Monday, June 26, 2006

The Politics of Food

Yesterday's Times featured an article on the ethics of food, particularly the ethics of eating things like lobster. The article mentions Whole Foods has decided not to carry live lobsters anymore because they live their last few days on earth in a holding tank, which doesn't "demonstrate a concern for animal welfare" and that Chicago, and the state of California have outlawed the sale of foie gras, which I've mentioned before (I wonder if I can get foie gras on my deep dish pizza while I'm in Chicago next month. Just kidding. Foie gras on pizza is sacrilege.). Although I do believe that the meat production industry is in need of overhaul, I think the ethical policing of food has created a monster.

We were silent when the fast food industry grew by teaching us to love its high fat, high salt, and high sugar products. We didn't say anything when the feeding of animal products to cattle eventually birthed Mad Cow Disease until people started to become ill and die. We didn't complain when dirty conditions on chicken farms exposed us to salmonella. Don't misunderstand. Mad Cow and salmonella aren't new diseases. They morphed by increasingly efficient conditions that allowed their growth and spread. And, supply is fed, no pun intended, by demand -- greasy burger joints wouldn't proliferate and profit without customers, and no one holds a gun to one's head to force the food down one's throat. But making it more difficult for people to choose to purchase food, good or bad, is just unnecessary.

Is the cooking of lobster, an animal that must be alive before cooking to ensure freshness, any worse than fishing? Or the eating of eggs, which are essentially potential offspring? The consumption of oysters, eaten while still living or killed seconds before hitting our mouths? Is the argument for a plant-based diet from an ethical standpoint simply that plants don't have to die for us? What happens to humans when animals, biologically capable of more efficient reproduction, outnumber humans? Will our superior intellect be enough to protect us when we will need to dispose of them? Were the cavemen wrong for wearing animal skins to keep warm? What if they hadn't? Would the animal rights people be alive today if early man hadn't kept warm?

I'm all for making better choices about our food. Mass produced meat isn't all that good for you; shot up full of growth hormones and infused with fat so it's bigger and yields more to yield a bigger profit. Small farms are being absorbed by or replaced by corporate farms, putting little farms out of business. Fruit and vegetables are increasingly available out of season in response to demand, so much of our produce comes from farms that may or may not have appropriate standards for safe production (limited use of potentially harmful pesticides and fertilizers), so we have fresh strawberries, a summer fruit, available in the dead of winter. I believe we should learn how food tastes without additives, grown in its season so it tastes best, and is therefore desirable. But for the love of pete, use ethics to make decisions that will benefit everyone, not just a small group of elitists who think they're benefiting the planet by giving animals raised for food an identity.

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