Monday, May 30, 2011

What I Have Learned from Exploring Veganism

At the risk of rushing to conclusions, here are a few things I have learned.

1.  There is no simple principle behind veganism. It is not, or not only, about not killing animals; it is not just about domination; it is not about exploitation except perhaps where eating is concerned; and it is not about the "natural" inclination of humans.  I have come to think that veganism is a lifestyle that works for people who wish to think about their relationship with animals and the planet at all times.  Thoughtful veganism is hard work; consistent thoughtful veganism is yet harder.

2.  Veganism is not quite like an orthodox religion.  Each practitioner comes to his or her own balance.  Still a curious and intellectual vegan must think about actions so often that it is a bit like a religion which requires many prayer sessions a day.

3. The eating is easy.  Breakfast with friends and family was the hardest thing, but otherwise there always seemed to be things to eat.  If I liked fruit more, even the breakfasts would have been easier.

4.  I saved the lives of a few animals this month (not counting the extra few that might have died while the farmer harvested his field for my quinoa).  Right now that feels good but I am not sure that feeling will stay with me.

5.  What I enjoyed most about my vegan experience:

* Discovering new foods
* Seeing the deep differences between vegetarianism and veganism
* Discussing veganism and vegetarianism with others
* Becoming better informed (for example, a real highlight for me was reading and thinking about Kleiber's Law, discussed in my post on evolution)
* Best of all was running into people who had read my blog and reading comments from people who have thought about these things much more than I have.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Hard Question for My Readers and Me

Every farmer knows that small animals are killed in the process of farming.  I do not just mean insects.  A big efficient combine keeps food costs down, but as it goes through the amber fields of grain, thousands of cute little animals (and some not so cute) are caught up in the process and killed.  This fact, popularized in Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," is one of those inconvenient truths.  The inconvenience may be greater for the vegetarian than the vegan.  If eating reasonably priced grains and vegetables inevitably causes the slaughter of mice, rabbits, and other little animals, then what is gained by not eating meat?  One response might be that surely more animals are killed for direct consumption than by accident while harvesting grain.  This is not necessarily so.  One source reports a bit too gleefully that switching to a diet heavier in beef and chicken would save 300 million animal lives over a vegan diet.  One answer may be that deliberate killing is much worse than accidental killing.  The Curious Vegan is thus far not impressed with such a distinction, especially when the accidental deaths are predictable and well known.

I have learned, in the course of blogging, not to demand consistency, and especially not in veganism.  Still, this question bothers me.

Factory Farms and CAFOs

Critics of the food industry refer to commercial food making facilities as factory farms.  That term has certainly crept into common usage.  The industry -- government regulators included -- dislikes this expression and categorizes farms by size.  The overall term is AFO, or Animal Feeding Operation, a subset of which are CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations.  I recommend the wikipedia sites: AFOCAFO, and Factory Farming.

Government regulation can be under the Environmental Protection Act (Clean Air and Clean Water), through local zoning laws, and by way of suits brought by neighbors.  It is immediately apparent that large farms are regulated more than small farms -- somewhat contrary to my argument in the previous blog.  Nevertheless, large farms dominate the market.  It may be that "organic" farms and other operations seeking to distinguish themselves from factory farms, are careful to stay under the size that attracts regulation.  There are more small farms than large ones, but the bulk of what we eat comes from large farms.  For example, there were once one million pig farms; 80,000 now accommodate as many pigs as those million did.

Meat Market

This is a book by Erik Marcus, who is also known for his blog, (a welcoming, how-to blog, with links to useful sites for new vegans) and for "Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating" and "The Ultimate Vegan Guide: Compassionate Living Without Sacrifice."

"Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money,"(see that link for the interesting history of the ampersand) recounts the uncomfortable reality of factory farming and then moves to a discussion of how to organize a better "dismantlement" movement.  Marcus sketches the limitations of the vegetarian movement (it does not address things like egg laying chickens in cages, and it "emphasize[s] celebration over action"), the animal rights movement (Marcus is an admirer, but the movement loses popular support when it is against medical research and performs publicity stunts), and the animal welfare movement (even as it draws attention to a widespread cruelty, another one pops up). Some of his dismantlement ideas include: reforming school lunch programs, ending grazing subsidies, and putting NIH scientists rather than the USDA in charge of nutrition information.  It is interesting that this was the first book I read that tackled the consumption of fish.  Marcus describes commercial fishing as factory farms underwater.

Marcus is idealistic, and The Curious Vegan is more practical.  For example, fish farms provide one of the few alternatives to overfishing that do not require either a change in habit by a large percentage of the Earth's population or reform in one of the murkier areas of regulation. Aquaculture has of course grown; it was 3.9% of the world's seafood production by 1970 and it was 27.3% by 2000. If fish farms were outlawed, many humans would continue to eat fish and more serious overfishing would follow. We have forty years' experience with international fishing treaties and the tragedy of the commons remains.

Similarly, we must be careful when we wish for regulation.  Regulation has raised the cost of food production and probably encouraged the growth of large factory farms -- where animal welfare advocates see the greatest problems. This reminds me of the aftermath of Sinclair's "The Jungle."  Following publication of that book, meat sales dropped 25%.  New regulations were then introduced which made consumers feel safer. The regulations, however, appeared to drive small meatpackers out of business.  I doubt there was an overall effect on animal welfare, and it is certainly the case that as many or more animals were killed for food.  Perhaps The Curious Vegan should be renamed The Skeptical Vegan.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vegan Eating in Chicago, Round Two

The Curious Vegan has already extolled Karyn's on Green.  A return visit was just as good.  The "Crab Cakes" consisting of grilled bok choy, rosemary aioli, and yukon gold pepperonata were fantastic, and the sliders as good as before.  The Curious Vegan invited friends to Handlebar where I recommend the Blackened Tofu Fajitas.  The Samosas and Guacamole were also excellent.  This place is not entirely vegan, but the waiters are helpful and the menu facilitates separating the vegans from the vegetarians -- not to mention those willing to eat fish.  The Curious Vegan has also been to Chicago Diner where I can recommend the "wings," the BBQ Bacon Cheezeburger (neither bacon nor cheese, of course), and especially the vegan shake.  I have noticed that vegan/soy drinks are heavier on the chocolate; over time I would learn to dilute them with regular soy milk.  I have been filling out my meals with prepared food from Whole Foods (I continue to like the tofu dishes from the food bar) and a variety of rice and quinoa dishes at home.  I like soy milk a bit too much, and it is perhaps unfortunate that french fries can be vegan friendly.

My High School graduation looms ahead.  My family has reserved a large table at a Chicago steakhouse, and people frequently ask me whether I will continue with veganism after June 2nd when my Senior Project is due to end.  I think this is unlikely but I have gained a newfound appreciation for many of the vegan restaurants and dishes.  I do not think that I will be repulsed when meat is put before me, but only time will tell.


"Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows" by Melanie Joy is another book that focuses on both factory farms, the meat industry, and eating habits.  The author is convinced that knowledge, or simply transparency, would alter the behavior of many meat eaters -- and also egg and milk consumers.  She suggests a Surgeon General's warning on all meat.   The title is provocative.  We are taught to love dogs and eat pigs, and thus most Americans think, incorrectly, that dogs are smarter than pigs. Similarly, pigs roll in the mud not because they enjoy filth, but because, lacking sweat glands, that is the only way to dump excess heat.  One interesting observation is that factory farms are often in remote locations, and this contributes to our ignorance and indifference to animal welfare.

Did Humans Evolve to Eat Meat or to be Vegan?

The Curious Vegan has only eight days left to complete his school project and his period of temporary veganism.  My current reading has taken me to some psychology and some anthropology.  The anthropology is interesting but descriptive rather than normative.  It is inevitable that people who feel strongly about eating meat or not eating meat will grasp for evolutionary arguments in their favor.  However, The Curious Vegan has been trained to be positive.  To take an extreme example, humans might "naturally" kill competitor humans or even step-children, but that hardly teaches us to be killers when our turn comes.  Indeed, our legal system has good reason to fight and discourage those "natural" inclinations.

In the case of meat, the anthropological question is whether humans are "naturally" meat eaters, or vegetarians, or even vegans or raw vegans.  Humans have less impressive teeth than lions; we are slower than cheetahs; we cannot swim in pursuit of smaller fish; we cannot fish well with our "bear" hands; our "paws" do not fell gazelle; and our thumbs are arguably excellent for gathering nuts and fruits.  It is easy to see why many people jump to the conclusion that we are natural vegetarians.  On the other hand, it is easy to get carried away with this kind of thinking.  Gorillas have very impressive canines and yet they are mostly herbivores.  One cannot look at an animal and draw quick conclusions about its natural diet, if there is such a thing.

Then I read an interesting article that convinced me that there is a strong case for the idea that, in fact, humans evolved because they (we) ate meat.  We are what we ate, I guess.  Here is the argument.  Larger animals have higher metabolic rates.  Max Kleiber, between 1947 and 1961, showed that the metabolic rate of virtually any animal could be determined by knowing its body size.  We produce more heat than does a rat, and a horse produces more heat than do we.  On the other hand, there is a negative correlation between body size and metabolic rate per kilogram.  These two correlations form the basis of Kleiber's Law. Kleiber's Law thus connects body weight and metabolic rate among many observed species.  The law can also be used to estimate the metabolic rate of extinct creatures.  The problem with this is that it says nothing about brain size and we know that the brain uses an enormous amount of energy.  If the total energy is the energy used or required by all the organs, and the human brain is much larger than the brains of earlier hominids, then it stands to reason that either the energy produced of humans is higher than for other hominids or another organ has shrunk so that it uses less energy.  Assuming Kleiber's Law is correct, only the second option remains.  Only a few of the human organs use significant energy.  The brain, the heart, the kidneys, the gastro-intestinal tract, and the liver use the vast majority of the energy.  In fact, when humans are compared to similar-sized primates, it turns out that the GI tract in humans is smaller by an amount almost identical to the increase in mass of the human brain.  The human brain grew, and the human guts shrunk to compensate for the increased demand of the brain.  This could only happen if a change in the diet allowed a smaller gut to process food sufficiently.  This, in turn, would require a "higher quality diet."  In short, if we had remained on a diet high in vegetation, as gorillas do, we would not have been able to expand our brains.   It is common to attribute the larger brain to the advantages of co-operation and other complex group activities, but of course gorillas would also benefit from larger brains.

There were at least two big steps in brain size.  One can be associated with the introduction of meat into the human diet and the other with the introduction of cooking.  Cooked meat is yet easier to digest than raw meat.  Cooked vegetables are also easier to digest than raw vegetables, but the first step focuses attention on meat, because the introduction of cooked vegetables would not explain both steps.

The Curious Vegan refuses to make a final normative jump.  It is tempting to say that if we evolved because we ate meat, we should not stop now.  However, I have already cautioned against legislating our present and future behavior on the basis of the evolutionary past.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eating Animals

I saved this book by Jonathan Safran Foer as a kind of reward after those two anthropological and historical books discussed in earlier blogs.  Foer likes his pet dog and is happy that most of us share the taboo against eating his (and other) dogs.  He seems to believe that if people knew more about factory farm conditions they would join him in his vegetarianism.  It is a fairly populist approach.  For example, on pages 78 and 79, we are treated to a blank rectangle measuring 67 square inches.  We are then told that the typical cage for egg-laying hens is this size.  Apparently cage free birds do not have any more space.

I think Foer overestimates the potential impact of knowledge.  In the current economy, people are price sensitive and are unlikely to pay a large premium, or a premium at all, for more humanely fed and slaughtered animals.  It would be difficult to convince the average American family that it should forgo some food or other material good in order to prevent the suffering of the chickens it consumes.  

This book seems to aspire to do for factory farming what Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" did for meat processing.  There are, however, many contemporary books that draw attention to the inconvenient truths of factory farming.

One new thing in this book is the attention paid to the regulation of factory farms.  Foer emphasizes that the regulating agency, the USDA, is also the entity charged with promoting the success of the agricultural sector.  He is very critical of various conflicts of interest and industry trade associations, including the National Dairy Council, the American Restaurant Association, and even the Surgeon General of The Unites States.  It is interesting that inadequate or conflicted regulation was also an issue with regard to Sinclair's target.  Again, there is the question of whether a more neutral source of information would cause consumers to behave differently.

In its most melodramatic moments, Foer tries to frighten us by asking what the world would look like if Indians and Chinese were to consume chickens at the American pace, and with these chickens pumped full of antibiotics, as they are on American factory farms.  He argues that more antibiotics will accelerate the loss of the medicinal value of antibiotics, because their overuse will bring about serious anti-microbial resistance.  Foer warns of a coming pandemic.

Even if Foer is completely right, the reader is left to draw diverse conclusions.  Some readers will continue to eat meat, but will avoid meat that is factory farmed.  Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" encouraged just such a conclusion as well as a "locavore" diet.  Other readers will be encouraged in their vegetarianism, and perhaps a few will consider veganism.  Most readers will, however, shrug, just as those who become informed about factory conditions in parts of the developing world rarely eschew mass produced goods.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Honey and Leather Seats

The Internet is full of discussion about whether true vegans would buy cars with leather seats.  Some definitions of veganism limit the commitment to a diet that is free of animal products.  Others, however, extend to any use of animal products and to any exploitation of animals.  For example, some vegans not only keep to a vegan diet but also eschew leather shoes, leather coats, wool, and even silk.  Leather is the easiest to understand because it involves dead animals, whether killed for that purpose or not.  It is similar to the case for not eating animals without inquiring into the cause of death.  One who does not wear wool might be like one who does not eat eggs or milk.  These are animal products and the danger is that the animals are exploited.  On the other hand, sheep raised for shearing might be thought to live fairly "normal" lives compared to chickens in coops or even free range chickens.  The extreme vegan tries not to make such distinctions or inquiries, and avoids all animal products.  The most extreme behavior I have read about is that of vegans who will not sit on leather seats even in the cars of others or on airplanes.  Some vegans express their distaste for the leather by putting a towel on the seat before sitting down.  This reminds me of the laws of Kashruth and some Jewish priestly codes, requiring, double "protection" between a priest and a dead body. These examples illustrate how hard it is to be a consistent vegan.

 Let us not ridicule the extreme vegan. The average American human meat eater consumes eight cows in a lifetime, and apparently a large minivan with leather seats also uses eight cows or so.  (Here is my back of the envelope calculation:  1/2 pound of meat every other day for 72 years is 13104 pounds of meat.  An Angus cow weighs between 1000  and 2000 pounds.)   In short, leather seats may be an important part of the demand for dead cows.

I must admit that it never occurred to me to avoid wearing wool.  That is how much of an omnivore I am/was.  What about silk?  The silk worms are burned alive in the silk-making process but perhaps these caterpillars are not sentient.  They have sensors, but not nervous systems capable of feeling pain.  On the other hand, we do not think much of people who pull wings off flies.  In both cases it is not a matter of pain perhaps, but the "vital interest" of life itself.

All of this brings me to the well known question of whether vegans "should" or do consume honey.  Honey is an animal product, but the animal is an insect.  Moreover, much of what vegans eat requires pollination.  The mediating role of bees seems exactly like the mediating role of draft animals in an era in which animals plowed and brought most things to market.  Again, my goal is not to hurl stones at inconsistency but rather to think about it.  It seems safe to say that intermediating animals must be acceptable to most vegans, and that is why I have allowed myself bread made with honey.  I am trying neither to ridicule nor to blindly follow vegans who really try to work through the bee and work-animal conundrum. My goal is to understand the issues. I do admire people who are thoughtful about their lives and habits, and aware of inconsistencies; as fas as I can tell, all vegans fall into this category.

I wrote yesterday that vegans faced all sorts of line drawing problems while vegetarians would find it much easier to be consistent.  The question of leather seats, however, seems hard for vegetarians.  This is not just an animal product but rather one that requires a dead animal.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Veganism versus Vegetarianism

The Curious Vegan is flattered and grateful for the comments received from Mark Rowlands, one of the authors I discussed here where I recommended his book, Animals Like Us. (His comment can be found there).  Rowlands draws an important distinction between vital interests, like staying alive, and non-vital interests.  This distinction, I have come to see, marks an important line between vegetarians and vegans.  The former do not want to satisfy a mere preference for meat eating at the expense of the animal's vital interest.  Vegans on the other hand, object to the exploitation of the animal.  We can think of this as a non-vital interest or we can elevate the animal's well being to the level of a vital interest.  I prefer the former.

 I am now two weeks into my project and, ironically, I think I understand vegetarianism better than veganism.  No doubt this is because most of the books I have been reading focus on vegetarianism.  Veganism can be seen as a further step in Rowlands' argument.  The vegetarian sacrifices his/her own non-vital interests for an animal's vital interests, while the vegan sacrifices non-vital interests for an animal's non-vital interests such as quality of life.  Put this way, I see why it is much easier to be a consistent vegetarian than a consistent vegan.  The vegan faces all sorts of dilemmas or boundaries in deciding how seriously to count an animal's non-vital interests.  I will continue this thought in my next post on the question of eating honey and of driving  a car with leather seats. (The Curious Vegan earned his driver's license recently, and my parents' cars both have leather seats.  I have not been wearing leather during my vegan project period, but I confess to driving one of those cars.)

Veganism and Leashes

In response to my questions my favorite commentator defends the keeping of pets and the riding of horses with the idea that dogs/horses and humans share a symbiotic relationship.  It is certainly the case that some humans need their dogs and enjoy their horses, while the same dogs and horses need, or at least seem to have better lives when in, the care of these humans.  Still, I have some problems with this.  Humans may have brought about this state of affairs, in which case the moral question may be how to undo the symbiosis rather than to perpetuate it.  To take an extreme example, a slave may be dependent on his master, but our reaction is to emancipate the slave even knowing that there will be a transition period that might be painful for ex-slaves.

Moreover, when vegans avoid exploiting animals animals they too make some animals, born and unborn, worse off.  Chickens in a commercial coop are also dependent on humans.  Of course, most of these chickens would never have been born if not for non-vegan humans.

I do not "own" a dog, and that might make me a better --  or much worse -- observer of human-dog relations.  I have some trouble watching dogs on leashes.  I understand that this can be defended as advancing the safety of the dog, which might otherwise run into the street or conflict with another dog or human.  I would have thought that people who do not wear leather would also not pull dogs by their necks.

I hope my readers know that I do not mean these comments in a judgmental way.  First, I hardly expect people and especially myself to be consistent.  I admire people who try to do good and to live cooperatively  on our planet; if they do 5/7 of the non-exploitative things, that is pretty good and more than I usually do (especially when I was more the curious carnivore than the curious vegan).  Second, I am simply the curious temporary vegan.  I am trying to understand why keeping pets is not abhorrent to people who do not eat meat or even animal products.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Vegetarianism: A History

This is a well researched book by Colin Spencer.  For starters, I learned that primates came rather recently to meat eating.  Of the 62 known genera of living primates, almost all eat fruits, vegetables, and nuts; most eat insects; but only a modest number eat birds, dead animals, or hunt small animals.  Only humans hunt or breed large animals to eat.  Our physiology, and especially our jaws, have evolved to accommodate cooked meat but not raw meat.

In the ancient and classical world, cruelty to animals seems to have peaked in Rome although cruelty to people (slaves and gladiators) might not have been far behind.  It is interesting that among the very people who enjoyed watching man, as gladiator, combat wild beast, were some vegetarians.  Perhaps future generations will say the same about contemporary pet-owners, some of whom are vegans. (See the questions in my previous post)

I was especially interested in the relationship between the biblical laws of clean and unclean animals (Kashruth) and vegetarianism. The most interesting thing is that carnivorous animals (tigers, lions, etc) were  forbidden to eat.  It is possible to unlink this from vegetarianism with the idea that if one animal eats an unclean animal, then one should not eat the first animal because it is derivatively unclean.  In theory, there might have been a talmudic exception - though I am told there is no such thing - for a carnivorous animal observed over a long period of time only to have eaten clean animals.  This seems unrealistic.  Otherwise, I cannot see a connection between these religious dietary laws and vegetarianism, though I wish the author had devoted more space to this.

An interesting historical and geographical idea is that the available fuel seems to determine food consumption  In Northern Europe there was plenty of wood in the middle ages, and this may have encouraged the roasting of meat.  Near the Mediterranean there was more cooking of vegetables and fish (for obvious reasons) but also more cooking of doughs (think pizza) and there is a theory that this was encouraged by the ability to cook ousdoors, and year round.  In the long run the vegetarian movement is associated with the rise of urban life.  Animals must have been more costly to eat and, contrary to the sentiments of modern pet owners but in accord with how most farmers seem to feel, humans who live in close proximity to animals seem most comfortable in eating them.

Factory farming seems to have flourish in England as early as the 1680s.  Slow killing and lots of blood seems to have been common.

Some believe that the term vegetarian was derived from the latin Vegetus meaning vigorous and lively.  Spencer finds this implausible and writes that a "vegetarian seemed to signify someone passive and serene" from the earliest times.  This seems to fit with the conventional claim that early vegetarians were Christian fundamentalists -- though not in India of course.

Vegetarianism became associated with animal welfare by the 1870s and did so because of objections to doctors in general and vivisection (where pain might have been apparent) in particular.

Why did vegetarianism flourish in England in the 19th century.  Spencer thinks that it was a combination of fast growing cities, the yearning of urbanites for rural life, and the desire to protect what was left of it.  Vegetarians became more numerous at the same time that schools began taking nature trips and cycling became a weekend hobby.

Questions for me and my followers.

I am interested in thinking over the following questions.  I welcome others' attempts to provide answers or personal experiences.  The questions assume a vegan's approach to eating or to the planet.  But a vegetarian's perspective will do.  Of course, a very temporary vegan like me can make believe he is entitled to answer these questions.

1. If one does not eat meat or wear leather, what about meat or leather from an animal that is already dead.  Imagine a wild turkey flies into a pole and dies.  Would you eat it if it could be cooked safely?

2. If you do not normally eat meat, would you eat meat that was left over by guests at a wedding, assuming it would otherwise be thrown away?

3. Is it more defensible to keep a pet, or to domesticate an animal, than to eat meat?  I have discovered that many vegetarians/vegans are also opposed to supporting the dog breeding industry, and would not accept a pet or buy a pet from a breeder.  However, many take pride in "rescuing" mutts or other dogs and cats. Is it inconsistent for a vegan to ride a horse?  What about consuming goods in an era in which most goods were transported by carts and animals?  I even wonder whether the rise of veganism necessarily followed the disuse of animals in transportation.

I plan to discuss these questions in three subsequent posts.  It would be fun to hear from readers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Bloodless Revolution: Trivia from The Curious Vegan

"The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times" by Tristram Stuart is a history of vegetarianism.  A history of veganitarianism would have been more useful for "The Curious Vegan," but there is an amazing amount of material here.  Here is some trivia from the book.  Answers can be found below.

1.  Who said "plants are created for the sake of animals, and the animals for the sake of men"?

2.  Why did John Calvin (1509-64) think that vegetarians were blasphemers?

3.  What did Europeans discover about their diet as they explored the world in the 16th and 17th centuries?

4.    Why did the belief among Jewish mystics, in the 16th century, that animals had souls not encourage vegetarianism?

5.   Who was the most famous physicist not to win the Nobel prize and to be vegetarian?

6,  Descartes' logic:   a. humans deserved to suffer because they sinned.  b.  animals are innocent and therefore do not deserve to suffer.  c. therefore ______ (what follows?)

7.  Who believed that flowers had sex lives very much like people, and even committed adultery?

8.   By the time of Adam Smith (1776), English philosophers and economists knew that an acre of farmland would support more people with produce than as food for animals, which were then slaughtered. Therefore, they thought, India had so many people because Indians were ______?

9.   What was Gandhi's first political cause?

10.  Who renounced meat in 1931, loved to be filmed with animals, and even thought that cooking was an unnatural health risk?

11.  How did the Soviets claim to have identified Hitler's charred remains?

12.  When did the word "vegetarian" come into usage?


1a. Aristotle echoing Genesis 1:28

2a. He thought that God "gave man the free use of flesh" to sacrifice and of course eat. He did not seem impressed with the argument that to be vegetarian was to be like Adam before the Fall.

3a.  That the Europeans were exceptionally carnivorous and that there were vegetarians all over the world and especially in cow-worshipping India.

4a.  To the contrary, the killing of an animal released its soul to be re-incarnated elsewhere.  It did however encourage compassionate treatment of animals.

5a.  Sir Isaac Newton.

6a.  it must be that animals do not feel pain.

7a.  Darwin (well, Erasmus Darwin, Charles's grandfather).

8a. vegetarian, of course.

9a. vegetarianism.

10a. Hitler

11a.  They claimed his yellow teeth were "typical of a vegetarian."

12a. 1840s

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Sexual Politics of Meat

This book by Carol J. Adams is something of a "bible for feminist and progressive animal rights activists."  The central idea is that there is a connection between meat eating and a patriarchal world view. Animals are exploited and so are women.  When meat was available, our forefathers grabbed first.  Men hunted meat, and men hunt women.  Adams is at her best when drawing attention to the rhetoric of animal and female exploitation.  For example there is the "butchering of women."  Snuff movies disproportionally celebrate the death of women and, apparently, the details of the pornography resembles butchering.  Knives and daggers are used against both women and animals.  When an animal's habitat is destroyed, it is often said that it was "raped".  More provocatively, men try to domesticate both women and animals.  The book is good at reminding us of the male fondness for meat.  Men's night out is often at a steakhouse, while women go to Mindy's Hot Chocolate.  By the way, when I went to Karyn's, I noticed that the clientele was eighty percent female, and while there were groups of women there was not a single all male table.

It is interesting that several women and not one man recommended this book to me.  There are, of course, differences between the two exploitations, and the connection is only partial. I wish Adams had addressed such things, but her book is more of a brief for the woman-vegetarian connection. For example, she could have noted that men are also described as animals.  The Chicago Bulls is just one team name that celebrates men as animals.  The stock market, which is male dominated, is commonly described with animal terms such as bull and bear.  A male employee might be described as "strong as an ox," so it is not just dominant men that are described in animal terms. But Adams is less interested in the differences reflected in these examples than about pounding away at the provocative idea that males hunt and exploit flesh, and that feminism and vegetarianism are partners.  At one point, Adams discusses the origin of the term "vegan" in 1944, and describes veganism as an "ethical stance based on compassion for all beings." There is an implication, and many references to ancient and modern writings, that while hunting is masculine, compassion is feminine.

Animals Like Us

I read "Animals Like Us" by Mark Rowlands and it was fun to read but by now I have met many of the topics discussed in this book, so it did not introduce me to any revolutionary ideas. But perhaps Rowlands originated many of the ideas I have read and heard elsewhere.  The book's central thesis is that non-human animals are, like humans, conscious, sentient beings, so that exploiting them, and certainly eating them, is wrong.  The book talks about vegatarianism, hunting, zoos, and experimentation.  The oft repeated argument is that those things we cannot imagine doing to humans, should also be those that we would not perform on other animals.  If we believe that performing these actions on animals is allowed, then why not on humans as well.  At this point, the argument seems to be that all sentient beings are equal.  As we will see, that is not the thrust of the argument here; it is a misleading appetizer.

One of the more interesting questions is that if one were to have to choose between saving a human or an animal from a burning building, one chooses the human first.  Does that not prove that animals are not equivalent to humans and thus can be eaten by humans?  Rowlands battles this intuition and argument by developing the idea that death is worse for creatures with a "strong sense of future."  The star athlete's death on the eve of the Olympics is somehow worse than the couch potato's death.  It is more likely, he insists, that humans have "futures in a strong sense" than do dogs.  You can see where this is going.  It is true that I would probably save a baby from a burning building before I pulled out an eighty year old, and perhaps that reflects the moral intuition that we prefer to save the creature with the stronger future.  But I might save a fifty year old Nobel prize winner rather than the baby, and perhaps that is because we expect yet more of the proven Nobel prize winner or because the rescue is a kind of reward for a life well lived.  Either way, I am not sure how to measure whether a dog's life was or will be well lived.  So perhaps this whole way of thinking is too friendly to humans because we can perceive the futures of our own kind better than we can understand what lies ahead for other animals.

In any event, Rowlands seems ready to agree that humans can be preferred over other animals, and once one takes this step it is not clear how far to go.  Some people will say that animals should be killed  only if absolutely necessary to save humans, but others will say bring on the butchers. Alternatively, one might agree that animals should be respected - but that humans can be preferred to them - and conclude that animals should not be tortured before being killed! Rowlands argument seems designed to end up where he (and many others) think it ought to go, more than where it logically takes us. In the extreme case,  some humans have a stronger future than others but this does not justify killing those with weaker futures, even to guarantee the survival of the stronger ones.

My First Week of Eating Vegan

I have now been vegan for a week.  Here is my worst and then my best meal of the week.  The worst was my attempt at making beans out of the cupboard.  "Beans in a Bowl" and nothing else proved to be a disappointment. I needed some condiments.  The best meal by far was at Karyn's on Green at 130 S. Green Street in Greektown in Chicago.  The chorizo sliders were amazing.  They are made with portobello mushrooms and a vegan "cheddar."  My mom and I each had the  sweet pea risotto.  My dad had the shepherds pie, which uses seitan (a meat substitute made from wheat).  My brother had the arugula pizza, which I would not recommend (the pizza, not my brother).  Karyn's motto is "making vegan sexy."  I would not go that far, but the place was elegant and the food great, but definitely expensive.  The Curious Vegan needs supportive parents to go there.  Some of our relatives keep kosher, and I mean very kosher, and Karyn's is where we should have taken them instead of kosher places in Skokie.  They might want to know whether Karyn's uses non-kosher wines in their cooking, but I did not see wine listed in the ingredients, so I suspect that many kosher diners would be comfortable there. For adults, Karyn's does have  plenty of wines and drinks on the menu.

Eating out at breakfast turns out to be a vegan challenge.  At Medicii on 57th, I modified the huevos rancheros to exclude the eggs, cheese, and sour cream and to substitute spinach and mushrooms.  That was pretty good.  I did not even bother to accompany my brother and father to Eleventh Street Diner, normally one of our favorite places. Establishments that specialize in eggs, pancakes, and french toast seem to answer phone inquiries about vegan options with a "no!" followed by hanging up. Try it and you will see what I mean.

Then there was Whole Foods.  I had a lunch there at the salad/food bar with a tofu dish, saffron rice, falafel and humus for a small fortune.  On another day we brought home their mock meatloaf, mock burgers, and the same tofu dish, meant to last for several days.  Basically, if money is no object, there is plenty of choice at Whole Foods, though the meat substitutes are a bit dry.  And as for those buying from the salad bar, the rice is denser and thus more expensive than one would expect. I can see why permanent, rather than merely curious, vegans like Whole Foods so much; there are many options and one does not feel weird or pesky when asking for vegan guidance.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My May Project Begins

It is May 8th and tomorrow my May Project shall begin.  My plan is to spend the next month reading, researching, and being vegan.  Reading and blogging with my reaction to the books is the easiest thing to organize.  Tomorrow I will read “Animals Like Us” by Mark Rowlands.  On Tuesday it will be Carol Adam’s “The Sexual Politics of Meat.”  My books get longer every day.  On Wednesday I will start tackling “The Bloodless Revolution: a cultural history of vegetarianism from 1600 to modern times.  It is by Tristram Stuart.  Of course these books are not about veganism so much as they are about meat and vegetarianism. But there are many more vegetarians than vegans, and I hope to learn from the former.  Each day I plan on writing a reaction blog to the book or thoughts I have encountered.  I am saving a dense history book “Vegetarianism: A History,” by Collin Spencer, for later in the week or for next week.  My reward will be the popular book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer.  He is also the author of “Moonwalking with Einstein.”  That is a best seller about the author’s venture into the world of memory championships, I suppose I could try some of those tricks in order to commit my menus and shopping lists to memory.

I have already learned that most pastas are egg free, and thus available to me in my run as a vegan.  I will be careful not to eat the kind with squid ink.  I plan tomorrow to have my first vegan meal and in that way take my first step towards notes on “how to be vegan in Chicago.”  I am guessing that my strategy will involve a decent bit of Whole Foods - where I plan to visit on Wednesday.  I will also start looking at websites in order to find restaurants and other places in Chicago to make my vegan adventure a fun one.
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My Vegan Project

Veganism is both an ideology and a lifestyle, centered on the idea that animals should not be exploited.  My high school senior project combines philosophy, history, economics, and nutrition science in order to understand veganism.  My inquiry will be both personal and intellectual.  It will involve reading and analysis, food preparation and consumption, and an exploration of local vegan culture and business.   There are several questions I set out to answer. Who are Vegans?  Why are they concentrated in several countries (Sweden, Britain, and the U.S.) but not, for example, in India, where there are large numbers of vegetarians but few vegans – which is, to say, few people who not only abstain from eating and otherwise benefiting from meat, poultry, and fish, but also from animal products, including milk, cheese, and eggs. ?  What are the health effects of following a vegan diet? Is there a relationship between veganism and a religious or philosophical point of view?  For example, Jainism is a religion that calls for absolute abstention from eating things that were alive including root vegetables (some pictures of Jains show individuals wearing masks all day so as not to ingest insects by accident), but Jains freely consume milk and eggs.  Finally, I wonder how difficult it is to be a vegan. Vegans insist that their diet is extremely healthy; I wonder what it would do for me.  My "May Project" will set out to answer these questions, and I will report my progress on this blog. I started eating as a vegan on May 9, 2011. I do not often wear leather clothes, so this aspect of veganism presents neither challenge nor experiment.  Food consumption, on the other hand, presents a major challenge.  To be vegan means no meat, no fish, no eggs, no milk, no butter and no other animal products. Vegans can eat sugars but honey, an insect product, is regarded as off limits by some vegan organizations.  Some breads use honey in place of sugar and butter.  I may avoid honey as well, but the dispute among vegans about honey is certainly something I wish to explore. 
One source of motivation for my project was the movie Super Size Me (2004,) which detailed the negative health effects of a fast-food diet on one individual.  I think of this project as Super Size Me in reverse.  It is likely that I will become healthier by avoiding many of the non-vegan foods I currently consume. One month as a vegan will likely “Downsize Me” rather than super size me.  I will get advice from a dietician and from medical websites.   In addition to eating vegan, I will also learn about the processing and preparation of vegan staples.  Cooking beans and rice will be easy, but I hope to follow recipes and make good use of tofu and other soy products.