Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What to Eat

Have been thinking a lot about eating meat, for a few reasons:
  • Saw “Food, Inc.” – movie about where our food comes from. Haven’t had a hamburger since, don’t plan to have another anytime soon.
  • Heard a caller yesterday on NPR’s show about Thanksgiving recipes talk about how she was getting a fresh turkey this year. She said it would be slaughtered today and wondered if there was enough time to brine it before roasting it.
  • An article in the NYTimes by a vegan, talking about not using animals for food or anything else—and then mentioning his cat. Found myself wondering what he feeds his cat.
I am very conflicted about eating animals, and, to a lesser extent, fish. Lots of issues:
  1. Animals do eat each other. And a bear or an alligator or a tiger (if there are any left) might be quite happy to eat me, under the right circumstances. Why not eat them?
  2. We are the only species that raises animals specifically to kill and eat them. There are far too many of us to survive by killing and eating wild animals (especially since we’re obliterating their natural habitats, bit by bit).
  3. We pay other people to kill the animals we eat. And we don't want to know how the sausage is made.
  4. I live with and take care of animals that I couldn’t begin to consider eating, even if I was starving to death. Why are they different than any other animals? Because I know them?
  5. Some people believe that animals are lesser beings, as they lack the ability to reason. Seems to me that they reason just fine: my cats know that if they bug me long enough, I’ll feed them or come up to bed when it’s late. I didn’t train them to do that—they trained me. My horse knows that if he comes when I call him, he’ll get a carrot. I’m not saying that they’re going to understand or develop the theory of relativity, but they understand cause and effect, and certainly know how to cause to get effect.
  6. Animals have very distinct personalities, likes and dislikes, fears and favorites.
  7. Animals can suffer and feel pain, including the pain of separation. They will fight for their lives.
  8. The way we treat the animals we raise for food is horrific and inexcusable. Beyond inhumane.
  9. The way we process meat and poultry products is just plain scary from a health perspective. Ecoli, anyone? Rat droppings? How about the fact that a single hamburger may be made of ground meat from a hundred different cows from different places?
  10. I grew up in Ohio, next door to a farm that raised black angus cattle. And we ate meat or poultry pretty much every night. It's always been a major part of my diet, and I like meat. Or at least I used to. Am not so sure these days.
So, what else would I eat, if I didn’t eat meat? I have a bit of a lactose intolerance, which makes cheese a bit problematic, and it’s not like we treat our dairy cows all that much better than the cows we eat. And soy products aren’t a great solution, either. Soybean agriculture is a main contributor to deforestation in the Amazon, which is bad for man and beast alike. And I read somewhere that people are more likely to get sick from eating imported vegetables than meat, because of the way veggies are grown and processed.

I have thought about raising chickens, just for the eggs. Unlike Tyson, I'd give the chickens a safe place to roost, good food, with plenty of room to roam around. Of course, it would mean eating a lot of eggs, if that was my main source of protein. Not so keen on that.

I have also considered eating only local produce, buying at farmers’ markets from farms I know, canning my own food for the winter, even grinding my own flour. A lot of work and, who knows, I could easily give myself botulism (or worse, if there is anything worse).

I don’t have an answer. All I know is that it's just about Thanksgiving and I don’t feel good about eating meat. Or poultry. Or soybeans.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In Search of the Quick Fix

I’m continually surprised by how short people’s memories are. Watching the "commentators" on Fox as they opine about (and misrepresent) the economic mess, the health care debate, and the president’s deliberations on sending more troops to Afghanistan, I wonder how it is that a lot of my fellow citizens have come to believe that all of our problems should be resolved—or nearly so—by now, one year into Mr. Obama’s term.

Americans believe in the quick fix. From reality TV shows about transformations seemingly wrought overnight with plastic surgery to commercials from pharmaceutical companies that promise relief from intractable conditions to beauty creams that tout instant results, we’ve become a culture of impatience and false expectations.

If you’ve ever had major surgery—of any kind—you know it’s not a cakewalk. The healing process can be long and quite painful. A friend of mine had shoulder surgery this summer; his doctor told him that it could be up to a year before he’ll be completely pain-free. That's reality.

On a long plane flight this summer, I watched an episode of “Make Me a Supermodel” (yes, I know), in which a beautiful young woman with very bad teeth spent 24 hours getting her teeth fixed—drilling, grinding, implants, the whole thing—and was expected to (and did) walk the runway a few hours later, without complaint or apparent discomfort. That’s just not how it generally goes, as anyone who’s had dental surgery can attest.

It took decades to bring the country to its knees economically and culturally. The girlfriends’ rule of thumb for getting over a bad relationship is that it should take up to as much as half as long as the relationship lasted. With that math, we should not expect to be back on our feet for at least 4 years, if we just count the W/Cheney years. And some of our problems go back a lot farther than that.

The people on all sides who are saying that Mr. Obama “hasn’t done anything” don’t seem to understand that fixing problems of this magnitude—and so many of them at once—is an excruciatingly slow and complex process. And it’s not like he’s the only guy in the room. There are a lot of other people involved: one political party that is mostly engaged in making sure that things stay as they are until the midterm elections, one party that squabbles within itself endlessly about everything, and a whole lot of people in the middle who are looking for a quick and painless fix.

It's going to take time. Some things are still going to get worse before they get better. So, fasten your seat belts. And adjust your expectations accordingly.