2007/01/20

The Nation smears vegetarianism

Here's a choice piece of anti-vegetarian dreck. This sort of thing can be found on blogs all over the internet, but this one was published in The Nation. Now I don't expect The Nation to publish anything explaining the strong case for progressives being vegetarian - it has never done so (with the partial exception of Peter Singer's short and rather tepid contribution to the food issue last year). But I do expect them to not publish muddled and ad hominem pieces like this one.

The first part of the article is a review of Tristram Stuart's The Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism From 1600 to Modern Times. It's a fine review, tho Lazare spends a suspicious amount of time talking about Nazi vegetarianism (only a minor part of the book, which focuses primarily on Enlightenment-era England according to other reviews). Then we get this:
The idea is that instead of reigning supreme over nature, humanity should take its place within nature alongside its fellow animals. Instead of domination, this implies sharing, harmony and other New Age virtues. But the trouble with sovereignty is that it cannot be fragmented or reduced; either it's supreme and indivisible or it's not, in which case it's no longer sovereignty. Although vegetarians may think that surrendering human supremacy will reduce the harm that people do to the environment, any such effort is invariably counterproductive. Denying humans their supreme power means denying them their supreme responsibility to improve society, to safeguard the environment on which it depends and even--dare we say it--to improve nature as well.
First of all, since when have "sharing" and "harmony" been exclusively New Age values? Second of all, this is a ridiculous argument. Does anyone who lacks supreme power thereby lack all responsibility? How exactly could humans improve nature? If Lazare stopped playing word games and offered some sort of example, at least his point might make sense.

Instead we move on to this:
Regardless of whether they are consuming more meat and poultry than is good for them, it is yet another reminder, as if any more were needed, of how thoroughly Malthusian myths about limits to human productivity have been shattered. Scarcity no longer serves as an argument for vegetarianism, and neither, for that matter, does health, since we know from studies of Okinawan centenarians and others that small amounts of meat and dark-fleshed fish are good for you; that moderate amounts of alcohol (which vegetarians for some reason appear to avoid) is good for you as well
I think he's right that the health argument for vegetarianism is a bad one (altho it's pretty clear that most Americans would dramatically improve their health if they went vegetarian). The scarcity argument, on the other hand, is probably less discredited than Lazare believes since current plenty is being bought at the cost of environmental destruction that might severely limit future plenty. And where is he getting this idea about vegetarians avoiding alcohol? I've never even heard that stereotype before.

I'll end with Lazare's conclusion, which could have come from the pen of George Will but for the Castroite slogan:
So the next time you tuck into a plate of tagliatelle Bolognese, a leg of lamb or a proper coq au vin made from some rangy old rooster that's had more lovers than most of us can dream of, you should see it not just as a chance to fill your stomach but, rather, as an occasion to celebrate humanity's ongoing struggle to create abundance out of scarcity. Venceremos! It's a lot better than wallowing in the silly defeatism of a diet of tofu and sprouts.

4 comments:

robyn said...

your link not work!

Jake said...

fixed it. but i already quoted all the good parts. if you read it now it'll be like going to see a comedy in the theater after seeing the commercial for it, which has all the actually funny parts in it.

naureen said...

I've never read carol adams' sexual politics of meat, but the rhetoric and reasoning makes me think that he thinks that becoming vegetarian leads to emasculization: no beer-guzzling,failure to celebrate that roosters have lotsa' sex (juxtaposed with 'leg of lamb'), and "defeatism" (passivity) are all hints of this -- plus the idea that we have to claim dominance over others so that we can control/care for them. ugh.

Patrick said...

I always get a (sad) kick out of articles like this. You know The Nation's editors (no doubt lounging in a dark and smoke-filled room) decided to support and run this article at least partly *because* it would inspire controversy and heated reactions from readers...but such attention-whoring always seems to arrive in the form of bad journalism and shoddy false logic. Um, yay?