Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not Eating Animals................

I do not know anyone who is not (at a minimum) a partial vegetarian. I would even go further and say that at least 99% of Canadians, U.S. Citizens and citizens of Western Europe are at least partial vegetarians.  The preceding statements are limited to those particular geographic areas because I am pretty confident about my knowledge of cultural behaviors there....the truth is probably 99% of all human animals on the planet are partial vegetarians.

A partial vegetarian is someone (my definition) that avoids eating certain kinds of non-human animal people.  In other words almost all of the human animal people on the planet already have some internal programming that precludes their eating certain kinds of non-human animal people.  Most "western" cultures teach the avoidance of eating dog people and cat people.  To a lesser extent, horse people are presented as unsuitable for eating.

My point here is that teaching that animal people are not suitable for food is not difficult, nor is it unusual.

So, remember, most people you encounter are (species-specific) vegetarians but fail to identify themselves as being such.  What they avoid doing to one or more kinds of animal people, they can avoid doing to any animal people.

A more formal statement of this notion: Behaviors that are already practiced or avoided in certain contexts are available to be transferred to a new context. 

Most people do not have to be taught to avoid eating animal people, they already know how to refrain from such behavior (depending on the type of animal person involved)......all they have to do is generalize this behavior (or behavior avoidance) to new situations or contexts.

A book.

There is a book, titled Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, that is absolutely required reading if you enjoy well written books.  Mr. Foer is an incredibly talented writer....I cannot over-emphasize his skills.  This book contains wisdom, insight, pain and laughter.  It is not a jeremiad, it is an inquiry and it is entertaining and very well researched.  The book was published in November of 2009 and after I read the book from my library.....I bought my own copy.  The reference section of the book is alone worth the cost of the book.

The book has been reviewed extensively, you can read reviews here or here.  Your library most likely has a it and let me know what you think of it.

By the way, I first became aware of Mr. Foer because of a quirky, powerful little movie that was based on another book of his: Everything is Illuminated. The movie blew me away and I highly recommend it also.


Krissa said...

It certainly is very interesting the conditioning, cultural influences and just downright mind games that humans use when it comes to eating our fellow creatures. For example, in the US, people are horrified at the thought that anyone would eat a dog. Well, my cow friend behaved just exactly like a great big ol' dog. But most folks don't want to see that because then what are they going to do? It's too uncomfortable. But there is simply no difference between eating any living creature that was once flesh and blood, living and feeling, thinking and doing everything else that all of us do. I still think that if all of us humans were forced to spend a day in the TRUE conditions of farms/slaughterhouses/circuses/zoos/etc....there'd be a whole lot more vegans running around pretty quick. I'll have to check out the links. I am not familiar with the author you pointed out.

So I'm Thinking Of Going Vegan said...

What a great and thought-provoking post! Because you're right, most people ARE partial vegetarians. And everyone eats food that's considered vegan: fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, rice, beans, and so forth. So we could even extend the label and say that most people are partial vegans. Now some people would have issue with that I'm sure, but given how language both reflects and SHAPES behaviour, how powerful could it be if we started calling all carnivores and omnivores partial vegans or vegetarians? I mean, it could be a real eye-opener for folk who consider vegans strange, foreign and completely dissimilar to be reminded that they eat vegan food, and could therefore be considered part of the group. I know this may seem to be counterintuitive, but maybe this could be another effective strategy for reeling 'em in, snort. And like you said, people already refrain from eating certain sentient beings, so we're just trying to widen the scope.

Haven't read the book yet, and I believe it was criticized by some for not being vegan enough, but I'll let you know my opinion if/when I do.

Again, excellent post! :)

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Krissa, I wholeheartedly agree, living beings are living beings external appearance notwithstanding. Joy, fear, love, pain.....each of those experiences are significant no matter which animal is doing the experiencing. I am eager to hear your impression of the book.

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting So I'm Thinking of Going Vegan...yes I do think that pointing out that the avoidance of eating animals is nearly universal (species dependent of course) could serve to bring home the fact that such a way of living is not unusual....your point that there is no universal avoidance of veganic food items is excellent. Yes, widening the scope is the goal.

Yes, the book was criticized by some but I think the writing was so well done and the information presented so extensive and compelling that it should be read. It is an especially good book to introduce someone to the facts about what is going on with the food "industry". Foer was, apparently, fairly uninformed about what is happening to the farm animal people and he writes (and presents references) about the unacceptable ways that they are being treated. I do hope you read it because I would enjoy hearing your impression of it.

Mark Rowlands (a philosopher who has written a really interesting book about his experience of living with a wolf) reviewed the book and said: "His book is a brilliant synthesis of argument, science and storytelling. It is almost certainly one of the finest books ever written on the subject of eating animals." He then goes on to say that since Foer has opted for vegetarianism, Foer himself fails to understand how convincing his book is.

I agree with Rowlands conclusion....the book is one of the better ones around and if it doesn't lead you to a vegan lifestyle you are failing to understand the information in the book...and maybe the author himself doesn't fully understand his own creation.

Krissa said...

I've only read the description in your link, but the book sounds interesting and I think it is especially interesting that he started on his path due to questions from his children.

veganelder said...

Thanks for commenting Krissa...I look forward to your impression of the book.

So I'm Thinking Of Going Vegan said...

Hmmm, after considering it a bit more I don't think I'd feel comfortable applying the "partial vegan" label after all (given that veganism is about so much more than just what we won't eat), but pointing out to non-vegans how they consume vegan items every day is still a good strategy I think, because in order to make veganism more mainstream it wouldn't hurt to emphasize common ground. And to show that in a way they've already begun the process.

I trust your judgment, so absolutely I'll read the book at some point. My library does carry it, yay, but it's probably worth getting my own copy.

I think this post got me so excited because I found it to be very hopeful, and it opened the door to another way of how we can teach people that being vegan is not as weird or extreme as they may think it is. So thank you for that.

Bea Elliott said...

What an interesting way to describe most human diets as being "(species-specific) vegetarian". I never thought of it that way - Although it always struck me as amusing when I hear people say they don't like "vegetarian food". Huh? If one really looked at their own diets they would see that they are already (hopefully) eating a healthy quantity of fruits and vegetables. So you just add a little extra beans - cut out the "meat" --- No big deal! :)

I liked everything I've read in the reviews about Eating Animals... With the exception of many vegans who were disappointed that Foer didn't suggest a vegan lifestyle. But one of the last interviews I read he said he did not intend for the book to discuss the last step... But rather, wanted to open the idea (and way) to the first step. That most often is the hardest. I intend to read Eating Animals now, knowing it comes with your respected recommendation.

veganelder said...

Thanks So I'm Thinking of Going Vegan and Bea for your comments.

I think Bea's observation about Foer not conclusively promoting veganism is important in that the book is a "beginning" sort of work rather than an end point piece of writing.

By beginning I mean a book that introduces readers to the issues and questions associated with the use of living beings for food and explores the implications and ramifications therein (without necessarily presenting a hard and fast end conclusion).

By end point I mean books like "The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery" by Marjorie Spiegel or "Animal Rights, Human Rights" by David Nibert. These authors lay out the entanglements and intersections of oppression and the myriad consequences and argue for a particular end conclusion.

I think both approaches can be useful and by golly, Foer can be a whiz with words, if you appreciate that sort of talent you will be missing out if you don't read his book.

When I was in graduate school, there was a phrase that was much in use in the academic and professional circles where I hung out. The phrase was "consciousness raising", this meant increasing your awareness, especially about hidden or unacknowledged oppressions or injustices (e.g., these could include sexism, racism, and so this would also include speciesism).

One of the principal ways that oppression and injustice perpetuates itself is by remaining hidden (often in plain sight) by not being identified as such. Melanie Joy in her book "Why We Love Dogs......Introduction to Carnism", does a good job of explaining this phenomenon of "strength through invisibility" that serves to repeatedly perpetuate the oppression by one group(s) of another group(s) and make the most repulsive and violent behaviors seem "normal" and commonplace.

Interestingly, this same process seems to occur on an internal level and often much of the work of psychotherapy is to bring into clear relief and consciousness the sometimes hidden and unacknowledged rules and regulations and belief systems someone has been operating under.

It is my feeling that any sort of communication (essay, book, blog, email, sign, letter, movie, play, speech, conversation, protest or scream, etc) that serves to raise the awareness (of atrocities, of injustices, of oppression) of those that are exposed to it is a valuable and needed and necessary thing.

One of the nifty things about this is that you never know what approaches or words or venues of communication are going to resonate with another person, this is partially why activists and advertisers (and teachers and parents and protesters and bloggers and commenters) can become so cannot predict (with much precision) when any particular person is going to be open to hearing and understanding and acknowledging and maybe acting on the message you are trying to communicate.

What a hoot. :-)

p.s...this probably should have been a post, but what the hell, lots of life seems to take place on the periphery (and in the comments section), doesn't it?

So I'm Thinking Of Going Vegan said...

Ah, but that's one of the things that makes this blog so great -- lots of thoughtful discussion generated in the comments. It's almost like getting two blogs for the price of one. ;)

Bea Elliott said...

I agree about raising awareness... At any chance we get. My husband kids that I can turn nearly any conversation back to the issues of meat and/or animal use. But this is no surprise - Nearly every ill I can think of does have it's root in nonhuman exploitation.

I just wanted to mention one of the best conclusions I've heard Foer present was this (and I'm paraphrasing):
Is animal suffering the most important thing in the world? Probably not. Is it more important than sushi or nuggets... That's the question.

And that's what we need to raise awareness about... Not all that we cannot do but those simple, easy and healthy choices that do make a positive change! ;)