Vegan? Vegetarian? Flexitarian? Compassionate Carnivory?

Recently I came across this quotation from the novelist and essayist (and, I believe, genius) Marilynne Robinson, given in a 2008 interview with the Paris Review:

“I’m generally a vegetarian of the ovo-lacto type, minus the ovo, yet I’m keenly aware of the fact that Hitler was a vegetarian. When he visited Mussolini in Italy he rejected the state dinner. He didn’t drink or smoke. I hold him up as an example of how an aversion virtue can be a negative sign.”

What I think Ms. Robinson is getting at is that certain virtues trump other virtues: you don’t get ethical points for being a vegetarian if strict adherence to vegetarianism means you’re going to seriously snub someone. I tend to agree: I don’t like to eat factory-farmed meat, and will avoid it if I can do so politely, but generally eat what is put in front of me if rejecting it means rejecting someone’s hospitality.

(On the other hand, when it comes to factory-farmed ground beef, I’m willing to risk being perceived as a little rude on behalf of my kids; the scary strain of e.coli can wreak tragic havoc on small bodies.)

I strongly respect people who, for various reasons, take a stricter approach to ethically-motivated dietary preferences, and take on projects like vegan Thanksgiving side dishes for my aunt and her partner with delight. It’s fun to figure out how to swap out animal-based ingredients and still make something delicious. (Sweet Potato Casserole WORKS with coconut milk, I am telling you!)

And, though I am pretty much omnivorous these days (thanks largely to living in a place where the meat is NOT factory farmed and I can afford it), I have had very long stretches of vegetarianism and near-vegetarianism. But I think the case for eating LESS and BETTER meat is pretty strong.

For all that, though, to the extent that I will ever speculate about what, exactly, God’s kingdom in its complete perfection looks like–which isn’t much–I do feel pretty sure that it is wholly nonviolent, and, yes, that we’ll all be happily vegetarian, if not vegan.

But that’s not a present reality, or one that is even feasible or optimal for certain people in the world. Inuit people traditionally take almost ALL their calories from animals, and there’s not really another sustainable, affordable option. People living on tight budgets get protein from government cheese and SPAM.

How do we think through these issues theologically and biblically? I have some ideas, which I’ve shared elsewhere on this blog (for example, here) and which I’ve written about in this piece at the (truly lovely) indie online magazine, Catapult.

(And, of course, in my book.)

You may also like:

“There’s Really No Such Thing As Eating Guilt Free”

“From Vegetarianism to Fasting” (by Steve Thorngate at the Christian Century)

On Paper Towels and Bacon and Veganism” (by Katherine Willis Pershey at Any Day A Beautiful Change)

 

The Evolution of G.I. Joe

I had this vague memory of reading something about an academic study of G.I. Joe figures–by researchers from UMass and Harvard Med, by the way–which found that

the figures have grown much more muscular over time, with many contemporary figures far exceeding the muscularity of even the largest male bodybuilders…

our observations appear to represent a “male analog” of earlier studies examining female dolls such as Barbie.

Together, these studies of children’s toys suggest that cultural expectations may contribute to body image disorders in both sexes.

{You can read the full text of the academic paper here.}

I’ve written some about ‘manorexia’ before, but there’s a need for continued awareness. Because while many of us are aware that playing with Barbies can adversely affect girls’ body satisfaction, we’re less aware that

Even boys too young to have seen Schwarzenegger in The Terminator [play] with action figures. G.I. Joe, who had no abdominal muscles when the toy was first manufactured in 1963, first got some definition in 1975. By 1994, he had the muscles of a professional bodybuilder. {Read all of Ava Feuer’s excellent piece here.}

Now for the pictures, gleaned from here and there around the interwebz. Pay attention not just to the figures themselves but also how they’re portrayed on the packaging:

1960s Joe

and his package:

1970s Joe

1990s Joe
1990s Joe
2000s Joe

And just to compare next to each other: 2010 Joe is a freakishly large & muscular bodybuilder; 1960s Joe is, well, an ordinary Joe. Like most of the people serving in the Armed Forces.

1960s Joe
and a composite shot from the study...

My boys have a genetic makeup–including but not limited to a genetic disorder–that guarantees they’ll never, never, not-ever be muscular. It won’t happen, not with weightlifting, creatine, and God-knows-what-else.

But even if they could beef up, I’d hate for them to do it based on these insane cultural pressures.

That some people insanely defend as Christian values, God help us.

Boys deserve better.

{You may also like the other posts in this series-of-sorts: The Evolution of the Morton Salt Girl and The Evolution of Candy Land}

We Don’t Approve of Bull-Baiting, Dogfighting, or Public Executions…

…and so I don’t think we approve of…

Chickens being occasionally decapitated by the automatic feeding cart, then rotting away in their cages.

Chickens getting their necks stuck in the bars of their cages and dying because they can’t get them out and no one comes to help.

Workers must blast exhaust fans and run in to do a job quickly because “it’s physically hard to breathe because of the ammonia” fumes rising from the manure pits below the barns.

Conveyor belts transporting 4.5 million eggs a day–destined for places like Shop-Rite–are thick with flies, mice, and poop.

it’s just that we don’t know that this is happening…

The Humane Society of the United States recently ran an undercover investigation of Kreider Farms, finding these acts of cruelty that go against the industry standards promoted by groups like United Egg Producers, who, last year, joined with the Humane Society to support new federal standards providing more space for laying hens–a move Kreider has not supported.

In a great op-ed last week, Nicholas Kristof (one of my favorite journalists) writes:

For those who are wavering, think for a moment about the arc of empathy. Centuries ago, we humans amused ourselves by seeing other people executed or tortured. Until modern times, we considered it sport to see animals die horrible deaths. Now our sensibilities have evolved so that there is an outcry when animals are abused — unless it happens out of sight on farms.

Look, you don’t need to love chickens enough to want to hug them to realize that if God notices the death of each little sparrow, God certainly sees the suffering of the chickens who die so that we can have cheap eggs.

It isn’t only about how much we love animals. It’s about what kind of people we are going to be.

No one thinks what Michael Vick did to all those poor dogs is okay.

Chickens might be less emotionally affecting than dogs, but they’re still God’s creatures.

Why not make a brief, polite phone call to your U.S. Representative and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 3798? Then, make a brief, polite call to your two U.S. senators to support this legislation when it’s introduced in the Senate. Look up your legislators’ phone numbers here.

“The righteous know the needs of their animals,
but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” (Prov. 12:10)

Please don’t think this is only for crazy chicken-huggers. Take a minute to watch the video, maybe read Kristof’s op-ed, and think of the arc of empathy:

what kind of people do we want to be?

what kind of people are we made to be?

Whining about Writing, Writing about Whining

May I whine for a moment, please?

I shouldn’t pay attention to my stats, I know that. I shouldn’t even look at them, because I will write what I’m going to write no matter how popular or unpopular that’s going to be. One of my favorite authors, Beverly Cleary (yes, the creator of Ramona!) early decided that she

“would ignore all the trends…and would not let money influence any decisions about my books.”

Sage advice from one of the most popular and acclaimed children’s book authors of the 20th century!

Ready for my whine?

Posts about hunger and poverty are far less popular than posts about, say, Audrey Hepburn or Victoria’s Secret Angels.

Or, for that matter, posts pointing a finger at what’s wrong within evangelicalism.

I don’t think it’s because people don’t care about poverty, or hunger, or preventable disease, or fair trade.

I think it’s because we feel powerless and/or desensitized.

But we’re not powerless. Nor should we let ourselves be desensitized.

Two readers shared snippets of poetry that relate to this:

First, via Joyce, Audre Lord:

“How much of this truth can I bear/ to see/ and still live/ unblinded?/ How much of this pain can I use?”

Second, via Ellen, Wendell Berry:

“Expect the end of the world./Laugh./Laughter is immeasurable./Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

I love these.

And so I propose to try to ignore all trends, all stats.

I just wish that the 15 children who died of preventable disease while you read this post would get a fraction of the attention that goes to Mark Driscoll, Lady Gaga, or Madonna’s Halftime show.

Know what I mean?


How Sweet It Is! Feeling Better about Hershey.

You kind of have to hand it to Americans. We can turn anything into a reason for consumption. The journey from a day honoring early Christian martyrs to the World’s Largest Inflatable Heart is by no means direct.

But whatever. Chocolate is yummy.

Anyway, I wanted to take this Valentine’s Day to remind you of the problem of child slavery on cocoa plantations. It’s real. It’s bad. But encouraging signs are appearing…

Hershey’s recently released an announcement that by the end of 2012, 100% of the cocoa for their Bliss line of chocolate will be Rainforest Alliance Certified–meaning that the production of this cocoa will meet third-party standards for environmental protection, social equity and economic viability. Additionally, Hershey’s has promised to invest $10 million in West Africa for various educational and development initiatives intended to improve the lives of cocoa workers. (Beings that they netted $510 million in 2010, that’s not a lot, but okay.)

There’s still farther to go–Bliss and Dagoba represent a mere fraction of Hershey’s brands, which include York, Mounds, Almond Joy, LifeSavers, BreathSavers, Reese’s, Heath, Jolly Ranchers, Mauna Loa, Scharffen Berger, Twizzlers, and many more. They could do more. We can do more.

It’s movements like Raise the Bar, Hersheys! that raised awareness enough to put pressure for these small changes. Now, an eighth-grader from Philadelphia, Jasper Perry-Anderson, has created a Change.org petition to petition the trustees of the Milton Hershey School to put pressure on Hershey to take more pointed measures at ending child labor and human trafficking in the plantations from which they source ingredients.

Why not sign the petition? It’s kind of the least we can do.

Happy Valentine’s Day!