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My Beef With Vegetarianism

Perhaps Mr. Lazare who would have us think flesh-and-blood-(meat)eating has given us extended and happier lives but how much time has he spent inside cancer units, cardiac surgical rooms, kidney wards, or breast cancer units?

How much time has Mr. Lazare spent on "farms" where infant calves are chained at the neck in rows of tiny crates, on slatted floors, unable to move, love, play, live, or be free because we humans steal their mothers milk?

How much time has he spent living by the many waste lagoons that dot this nation, filled with tens of thousands of tons of pig manure? Has he ever ventured to the dumpsters behind egg "farms" where millions of male chicks who are not ground alive for feed and fertilizer, are hatching and left to die? Has he randomly visited (if allowed) the kill floors of this, "civilized" nation's slaughterhouses, where sentient animals who feel trauma and agony just as we do, are beaten to restraining devices, hoisted by their hind legs, and chain-sawed apart?

For as long as humans have assumed superiority and power over animals, they have done the same to each other. If Mr. Lazare considers the violent, bloody, inhumane, unsustainable and cruel meat and dairy based diet as optimal for humanity, why are we threatened by war, pandemics, and environmental suicide more now that ever? Here it is in a nutshell: The relationship between the meat-based resource usage and war is dramatized by the following dialogue from Plato's Republic:

...and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them?


And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?

Much greater.

And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?

Quite true.

Then a slice of our neighbors' land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

And so, we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?

Most certainly, he replied.

Laura Beth Slitt

Bartlett, New Hampshire

Feb 21 2007 - 3:40pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

I'm quite astonished by Daniel Lazare's comment in his otherwise interesting review of Tristram Stuart's The Bloodless Revolution regarding "how thoroughly Malthusian myths about limits to human productivity have been shattered." This is a comment worthy of George Bush's capacity for denial.

Whatever reasons one might have for not being a vegetarian--and I have many--it is not because we are not coming up against the limits to human productivity. We can produce enough food to feed six billion, but only at the cost of the sustainability of life on the planet. Our land and crops have become innundated by poisons from fertilizers and pesticides. Our air is so full of CO2 that the climate is changing dramatically and dangerously for all life. Our oceans are so overfished that the food chain could collapse in this century. And genocide, once thought unrepeatable after our recognition of the horrors of the Holocaust, has become almost commonplace. Slaughter on a scale unimaginable is the ho-hum topic of the six o'clock news.

Need I go on? We can continue to feed and care for the exponentially expanding mass of humanity and destroy all life in the process or we can begin to recognize and act on rational limits to human growth and development. We can't do both.

Dan Gordon

Eliot, Maine

Feb 21 2007 - 3:36pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

Daniel Lazare, who reviewed The Bloodless Revolution, should watch the undercover video, Meet Your Meat, on www.GoVeg.com to better understand why modern-day vegetarians chose not to eat meat. The horrible treatment of animals in factory farms and slaughterhouses will make anyone lose their taste for flesh.

Slaughterhouse workers hoist cows upside down by their hind legs and dismember them, often while they’re still conscious. Employees at a large kosher slaughterhouse were even caught shocking animals in the face with electric prods, slicing their throats open and pulling out their tracheas, and leaving them to die slowly. The animals could be heard bellowing in pain several minutes after they were supposedly slaughtered.

Chickens, who are not protected by the pathetic Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, are hung upside-down in metal shackles, their throats are sloppily cut, and they’re often scalded alive in the tanks of boiling water used for feather removal. Pigs are often stunned improperly and they are also conscious when they’re dumped in the scalding water used to soften their skin and remove their hair. The only civilized thing to do after seeing such gruesome footage is to go vegetarian.

Katie Moore

Baltimore, Maryland

Feb 21 2007 - 3:34pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

When I am asked why I am a vegetarian, I usually respond by asking, "Why do you eat meat?" The typical responses are all mentioned in Mr. Lazare's article: "It tastes good; I enjoy it," and/or some variation of "God said I could; humans are the masters of the earth; animals were put here for our use." Very few people claim that they need to eat meat to survive. And, of course, there are numerous scientific studies which establish beyond question that humans do not need to consume the flesh of other living beings to survive. (Not to mention historical/anecdotal evidence such as that described by Mr. Lazare with respect to non-European cultures which have adopted and practiced vegetarianism for centuries--and let's not forget Dennis Kucinich!)

I next ask the meat-eater, "Do you believe that we humans have an obligation to be kind to non-human animals if we are able to do so?" Virtually everyone responds in the affirmative: Animals should be kept (and killed) "humanely," and persons who treat animals cruelly should be discouraged from doing so. Of course, the meat-eater's response to this question is often dependent upon how close a connection she/he feels to the particular animal: Most meat-eaters react much more negatively to the inhumane treatment of a puppy (especially a "cute" puppy) than to similar treatment of, say, a snake. It appears that even Mr.Lazare believes that humans have some basic obligation not to be unnecessarily cruel: "Certainly," he notes with respect to Kuznetsov's kitten, "pulverizing a poor defenseless creature is bad."

Mr. Lazare does temper this view somewhat by raising a very typical anti-vegetarian "false choice" argument: If a child is threatened by a snake, do we kill the snake or let the child be bitten? Although many a sensible person--vegetarian or not--would simply move the child away from the snake, being a vegetarian does not mean giving up the right to defend oneself or others from an attack--whether the attacker is a human or non-human animal.

If we acknowledge that eating the flesh of other living beings is not necessary for our survival, and we further agree that we should be kind to other living creatures when possible, how do we justify taking the lives of other creatures simply for our own enjoyment? This analysis leads inexorably to the answer to the question of why I am (and why you should be) a vegetarian: Because it is the kinder choice.

And make no mistake about it: We do have a choice. Meat-eaters like Mr. Lazare may try to shift the blame ("Hitler was a vegetarian"), but the bottom line is that Mr. Lazare has simply made a conscious decision to treat other living beings unkindly with no justification other than his own personal enjoyment. Rather than make relatively slight adjustments to his lifestyle which would have no negative impact on his health or well-being, Mr. Lazare prefers "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...." Some may call that clever, jaunty, sophisticated or even funny. But I call it what it most certainly is: Unkind.

Michael W. Jonak

Coon Rapids, Minnesota

Feb 21 2007 - 3:29pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

It just so happens that eating a lot less meat has much to recommend it, including improved health, better environmental stewardship, animal welfare and the restoration of family farming, to name just a few benefits.

I respectfully refer Mr. Lazare to The Nation's excellent food issue of September 11, 2006. h

The Slow Food movement should not be misconstrued as advocating for vegetarianism; what it advocates is a respect for food, how it is produced and consumed, and those who produce it for the rest of us.

Thoughtful people who opt for an entirely vegetarian diet deserve our genuine respect.

Patrick Bosold

Fairfield, Iowa

Feb 21 2007 - 3:26pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

After reading Daniel Lazare's article I can only conclude that the man is a complete idiot. Yes, The Bloodless Revolution is a flawed and somewhat frustrating book. A better title might have been, Famous Veggie Kooks. However, to use it as some sore of measure by which to judge vegetarianism in general, as Lazare does, is intellectually dishonest and lazy, and was shocking to read in an article in as fine a publication as The Nation.

As I read the article, I kept hoping to find some indication that the author knew something, or had at least thought about, the matter at hand. Apparently not. Nevertheless, his blind, self-assured certainty is absolute. Much like Dick Cheney's unshakeable faith in his "series of stunning successes" in Iraq.

Regardless of one's reasons for reducing or abstaining from eating meat, no reasonable person can argue with the fact that it lessens the damage that we do to our environment. One need not be an alarmist, merely reasonably well-informed, to recognize that much about the way humanity lives is utterly unsustainable, especially our excessive consumption of meat. By "unsustainable", I mean widespread and permanent environmental damage to the world's oceans, water supplies, arable land, forests, the air we breathe and the very climate upon which we depend for livable conditions.

Livestock produce more greenhouse gasses than all the world's internal combustion vehicles combined? How on earth is a problem like that going to be fixed by the technological advances he assumes are just around the corner? Before writing more on this subject, I suggest he pay a visit to a modern factory farm where as many as a quarter million pigs at a time are raised indoors in crates. Don't forget to stop by the scenic waste lagoon. It's easy to find, even from the next county. Just follow your nose.

Lazare has the health question exactly backwards, as well. Okinawans and other long-lived peoples who have low rates of heart disease and cancer enjoy good health not because they eat meat, but precisely because they eat so little of it. Yes, a little bit of fish and red wine is good for you. How does that support the wisdom of the typical American diet? Many of us are eating ourselves to death on diets of the poorest quality food. A doctor, interviewed on the health effects of "fast food", recently compared eating one daily burger & fries meal to smoking a pack a day of cigarettes.

Mr. Lazare says we should eat better meat, raised under more natural circumstances. Well, great. How much meat will truly sustainable farming actually allow most people to eat? If all animal products were produced or harvested in environmentally responsible ways, then society would revert to the dietary standards of 17th century France, when meat, fish and poultry were luxuries affordable on a regular basis only by the extremely wealthy, and everyone else subsisted on a diet of bread, turnips, and onions.

Lastly, I would like to remind Mr. Lazare: If he hopes to retain the respect of his readers, he should recall the first rule of writing - write what you know, and know about what you write. That's the difference between a actual journalist and a bloviating comedian like Rush.

Patrick McKernan

Goffstown, New Hampshire

Feb 21 2007 - 3:23pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

My friends, my neighbors, now The Nation. At dinners in and out, at parties, I never announce that I am a vegetarian and request that everyone do the same. Yet, as people notice what I eat the questions begin. The questions then move to challenges: Do you wear leather? Do you kill mosquitos? I have answers for all the questions and challenges, which I politely provide, though I am tired of it.

My question is this: What is it in YOU, the questioners and challengers that so riles you; that makes you often angry and impolite when all I did was order the salad? Honestly, it has always stumped me and I really want to know.

John Steiner

Manchester, California

Feb 21 2007 - 3:20pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

Daniel Lazare's review of Tristram Stuart's book on the history of vegetarianism is insultingly dismissive of a very real area of philosophical, ethical, environmental and political scholarship. I'm left to wonder why The Nation chose someone so obviously unfamiliar with this scholarship while someone else could have given a more informed, more enlightened review.

Lazare's trite, tired and overwrought complaints against vegetarianism--too numerous to even list--are easily answered by someone who has actually familiarized themselves with this field of thought. To take just one example, Lazare argues it may actually be more humane to keep domesticated animals meant for slaughter under our care because freeing such animals back into their natural habitat may subject them to greater pain rather than less.

First, vegetarian scholarship long ago problematized arguments based solely on the reduction of suffering, as suffering is impossible to calculate. Additonally, it's now commonly understood and accepted that a life anesthetized of all discomfort isn't necessarily a better life because of missed opportunities to grow, learn, and thrive.

Second, Lazare predictably falls into the same mental trap humanity has been struggling with for thousands of years: the arrogant assumption that we have the right to intervene and reign over the rest of the natural world. A long-standing pillar of vegetarian scholarship has been the call for humility and non-intervention. I ask The Nation that in the future it give the issue of vegetarianism the same level of serious and informed debate and discussion it grants to other political issues.

Margaret Betz PhD

Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Feb 21 2007 - 3:16pm

My Beef With Vegetarianism

I’m surprised to find that Daniel Lazare’s article does not mention the three reasons I have for being vegetarian: a) good hygienic practice, b) conservation of energy, c) risk assessment.

There have been far too many examples of feed lots, fish farms, and poultry barns yielding diseased or highly toxic product. In addition animals are concentrators of heavy metals, pesticides and pathogens.

The conservation of energy principle suggests that eating low on the food chain requires less energy to metabolize food and leaves more energy for action. Our bodies are not food processing plants but sources of energy.

Living life today has to involve risk assessment. Our culture is over-medicated and looking for the perfect antacid. It’s not a question of how long you’ll live but how are you feeling. If you have faith, trust in the gods; otherwise, play the odds and eat vegetarian.

Tom Aylward

Sonoita , Arizona

Feb 21 2007 - 3:13pm


Patricia Williams' article is the cleanest and most articulate piece I've yet read on the protean Sen. Obama.

Having said that, though, some of the readers' responses go a long way towards proving what Ms. Williams states in the article:

Lauren Donnellan, for instance (and she's probably a kind of paradigmatic "liberal," in this): On exactly what authority has Ms. Donnellan come to teach us that "not everything said about race is 'racist'"? And how exactly is transcendence of race (say, as Sen. Biden clumsily formulated it) in Sen. Obama's campaign a true or a good thing?

Criticism of this "transcendence" has nothing to do with charity--charity be damned- -but has everything to do with the hard facts of REAL experience. Quite a lot of us are chained down here on American ground to a host of particulars: in work, housing, health care, political empowerment, and so on. The hard data on each of these particulars, the very distinct and ugly reality they convey, make irrelevant all modish, abstract discussions of race-as-identity. (And this talk of the "self-identified" black man is even richer than Biden's "clean and articulate"!)

Some are stung by the criticisms of Biden's remark because they are SURE it's only a compliment to Obama, however clumsy. But Biden's happy storybook example of the "articulate" black man stinks of tokenism and essentialism. Many of us--certainly others among that class of "clean & articulate" blacks--took Biden's "compliment" in the same way we've taken every such "compliment" offered with due charity from whites.

It is not Biden's place to mark out the salvagable portion among the great unwashed African-American, to note Obama as a fine specimen: I mean, he's offering this "praise" to his better (let's be honest)--So where does he draw the nerve, if not from the lazy, racist core of white "objectivity"?

Transcendence of race is an antique trope; a primitive, stupid notion which has no place in 21st century socio-political theory or policy. When I think of racial transcendence, I think of Desdemona's declaring that she "saw Othello’s visage in his mind,/And to his honours and his valiant parts/Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate." Or of William Blake's "Little Black Boy" in Songs Of Innocence, who anticipates shunting off the cloud of blackness on his death, to shine white in Heaven...

On the other hand, Chris Kruger's parsing of the Reagan Democrat phenomenon, of the defection of "ideologically progressive white males" from the "Balkanized" Left is as convenient and selfish and slippery as...a Reagan Democrat.

Yes, I know it's common wisdom--like a bedtime story you've heard a million times but can't get enough of; but where you see stung idealists alienated by militant minorities, I see quislings and opportunists and an orgy of self-interest.

The post-Reconstruction "Redeemers" of the last quarter of the 19th century rose a century later in the form of Reagan Democrats, and since then also the plague of DLC (Repub-lite) types who lament old hassles over the knotty issue of race.

But I don't believe that concern over race and racism is self-interest--quite the opposite: the rush to *abdicate* public concern over race and racism is the assertion of self-interest ($$$) over general social or political well-being. And it'll be interesting to see how tenable Obama will find race-transcendence to be...

Greg Little

North Plainfield, New Jersey

Feb 21 2007 - 1:34pm