Gluttony

Seth Victor

            Gluttony is the big sin, the flagship of cruelty against animals, and because of that it is the hardest for me to put into original words. So many advocates before me have written so well about the consequences of over consuming animals. The message is simple, and is articulated best by Michael Pollan: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. That is a message aimed at fixing American health problems, which stem from our poor diets. In becoming better eaters, we will also become better stewards to animals. The poor treatment of factory farmed animals is a disaster, and it leads to the downfall of our health, our environment, and our economy, to say nothing of the animals who live in hell because of our dietary indulgences. CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are an apt topic for any of the sins, but I’m sticking with the obvious one.  That the omnivore’s dilemma is the biggest and most oppressive issue in the animal rights world should come as no surprise to any of this blawg’s regular readers. For those of you just visiting, take some time read this post. Or this one. This one, too. It’s kind of a big deal.               

            I could talk about the slow but important changes in the laws regulating the treatment of factory farmed animals. Certainly there have been recent strides towards more humane conditions, the most publicized being California’s Proposition 2 in 2008. Yet these are band-aids at best. At some point I have to wonder if winning a hen a few more inches of wing space is a victory when she is not even an animal according to the federal government (it is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless). The plain truth is that there is no law in any state forbidding the consumption of CAFO-raised animals (though with Bloomberg, who knows what is in store for NYC?) While I suspect that a law prohibiting the consumption of meat would not pass Constitutional scrutiny, I don’t want animals to only feel slightly less terrified and alone in cages. I want to get them out of the cages. Such sweeping legislation is still many years away, but I think change can come faster if people realize what they are eating and want to put a stop to it. CAFOs are businesses, and nothing speaks louder to a business than the time-tested principle of supply and demand.

            Eat less meat. You don’t have to be a vegan, you don’t even have to be a vegetarian. All you have to do is send a message to the Tysons, Swansons, and Purdues of the world by not purchasing their product, which by the way is a product that once thought, breathed, and felt pain. Just saying. If you don’t want to eat less meat, then please at least think before you buy. When you are at a restaurant, in the supermarket, or ordering take-out, just pause a moment and think about what you are eating. I hope at least one of two things will happen. First you will think about what you are actually putting into your body. This goes back to Pollan’s point, that when you consider what you are eating is actually made out of, you might want the steamed veggies over the Philly cheesesteak. Second, you might remember that “chicken” does not naturally look like a gold nugget anywhere in the real world. That hen had eyes, a beak, and could feel the pain of her legs snapping under the weight of her own drugged-up body.

            “That’s terrible, I don’t want to think about that!” I don’t either, but ignoring the reality of the situation does not make it go away. Yes, thinking about what your dinner had to endure, and what your own body will have to endure processing it, is not pleasant. I ask that you embrace your revulsion and channel it into smarter dietary choices. “But meat is delicious. If animals didn’t want us to eat them, they wouldn’t taste so good.” I’ll even (for a moment) accept that, but it’s an irrelevant argument for the purposes of this point. Just because something feels good does not give one the moral right to exploit the pleasure. We practice reservation in our indulgences daily, whether it be in the work we do, the way we budget our money, or the time we spend on certain activities. Obviously we as humans are capable of restraining ourselves, if not for the good of animals, then for the good of ourselves.

            Why is a call for a more vegetarian-oriented lifestyle appropriate in a legal blog such as this? It is appropriate because our screwed up food system affects every major issue our legislators in Washington are facing. Health care debate that concerns an overweight America? The war on terror and the vulnerabilities of American infrastructure? Migrant workers coming to America for jobs no one here wants to do? These all are tied together by CAFOs. Every day we eat food. Every day many of us eat too much and the wrong kinds of food. I propose to you that if we as a people eat less meat, we would be a healthier and wealthier nation in all respects, and as always, the laws would follow. I think the animals would be a little happier as well. All it takes is a little thought before you put your fork to your mouth.

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3 Responses

  1. I enjoyed this post very much Victor – and since you talked about giving a little thought before you put your fork to your mouth, I’m going to add one of my favorite quotes (which is from Alice Walker’s essay “Am I Blue”) – “As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating misery, I thought, as I took the first bite. And spit it out.” If you have never read this essay, it’s a must

  2. I will certainly check that out. I think I may have read it before, but even if I have I’m sure a re-read would be welcome,

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