culture v. ethics

Culture seems extraordinarily malleable, to me. It changes. I don’t think it can do anything but change. The exposure of two cultures to one another impacts both of them, and some bits rub off on each. Trying to prevent this is analogous to trying to stop a human being from learning. I don’t think it matters whether the culture is a place of employment, a religious sect, or a nation.

There’s a culture in the U.S. that promotes sharing meat as a sign of friendship. Fast food with friends, a baked ham at Christmas, a turkey at thanksgiving. Many people say these cultures are too dear to our identity to allow them to change. But there’s no longer venison on the table, the turkey is far from wild and hunted the day before, the ham did not require the head of the household to slaughter one of his/her best pigs. There may be meat, but it’s not like the food that was used when the traditions began. Convenience has replaced a hard-scrabble existence, to an extent. One result is that we consume far more meat.

The effects back at the real farm are rather gruesome. Factory farming is not the same as small non-mechanized farms. You can read about the effects in many places, they’re not difficult for the curious to find. It’s difficult to hide what happens to 65 billion animals.

Culture changed to worsen the problems of animal agriculture. Culture can change to fix those problems, as well.

Vegans have been been enjoying Thanksgiving, Christmas, and any other feast in our culture for a long time. We don’t all live in a yurt compounds, sharing tips on dreadlock maintenance and recipes for home-made patchouli cologne. Vegan events tend to look remarkably like non-vegan events, corpses and animal bodily fluids aside.

But there’s always resistance, someone always makes the argument that some aspect of the culture (any culture) doesn’t work with being vegan. I’ve heard it for French, Russian, Italian, soul food, Jamaican, Vietnamese, Thai, Afghan, traditional American holiday, camping, road tripping, military service, any part of the country with bbq, and probably a dozen more cultures. Emphatically, in each case. Almost never by professional chefs, by the way. There’s no way to be vegan. Nope. Not at all. Sometimes it continues straight through the 2nd helping, other times it sharply ends after about 30 seconds of discussion over a menu.

Here’s the deal: every culture has non-vegan traditions. Even vegetarian. No culture is unique in that, and no arguments are new or suddenly convincing. The arguments sound repetitive and predictable, after watching them be made enough times. Culture is not nearly as fragile as commonly thought, trust me. People around the world have been calling themselves vegan for 6 decades. Our basic habits are as old as western civilization, with the ethics discussed by no less than Socrates. Vegetarians were at first said to follow “the Socratic method”.

Sometimes there’s a poignant clash, like over the running of the bulls in Spain. I’m partly tempted to say that’s another culture beyond my authority, and I’m not qualified to make some of the more detailed arguments firsthand. So? Democracy and human rights are also most frequently resisted by an appeal to local tradition – where is the validity of the argument? Insisting upon animal rights is not moral condemnation of a culture any more than insisting upon 1st[1] amendment rights is moral condemnation of a courtroom.

Also, food is generally the product of chemical reactions that don’t care whether the materials came from an animal or vegetable (or fungus). Amino acids (protein), starches, fats – the components of those reactions? Animals didn’t invent them. Animals can’t even make all of them, so we’re crippled compared to the plants and fungi.

[1] or 5th… [edit.]

Thursday ~ February 7, 2013 by b

Posted in dining,veg | Comments Off on culture v. ethics |

Turkey Billboard from MFA

An animal rights (or at least vegetarian) group has put up a billboard near the small town where butterball turkeys mostly come from.

It sounds like a noble effort, and given that it’s only one billboard on a highway, relatively inexpensive. And seriously, it’s a billboard that is getting national press. Mission accomplished.

As far as AR billboards go, it’s fairly tame. No mention of violence, no chiding that “good” people are doing something the billboard recommends – even with the call to action, no trite sayings about how easy it is to go veg, no bold political statements, no pronouncements about society being evil. In short, the only way to make it less offensive would be to remove the allusion to vegetarianism.

Of course this means that the comments on the story (on websites that I’ve seen) includes complaints like the highly intelligent, open-minded, and incredibly humorous “gobble gobble” to “mind your own business”. Comments on the web are about as insightful and intelligent as comments in a jr high gym class.

MFA’s blog post about the billboard

I’m not sure how many animals are going to be saved by one billboard. Possibly even none before December. Critics might say that it’s futile, that the effort isn’t big enough to matter, and the usual other ideas presented by people who won’t act on them. To quote one of my favorite t-shirts… “Understand the Power of a Single Action”. In other words, a vegetarian doing something is not cause for an existential crisis. If it is, then perhaps you should be a vegetarian yourself. Just a suggestion, wouldn’t want to go overboard with the Big Brother angle. I never can get that balance right – the tension between ‘irrelevant’ and ‘mind your own business’. Frankly, in the minds of detractors of vegetarianism, the two extremes overlap. To those complaining it’s a billboard… it’s still just one billboard. If you can’t handle a vegan stating their viewpoint publicly once, you don’t understand how a democratic society actually works.

Also, the next person who says it’s too hard to got veg for a holiday meal will earn a full ten (10) minutes of silence. I’ve gone to thanksgiving meals in many houses for nearly 20 years as a vegetarian, more than once to a house in the middle of nowhere in which people cooked the same meals every year since birth. Thanksgiving is an awesome time to go vegetarian. If you eat only the veg fare on the average
table, your odds are still high of being stuffed. If there’s not veg fare, it’s likely because somehow puts ham hock or pig snout or cow ears or whatever in the beans. Easy fix: pour can of beans into dish, insert in microwave 5 minutes, salt to taste. There’s one replacement.

Of course, you can’t actually both eat the turkey and be vegetarian at the same time. You have to not eat animal products which you currently like the taste of, like every single other new vegetarian.

As far as the comments on news sites… vegetarians who abstain from eating meat because it comes from animals are technically doing it because of their ethical stance. Anyone who tells a person doing that to mind their own business grossly underestimates the important of the 1st amendment, never mind basic logic. Color me not surprise.

Sunday ~ October 7, 2012 by b

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laxatives in wine?:
“Do consumers need to be told about the substances that go into wine production?” Lee [the Wine Institute’s general counsel] asked. “I’m not sure there’s a lot of useful information in that.”

Winemakers are notorious for failing to disclose enough information for vegetarians to know whether they’re willing to drink a particular wine. Apparently they don’t care whether consumers like it or not.

Wednesday ~ December 7, 2011 by b

Posted in dining,veg | Comments Off on wining |

dinner story

We sat down at the table, assuming our usual places.

Dave (the redneck of the group) took a seat at the end, and looked thru the menu. Mary ordered a chef’s salad. John asked about the specials; he always liked the “freshest” dish, and claimed that the chef would promote “freshest” rather than “stock he’s trying to get rid of”.

We’d filed in past a group of protesting Humanitarians coming in.

“Self-righteous pricks. What gives them any right to tell me what to eat anyway? It’s my body.” mumbled Dave, with an over-emphasis on common sense.

“They always kinda give me the creeps” said Mary. “Can’t they just go protest somewhere else?”

“Hey now, they’re just speaking their conscience,” I chided. “I actually agree with their ideas, just not their methods.”

Dave made noises like a crying child loudly, that mutated into a loud snore. Then he stopped and deftly proclaimed “I’m just kidding you, GT. We all respect your opinion.”

Mary relayed a story to me, an explanation that all of the feeder-babies would never have had good homes. That they got better treatment on the farm, perhaps even more attention. That they couldn’t survive in the wild because they’d been raised in captivity. That they were all slaughtered humanely. That Green Babies were available for anyone really concerned about farm conditions and not just gathering followers and donations. I had answers to these questions that ae well-known and obvious to most humanitarians, but I didn’t bother presenting them. This wasn’t a debate, however much it pretended to be one. It was about the carnivores feeling good about their actions despite having a humanitarian in their ranks. I was a prop, not a participant.

Dave mumbled about how it wasn’t right to avoid eating babies. “They’ve got all the good nutrients. It’s natural to eat them.” also “Besides, GT, we ate at that humanitarian restaurant last Friday, so it’s all good. We’re just taking turns and it’s only fair that you come here more. There’s more of us”. Dave was very proud of this logic and became angry when it was questioned. Then he made gagging motions and complained about the taste of tofu.

So I ordered a salad, no cheese, no dressing. I fully expected the waiter to simply move the smokey-toe flavored bbq sauce to the side, not realizing that it was made with smoked toes. I don’t even eat toes; I’m just that hardcore.

Jane gave an exasperated sigh. “I don’t see how you live without cheese. I mean, I understand how theoretically it’s not nice to the mother to take the breast milk, but it’s not like she needs it anymore.” she added “I just don’t buy that it supports the babiest industry”. Jane dabbled in lacto-ovo Humanitarianism but never really was a radical who went all the way. “But I’m not like Dave; he’s just gross”. She helpfully finished off her point with “Besides, I can’t live without cheese”. I avoided pointing out that most mammals weaned long before puberty with little harm. Best to avoid disturbing anyone while they eat; they just get mad and ignore any logical points.

Meanwhile, Dave ordered a newborn riblet with a side of fried brains and some sticky fingers w/ dipping sauce as an app. He calmly asked me for the 406th time how I’m Humanitarian but still pro-choice. It was a total contradiction in his world that most humanitarians in this country are pro-choice.

As we continued on with lunch, I eventually steered the conversation away from discussion of humanitarianism.

Thursday ~ March 10, 2011 by b

Posted in advocacy,dining,humor,veg | Comments Off on dinner story |

Animals in Idaho

There are a couple of issues brewing in Idaho over animal rights. Cockfighting and derailing the opposition.

First, Idaho has finally joined 40 other states in declaring cockfighting a felony. Yes, seriously, it was a misdemeanor and still is in some states. Idaho is not exactly on the forefront of animal rights legislation. OK, yay and go Idaho for passing important legislation, nonetheless.

Second, a state Senator is proposing a bill to maneuver around potential backlash to bring chicken farms into the state. HSUS was specifically declared as the primary “radical animal rights group” for its opposition. An advisory board on animal welfare has been formed. The board was not formed as a compromise or with the support of HSUS, and they do not consider it to represent their interests. I can’t say I blame them. Even though HSUS helped draft another part of the bill, they will not be welcome. In fact, many of the “animal welfare” groups listed are effectively unions and PACs for cattle farmers. No other groups have advocated in favor of animal welfare on a scale as large as HSUS in Idaho.

The board is usually presented by Idaho lawmakers as a step to preempt animal welfare groups by “proving” that Idaho is handling any animal cruelty, and appease anyone who might otherwise listen to them. Such boards are now commonly fought in other states as the existing opposition to animal welfare, and are generally considered a backward step among animal advocates. When one accuses a group of a crime, the alleged criminals do not belong on the jury.

HSUS is the organization that runs advertisements telling people not to abuse their animals, in the most common definition of abuse. They won acclaim among animal advocates for sending volunteers into NOLA after Katrina to rescue pets caught in the storm’s aftermath. Not exactly a revolutionary group trying to overthrow The Man. Labeling them as such without any clarification or any further description is simply trying to stir up prejudice.

Tuesday ~ March 2, 2010 by b

Posted in cat,dining,poli,veg | Comments Off on Animals in Idaho |

reasons I’m vegan

Some things I like about being vegan:

  1. 88 animals per year
  2. fresher food, especially when chefs cook special orders
  3. healthier, which is useful
  4. not contributing to the veal industry
  5. environmental impact of trading a low-mpg SUV in for something with fuel efficiency
  6. being a pacifist 24-7
  7. producing more food for people in need
  8. being a member of a secret society with arcane rituals, hell-bent on world domination by 2015
  9. bean burgers
  10. grilled vegetables aren’t just a side dish, so I can grow dinner.
  11. eating desert first. if there’s fruit.
  12. nearly no cross-contamination in the kitchen. cross-contamination is gross.
  13. milk stays fresher, longer, and stores in the pantry for months
  14. vegan products are frequently organic
  15. carbs
  16. naked peta fur protesters are on my side
  17. cool flair
  18. less pesticide in my diet
  19. pre-cooked food might be good to eat without cooking
  20. can afford the good snacks at the expensive hippy grocery stores
  21. convenient excuse to try out any new restaurants
  22. kitchen thermometers are only needed for candy
  23. the steak knives stay sharp, even though I use them
  24. Hollywood starlets are ever-so-slightly more likely to go out with me. Slightly.
  25. an international organization wants to run ads during Super Bowls, to convince the world that vegans are teh hottness
  26. desert and brunch are completely indistinguishable
  27. my own menu (or used to) at Disney World
  28. I use the word “juicy” to accurately describe my food
  29. soy lattes
  30. thinsulate works better than wool
  31. pleather is the new leather
  32. my car seats are never sticky or hot enough to burn skin on a hot day in the sub-tropics
  33. if my food were to ferment, it would be consumed at a party rather than threatening disease
  34. can say I’m committed with a fair amount of authority and credibility
  35. no danger of microwaved fish smell
  36. finding a place to eat dinner with someone on a restricted diet isn’t very difficult
  37. vegan sushi

vegan grilling

Peta has a decent selection of grilling recipes. Many are meat-like, but far from all. They add choices to omnivorous and vegan eating patterns alike. However else they do it, making vegan food appealing to non-vegans is part of Peta’s mission as an outreach organization. That alone may make some of their recipes worth a try.

I’m often asked what, or why, a vegetarian grills. I think the answer is nearly common knowledge. Meats are often covered in or saturated with vegetables (for example, as marinades and sauces) to impart the real flavor of the finished dish. Veggies do things like caramelize, and vary in flavor with changes to temperature in a range of appetizing ways. Some easily-vegan dishes, like fajitas, traditionally require some sort of grilling surface. Also, restaurants frequently run stove tops hundreds of degrees hotter than in a home kitchen, basically grilling everything cooked on them to some extent… and I certainly can eat vegan at many restaurants.

Friday ~ May 22, 2009 by b

Posted in dining,garden,veg | Comments Off on vegan grilling |

baked pasta

Baked Pasta

serves: more than one hungry geek one time. there will be leftovers.

recipe below:

Thursday ~ July 5, 2007 by b

Posted in dining,veg | Comments Off on baked pasta |

the one-veggie-item menu

Most of the restaurants in my area which happen to be considered veg-friendly actually have rather limited vegetarian options. Traditionally, southern chefs consider meat as vital in each food as the heat to cook it. Trust me on this, I’m not exaggerating. Health-concious and open-minded about diet translates into “use chicken instead”. So, I’m not surprised when I walk into a restaurant, scan the menu, and find nothing even incidentally vegetarian. Usually the veg-friendly places (the wait staff knows exactly what a veggie wants to know) have vegetarian option listed. Sometimes it’s steamed veggies. Sometimes it’s “sorry, we can’t help you”.

I think it’s probably a bad idea to not offer a range of veggie options, from healthy and vegan to veggie lasagna complete with egg and cheese. Bad for a lot of reasons. First, it encourages vegans to cook their own food, which I’m betting quite often means healthier and less dependent upon animal products. Second, it encourages a fracture between vegetarians and omnivores, into us v. them. Third, it’s counter to what I want, if only because sometimes a vegetarian will pick up an animal for lunch rather than look elsewhere. I have. Fourth, it’s just stupid, and possibly rude, to knowingly alienate potential customers. Those aren’t businesses that I care to support, especially when I’m the potential customer who’s turned down. So, really, if you’re reading this and run an dining establishment, please treat a lack of options as a customer service issue. Thanks, your soon to be loyal customer. Usually, I send a heavily edited version of that reaction, along with maybe asking for a small concession as an act of faith… and also point out which direction the wiser business decision lay, in my world. Also, customers presenting opportunities for market expansion tend to be regarded somewhat differently than irate customers with complaints.

Alternately, I have a hypothesis that I can assess any restaurant’s veg-friendliness by the quality of the tofu-containing dishes. An establishment without some soy content is probably one that I’m going to consider as also without quality.

OK, that’s a bit harsh. But consider the odds.

Tuesday ~ January 9, 2007 by b

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practical liberation

I don’t tend to chat much about what I think might happen to bring about a wholesale reform of the animal agriculture industry, or how such reform would appear in practice. Personally, I would like to see the entire industry abolished and replaced with a more sustainable agricultural system. That’s unlikely to happen before noon today. However, there is room for a lot of other things to happen.

Animal advocates, just like any other labeled activists, can make a direct impact without a revolution occuring overnight. By insisting upon a reasonable pace and constant progress, we can make a great deal of permanent changes to society. Sure, I think cattle farming is completely indefensible ethically, morally, economically, and environmentally. I can back that up with facts unrefuted by the dairy or beef marketeers. There’s nothing terribly unusual about that. It’s not very far from how many people – not all of them self-described pacifists – argue that nuclear war is bad with utter certainty and incredulousness. Yet a lot of people make money from the prospect of one eventually happening, and work directly against those who would abolish the ability to launch one.

So when I read a recent interview with Peter Singer, I was a bit amused. My view is different from his, with my conclusion that animals do possess rights, and those rights should be defended similarly to the way that human rights are defended. Animal rights are derived more easily and are not as broad as human rights, but the concepts are similar. Human rights don’t grant political freedom, nor significant wealth. They have not been recognized for very long, and it’s arguable that recognition of human rights is still a minority view even within the western, “free” world. The people paid to decide how they’re defended often seem asleep at the wheel.

But frankly, the difference between our conclusions, and what we would encourage others to do, are not very different. Vegan habits seem good and promote a degree of justice that doesn’t seem present when paying for animals to eat. Yet that “large triple soy” which cost $6 this morning didn’t really help the workers of the world unite. If one chooses dining establishments as the front lines, then some effort is required. Do the research, ask questions, don’t be afraid to make a fuss, but for goodness’ sake, stick to the topic of vegan/vegetarian options in any rant-like behavior and make your rewards and lack of patronage well known. Above all, stay honest. Check back from time to time. Yes, it makes a difference. Slowly, but to a greater extent than any other single customer.

Also, there’s nothing quite like walking into a sammich shop to return my (suprisingly) cheezy toasty bread, wearing the block-letter ‘vegan’ shirt. Trust me, I got attention whether I wanted it or no. Keeping cool at times like that – and it sounds easy – is priceless as street theater and changing opinions.

Wednesday ~ November 29, 2006 by b

Posted in dining,veg | Comments Off on practical liberation |

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