humane" Eggs

Hello Jim and Peter.  We're talking about eggs again?  I feel like I'm going in circles a lil bit...  But I suppose we should get to it.  In the eighth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, which I am now choosing to call Eggs Again because tl:dr on that chapter title, we dive into the magical mystical world of egg labeling once again.

It really is magical I think - as in magical thinking.  I've encountered SO many people who think eggs with an organic label come from chickens who live in cute little hen houses like in the cartoons.  Granted, the chickens that you met at the Pete and Gerry's egg farm are far better off than chickens who live in battery cages.  But is that really saying much?  Better is not the same as good.  They still have their beaks seared.  They're still slaughtered very young.  And while they maybe technically have access to the outdoors occasionally, the farmer you met with all but told you that that part of the organic standard is ignored industry-wide "for fear of disease."  Yeah.  OK.

The Certified Humane label, developed by Humane Farm Animal Care under the guidance of the HSUS and ASPCA, is more alarming - and is somehow also held by these farmers who keep chickens in a shed.  The word "humane" is right in there on the label, and that word carries weight with the average consumer.  Per your explanation, "the standards are intended to be commercially realistic."  Read: profitable.

Your discussion of thoughts after the visit to Pete and Gerry's makes me think that we are seeing quite eye to eye on this subject:
"Driving back through the glorious New Hampshire scenery, we discussed what we had seen.  The birds seemed reasonably contented and looked much better off than caged hens.  But we were disturbed by the fact that there were so many of them in a single shed, effectively unable to go outside, and certainly never able to enjoy scratching around in grass, or to be part of a normal-size flock in which they get to know each other as individuals.  And of course, after 56 weeks of laying, these hens were going to be sent off to be killed.  Hens commonly live for more than five years, and some have passed ten years of age, but after just one year of laying, hens start to lay fewer eggs, and it becomes uneconomic to keep them."
It seems, based on this chapter, that even with such important-sounding labels as "organic" and "certified humane," in the end money wins out over animal welfare.  How sad.  How unsurprising.

But hey, what is life without some levity?  People still think this is how chickens live. HA HA HA.



hearts,
mb


8.11.2015

Bacon had a mom.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 7

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 7:
Behind the Label: Niman Ranch Bacon

Dear Peter and Jim,

It appears that this will be another letter about pigs!  That's alright.  I like pigs.

In this seventh chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, entitled Behind the Label: Niman Ranch Bacon, we visit a pig farm where, as Mary Ann claims, the pigs are in fact allowed to "express who they really are."  (Right up until they're sentenced to death, of course.  And forgetting that they're forced to have babies.)

I learned things in this chapter.  For instance, I didn't know that when allowed, pigs make nests to have their babies in.  How neat!  Y'all have seen them of course, but for any other readers, lookit:

A pig family on an Iowa farm that supplies Niman Ranch.
According to Mike Jones, a farmer on one of the pig farms that supplies Nieman, "I adjust my management around what pigs do.  Rather than try to make them fit into my box, I build my box around them."  That's nice.  He also says that he encourages other farmers to conform to Animal Welfare Institute standards for pigs "because if they do, they should be able to comply with any other kind of niche market opportunity that may come up for them."  Ethical conundrum: If someone is doing something that makes animals' lives better, does it matter that they're only doing it for profitability?

Niman Ranch, an entity that may seem like one place when consumers see its name on packages, is in fact a conglomerate - at the time of your writing (and Mary Ann's purchasing) nearly ten years ago, they sourced from 470 pig farms in 15 states.  I'm curious about but unable to determine how many farms they currently use.  While it does seem to be a step forward that this brand sources only from farms that raise pigs according to strict standards, I feel concern.

As I'm sure you're aware, ethical veganism falls on a spectrum, with "welfarists" at one pole and "abolitionists" at the other.  I fall somewhere in between, and yet my concern is of the abolitionist camp: by making their lives better until their deaths, do we take the pressure off to stop killing them?  Or, more to the point, to stop forcibly creating them in the first place?

I believe this is part of something called incrementalism.  When small, incremental steps are made on an issue and considered a victorious stopping point, the battle is won but the war is lost.  When small victories are made but are framed as just another step on the way to an ultimate goal, though, these increments are useful.  Indeed, they are essential.  This concept is at the core of the fight between people who do and do not support Meatless Monday campaigns.  Those of us who do see it as a step along a path; those who don't fear that it will be a final destination falling far short.

We see incrementalism also in the current country-wide fight for a living wage.  Some companies seem to think they can get out from under the gun by making incremental changes to wages, for instance with Wal-Mart raising wages to $9 per hour to start.  Will this save them from being pressured to start at $15 per hour for all workers?  That's most definitely what they're hoping, and yet I certainly hope not.

I would undoubtedly feel victory and relief if all farmed pigs were allowed to live as they do at Niman facilities.  The reduction of environmental harm alone would be worthy of dancing in the streets.  Perhaps those solidly in the welfarist camp would call it a day, declaring pig farming "fixed."  Would that be the end of the fight for abolitionist vegans?  Most certainly not - not as long as any pigs were being used in the service of humans.  I honestly don't know whether, should that seemingly impossible day come to pass, I would "leave well enough alone" or keep pushing to, say, reduce the number of pigs farmed for food. What would you do?

We see incremental changes constantly in all rights movements.  I'd like to encourage everyone reading to celebrate these incremental steps - Hooray for desegregation!  Hooray for marriage equality!  Hooray for ending mandatory sentencing!  And yet, never let The Powers that Be convince you that since you've been given a little, you should stop fighting for a lot.  Don't stop until true justice, for everyone, has been achieved.

hearts,
mb

8.09.2015

Omnivores A-Go-Go
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 6

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 6: Jim and Mary Ann

Dear Peter and Jim,

Let's talk about Jim and Mary Ann in this chapter entitled Jim and Mary Ann.  (This is going to be confusing.)  In this sixth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, we begin the second section of the book, that about "conscientious omnivores."  Let's not mince words: these people annoy me.

I'm relieved that Jim, the "environmental editor and writer," has forgone meat... mostly.  (Fish is still meat, folks.)  And yet I'm beyond irritated that Mary Ann thinks it's great that she and her kids are "eating salami from pigs that have got a chance to express who they truly are!"  By this logic, murders are justifiable as long as the victim had a happy life up until they died.

Of course, y'all know this.  You chose this family exactly because they claim to be conscientious eaters, yet buy hot dogs.  Because, from the mouth of Jim thinking he's speaking about others, they "want to make the environmental choice, but they're not willing to do any trade-offs for it.  They still want it to be as cheap as the other things they could buy."  Because Mary Ann thinks that it's better to eat animals that aren't sentient - but still eats pigs, arguably the smartest of all farmed animals, and thinks that fish aren't sentient.  Because mom lets the kids eat meat simply because they like the taste.  This is a child's justification being taken up by an adult.  All this, even though Jim believes that bacon is an "unforgivable" product.  This family has got some strife.

Mary Ann, who fancies herself "of the corporate world" despite the fact that she works from home, believes that corporations "won't do things that harm their best interests."  That may be true, but only in the very short term, and only when we define "best interests" as "profits."  She claims that "if enough consumers want an ethical product" it will become a reality.  Which tells me that, unsurprisingly, Mary Ann does not understand her level of privilege.  (As if complaining about not having enough time to prepare food when she works from home was not enough.)  I'd love to ask Mary Ann, what of all the consumers who do in fact want more ethical options, but can't afford anything but the very cheapest foods?  Must they wait and rely on the more affluent population to convince the corporations that it's profitable to make ethical choices?  It is telling that this extremely privileged family still strains to make ethical food choices, so corrupted is our current food system.

It's particularly distasteful that Jim and Mary Ann let their children believe Trader Joe's brand chocolate is an ethical choice.  At least as of today, that is a specious claim at best.  The ethics of chocolate not only frequently involve the ethical quandaries of the dairy industry, but also those of child slave labor.

Now that I've torn this little family to shreds, I'll state that if every family ate as this one does - or even just every family privileged enough to do so - the food system would be a thousand times better.  They're paying attention.  They're trying.  Lukewarm justifications aside, I do believe that if Mary Ann was informed of the ethical problems in her food choices in a way that made sense to her, she'd change them.  While there is often a gulf between the "better" and the "good," we've got to start somewhere.  Better is, after all, better.

hearts,
mb

P.S. - I heard Temple Grandin speak today.  We must discuss that in future letters.