Earl Sinclair: Water is the opposite of fire, which we have previously established as a vegetable. What's the opppsite of a vegetable? Fruit. So, water is a fruit. Fruit is not a vegetable, so it has to be either an animal or a rock. We know it's not an animal, therefore, fruit is a rock.
—Dinosaurs, "Family Challenge" (9/25/91)
I can’t believe I let myself get sucked this deeply into a non-argument, and on the Internets, no less…I’m still shaking my head over it.
A few days ago, a Facebook friend of mine, who is leading what I understand to be a vegetarian-leaning lifestyle (she hasn’t quite gone over completely, not yet), posted some statistics to her wall:
It takes 16 pounds of grain and 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat. Yet 16 people can be fed on that amount of grain and it only takes 250 gallons of water to produce the grain. Feed given to livestock is sprayed with pesticides. More than 90% of the toxic chemical residues found in foods consumed by Americans comes from animal products.
Now, I don’t know that this is absolutely true but that’s not really important. It just kind of interested me that this might be a different, less-confrontational way of approaching the situation. Everyone knows the usual arguments, after all. Why not find a different approach? Why not argue that a vegetarian diet is good for Mother Earth? Out of curiosity, I replied to her:
Is this an overall average or are these figures related specifically to beef?
Ponder this: is it "greener" to eat pork or chicken or lamb? How about veal, since we're not raising the animals to full size?
I'm just wondering if there's a sort of middle ground that can be attained.
The line about veal was only partially facetious. If you’ve got people who are unwilling to give up meat altogether, then it’s certainly greener not to raise a cow to adulthood. This was still a thought experiment for me. Her reply was that the stats referred specifically to beef, and that buying organic essentially turned out not to be a better alternative, because she’d learned about abuses at an “organic” farm in Vermont. OK, fair enough. And, of course, veal was out of the question.
And that’s when it got a little weird. Another friend of hers, whom I don’t know, replied:
Middle ground would probably be just reducing meat consumption, i.e. eating vegan one day a week.. if everyone did it would make a big difference. Definitely don't eat the baby (veal) who was ripped from it's wailing mother and trapped 24/7 in a cage too small to turn around in until it was slaughtered for your culinary pleasure. That's just too much bad karma to digest.
See, now we’re going down the path of rhetoric. Awhile later a second friend of hers posted:
There's no such thing as a middle ground. [Vegetarian Friend #1,] the dairy industry requires veal because the milk produced for the cow's child (aka veal) is stolen and redirected to human consumers.Therefore any suppport [sic] of the dairy industry directly supports veal whether or not the individual eats or gives up veal.
My friend chipped in:
Thanks [Vegetarian Friend #2] simple facts that most of us never realized or even considered. I never ate veal but never really knew what it was no less how it was "produced". I'd be thrilled to know that Claude & his family had declared one day a week, or even one meal Vegan. May seem like a small success on behalf of animals but to the one individual chicken, dairy cow, baby calf, little laying hen or her male chick saved it's a 100% success. That's the perspective I gained from Wayne Pacelle – brilliant man! And although Claude is host of the much anticipated annual pig roast he is willing to consider/ discuss which is so cool.
I should have just dropped it there…I should have seen the red lights. But, no. Frankly, I was annoyed that the discussion had gotten dragged off-track. My reply:
Yeah, what [My FB Friend] said. So stop giving me crap about the wailing cows and whatever. It wasn't necessary to go there; it really lowered the discourse.
The point of Ann's original post was that it's an inefficient use of resources to raise a cow to full size in order to harvest its meat. So I asked about alternatives that would be more efficient. I'm not giving up meat; I'd consider a meatless day or two per week.
And that’s when all hell broke loose. Veggie Friend #1:
Claude, the abusive treatment of cows in factory farms is a reality. If speaking the truth lowers the discourse then I would be happy to lower it anyday [sic].
Veggie Friend #2:
Claude you sound like a psycopath who is unable to empathize with the suffering of others. Your flippant reference to the "wailing cows or whatever" confirms this.
I’m not sure what a “psycopath” is, but perhaps it’s related to the English word “Psychopath.” I’ll go with that. My next attempt was this:
And again, I say THAT WASN'T THE POINT of the original post. You convince nobody when you go off message.
My friend, trying to calm the waters, a little bit:
The point of my post was to provide a couple among the many ethical, environmental and health reasons to go vegan. Since my posts about the recent expose by HSUS* of the gratuitous grotesque violence committed upon helpless days old calves went virtually ignored I thought I might call attention to just a couple environmental & health reasons.
She said a little bit more but it’s not really germane to the discussion. Me again:
See, for me the whole thing was a little bit of a thought exercise.
Since raising a cow to adulthood is so ENVIRONMENTALLY inefficient, between the feed and the water and the greenhouse gases and the several years that it probably takes (that's a guess on my part), a pretty compelling argument could be made that it's better for the planet as a whole to find an alternative source of protein for those who refuse to give up meat altogether. Maybe you can't save the whole world, but you can certainly work on your little corner of it. OK, beef is a trainwreck, but perhaps pork isn't so much (I don't know this for a fact; I'm just saying that as an example.)
I'm sure that there are plenty of people who care about the relative cruelty involved with meat processing, but that was never the point IN THIS THREAD. Further, there are always going to be people who won't be swayed by that argument any more than they'd be convinced that "Fur is Murder" by getting splashed with blood, or that abortion is wrong by being confronted with disturbing photos. Bottom line is that a confrontational tone doesn't really lower the discourse so much as it does eliminate it altogether.
So, you look in another direction: it's the "green" thing to do. An interesting tack to take…!
I thought I was really trying, here, I swear. But now we’re on the fur wagon. My fault. Veggie Friend #2:
Claude I highly recommend you learn more about what is involved in factory farming so that it becomes more than simply a clinical, intellectual exercise in maximizing efficiency. Remember, you are talking about the systematic mistreatment and murder of literally billions of intelligent, self-aware animals. Ann I have to respectfully disagree about throwing blood on people's faces being wrong. First of all it is red paint not blood, and secondly, it is thrown on their fur coats. Anyone who sees how a fur coat is made would recognize that it involves behavior that is criminal and shockingly evil. [145 words of graphic animal torture snipped]
My friend had a reply here but unfortunately I didn’t save it and I’m typing this from an offline position, so you’re out of luck. The bottom line was that we both had a point, and violence begets violence. She also posed a facetious situation where meat eaters were stuck on a plane and shipped to China. (The in-flight dinner would be Veal Parmigiana—heh.) He replied briefly that it wasn’t so much violence as it was economic sabotage. OK, but still.
It was at this point that I actually sent my friend an email, apologizing to her for dragging the conversation through the muck like this. On the other hand, I noted, “You wanted comments…now you’ve got them” but I also promised to try once more before quitting altogether. Back in the thread, I wrote:
I never said that your respective viewpoints aren't valid ones. Both you and [Veggie Friend #2] have those specific facts in your corner.
HOWEVER, both of you miss the original intent of the thread, which is that perhaps a different approach to convince people to seek an alternative may be in order (or, perhaps more accurately, coming at the situation from a different angle would convince a different set of people). The both of you wrote very impassioned responses to me but there's really nothing new in them, so I didn't need to bother finishing what was written.
At this point, you've both become so entrenched in your argument that you've decided I"m some kind of mean-spirited person who does most of my food shopping at the local puppy mill, and aren't necessarily reading what *I* have to say.
And my bottom line IN THIS CONTEXT is: change the argument. Yes, factory farming is nasty business. Yes, terrible things happen. Everybody knows that and either doesn't care (enough), or is in denial, or something else. So…take another tack. Go the "green" route. Go the "health" route. Go in another direction that we haven't even thought of. It can't possibly hurt, and may even help. Who knows?
Veggie Friend #2 fired back:
Claude what you are saying is that you lack the capacity to be moved by the suffering of animals and need to be convinced on another basis to go vegan, whether it be from the standpoint of efficiency, environmental impact, etc. Your approach is sociopathic.
I did? Where did I say that? And, again I’m being diagnosed with sociopathy. I think I’m-a gonna get me some mustache wax and spend my spare time twirling it between thumb and forefinger. This time I apologized in the thread, saying, “Sorry [FB Friend], I tried.” Within two minutes, he replied:
Do you really believe that? Or is that something you tell yourself so you can appear reasonable?
I don’t know, boy, I’m not sure I was exactly telling myself anything. But this was the point where I bailed out of the fray. Of course, when you get the email alerts from Facebook, the conversation never really ends for you. Consequently I’ve seen a couple of subsequent posts in a similar vein.
So that’s my most recent trip down the Internet Rabbit Hole. The question I never got to ask, though, is: if we’re going the whole animal cruelty argument as our reason for not eating meat, is it OK if I eat a steak that comes from a cow who committed suicide?
And, of course, the moral of the story is that you shouldn’t pick on a guy who’s always looking for blog fodder. Fair Warning: Comments related to the vegetarian/carnivore lifestyle will be deleted or edited, regardless of your politics.
*Humane Society of the United States