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On Learning From “Eating Animals”

Did you see the mayhem over at's Sustainable Food page with Natasha Chart's "Eating Animals?"

I'm writing about it because I'd like to learn any lesson I can to prevent parts of it from happening again (you know, the parts that happen all the time and will probably continue to). There has got to be some way to have things turn out differently. Or at least progress differently.

Natasha isn't like Mary Martin at Animal Person. Though of course she's an individual with an individual blog, I assume that the the blogs
over at are supposed to be about information and
serious discussion and that there's some kind of responsibility to not be rude or intentionally antagonize anyone, and Natasha went the
latter route. That smacked of an etiquette disorder to me, but I could be
wrong in my assumption about the tone of blogs as I don't have
too much time to spend on blogs and the like.

Also, though I started this blog being far more obnoxious and offensive than I am now (and you thought it wasn't possible), and that kind of ranting does indeed have a place in the blogosphere, I made a conscious decision to go in a different direction–more often. And I think that decision has worked for me and for the animals, as more people will read if I don't rant all of the time.

Question #1: When someone goes right for the "tasty" button, essentially mocking the suffering of another being, do you write them off as callous and impossible to reach and not even bother with trying to reason with them? They're not making fun of me (though that will likely come later), they're making fun of the fact that someone is killed for their flesh. That's just not right.

And then there's the inevitable mention of "humane" farming, and though I did link to in my comment, my comment disappeared and gave me an "oops" as there were server problems yesterday (several times). That's legitimate, as most people do indeed neglect to think through the concept of farming to the part about taking someone's life when you don't need to, and of course many of the other hideous aspects of animal husbandry simply aren't widely known. We need to point that out once and leave, thereby not giving someone like Natasha undue attention and time. She doesn't appear to care, but some of her readers might.

Next, the pedophilia argument, which invariably results in comments like one on Natasha's blog:

[A commenter] is still comparing meat eaters to pedophiles. His argument is this:  Vegans = normal but meat-eaters think like pedophiles. It is a facile and inflammatory argument, and used by prosthletizers [sic] everywhere to shame people into believing like they do. How do prosthletizers [sic]for other causes that you don't support fare in your world view when they use this argument? I thought so…

I have never, ever seen this go well. Is your goal to enrage the person you're trying to convert, thereby closing their mind completely? Because that's what happens. How about going with something they might be less triggered by, such as comparing cows to dogs? Favoring cows over dogs as food is an accident of birth and geography. And yes, there are cultures where having sex with and marrying young girls is acceptable, but why go there?

Finally, and I welcome suggestions for getting around this . . .

Question #2: What about the notion of choice? It is indeed our choice to not kill when we don't need to. And the person who eats animals is choosing to kill and choosing to harm. And though harm to sentient beings might indeed be an unintended consequence of, say, growing soybeans, it's not the purpose of growing soybeans. When you choose to eat somebody's flesh or secretions, you are choosing to hurt them. You intend to kill them, right? Or am I wrong? I mean, how can you intend to eat a steak and not intend to kill a cow. And if you know what is really involved in the production of cheese (like, for instance, the mucous lining of the fourth stomach of the calf–the veal calf), how can you say you're not intending to hurt someone? How can you separate the two? Can you?

Okay, question #2 was way more than one question, but I'm stuck here. I don't see a way that the conversation can ever land the animal-eater in a position where they're not extremely defensive because I just told them they want to hurt and kill animals. The choice discussion, which animal-eaters are so fond of, is quickly and easily turned against them. But if they bring it up, they should be able to deal with that.

But they can't. They get defensive because I've just "attacked" them when I'm merely moving the discussion along, beginning with the word they just brought up: choice. It's almost too easy, but winning the logic part of the argument (or the linguistic one) only makes them more angry and likely to jump right to "fundamentalist," "extremist," and "fanatic," and then it's all over because it has spiraled into ridiculousness.

I comment at Grist, and sometimes Ideal Bite, because they have big audiences and I might make a dent. Even when the word "tasty" is present. But then I think that someone so committed to justifying what they like to eat and closing their eyes and minds to the moral argument is probably better left to their delusions (meaning my energy is better spent elsewhere).

But then I remember that we were all those people once (okay, maybe not exactly like them, but we did have plenty of reasons for eating animals) and we changed, so I can't help but hope that they might too. And of course, now I'll be accused of being self-righteous.

And around and around we go.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan #

    In my experience, both from self-examination over time and observation of others, an argument getting heated and insults being exchanged is not necessarily an indication that things have gone wrong. While it’s certainly best to try to minimize offensiveness and rudeness as much as possible, when we are perfectly honest about our views on a topic, even when we try to minimize offensiveness, some people will take offense.

    Sometimes “taking offense” is a genuinely felt response, but I think it is often also used as a tactic (sometimes unwittingly). Emotions (such as “taking offense”) are often strategies for attempting to regain righteousness and to put oneself in a position of being the accuser instead of the accused. Saying “how dare you categorize my animal product consumption as violent and wrong” or “how dare you compare me to a slave owner or pedophile” are ways of avoiding an attempt at defending the questionable behavior in favor of changing the subject to the ‘offensiveness’ of the accuser. The debate then shifts from questioning the exploitation of animals to questioning who is more offensive to the other. The thing to remember is to politely keep the main topic up front: why is it okay to exploit and kill innocent others for our (trivial) pleasures? Even if we’re very polite, they are still going to look for any opportunity to change the topic to one where they’re accusing us of something, whether it is offensiveness or inconsistencies (which is often grossly exaggerated into charges of ‘hypocrisy’).

    In the end, if we’ve made enough good points and keep re-directing the discussion to the exploitation, enslavement, and intentional killing of sentient nonhumans, we’ve probably succeeded. Even if they seem like they haven’t budged and keep looking for that shift of topic, we’ve likely still made them think, even if it doesn’t materialize in recognizable changes in attitudes or behavior until weeks or months later. There are, of course, exceptions. Some people are incorrigible, just like some criminals are. I don’t mean we’ll always make a difference, but we’ll make probably a difference more often than we think.

    January 16, 2009
  2. This kind of behavior was the reason I started a blog in the first place to examine behavioral and thought patterns in people who are pro and anti-AR. I mean, how can any "sustainable food" person really believe that feeding most of our food, water, and using most of our land for livestock is in any way sustainable? That's so ridiculous. 20 lbs of food, hundreds of gallons of water, multiple feet of land (acres on a good farm) for 1 POUND of meat? How is that sustainable.

    It seems like the poster was trying to do anything she could to feel better about the hypocrisy of her diet choices. People like that inspired this entry (the first in my blog):

    Not trying to pimp myself or anything here. I just want to express my agreement with the points you make here. I see the comments are closed on that entry. Humane Myth is a site many "humane" movement people dislike because it shows that the humane movement has actually harmed animals and the environment more than it has helped them.

    January 16, 2009
  3. I agree with Dan. I get defensive all the time. I think it's human nature, for many of us. Doesn't mean I don't come back to the table later and revisit the ideas. In fact, it usually means I do come back and revisit the ideas. I think the same is true for other people.

    You're worst enemy often comes around and becomes your biggest fan. That's just sorta how things work out 🙂

    January 16, 2009
  4. Connie Graham #

    I had never visited until I read your latest blog entry. Natasha’s responses to the comments by vegetarians/vegans indicated, at the very least, that HER site existed solely for her ideas and posts from those her agreed with her (or worshiped at her altar).

    The comments and concepts covered in the blog bounced around my head for several hours last night, and a couple of things came to mind. First, setting aside the omnivore vs. vegetarian discussion for a moment and considering Natasha’s sustainable agriculture argument, the practice just won’t work. There are simply too many people on the planet, not enough “farm” land to accommodate all of them and or raise their “food” sustainably. It’s an elitist, nearly utopian, pipe dream. Then there is the question of how do the poorest people on the planet afford this type of diet? Average Americans, who have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, won’t pay the higher price for grass fed cow meat, eggs from free range hens, or organic produce.

    Finally, there’s the “what if” question. What if the cows, pigs, chickens, lambs, etc. who are born and bred to die for our palates disappeared? Say some disease (hoof & mouth, anthrax, bird flu) wipes them all out or makes their flesh unfit to consume? What’s left? Dogs and cats from shelters? After all, there is a surplus of unwanted animals slaughtered in shelters each year? Would she consider substituting their bodies for the high protein she needs to consume daily? If they are all gone, what’s left? Assuming we’ve already decimated our environment and we’ve annihilated all of our wildlife around the world, are “excess” people next? Soylent Green, here we come.

    Ethical decisions, including choosing what we eat, not only include widening our circle of compassion but changing our focus from self-centered to the bigger picture as well. It’s no longer about “what is best for me” but what is best for most. To accomplish this, we very probably will have to make some sacrifices. Sacrifice, a very un-American concept these days.

    January 17, 2009
  5. Roger #

    Wow – there's a lot in this one.

    I like the deep philosophical question about whether one could intend to have a steak but not intend to kill a cow. I think via Freud, Carol Adams and Stan Cohen (book – States of Denial) that is probably possible.

    But I really wanted to comment on the 'tasty button' idea (how many forums have we been on when someone says 'all this talk of pigs makes me wanna eat bacon – hmmm tasty'?). Although I agree that it rarely goes well, the 'testy' button does kind-of justify the paedophile comment in that the mind-set is apparently similar: what feels good, "is good", for one overrides what happens to others.

    The exchanges made me think of Donald Watson who, when beginning his veganism, was told that it would kill him. However, more concerned with doing what was right, he risked it. BTW – maybe you can help me. I have lost count of the number of North Americans (I don't recall other nationalities making this point) who claim to have a 'medical' reason FOR eating meat. What's going on there? Maybe this is simply a strategy to move 'food choices' beyond purely ethical considerations?

    Then, Mary, you raise the issue of do we give up on some people. This interests me in two ways. In terms of Francione's position about vegan education (and not using law as a principal means of achieving our ends) and the opinion of animal activists who regularly seem to give up on people.

    Activists keep telling me that there are plenty of people who simply cannot be 'educated'. They have too much financially invested in animal use, or else they are 'evil' people. So, these people have to be FORCED to stop using nonhuman animals. Even in Francione's scheme of things, we can imagine that at least ~some~ people will have to be forced to give up using animals.

    The AR countermovements have latched on to this big-style with their claims that "ARAs" want to force people to live as vegans whether they want to or not. Many people dislike being forced – smokers who has to go outside of the pub, or drivers forced to wear seatbelts, or (dare I say it) paedophiles forced not to do what they want to do.


    January 17, 2009
  6. I got sidetracked yesterday – and it's a shame because I would have loved to have left a response – comments are closed now… and it's no wonder.

    There's a strange coincidence that Natasha chose "lamb" as her "tasty" victim. I troll the AMI site and saw just a few days ago, the sheep/mutton sector of the industry has a Valentines Day campaign: "Love Her With Lamb" – or some other offensive, crude slogan… But, I'm sure the timing was just "coincidence"…

    I'm sorry the conversation didn't go the way of comparing cows to dogs as it's a truly valid argument… If someone does think that they will "die" without eating flesh – where do they draw the line? And that line gets ominous when we consider that dogs may someday be listed as "livestock" in the U.S.

    Question #1: the "tasty" button – I try to remind people that the tastiness comes from plant based seasonings & flavors – That I manage to make a wide variety of non-animal foods "tasty". And that even if "taste" were only obtained from flesh – that alone would not justify the killing deed… And yes, regrettably when all else fails I go to the pedophilia argument – because the analogy fits.

    Mary, I have to disagree with you about the comparison of other cultures that marry young girls – The sexual attraction to young children (even if condoned by the parents) is still objectionable. A child has no chance of becoming their own person, they are physically and mentally "unfinished". An attraction to a non-complete person, intellectually and emotionally young is "wrong" – It's just a wrong based in tradition. But, as with meat-eating the idea that "it feels/tastes good" justifies the practice. Sanctioned, "legal" pedophilia is still unacceptable considering the harms done to the child. So I don't think it unreasonable to make the comparison to meat eating.

    Question #2: What about the notion of choice? Yes, the logic part of the argument, that they have a "choice" to not kill an innocent soul, winds up in a predictable accusatory defense line of "extremism" or "fanaticism". I think this is a coping mechanism that is used to discredit logic. If they make us look like "fanatics" they don't have to search for a non-existant valid "reason" for their choice.

    And it does all boil down to vegans are "radicals". Simply by following ethical conclusions we are said to use "force". Their arguments are self-contradictory – in that they think they are being "attacked". And I'm sure they believe this. What they miss however, is that it's not us who is the enemy… It is their own voice in their own little heads. Because they really do comprehend what's "right" – but fail miserably on acting on this knowledge.

    It wouldn't be so bad if they ignored their own wits to the end of their own self-destruction – but that so many must suffer because of their denial is heartbreaking (and infuriating)…

    And one final note – about remembering we were all "them" once… I can't connect with that. I never really "thought" about "meat". It just "was". I never met a vegetarian… no one ever "told" me or encouraged me to doubt why a being was on my plate. I lived for decades on assumptions and teachings gathered in my toddler years – and it remained stagnant and buried there. My "zombie" years… Before "youtube" and all you other fine bloggers dismantled my ignorance… After its initial presentation, I never "fought" the concept – it made sense to me in an instant. So, if I never said "thanks" to all of you – those who made the journey before me… Those who made it easier to learn and question the myths… I'm saying it now: Thanks 🙂

    January 17, 2009
  7. Roger,
    "BTW – maybe you can help me. I have lost count of the number of North Americans (I don't recall other nationalities making this point) who claim to have a 'medical' reason FOR eating meat. What's going on there?"
    I can't help you. It just seems like an excuse to me, but I'm glad that it's not a global trend.

    I'm not saying pedophilia isn't objectionable if it's culturally acceptable, just that it IS acceptable elsewhere, just as eating dogs and cats is, but the topic of pedophilia so charged that I find people don't react well to it. Also, there is still debate over whether pedophilia is a mental illness and compulsion, or whether it's deviant sexual behavior. And then there you are possibly saying meat eaters are mentally ill. It's problematic for me, and it's unnecessary.

    As far as all of us being them once, if we ate animals as children and then progressed to not eating them, in that way we were like Natasha once: We ate animals (and maybe we even came up with lots of reasons to). That's all I'm saying. And it's helpful for me to remember that. If I (and my husband and my sister and I have learned my mother and now maybe even my father) can stop eating animals–and all at different ages and stages, there's hope for every person who speaks of sentient nonhumans as "tasty." Or at least that's what I like to think.

    January 17, 2009
  8. Mary – I understand your position on using "pedophilia" as an example -It's always a last resort for the reasons you mentioned… Meat eaters being mentally ill? Of course not… but mentally "lazy" – for sure.

    And such is not the case with your family members who have done the critical thinking – good for them 🙂 Good for You! Wonderful for the animals! 🙂

    January 18, 2009
  9. To me it's about hating. People who "say" they love animals and yet, they don't hate the animal killers.

    Me, I DO hate the animal killers and I hate them deeply. The easiest thing in the world for me is NOT giving money to people ( or businesses) I hate.

    But also….I admit I will NEVER forgive myself for all the years I supported the animal killers simply because I didn't give it any thought.

    It was the first line in a poorly
    printed pamplet that stated "You cannot call yourself an animal lover if you continue to eat them" that turned me a vegan just like that!

    January 18, 2009
  10. Hi Gingerlks, about NEVER being able to forgive yourself…
    Forgive yourself.

    Nothing can be gained by what torment I know you must be feeling… We all come from a place that was made so by lies and misinformtion. Hate the culture, hate the people who (still) support it – but don't hate yourself.

    I say this from personal experience – having dealt with a year of awakening… and "guilt". So sad was I for my thoughtless ignorance that I went into a dispair, only recently eased by reading Aftershock by Pattrice Jones.

    Be a voice – an advocate – a LOUD activist… be angry and down right unpleasantly vocal if you need to be. Just don't be mad at yourself – You could not know… and once you did, you made appropriate changes. For this you should vindicate yourself and nurture continued inner growth.

    As Pattrice suggests – the animals need us to be strong, centered and physically/mentally healthy to represent them justly.

    I hope this lightens your burden:

    January 18, 2009

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