Saturday, January 9, 2010

It’s an Odd World Out There

The other day a friend of mine pointed out that we humans spend most of our lives trying to make sense out of things that defy rationalization. It's our little way of trying to assert some control over our inherently uncontrollable lives. I'd never thought about it that way before, but I guess I have to agree. The need to make sense of things would seem to explain everything from science to Hollywood's happy endings.

Of course nothing makes less sense, and defies rationalization more, than the world of animal agriculture and meat eating. The craziness of it, and the way we vegetarians relate to it, never ceases to amaze me. Here are some of the things I've seen in the last few weeks that have left me dumbfounded.

If we call it "organic" it's sure to sell

In a move that is sure to take the motoring world by storm, the automaker Audi has announced that all the leather they use in their cars is "organically tanned." But what does that mean, exactly? Do they just put their leather seats out in the sun? Is "organically-tanned" leather supposed to be safer or more environmentally-friendly than the pesticide-laden leather other car makers presumably use? Wouldn't Audi's efforts be better spent just making cars that get decent gas mileage? If automobiles are going "organic," will microwave ovens and toilet paper be next?

If we call it "free-range" it's sure to sell

In North Carolina, money from the tobacco settlement is funding the raising of "free range pork." I'm not sure what the connection is between tobacco and meat (other than they are both unhealthy and addictive as all get out), but I suppose one good vice always supports another. In any event, farmers say that consumers prefer the taste of this meat because of greater "intramuscular fat" than on factory-farmed animals.

It should be noted that these are rich farmers. Supposedly, demand for the "free range pork" is so strong they can make a profit of $2,200 per hog. (Wow! I somehow don't think their primary motivation here is ethical.) There's a lot more money to be made in meat than in tobacco these days.

Just in time for the summer barbecue season

Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has drawn up a most unusual will. Upon her death she asks that her flesh be barbecued and her skin used to make leather products, all in protest of the way humans treat animals. She also wants her liver to be vacuum-packed and sent to France as a foie gras protest, and her feet to be removed and made into umbrella stands in a mockery of what we do to elephants.

I personally think Ms. Newkirk's plan is incredibly imaginative and fun. (While I'll pass on the barbecue, I'd be proud to have one of her feet next to my front door!) But I just can't imagine stuffy meat-eaters and other animal abusers appreciating the humor in this. I can just see Mr. Meat-Eater now, rolling his eyes when he reads about this at breakfast. ("Look at this Marge…another one of those animal rights fanatics wants to be an umbrella stand.")

Maybe we should all have wills like this. I'm sure Hormel would be delighted to get into the human "foie gras" business—especially if it's as profitable as "free range pork."

Mad dogs and Canadians

Canada's discovery of its first cow infected with mad cow disease made big headlines, got plenty of TV news coverage, and sent many US stocks tumbling. The Canadian government made extraordinary efforts to ensure that the public's food supply wouldn't be tainted. Unfortunately, the governmental bureaucracy was no match for the profit-hungry meat industry. Would this "downer of all downer" cows go to waste instead of profit? No! The cow was "processed" into dog food that was subsequently shipped to the United States.

Things we don't need science to explain

Signaling a major step forward in the advancement of human knowledge, a study at Edinburgh University and the neighboring Roslin Institute subjected fish to bee stings on their lips and concluded that fish can experience pain. While animal rights supporters found this conclusion to be rather obvious (Well, duh!), fisherpersons "carped" at the idea. A biologist for Britain's National Angling Alliance expressed the opinion that fish "literally do not have the brains" to feel pain. (A spokesfish for the test subjects countered that anyone who thinks it's fun to stand for hours waist-deep in a freezing stream doesn't have the brains a fish is born with.)

It's what we say, not what we do, that counts

Yogurt and ice cream maker Stonyfield Farm advertises that it "celebrates strong women." Next fall it is sponsoring the "Strong Woman Summit" with celebrities like Erin Brockovich. When the irony was pointed out to the Stonyfield farmers that their products only exist because of the rape of females of another species, they declined to comment. Surprise, surprise.

It's a strange world out there, and nobody's explaining it.

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