Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Feast of Burden

Last month while in Washington D.C., I ate at a place downtown called Founding Farmers. If you live in the D.C. Metro area you're probably, at the very least, familiar with the restaurant and if you'd like I can give you a minute to stop salivating. Yeah, it's that good.

Founding Farmers's claim to fame is that it's a certified "green" restaurant, which means that in addition to closely monitoring its carbon output in an effort to reduce the strain on the environment, the food it buys and serves comes only from family farms, ranches and fisheries. Self-proclaimed foodies will recognize this distinction given that the green-market trend has been all the rage over the past couple of years; a lot of America's most famous chefs have jumped on top of the nearest tables to shout to the masses about their decision to forgo large farms in favor of nothing but locally grown product.

So do all those steps taken to promote sustainability make a difference in the taste of the food at at place like, say, Founding Farmers? Honestly, I have no idea. The meal I had was spectacular and it's always nice to know that while I'm enjoying it I'm also behaving responsibly -- given that I'm probably having a couple of drinks and will almost surely not be behaving responsibly later in the evening. But considering the fact that high-end restaurants almost always seek out the best and freshest ingredients anyway -- whether they're locally farmed or not -- does the extra flair of going green-market really show on the plate? I'm not talking overall quality or various health considerations here -- just taste.

I bring this up because with Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I want to throw a question out there: Do you really care where your food comes from?

Before you answer, know that I don't mean would you just shrug it off if you knew that Upton Sinclair's severed right leg had been hefted into a meat grinder somewhere and then sprinkled over your Campbell's Minestrone. I mean, if you know that the food you buy at the grocery store or order at the local TGI Friday's has passed USDA inspection -- and it tastes good to you -- do you spend a lot of time worrying about the conditions in which it was grown, farmed or raised?

Be honest.

In case you haven't heard, the "publicity sluts" at PETA -- the words of the group's, ahem, "controversial" leader Ingrid Newkirk, not mine -- are once again at war with NBC. You may remember that earlier this year the network refused to air an ad during the Super Bowl that featured girls in lingerie nearly pleasuring themselves with vegetables; the tag line of the thing was "Studies Show Vegetarians Have Better Sex." (For the record, I haven't seen these studies myself.) Now PETA's been shot down again by the NBC suits, this time over an ad the group had hoped to air during -- wait for it -- the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The commercial opens with a family gathering for Thanksgiving dinner, but when the little girl at the table is asked to say grace, she thanks God for the turkey, which came from a farm "where they pack turkeys into dark little sheds for their whole lives, where they burn their feathers off while they're still alive," and where the turkeys "get kicked around like a football by people who think it's fun to stomp on their little turkey heads." The girl then gives special thanks "for all the chemicals and dirt and poop that's in the turkey we're about to eat."

What a precocious little scamp, that kid. I know somebody who won't mind being sent to her room without supper.

Obviously, NBC standards and practices brought the ax down on the ad like it was the soft flesh of a turkey's neck. Even more obviously, it doesn't matter one bit -- PETA never really intended to get the thing on the air anyway. As far as the group is concerned, the controversy over once again having a commercial banned from network television is as valuable in pushing its message as actually getting it broadcast. Although it admittedly would've been entertaining to watch the fireworks had an unsuspecting America suddenly seen its parade -- and its Thanksgiving preparations -- interrupted by Little Miss Turkey Shop of Horrors.

Was NBC right to shoot down the ad? Yeah, actually -- it was. It's rare that I choose decorum over a little good-natured subversion, but even I'm capable of accepting that there really is a time and a place for everything. You don't beat the viewers of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, many of whom are children, over the head with incendiary political messages -- particularly not ones that deal in turkey feces. First of all, if your supposed goal is to stop people from eating turkey on Thanksgiving then the ad's completely ineffective anyway, given that there isn't a soul out there who's going to throw out his or her entire meal at 10am on Thanksgiving morning -- even if the kids are now crying at the thought of little turkey heads being crushed underfoot. If PETA's intention were really to make a difference on Thanksgiving day, the ad would've been running for weeks now.

Beyond that, though, the ad itself is somewhat disingenuous -- which isn't a surprise if you know anything at all about PETA. It ends with the tagline "Go Vegan," which essentially means that entreaties made to viewers to consider their own health when they sit down for dinner -- you know, all those chemicals and dirt and poop -- are nothing but, pardon the pun, red herrings. Vegans generally don't choose not to eat animal products out of a concern for their own well-being; they do it out of a concern for the animal's. It would've been one thing if PETA had been pushing vegetarianism; an argument can be made there that eating vegetables is, for the most part, less dangerous in the long run than eating red meat, or even chicken or turkey, these days. But the reality is that PETA doesn't really give a crap about you, or your family for that matter -- all it cares about is the animal you want to have for dinner. PETA doesn't want your Thanksgiving turkey to be treated more humanely in the days and months leading up to you eating it -- it doesn't want you eating it at all.

There's been a lot of debate recently over a new book called, pointedly, Eating Animals, by entirely too pretentious best-selling author Jonathan Safran Foer. In it, Foer retreads ground already well-broken-in by guys like Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan, who wrote The Omnivore's Dilemma. The main gist of Eating Animals is that the industrial agribusiness system in this country -- the big "factory farm" as we know it -- is slowly poisoning both us and the environment. Foer makes plenty of points worth giving serious consideration to -- admittedly, it's a daunting notion to entirely trust a profit-based leviathan like the American factory farm industry with the food we put into our bodies -- but it should surprise no one that he approached the material with a conclusion already well in mind and is hamstrung by his own sanctimony and desire to push a personal agenda. Still, that's not stopping some of the usual suspects within the always delightful liberal intelligentsia from glomming onto Foer and his findings; after all, if you happen to agree with his agenda, why wouldn't you?

Environmental activist Laurie David, who produced Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, took to the pages of the Huffington Post a few days ago to slam a write-up of Eating Animals (a book she calls a "game-changer") by the New York Times. David was furious that the author of the book review had the temerity to ask a question that rightly gets leveled at PETA and animal rights activists quite a bit -- namely, why when there are people who are starving around the world, people who could ostensibly be fed by large farms, should anyone really worry about the plight of an animal stuck in a cage that's too small? David's evisceration of the writer was based around an argument that really caught my attention. Her point: Caring is not a zero-sum game. According to David, there's room to care for both the humans suffering from hunger -- and other various tragedies and crises for that matter -- and the animals suffering in factory farms.

Except there isn't -- not for everyone.

And here's where I answer my own question from earlier: No, I just don't have the time or the inclination to concern myself with how the animals I eat are treated.

I of course don't want to see animals tortured needlessly, but as heartless as this may sound I think I'm like a lot of Americans when I say that I actually do have only a limited reservoir of empathy and compassion and I've learned to personally prioritize the way in which it's dispensed. The reason for this isn't so much that I honestly just don't give a damn, it's that I understand that if you let every injustice claw at your insides you eventually lose the ability to function. Call this a cop-out or a defense mechanism or what have you, I simply have more pressing issues to concern myself with than whether the bacon I ate for breakfast was comfortable up until its untimely death. Once again this will sound awful, but as long as you're not slaughtering the thing in my front yard, I'm good. I eat meat -- and turkey and chicken and fish and just about anything else -- because I enjoy it. I'm an adventurous eater and always have been. As Anthony Bourdain famously said, "My body isn't a temple, it's an amusement park."

This way of thinking is also very likely the reason that I don't spend too much time dwelling on just what might be in the food that I eat. I actually do eat quite healthy these days, but not healthy to the point where I pick apart every little thing to ensure that it's never been near a chemical or pumped with an occasional preservative. Admittedly, both Jayne and I are much more careful about what we feed Inara, but she still eats animal products and neither of us lets it paralyze us with fear or make us run screaming into the streets at the horror of a cow being bled out.

Why? Because I believe that a person's wants and needs are more important than the well-being of cattle. Call me a savage -- that's just the way it is.

But that's obviously not the way PETA thinks. In the eyes of PETA and Ingrid Newkirk -- who's been called everything from a demagogic militant to a full-on sociopath, with good reason -- the safety of an animal, any animal, is not only as valuable as the wants and needs of a human being; it's just as important as the very life of that human being. Newkirk after all is the same woman who once wrote Yassir Arafat to plead with him to stop using donkeys in suicide bombing attacks (while ignoring the people he was killing); she's the same person who backs the terrorist Animal Liberation Front in its campaign to free research animals that save human lives every single day; the same woman who wants to ban seeing-eye dogs; the person who wrote to Al Gore to lecture him on the fact that he eats meat, which she claims is antithetical to caring for the environment; the one who says fish should be called "sea kittens."

The woman who believes, "The smallest form of life, even an ant or a clam, is equal to a human being."

This is the kind of lunacy Ingrid Newkirk espouses and acts on day after day after day.

But here's the thing: Ingrid Newkirk may be completely off her rocker, but she's by no means stupid. She has to know that her methods, tactics and beliefs will do little more than rally millions to stand not simply against her cause but vehemently against it. Newkirk and PETA don't just antagonize those you would think they're hoping to win over -- they create an army of people who out-and-out hate them. Trying to hit America in the face with turkey torture during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is not what you'd call a good P.R. strategy. It's a great way to make people despise you and your cause -- which doesn't save one single animal. All it does is feed your gargantuan ego and your need to, literally and figuratively, stir the pot. It seems as if these people aren't activists so much as narcissists -- as if theirs is at times an entirely self-indulgent endeavor.

That's too bad, because you would think that the plight of defenseless animals would be an easy sell -- and, yes, a necessary one.

Although I've already admitted that I have the ability to put that plight out of my mind and just enjoy my meal, which I'm sure is why PETA is hoping to force me and millions of others to confront the realities of the modern American food chain.

The thing is, it still won't change my mind about my Thanksgiving dinner or anything else I choose to eat.

And I doubt I'm the only one who feels that way.


twig said...

Factory farms and factory farming conditions equal those lovely salmonella (and other) breakouts that take down entire sections of produce/animal production. Also, they're great vectors for diseases like swine and bird flu.

There are lots of reasons to want better conditions for animals we eat that have everything to do with selfishness.

There are like, what, 20 different types of turkeys with different flavors - those 'heirloom' birds - that aren't in mass production because the big suppliers prefer the one kind of turkey? Same with those flavorless supermarket tomatoes.

I don't eat organic for any sort of moral superiority, I eat it because it tastes better.

Also I think the humane treatment of animals would lead to more humane treatment of slaughterhouse workers. There's a section in Fast Food Nation that describes the cleanup crews for those places, it sounds like the ninth circle of Hell.

Chez said...

Agreed, change at the very basic level in some of these farms is necessary considering the number of food-borne crises we've seen lately -- and I read Fast Food Nation as well and you're absolutely right about the conditions the workers have to deal with.

My point is more about whether most Americans -- ugly though this may be -- just think of it largely as out of sight, out of mind. And whether we concern ourselves with the actual plight of what the animals are going through. That said, I have an opinion on this -- one I obviously voiced -- but this is one of those things I'm more than happy (not just willing, but happy) to be debated on.

TK said...

Well, you're gonna call down the thunder with this one.

BUT, I pretty much agree.

I actually do have only a limited reservoir of empathy and compassion and I've learned to personally prioritize the way in which it's dispensed.

This. This is the crux of it. I do my best - I recycle, I give to charity, I work for an agency the provides housing to needy families, etc., etc. But I can't be a part of every cause. I just. fucking. can't.

That's my main problem with PETA and their ilk - they feel that theirs is the most important cause ever. I have my causes and crusades, but I don't try to shove them down everyone's throat. There's no use in such a holier-than-thou approach.

Chez said...

That was definitely the main point I wanted to make about PETA. I just can't abide their tactics but I do understand the need for a group that looks out for animals because -- quite frankly -- I just don't care enough to do it. And they're likely not going to convince me.

e said...

Agreed on the changing of conditions makes sense for everyone, except perhaps the all encompassing profit.

I saw the ad on the net, and all I could think of was the grandpa staring at the little girl. "Your kid's a commie, I didn't fight in two wars to hear this crap, I'm going to eat my goddamn turkey!"

Anonymous said...

PETA are star fuckers. That is all they are. I used to live by them when I was in the navy(their main building is based in Norfolk). I can't tell you the number of times that I read in the local paper that some restaurant, school, or library found dead euthanized pets in their dumpster because people gave pets or homeless animals to PETA, thinking they would find them loving homes, and PETA would euthanize them, without even properly disposing of the bodies. They were caught on tape numerous times just dumping animal bodies in any random dumpster around town. If a vet clinic did this, they'd lose their license overnight.

These jackasses speak of the exploitation of animals by exploiting women. It isn't any shock that the people that appear in their ads are all air headed, hot bodied, morons. They are the Scientology of vegans. These are the same clowns, that when 45 year old researcher in Germany was infected with Ebola, PETA basically release a press report saying that's what she and all researchers deserve. These idiots want us to live like cavemen. They have no problem with starving in Africa because they don't see people, especially minorities as any more important than an insect.

Plus they funnel money and support to ALF, ELF, and other violent terrorist groups. Fuck em...they are no different than any other nutbag group that should be treated with contempt.

brite said...

As Twig already pointed out, decrying factory farming isn't a moral issue, it's a health issue. And it extends way beyond just the animals that we eat.The focus of how food is produced in North America since the late 1960's has been on large volume, low diversity.And this is not a good thing, not for the plants and animals, not for the ensuing carbon footprints and most especially not for us humans, at every level including economic, health and social mores.It is important to know, think about and have some respect for where your food comes from, it is, after all, what keeps us alive.
ps.I'm an omnivore.

Anonymous said...

Funny this comes up because I've been thinking a lot about the same thing. And for me, our family has moved to organic, locally grown foods mostly because I don't want my daugters menstruating at 9 years old and growing a full rack by 12. In other words, I'm trying to keep the chemicals and pesticides and growth hormones to a minimum.

I eat meat, btw. Will continue to do so. And the hubby and I consciously buy the most natural, grass fed, free roaming flesh we we care about the animals? Eh, a little. Do I care more about my family's health and ensuring environmental sustainability much more? You bet.

The irony is...because I do eat organically, and buy meats from local CSAs (community sustainable agriculture) I'm actually benefiting the health of my family, the environment, and the local economy more than a vegetarian does.

But Newkirk and the rest of the PETA plague brigade doesn't talk about that...because at the heart of it, she doesn't give a shit about people or the environment. She only cares about the animals. Moreover, I don't think Foer addresses meat-eating, but healthy alternatives provided by the likes of CSAs (does he? I haven't read the book yet). And knowing that both these entities didn't bother to acknowledge these other alternatives makes me believe that they're in it for the sanctimony and not for saving anyone.


Wes said...

I seriously doubt any substatial changes to the food industry's treatment of animals will be made while PETA is around. I agree with you Chez, in that some sort of watch dog organization should be out there. Unfortunatly, PETA's crazy spotlight seeking antics just hinder any effort to actually raise ethical standards. No matter how well thought out your or your organizations argument is for making even small changes to commonplace industry practice, all you do is get lumped in with the crazies.

See yoU Next Tuesday said...

Look, for health's sake and even a little empathy, I like that PETA has drawn attention to the atrocities in farming.

That's where my appreciation ends. They are fanatics, pure and simple, and I see no difference between them and raving religious lunatics.

What these nutters don't get it that the reason they can be vegans has to do with large scale farming. I DARE THEM to go off and live in a community where they can raise diverse crops in enough quantity to feed themselves. And do it organically and locally. Yeah, right. And don't get me started on medicines they use, including the second in command's use of materials for her diabetes made from cow products.

Anonymous said...

I'm of two minds about this. First of all, though I like to think I have pretty large reserves of empathy, I think PETA is a clusterfuck and certainly animal welfare alone would not convince me to go vegetarian. Animals are going to die either way, I have no problem with them being made into food and the fact that I also find them delicious makes it all the more convenient. Here's what I have a problem with: 99% of meat is factory-farmed, and it's making people sick. H1N1 started at a factory farm, as have almost all the other animal-origin strains of the flu. People living near factory farms that produce pork have much higher rates of asthma (my nephew lives in a factory farm country. He's on breathing treatments for a sudden onset of asthma. He's two.). The fact that most factory-farmed animals are fed antibiotics with every meal because it's cheaper to raise sick animals than healthy ones have produced some virulent strains of antibiotic-resistant bacterias, a huge amount of which can be found upwind and downstream of factory farms. I don't mind eating animals. I do mind eating diseased animals. And someone as cynical as you shouldn't be so naive about the USDA - you really think the fact that the USDA is in charge of both inspection of factory farms and responsible for making sure agribusiness continues to be a productive industry isn't a slight conflict of interests?

You don't have to be empathetic to animal suffering to care about this stuff (this is where PETA went wrong - oh, who am I kidding, PETA has always been wrong about almost everything). You just have to care about your own health. There are plenty of people who can't afford or don't have access to good food and in that way can't support competition against agribusiness. But you can, and so can I (and I say that also as someone who is underemployed). Don't get me wrong, there is currently a steak, a whole chicken, and a pound of bacon in my freezer, and I intend to eat and enjoy them. Did I have to spend a little more on them? Sure. But it wasn't that much more, and it certainly didn't take any more energy. I'm with you in the PETA hate and the animal welfare apathy, and I certainly wouldn't impose a rigid diet on anyone (food is fun!) for any reason, but I think those of us who have the luxury of caring where our food comes from should. No one else will, least of all the USDA.

Jen said...

i care, i really, really do. i can understand why people don't (like you said, out of sight, out of mind) and also why people can't (it does cost more to care, something a lot of champions of the movement are hesitant to admit to, though i believe this is largely the government's fault, by dismantling the new deal - thank you nixon! - and introducing subsidies for only corn & soy).

i buy my vegetables, chickens, beef, and pork from farmers i know. we do buy local / natural / humane dairy as well, and are developing relationships with local dairy farmers, so that we can know them too. my husband actually works saturdays with the farmer who provides our produce and chickens, helping them at the market, so we know them quite well.

i do it all because i think it's critical for my health, the nation's health, and the earth's health. did you know that within the last 50 years, we've changed the entire earth's ecosystem? millions of years, the earth got along fine, then post WWII came and BAM - we wrecked it. i can't rehash all the reasons here (i doubt there's enough room in the comments box), but some of the previous posters have touched on them. i can't in good conscience support a system that is killing both the earth and her population.

if you really want to know, educate yourself. the information is out there. i think a large part of the problem is ignorance - most people don't know what's going on, and can't begin to imagine how bad it is, because no one in their right minds would think this crap is legal.

i agree PETA is full of crap. i hate them almost as much as i hate NOW.

i do, in general, keep my mouth shut about all of this, because most people don't WANT to know. if they ask, i'm more than glad to tell the, because in secret i'm a rabid lunatic about this stuff. but that's my choice. it's not my place to preach or judge. i can only do what i think is right.

Deborah said...

See the excerpt, below. I got it from someone's blog, don't really know...I just Googled "Fishkill Fishsave PETA". I knew something would come up. I mean...these people are NUTS. Really.

I have a sister, 19 mos. younger than me, who was diagnosed @ 16 with psoriatic arthritis. She's now 42, and has had a lot of deterioration in those 26 years. She's been on a secondary medication called Enbrel for several years...she calls it a "miracle drug." You can be sure it was tested on animals and, frankly - and I am a devoted animal person - I do not care. I have an 11-year-old boxer whom I absolutely adore, but if, at any point in his life, I was told that he had to be sacrificed to make my sister's life better, I would do it. It would be heartbreaking, for sure, but ultimately there wouldn't be a choice, really. Don't know if anyone's seen Penn & Teller's "Bullshit" about PETA, but they mention that one of the more highly-placed members has diabetes, and maintains her condition with insulin that is (I think...I may not be remembering this exactly) derived from pigs. She rationalizes it away by saying - and I'm SURE about this part, and NOT MAKING THIS UP - that, in sharp contrast with others who avail themselves of such drugs, SHE is worthy of them because of her life's mission to save animals. In other words: It's okay for animals to sacrifice themselves for her so that she can save other animals. Batshit crazy.

That’s why I applaud the residents of Fishkill, New York. Thirteen years ago, the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) took issue with the town’s name, which has been around for centuries. Hey, said PETA, why don’t you call it Fishsave instead.

So what did the mayor of Fishkill do? Did he seek out publicity? Did he push a vote through the city council? Did he put up a sign at the entrance to town showing a little boy hugging an adorable trout?

No. Instead, he said simply, “I think their proposal is idiotic.” Amen.

Mack said...

They raised $30,311,634 directly from individuals in 2007. That's big fundraising right there. Ms. Newkirk brough home $35K. The vet they hire makes almost 3x's as much as her. If you are the director of a large NPO bringing in $30 mil a year and you don't make over $'re nuts. Bonafide.

Here's a link to their 990:

See yoU Next Tuesday said...


The early menses and puberty has been attributed to artificial light in most scientific circles.

John said...

I don't really get it; you go to the supermarket, the free range eggs are right there, on the same shelf as the chicken holocaust eggs, the locally grown organic broccoli is in a bin right next to the DDT broccoli bin. You pay the extra 12 cents for the food that didn't require a barrel of crude oil to get to you, and you're done. Nothing has clawed at your soul, no great sacrifice was made. It takes less effort than resisting the urge to yell at the coupon lady you will inevitably get stuck behind in the checkout line. Why all the hand-wringing about this?

brite said...

Back in the 90's there was a terrific documentary called 'Frankenfood', and one of the most revealing interviews was with the manager of N.A.'s largest feedlot in Brooks, Alberta.He said that it is only slightly more expensive to raise cattle organically, but until 'the market' demands it, he and all the other feed lots will continue to pump their cattle full of hormones and antibiotics and let them stand in shit up to their armpits (cowpits?) until slaughtered. So, yeah, it's really up to us consumers.Isn't that how capitalism is supposed to work?

VOTAR said...

First, I love that commercial. LOVE. IT.

If I were in the business of making commercials, this is the commercial I would make.

Second, I was all ready with an all-too-easy punchline about looking forward to full racks on 12 year olds, but that fiddle's been played too many times now.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Mart said...

16 year vegetarian - mostly did it for enviro issues. Have no problem with folks eating meat - just wish they would work to minimize. Very inneficient to process grain through an animal's stomach. I do have issues with animals having large quantities of hormones and antibiotics stuffed into their bodies. Also not a fan of GMO's - some crops in the US are over 90% genticaly modified. Worry about the butterfly effect. But unlike meat, not worried enough to to significantly change eating habits.

BTW - Vegans and PITA drive me nuts as they are unrealistic. When a vegan gets near me they try to proslytize me to go the full monty - and I tell them nearly all sheet metal is rolled in lard, so they better give up cars, washing machines, homes, etc.

Anonymous said...

See You Next Tuesday,

Could you send me a link to the artificial light evidence? Cuz I always thought the early puberty (Votar's Dream Scenario Obviously) was attributed to the growth hormones in milk and meat.

Thanks :-)

S.D. said...

You know, at one point, I came here looking for the skewering of folks that needed to be skewered. A good example is this post on PETA Dude, you are an outstanding writer and at one time, you certainly must have been a good newsman or you would have never sniffed the positions that you held.

But as time has gone on, I think you have seriously suffered from the syndrome of seeking out what reinforces your beliefs and ignoring what challenges those beliefs. You have easily dismissed similar accusations, cavalierly stating that "It's my blog" or "I post what interests me", ignoring the underlying point that these statements ultimately support the accusation.

Chez, you are choosing to ignore the obvious. We were sold a bill of goods when we elected this President and he has done exactly ZERO with the confidence in him. Taibbi, who you quote often, posted that Obama has been the greatest "bait and switch" of our lifetime. I read that and immediately hit DXM to see your take on that bold statement. What do we see? Bush and Plain rants. Seriously? Bush? Still? How long are you going to allow Obama to beat that drum and ignore the fact that he is wallowing in his own mistakes more than any first year President in recent memory. Chez, if the health care reform fails, which is a real possibility, he will have spent exactly 25% of his first (and possibly last) term in office doing nothing but blaming Bush.

When did you start to silently put up with this shit? Willingly being bullshitted by a politician and then, in the face of all that is obvious, giving him a free pass?

C.L.J. said...

Shades of Bloom County.
"Dear Lord, I've been asked, nay commanded, to thank Thee for the turkey before us. A turkey, which was no doubt a lively, intelligent bird. A social being, capable of actual affection. . . nuzzling its young with almost human-like compassion. Anyway, it's dead and we're gonna eat it. Please give our respects to its family."

Chez said...

You know why I don't beat up on Obama, S.D.? Because I really don't think he's doing a terrible job. I realize this won't jibe with all the "sky is falling" rhetoric you're hearing -- and in some cases repeating -- from every side, but that's just the way it is.

Just coincidentally, there's a damn good piece in today's Salon by Joan Walsh that sums up pretty much exactly how I feel about the Obama presidency so far -- and it basically goes something like this: Yes, he's made a hell of a lot of mistakes and hasn't done some of the things he said he'd do -- some of the things I want him to do and the country needs him to -- and if he doesn't start making big, bold moves soon he's going to be in a huge amount of trouble whether I think he's essentially a decent leader or not. But that's the thing: unlike so many on the left, I was never expecting him to be some kind of great progressive hope. I knew what I was getting -- a Democrat who was going to govern from the center (unfortunately where the money is) the way others had before him. Do I like this? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But what it means is that I'm willing to be patient -- and the reason I don't hammer the crap out of him is that I don't need to. He's getting it from everyone from Arianna Huffington -- who's bombastically likening unemployment to Katrina -- to every single Republican in America.

What that means, and I've said this before several times, is that I am in fact willing to wait just a little bit longer before jumping on the hater bandwagon because in spite of my reservations about what's happening right now, I still know that the alternative to Obama is ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE. And my joining in the pile-on -- even though I'm basically a nobody -- just hastens that potential eventuality.

Wanna know what I think of Taibbi's "bait and switch" line? I think he's wrong. I think Taibbi was expecting way too fucking much -- especially for a guy who's as naturally cynical as he is. Obama needs to get moving and do it fast, otherwise, yeah, I will lose faith. But for now I see nothing to be gained by my joining the chorus of outrage from people like yourself (honestly, no offense).

The man has more on his plate than any president in my lifetime; I'm not expecting miracles.

And yeah, sorry but since I don't really get paid for this -- I DO actually write about what I feel like writing about, and that sometimes means that I don't have to explain myself. You're just gonna have to deal with it. I can't please everyone nor do I intend to ever try to.

Agent Scully said...

I too think that PETA is crazy and I have no problem with people eating meat, but it is my belief that nothing should suffer so that I may enjoy myself. This goes for horrible factory farm conditions, animal testing and child/slave labor.

TK said...

but it is my belief that nothing should suffer so that I may enjoy myself.

Scully, what about so that you may survive? I'm not talking about factory farming, for which there is a relatively simple solution that many have outlined... but what about animal testing? It's a slippery slope, this animal rights thing. Because the drugs we take to stave off headaches and fix our child's coughs and try to keep cancer at bay and hopefully someday cure AIDS... 90% of the time any kind of testing that DOESN'T involve animals is likely going to be fruitless. It's a sick and unfortunate truth that I've come to accept, because as Deborah alluded to farther up, if it comes down to my wife or mother or father... or a monkey or beagle... I'm choosing the family member every time, without hesitation.

I don't posit the question to put you on the spot, but to make a larger point about PETA, which is that it's awfully convenient for them to use their "gore and guilt" tactics to turn people off of animal abuse, but the simple fact is that beyond the simplistic arguments that they make over a Thanksgiving dinner, there's a larger issue that will (and has) save human lives.

BenoƮt from Ottawa said...

Great answer, Chez at 4:12

Peter L. Winkler said...

Obama's policies are a straight-line continuation of Bush's with a more palatable image makeover, that's all.

I challenge you, Chez, or anyone else to read the following through to the end and then maintain your position.

Happy Holidays to all.

Anonymous said...

Love Founding Farmers! Wish every restaurant would go green if it would taste like that. By the way, it is in Foggy Bottom, not Capitol Hill.

Chez said...

Hmm, thought I got that right. My mistake. Thanks for the correction. I'm going with downtown cause apparently that's technically correct. Make my life easier.

NinjaMom said...

Crap. What was the question again? I read this horrifyingly enlightening book called Slaughterhouse, by Gail Eisnitz. I couldn't eat meat for months. When I did start again I had to research the farms that the meat was coming from. My husband and I agreed that the meat and poultry we purchased from Whole Foods tasted better.

His beef (pun intended) was to avoid sources of antibiotics. Mine was to avoid animal products from animals that had been forced to eat their own kind (the ones that don't make it and end up ground up into the feed - hello mad cow disease?)

Anyhoo, that book changed how I view my food sources. Sure, I'm busy with the kids and sometimes we'll go to a fast food place so my ideals are definitely not on the top of my list. But I do make conscious informed choices about the food that I put in my body.

I agree with PETA on one thing, animals should get more hugs because I think it makes them taste better. :)

VOTAR said...

Peter, I took your challenge.

I got a little farther than the point where the author declared his allegiance to Ralph Nader before the fits of hysterical laughter made me crap my pants. A little farther, but not much. The list of Obama's "war crimes" was particularly humorous.

That site, like many, many others, looks like little more than another crackpot manifesto of someone who enjoys the sound of his fingers tapping on his keyboard. Sometimes I think access to the internet should be regulated with a little test like a diabetes monitor, and controlled inversely related to the measure of Ritalin in the author's bloodstream.

Moreover, I'm not really sure how any of this has to do with peta, and turkey.

Mmmmmmmm. Turkey...

Agent Scully said...

TK I stand by my statement. No animal testing. Not even to save a human life. I think animals should not be punished for, what some call, "the greater good". Just because we have the means (higher intelligence) doesn't mean we should have the power to hurt (inflict terrible disease on animals to find a cure).

Incidentally, I think that most of the sickness and disease humans suffer has been caused by our diet and/or way of life. The animals we eat are treated horribly, we expose them to obscene amounts of chemicals, and we suffer the consequences.

Chez said...

Sorry, Scully -- I'm going to just dispense with the restraint and flowery language and tell you that that's fucking insane.

You can cut a dozen monkeys heads off in my living room -- hell, I'll grab a chainsaw and help you -- if it means a cure for a disease that kills human beings.

Chez said...

And your argument about how we're reaping what we sow in our treatment of animals is laughable.

Pants said...

I agree with Chez. There is no need for unnecessary cruelty towards animals. But the suffering of humans deserves priority.

S.D. said...

Yes, that is a good answer and no, it was not my intention to have you or anyone explain themselves.

Just frustrated. I need to be patient and realistic.

Tim said...

I'm going to just dispense with the restraint and flowery language and tell you that that's fucking insane.

While I generally agree with your article (I dislike PETA and am an omnivore) I think that statements like this gloss over moral decisions which are based on personal values.

Personally I find it easier to empathize with animals than humans, so I would happily see people die of diseases to prevent animal testing (though not myself).
In order of importance for what I would prefer protected: Me -> Animals I know -> People I know -> Animals I don't know -> People I don't know.

Though I pretty much lump very young children and the mentally handicapped in with animals in this system, so interpret that how you will.

Anonymous said...

Forget all this politically correct talk. I want to fuck you Chez. I want to fuck that man meat of yours until its raw and you're crying in pain. I want to take your whole load into my mouth and suck it down.

then I want to fall asleep next to you and watch you breathe easily through the night.

Chez said...

I get it, SD. Believe me.

And Anon -- um, sure, why not.

Aconite said...

You know what this (100% accurate) description of PETA reminds me of? The rightwing fundies' so-called "Pro Life" crusade.

Same ostensible "good intentions" to draw in the gullible and hide behind while encouraging terrorist tactics to achieve dubious ends. A vociferous, unrelenting and irrational demand for the rights of an insentient clump of cells, coupled with an equally intense disregard for the actual children once they're born. And that's not even mentioning the treatment of the women involved.

I know it has nothing to do with the rest of the discussion, but it struck me and I thought I'd put it out there.

Vermillion said...

Anon 10L42PM: Okay...I suppose it was bound to happen. Can't really follow that one.

@Agent Scully: Well here's the thing with the testing - we kinda need the animals for it, at least for now. See, the disease only kill us living things. So we can't give it to like a chair; it isn't a living thing. And we can't really give it to a plant; they have significantly different designs from us, so it would be pointless. And testing on humans is usually saved for last (besides, we don't want another Tuskegee Experiment). So unless we get some decent clones in here, the animals are kinda the closest transitional testbed we got.

I do have a question though: for those of you who don't eat meat because you don't want to hurt a living creature or some such, why is it okay to eat plants? They are living creatures technically. Is it because their lack of screaming in pain makes it better somehow? Or how about vermin or insects? Folks do eat bugs and such; should they get the same preferential treatment, even though they do outnumber us nearly a billion to one?

I am not being facetious or assholish, I really am asking. The unfortunate truth is the very nature of our existence (or any creature's) is that other beings have to get shafted for us to survive. That is just how it is.

If we really wanted to consume the healthiest material least likely to affect the environment, then we would all be cannibals. If that is fine with you, good luck, And I will probably brain you as soon as look at you, you fucking zombie.

@Tim: I have a theory on that: it is mostly a case of which you can hate the easiest. Most people can think of at least one human they would love to see die a painful and horrible death. They just do. But not a lot of people have bad memories with animals. They often have beloved pets that they cannot consider hurting, which is why we don't eat "pet" animals in our culture and yet, vermin and insect are also low on the totem pole.

I am too sleepy to conclude this comment right so....night.

Vermillion said...

P.S. Anon 10:42 is either Jodie Sweetin....or George Hutchins.

I say flip a coin and take your chances. Either way, it is going to be memorable.

Capt. Clown said...

My empathy and compassion is limited to a 5-foot radius of whoever happens to be standing next to me.

I admit I DO have more empathy for pets/animals than people, because animals are innocent.

But PETA's love for animals is like OJ's love for Nicole... "Counterproductive".

marija said...

Hm, I'm torn on this issue. I believe that healthy animals produce healthier meat and that (even if we disregard the appalling practices in the meat industry) we need to control what is being fed to these animals and how they are handled. However, animals do serve for food. Maybe it's unfair, as Leary once pointed out, to say to a dog - you're cute, you'll be my pet and say to a cow, shut up, you're my lunch, but hey, that's how it is. If it weren't we would have 4 stomachs and entrails the length of a highway, not to mention a much bigger jaw. I am for testing drugs on animals because (unless we're talking about the fine tuning of the drug's dosage) it's more responsible to test it on animals than on humans. But I am firmly opposed to testing cosmetics, detergents, etc. on animals because it's really not necessary to do that. There are companies that don't test their products on animals and they're doing just fine. So, my point is, we will exploit animals, but we should minimise their pain and humiliation as much as possible. That will make us be a more decent animal species.

Tim said...

Vermillion: There may be something to that, but I think I'm also more comfortable with hurting something that understands why it's being hurt than something that doesn't.

All I know is when it comes to animal testing I'd be alot more comfortable with rounding up a bunch of hobos instead (absolutely true, and I admit, slightly fucked up).

Chez said...

Yup. That makes sense.

I mean, they had their chance, right?

Agent Scully said...

My pet-owning friends and non pet-owning friends have this argument all the time. When I look over at my cat, I feel sick just thinking that there is a human out there with the capacity to inflict pain and suffering to such an intelligent animal. Friends with pets completely understand this, non pet-owners do not.

Truth is, my cat is far more intelligent than a lot of people I know and a lot more respectful as well. Humans have overpopulated this world, causing great harm to the planet: environment, animals and themselves. Animals maintain a natural equilibrium with their surroundings, humans destroy that balance. Therefore I believe that animals do not deserve to suffer for the shit we inflicted on them.

Vermillion I eat plants because I do not believe that they suffer. Their beaks are not cut off, they are not crammed into tiny cages, they are not made to sit in their own shit, they are not skinned alive, they are not boiled alive, they are not injected with painful chemicals...

Oh, Happy Thanksgiving!

Captain Crab said...

How many of you have ever been to a "factory farm?

celery said...

i'm a vegan and i don't like what peta has become over the last decade. the sexism is especially disturbing.

their ridiculous campaigns and and statements make it far too easy for people to ignore the intelligent, rational arguments that support vegetarianism (i.e. health, environment, food supply, compassion), and attack the straw man who so obviously has it coming.

sadly, however, outside of a university ethics class, it's tough to get people to listen and engage honestly and openly on this topic. i used to think that peta's tactics were commendable beacuse at least they brought attention to the issues. but lately, that's been outweighed by the broad brush of lunacy with which they've allowed all of us who care deeply about animals to be painted.

on another issue, the political vegetarians that i know tend to also be the people who consistently show up at the rallies and meetings meant to end human exploitation and suffering. they are engaged in those causes for the same reasons that they are concerned about non-humans. perhaps they give most of their time and donations to animal related causes, but i suspect that compared to the average citizen, they are more politically active, in general. yes, this is speculation.... just putting it out there as an observation from the various communites in which i have lived.

Chez said...

Scully, I've owned both a dog and a cat in my lifetime. Loved them both very much.

Would've put a bullet in either of them if I knew that it would save human lives.

As for your assessment of the intellect and benefit to the planet of humans vs. animals -- need I remind you that, as far as I know, you're actually a human being? Although in your case you may be right about the whole "pets being smarter than some people" argument.

Hope you never get cancer, kid.

Vermillion said...

I eat plants because I do not believe that they suffer. Their beaks are not cut off, they are not crammed into tiny cages, they are not made to sit in their own shit, they are not skinned alive, they are not boiled alive, they are not injected with painful chemicals...

Just because you BELIEVE they don't suffer, it doesn't mean they don't.

But you are talk about a living creature that gets ripped them apart, pull their reproductive organs out of their bodies, tear off their main means of feeding themselves. And the worst part? They have no real choice. They can't run. They can't scream. They can only sit there and take it. Every once in a while, you get one with some poison or thorns or what have you. But it still isn't enough.

One could make mowing the lawn sound like the Holocaust if one were inclined. It really is a matter of perspective.

brite said...

Just one last comment on this whole thread, I don't believe in animal testing...unless it's for the specific species involved. Test on humans for humans...I've got no problem with that. There are scores of people who already sign up and get paid for this shit.And it's more accurate and at least there's the element of consent.We never ask the thousands of rhesus monkeys if they think that helping out their human cousins makes having electrodes punched into their brains and up their asses worthwhile.

Peach said...

Medicine derived from animal testing saved my life.
How is it even possible to posit that animal testing isn't viable when you look at all the medicine, treatments and surgical advances that have derived from this exact method?
Scientists arn't out to kill baby bunnies. They are out there making our lives livable. Let them do their job.

Look, this is the crux of my issue. Science. There is little involved in the actual debate.
And I'm not talking about PETA or Greenpeace scientists who say things like "genetically engineered food is new and scary" or "only organic is safe" while ignoring the fact that Norman Borlaug modified wheat and rice that saved a billion lives.
Or how they forgoe actual agricultural facts like Corn being modified for thousands of years. What's that? You think corn husks have always been the size they are now? (answer: no)

And this is more than a problem of choosing what food we eat. Groups like PETA and Greenpeace have used their propaganda to convince several poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa to refuse several tons of donated genetically modified food. The President of Zambia was told the food was poison. Food that has undergone rigerous scientific testing to ensure it's safety. Food that everybody eats. Nope. Better to let kids starve to death.

I know this is a bit of a tangent but the talk of 'holocaust eggs' and 'poor monkies' really upsets me. I work in development. And these turtle-costumed utopian idiots cause all kinds of trouble. They think a Green world will be a better one. They dont have to consider the ramifications. Such as water (already scarce for much of the developing world) becomming the new energy-go-to and creating further stress in areas of drought. They dont think about Lithium mining or social and economic factors that could very well cause new wars to break out in already fragile states.

Organic food is a flashy term but it means shit. It's not sustainable and it's not going to feed the planet. It's nice if you can buy it. I'm not saying don't. And sure, get your free-range chicken eggs if it helps you sleep at night.

But to turn your nose up at those who do not. To lecture on food while you're plate is full ...well...I guess what I'm trying to say is whatever you want to do with your life is fine. But if you rant hyperbolic bullshit you're gonna meet the iron fist of science. Which will promptly inform you to shut the fuck up.

StupidVelociraptors said...

Hells yeah, Peach.

I grew up on a farm, and not to be a dink but does anyone at PETA know how many adorable prairie critters get sucked into the combine when you're harvesting grain? Your bread is full of murder!

Ms. Hermit said...

"You pay the extra 12 cents for the food that didn't require a barrel of crude oil to get to you, and you're done."

If it were that simple, I would. I don't know what grocery you shop at, but at any of the ones near me, the organic or free range eggs start a full dollar above the store brand white. The organic local broccoli is equally pricey (especially if I skip the fresh and go frozen). Given the choice of a weeks worth of food, or starving for three days, I choose a week's worth of food. Yes, I did the math. And I cook. And eat meat rarely (wow, did that lower my grocery bill!).

Would I like to care? Sure. But caring about where my food comes from is a privilege; one I can't afford. Maybe being too poor to own a car offsets that, maybe it doesn't. Monetarily, I can give to one, maybe two causes irregularly, so I make them ones I really care passionately about.

Do I care where my food comes from? Sure. But not enough to starve.

Lisa said...

If I was one of the many Americans living in abject poverty and I was starving (literally) and someone offered me a Whopper, I don't think I would concern myself with food origins.

To digress a bit, I still do not understand why both obesity and hunger are so prevalent in this country. I do work in a grocery store and see many extremely overweight people, with their kids, purchasing nothing but crap food with their food stamps. Really grinds my gears.

If you're all into the organic thing, you should really watch Penn & Teller's Bullshit episode on that subject.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read all the 53 comments here so maybe someone else made this point, but what if PETA was paid for/off by one or more of the meat industry-controlling companies (say, Tyson) to create controversy so ridiculous people take one look at the "vegan lifestyle" and say, "Screw that! I'm eating chicken/beef/turkey/pork today!"

It would be certainly amusing if it was true, given I've said the same thing to myself more than once at hearing about the latest ridiculous thing PETA's done (Remember the "Unhappy Meals" and the "McCruelty Chicken Sandwich"?).

Jeremy said...

Jeebus I hate these PeTA fucks!

My girlfriend is vegan, for a variety of reasons, mostly environmental. I, as a result, eat a lot less meat than I used to, and because I'm about half-a-hippie myself most days, I try and limit my meat consumption to stuff from the farmer's market. It just makes me feel better to talk to the person who raised the cow/pig/chicken before its head was chopped off and it was put on my plate. Something about looking the guy or gal in the eye when they assure me its not been pumped full of hormones, and seeing how much they actually do care for their animals, because they are their livelihood (and because stressed meat taste worse... trust a hillbilly boy on this one).

This Thanksgiving, our entire layout was vegan, right down to a vegan "beef" wellington made with seitan... except for an organic turkey breast and gravy that I made.

And somehow we managed to respect one another's beliefs, and have a meal that was friendly to vegans and omnivores (come on... most of y'all use margarine in your mashed potatoes anyway, and though I love real butter, its a compromise I can make for my loved ones. Plus it probably helps that my girlfriend is an amazing chef and culinary instructor.)

But, you know... if PeTA had their way, our dinner would have been awash in bickering. No thanks. We'll stay a vegan/omnivore couple that respect one another and enjoy our holidays.

Jeremy said...

I dated a girl once who was a rabid "I would rather hurt another person than see an animal hurt/animal testing is wrong even if it saves human lives" type. She worked at a vet's office. Always brought home sick strays and then cried when they died. But she'd kick another human in the throat to get a shiny bauble.

She took my engagement ring, let me buy a house and bunch of furniture, then turned around and started fucking a truck driver while I was working to pay for it all.

She was also a meat-eater.

I still call her hypocritical bitch face on my bitter days.

Just reading through the comments at all the "no, I don't think we should test even to save humans" type comments and it brought that memory back up.

It's easy to stand on that kind of "principle" when you don't really care about any humans besides yourself I guess. But watch your Nana die of cancer, or watch your baby cousin struggle with learning to overcome birth defects that might be curable someday, and I'll bet you'll be singing the "chainsaw a monkey in my living room" tune too.

Or probably not. Heartless fucks.