4/12/10

The Philosophy of Pepperoni

So...you're a vegetarian and your pizza arrives with pepperoni on top, contrary to your order.  Julia Galef watched a friend face this dilemma, and disapproved of her for throwing out the pepperoni.  Considering that the order has been placed, and there was no undoing the damage, she thought that was irrational.

Here's what she doesn't get.  If you haven't eaten meat for a long time, it can both taste good and seem unpleasant.  Best guess: that's why the friend spurned the pepperoni.

But more interestingly, there's also this:  When you choose a rule to follow, you have to consider the rule's content, but also the rule's followability.  Giving up animal products is a discipline, for most people.  It takes self-control.  Take the rule "never eat pepperoni."  That's a little overbroad, contentwise.  It generates more abstinence than necessary, ethically speaking.    Yet it's a great rule for many people, because it gets you out of the habit of eating pepperoni. It removes pepperoni-eating as an issue. 

The alternative is "never eat pepperoni unless the meat would otherwise go to waste."  It seems to make sense, but it isn't very followable.  If you eat pepperoni on messed up orders, and off your friends' leftovers  you'll be stimulating your yen for pepperoni.  Adopting that rule is likely to generate less abstinence than necessary, ethically speaking. At least for pepperoni coveters, the simple rule is the way to go.

I would have thought this was obvious.  In lots of areas of life, we follow over-broad rules. You follow a rule against stealing to keep you on course not to steal when it really counts.  You follow a rule against lying because most of the time it's important not to lie. We wind up being more restrained than we really need to be, but it's for the best. (And we can still make exceptions, of course, when it's really important to do so.)  Not eating pepperoni on that pizza is the same kind of thing.  It keeps you on course to turn down pepperoni next time it actually matters.

15 comments:

amos said...

I don't steal, but if I see money on the sidewalk, I keep it. I think that eating the pepperone is like keeping money that I find on the sidewalk.

Jean Kazez said...

A little pepperoni eating leads to more pepperoni eating, like a little smoking or a little chocolate cake eating leads to more smoking or chocolate cake eating. What does picking a coin off the ground lead to?

amos said...

That depends on the person. I have a lot of self control about food: my weakness is wine. In any case, if a person doesn't have self control about pepperoni, I don't see it as an ethical issue, any more than a lack of self control about using internet.

Wayne said...

i had to eat jello in the past few days because i was in the hospital for spinal surgery. very happy to be home with tofurky jurky

Jean Kazez said...

Omigosh! Why spinal surgery? A chronic condition...an emergency? I'm glad you're home now with the jurky!

Adam said...

I guess this is not the sort of thing you mean when you say vegans shouldn't be purists? I was a bit confused because in your interview with Rhys Southan (where I first learned of your blog), you were critical of vegan purity. But Rhys uses vegan purity to refer to things just like this: vegans who won't eat things that aren't vegan if they'd otherwise go to waste.

When you criticize vegan purism, are you talking about people who bash others for not being pure enough? (That would be a criticism I could wholeheartedly endorse. Rhys's criticizing vegans for not eating free samples of unvegan Soy Joy bars, not so much.)

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, I'm mainly talking about bashing when I criticize vegan purism. A vegan purist would be appalled by the fact that this woman ate the pizza at all, considering the residue of pepperoni that was left on top. It's the being appalled that I find bothersome.

If someone doesn't want to eat pepperoni or even pepperoni residues, I can understand the rationale behind that. When you get to trace quantities, it starts seeming much more mysterious why they matter to anyone. So that's another thing that baffles me about vegan purism.

Ed said...

On an overnight train ride I once ordered a salad and it came with a big slice of salmon. I asked what they'd do if I sent it back and they said they'd trash it. So I ate it. It seemed wrong that a salmon should die just to pad somebody's trash.

In general in this kind of situation I'd consider where I was and who I was with and choose my response accordingly. As an adherent of a minority philosophical position I try to remember that I am in some sense an ambassador for that position. I don't want to give the impression that vegans abandon their ethic for convenience. On the other hand I also don't want to convey that veganism is puritanical and intolerant.

Jean Kazez said...

Ed, When I throw out pepperoni (because I'm a potential pepperoni coveter), I'm keeping myself on track to make the decisions I want to make in the future. So that's good, as far as it goes. On the other hand, you're right that I'm violating a rule that's fairly important in some contexts: "don't waste food." I could be violating other rules too, like "don't offend the host." If the pizzeria is in a very poor city, or I can't explain to my host why I'm removing the precious pepperoni...then maybe I should eat it!

As you say, I'm also an ambassador...but that does cut both ways. Is it better to look flexible or to look consistent? In light of all these things (so many factors! Phew!), I'd say there's no one-size fits all answer.

Wayne said...

I think the whole idea behind throwing out the pepperoni for myself, is the temptation of eating it, like what Jean says in her post. I personally am an ethical vegetarian, so I'm not particularly adverse to meat... in fact I think its incredibly tasty. Bacon, pepperoni... sausage.... mmmmm. sausage.

If I want to maintain my composure and maintain true to my ideals, then it would be easier for me to do so if I simply abstain as much as possible from meat. if I were to indulge in it, because of the waste argument, then in all likelihood, I would end up being less of a vegetarian and more of a conscientious omnivore.... which in practical terms, I don't believe exists, in America at least.

I never really feel the need to justify all of my actions, nor do I feel the need to be entirely consistent with my beliefs all the time (Sometimes I make exceptions). But in the case of vegetarianism, it is actually EASIER to live without the exceptions, than with the exceptions. This is why I don't east oysters, mussels and clams. I don't think there is a particularly strong argument for why we shouldn't eat them... They have no brains, so they can't feel pain. But... I avoid them anyways. Its just easier for me to do so.

When I was in the hospital, I had some serious reservations eating the jello. But in the end I ate it because, I needed the nutrition and jello is relatively different enough from meat that it won't particularly tempt me to eat the Chicken Parmesan. (I have to say, Kaiser Permanente has some of the best hospital food. I could eat it on a daily basis and not be too sad.)

Jean Kazez said...

Wayne, We're going to be getting extra credit at the pearly gates because we don't eat meat despite liking it. Many vegetarians I know don't like it much and find it easy to give up.

I think the issue here (in a word) is sustainability. Everyone knows that diets are hard to sustain. So if you want to have a low- or no-animal product diet over the long term, you have to approach it in the way that's sustainable for you, given all relevant factors. Of course, vegetarian gods just apply some moral principle and don't have to worry about sustainable, what with their perfect willpower and all. But we mortals must figure out ways to trick ourselves into acting as we want over the longterm.

amos said...

Meat doesn't tempt me much, but I'm not in a purer than thou competition with anyone. People who find meat irresistable should try to eat as little as possible; they shouldn't torture themselves.

Faust said...

Well I think there are plenty of good reasons that you give here, all of which seem like good justifications.

The chief complaint of the linked article is in fact that Galef's friend did not provide ANY justification other than "because I"m a vegetarian." To Galef's ears this rings as unacceptable because what she want are GOOD REASONS. This is her norm, her "heuristic." It is the rule: "always provide rational justifications for your actions." Her friend failed to meet this norm, and thus this chastizement was born.

Had Galef's friend offered all the reasons you offer as rebuttal, I doubt there would have been room for this anecdote.

Let this be a lesson to us all: when hanging around with people who hew tight to the norm: "always provide rational justifications for all your behavior," have your rationalizations ready.

Jean Kazez said...

Hmmm....but I think Galef did some speculating about the true reason for the friend's refusal. She postulates a heuristic that she was over-following (if I recall...I'm too lazy to read it again.) She could have done a better job of speculating. Anybody on a diet has rules that can seem weird, but make sense in terms of sustainability. For example, suppose she offered the friend a tiny bite of chocolate cake. The friend says "I'm trying to lose weight." Oh my, how irrational! One little bit of cake won't make a difference! But in fact, a no cake rule can prevent later indulgences, like eating a whole cake. It's the same with sticking to a vegetarian diet, and Galef should have known that!

pj said...

Denying your desires based on a moral philosphy? Sounds a lot like fundamentalist Christians abstaining from sex until marriage. Did you ever think your desire for meat is an evolutionary one? That your body wants meat in the same way your body wants sex? There is nothing wrong with accpeting your evolutionary heritage... go ahead.. eat that pepperoni baby!