Monday, December 16, 2013

Bacon Nation

Most of us are familiar with the phenomenon of privileged, empowered folk who fancy themselves under siege. Who rail against the unreasonable demands of welfare recipients and the unemployed, even as those at the bottom of the economic heap receive an ever-smaller slice of government revenue. Who claim that unreasonable environmental regulations are being rammed down their throats even during prolonged periods during which environmental standards are being eroded. Who stand shoulder to shoulder in their determination to resist the forces of what they inevitably term “political correctness”—and just as inevitably, who suggest that they are a beleaguered minority bravely resisting a juggernaut. It might seem that conservative, well-to-do whites hold most of the cards in places such as Texas or Alberta, but that’s only a matter of appearance, it seems; that if you look a little closer you can find community organizers, and feminists, and environmentalists, and gay rights activists—all of them with nefarious agendas. Alberta’s Ted Byfield was speaking for millions when he said “our distaste for political correctness comes from resisting arbitrary efforts to control what people think.”

In no area is this feeling of being besieged stronger or stranger than the world of meat and vegetables. In most restaurants in North America there are no choices available on the menu for vegans. None. In most supermarkets in North America it is impossible to buy free-range meat or eggs. Not difficult—impossible. Where North American restaurants do offer vegan options or North American supermarkets do offer free-range options, there are almost always far, far fewer of such options available than there are the choices of cruelty: factory farmed meat, eggs, and dairy products. Surely in such circumstances meat eaters could not imagine themselves a beleaguered minority. But that is in fact exactly how many meat eaters do see themselves. When Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama, in their popular recent book Bacon Nation: 125 Irresistible Recipes express their resistance to the “the food police who would have us eat a diet mostly made with boiled lentils and mashed yeast,” they are not two alone. It is a brave band fighting against the oppressors, and it is a brave fight. I can speak from the inside on this one; I’ve seen them in training, the food police, with their billy clubs and their bullet proof vests and their handcuffs at the ready, readying themselves to go house to house with the nutritional yeast, readying themselves for the force feedings, readying themselves to harden their brutal hearts still further in the face of the anguished cries they will hear as they confiscate the cheese and the bacon. It’s not pretty when they go into action, I can tell you.

The real fear, of course, is not that any police force will force meat=eaters to eat lentils and yeast, but that if lentils and yeast are given equal treatment—if people are given all the information about how good such things are for human health (and how unhealthy bacon and chicken and cheese are), if there is true freedom of information about what goes on in the factory farms and the slaughterhouses, eating factory-farmed meat and eggs and dairy products will become less and less popular, will even become socially unacceptable. Perhaps it could even happen with meat and eggs and dairy products of any sort. Today that seems like a ludicrous fear. But it may well be more far-sighted than it seems. An Ottawa professor who teaches undergraduates about the literatures and cultures of the past—and often hears those undergraduates adopt an attitude of moral superiority towards their ancestors—reported to me not long ago that he makes a practice of inviting those students “to speculate about what, in 100 or 200 years, will be worthy of the condescension to our present that they … routinely send in the direction of, say, an 18th-century culture that would hang someone for sheep-stealing, or a 19th-century culture that would fight a civil war in substantial part about the desirability of retaining slavery.” His answer? “Our contentment with killing and eating animals.”

Those in bacon nation are not content or complacent, of course; they are staunchly resisting the oppressor. The food police are in league with the community organizers, and the feminists, and the environmentalists, and the gay rights activists; where will it all end? Have faith, vegans; our time will quietly, peacefully come. But for the sake of the animals, may it be soon.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Free Range Meat

Let me put forward a comparison in the abstract.

On the one hand: being complicit in treating an animal with horrendous cruelty throughout his or her existence, having him or her killed long before he or she has had a chance to live a full life, and then eating his or her dead flesh.

On the other hand: allowing an animal to live a happy and cruelty-free existence; having him or her killed only when he or she has grown old and weak, and then eating his or her dead flesh.

The vast majority of the meat from cows, pigs, chickens and other birds that humans eat nowadays falls into the first category; it is the product of the cruelties of "intensive farming."

The vast majority of the horse meat that humans eat nowadays (in Europe and in many other parts of the world) falls into the second category; the horses are killed for meat only at the end of more-or-less happy lives. Yet it is the thought that humans might be eating their dead flesh that brings widespread outrage.

This comparison is not meant as a defense of the practice of eating horse meat. Quite the opposite.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

“Build Me the Tallest”

One person who didn’t die on September 11, 2001 was Guy Tozzoli, then the head of the World Trade Centers Association and decades earlier a leading force behind the building of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Tozzoli had an office on the 77th floor of the North Tower, but on September 11 2001 he hadn’t yet arrived at work when the first plane struck. He did not die until this month Saturday, aged 90; his obituary appears in the February 7 New York Times.

It’s often assumed that an urge to build the biggest or the tallest is a form of ambition likely to be found only among capitalist tycoons (or perhaps among architects)—that it’s not something you’d find in a bureaucrat. Tozzoli was evidence to the contrary. As Director of the World Trade Department for the Port Authority of New York (the government body under the auspices of which the World Trade Center was constructed), he played a key part in making the twin towers the world’s tallest buildings. According to the Times, it was Tozzoli who pushed Minoru Yamasaki, the architect, to make the towers 110 stories tall, when Yamasaki’s preference had been for 80-storey towers. “President Kennedy is going to put a man on the moon,” Tozzoli is quoted as saying to Yamasaki; “you’re going to build me the tallest buildings in the world.” And so they were, albeit only from 1971 to 1973. From then until 1998 the title of world’s tallest building was held by the Sears Tower in Chicago; then the title was taken by the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur—like the World Trade Center, the brainchild not of tycoons in private business but of a government body (the state-owned oil company Petronas). More proof, if any be needed, that the ambition to be the tallest is not the preserve of private enterprise.

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I started posting on this site this month for the first time since June of 2011; during the past couple of years my spare time has been taken up largely with writing a new novel. It's called Rising Stories, and it's now under consideration by publishers in both the US and Canada. If you'd like to have a look at the new novel in draft form, please email me ( and I'll be happy to send along an electronic copy.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Electronic Monitoring for Non-Human Animals

There's an extraordinary example in today's New York Times of the disconnect between the way wild animals and farm animals register in many human minds and hearts. Emily Anthes writes approvingly in "Tracking the Pack" of how the "expensive GPS tracking collar" worn by some wolves can allow scientists to "gain crucial insight into the lives of gray wolves." Advances such as these in modern communications technologies are, as Anthes points out, beneficial in all sorts of ways. "Bird lovers can follow the migrations of bald eagles," and followers of fish can do the same with some marine species. That sort of learning, she reasonably suggests, "can prompt affection for these creatures, even if we never meet them."

The disconnect occurs when she brings in cows:
The technology is still evolving, and we've only just scratched the surface of what's possible. In the years to come, perhaps wildlife biologists will take a take a page from the creators of Teat Tweet, a yearlong project featuring twelve tagged dairy cows and an automatic milking machine. Each cow was given her very own Twitter account, and a program broadcast her milking stats to all her followers. On July 14, 2011, for instance, a cow named Goldwyn Windy tweeted "I just squirted 18.9 kgs of milk out of my teats in 7.10 minutes. What did you do today?"
It would be hard to find a more pernicious example of how effective the propaganda of the shills of factory farming can be. First, we breed cows to make endlessly cheap milk and dairy products, killing their male children with quick brutality, growing the cows' udders until they are massively uncomfortable for the cow, and keeping the animals indoors all their lives--again, so they can produce more, more cheaply, of what we want to consume. But now the final touch; let's pretend the cow can speak. And wouldn't it be cute if, instead of objecting to all the pain we cause her, she were to say how proud she is of doing just what we want her to do. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it? Well, let's pretend.

When Anthes moves from cows back to the non-human animals that truly interest her--wolves--she provides an interesting segue: "Of course, tweeting cows are pretty silly, and we don't need technology to get to know an animal." "Silly." That's a word worth thinking about.

So too is this sentence from the Teat Tweet website: the reality of modern farming is that "the cows are now able to literally milk themselves at all times, day and night." How lovely. How upbeat. All something they they have managed themselves, of course, not something that humans have done to them, and that makes their lives painful and unpleasant. Of course not. Silly.

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Postscript: I have just checked out Anthes's own blog. She enjoins us to enjoy turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, and, when we think of the bird, to "marvel at its remarkable genome." In fairness, it is possible that, in focusing on wild animals, Anthes has managed not to know of the horrendous cruelty that humans inflict on factory farmed animals--turkeys surely included. How do we stop the not-knowing? How do we stop the cruelty?

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cruelty Comes Cheap

In today's New York Times: the average American family spent 40% of its income on food in 1920. The figure today? 10%.

That should surely be food for thought for all those today in the middle class or richer who put it forward as an argument against changing to free-range meat or eggs, "They're so expensive."

For the cost conscious, of course (as well as those conscious of all issues relating to the killing of other conscious creatures), vegan remains the best option.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bird Killers

There's been a good deal in the news this past week about the claim that “US cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds a year.” In fact it appears the true number is nothing close to that, but certainly there is a good deal to be said for trying to reduce the number of birds killed by cats. Requiring cats to be on a leash would be extreme, but the Humane Society is surely right to call for licensing of cats. (It may well be that feral cats are responsible for more songbirds than are domestic cats.)

Before we condemn any sort of cat too loudly, though, we would do well to remember that human beings in the US and Canada cause about 9 billion birds to be killed every year—more than 25 per person. And, whereas cats may occasionally treat birds cruelly before killing them, we humans cause almost every bird we kill to be cruelly treated throughout every day of his or her life. That is the reality of factory farming as it’s practiced in North America. It doesn’t have to be this way; in much of Europe there is far, far less cruelty. When will we put a stop to this horror here in North America?

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This is my first post since June of 2011; during the past couple of years my spare time has been taken up largely with writing a new novel. It's called Rising Stories, and it's now under consideration by publishers in both the US and Canada. If you'd like to have a look at the new novel in draft form, please email me ( and I'll be happy to send along an electronic copy. I will post occasionally on topics related to that book, but I'll keep posting on matters relating to animals too--I hope with a little less time between posts than there has been!