Nice line in the New York Times Book Review today from Rebecca Goldstein--"ambivalence is a sign of an interesting mind." It worries me when someone responds in a simple, clear, confident way to an issue that's in fact difficult and complex.
The New York Times covers the treatment of animals a lot. I'd say the gray lady is ambivalent. And maybe that's all to the good--because the animal question really is difficult and complex. Today's stories touching on animals--
First we've got a big story about small, traditional farmers in New England having a hard time delivering meat to the locavore market. It seems there aren't enough slaughterhouses (and mammals have to be slaughtered in USDA approved facilities). So animals wind up having to be transported hundreds of miles away, which defeats the "humane" label and also yields lower quality meat. Reaction: (A) meat is murder, or (B) quick, somebody build a new slaughterhouse? I appreciate the way the article triggers the question.
Second, a paean to hunting in the magazine's "Lives" column. 82 year old half-blind food writer Betty Fussell goes deer hunting with her son, who calls hunting "earning your food." She says--"Although I've spent a lifetime buying, cooking and eating food, this would be the first time I'd ever hunted and sought to kill. Others had always done that for me." Okay....so hunters confront the reality of killing animals. That's honest of them. Upside of eating wild animals: they did get to have much better lives before dying, compared to factory farmed animals. Downside: the killing can be sloppy. Question--if a half-blind woman is allowed to run around shooting deer in the woods, hardly "humane slaughter," then pray tell: why can't those humane farmers in the previous story shoot their own pigs?
The "sensitive hunter" story is a very predicable genre. Inevitably there will be allusions to Native American rituals. People are going to thank The Great Spirit for the dead animal, and they're going to get really mushy about how close they feel to the animals they kill. This article doesn't disappoint. "Even though I long ago abandoned my forefathers' Calvinist God, it's him I thank for the fellow creature I've killed." Question: how much does that make up for the problem that the deer doesn't get to enjoy the rest of her day, or life?
Finally, mother and son sit down to eat the heart at dinner time. Just to let us know they are not brutes, she mentions that she skipped the garlic, onions, and barbecue sauce usually called for in recipes for deer heart. No, they just used "salt and pepper in order to taste the grilled flesh pure." Well, that was decent of them! She adds "Men use fire; other animals don't." (So?) And then: "But I have never felt the bonds of creaturehood so intensely." Somebody at the New York Times really ought to put a moratorium on this sort of thing. Either that, or make the next person who indulges add a paragraph about how this bonding thing is supposed to work. (Am I missing something because I never experienced the ritual of holy communion? Or because I don't belong to one of those tribes that goes in for funerary cannibalism?) It seems to me, you really aren't entitled to feel good about your bonds with a deer after you've deprived her of the rest of her life.
OK--so we've got nice animal farmers and touchy-feely hunters. What else? We have vegan pancake making from Richard Melville Hall (aka Moby). (See picture above.) We also have an interesting reference to vegetarians and vegans in an article about extremism. The author says that "in groups organized around a cause, it's the most extreme members who rise quickest." His example: "Among vegetarians, vegans are accorded high status."
Yes, I accord vegans high status, unless I'm focusing on the online abolitionist vegans. They are not just deeply committed to animals, but contemptuous of anyone who falls even a notch or two below their standards. I suspect tolerant, pragmatic vegans are accorded high status by most animal advocates (most of whom are neither vegetarian nor vegan). Or so I would think. We need a New York Times story that digs into that question.