Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Now I wanna be your dog

Left: Michael Vick, photo credit MSNBC

With all the foofaraw about Michael Vick, one would think this is a teachable moment. On Feministe, during a discussion on how to feel moral and ethical while killing animals for the sole purpose of tasting something delicious, I tried to introduce a comparison of dogs (and dogfighting) and cows (and slaughterhouses). Why, I wondered, is everyone so upset about the dogs? I just came from a cafe wherein I witnessed outraged dog owners, trashing evil Michael Vick whilst chomping on hamburgers. Am I missing something? Have these people visited a slaughterhouse lately?

Basically, sounds like the usual Quentin Tarantino excuse to me: A dog has a personality, and a personality will take you a long way.

Obviously, then, it is up to the cows to develop that quality we call 'personality', so that people will similarly care about their well-being, also.

However, it is also entirely likely that the cow never evolved a 'personality' because it's primary use has been as food. If, like dogs and cats, they had to learn to depend on the good will, companionship and affection of humans for their livelihood, perhaps they might have learned to be charming as the dickens. Who knows? Fact of the matter is, the poor cows never got a chance.

And so, I dared to ask, why is everyone so upset over Vick, while they scarf down pepperoni? One reply:

The goal of dogfighting is watching prolonged pain, the goal of killing a cow for a steak and a nice pair of shoes is the steak and the shoes.

And I replied:

Actually, I disagree totally here. Speaking of north and south, I guess you aren’t familiar with the culture of dogfighting.

The ‘goal’ of dogfighting is the same as a bullfight or a greyhound/horse race: male camaraderie/bonding and gambling. The participants simply do not see the animal as anything but an object, a means to an end. It’s like a car; you wouldn’t feel upset about racing a car, would you? The in-breeding of hyperviolent dogs that have little or no resemblance to “pets” are the way they can objectify the dogs as “different” than their own beloved pets.

IMO, this is exactly how people can distance themselves from animal death in the consumption of meat; it is labeled “food” instead of animals. Dogfighting and horse-racing are labeled “sports” to the people who participate. I am talking about the language and practice of ‘alienation’ (marxist definition) as applied to our use of animals.

Yes, I know that we ain't suppose to quote Karl Marx, even in lower case, but still. That was the best I can do. I hope someone else takes up the cause.

Next time you hear someone say, Bad, bad Michael Vick, ask them if they eat meat. Watch the look of incomprehension and surprise, as they ask "You aren't comparing the two, are you?" And then ask them what exactly the difference is.

No, they can't tell you what it is, other than some semblance of the Samuel L. Jackson version offered above, but they KNOW it isn't the same thing. Why not? Because it just ISN'T.

Got it. Pass the tempeh.


drakyn said...

One of the many reasons I don't eat meat...
Yet I have relatives in Tennessee who raise their own chickens, pigs, cows, etc. and eat them. They name them and play with them and everything. o.O
I don't know how they can do that...visiting and playing with the chickens and seeing the cows was enough to get me thinking about going veg (though I didn't until I was older).

Daisy said...

Yeah, me too. I woulda been Fern in Charlotte's Web.

Radiant! :)

Ravenmn said...

I'm not a vegetarian and I am a Marxist, so I suppose I'll add a different take altogether!

Daisy wrote: "However, it is also entirely likely that the cow never evolved a 'personality' because it's primary use has been as food. "

We forget that cows in the U.S. are incredible bloated mutants. You can still see wild cows in places in Central America. They are skinny, bony and wily. In the U.S. we bred cows to be fat and stupid.

I'm one of those folks who has bothed named animals and later slaughtered and eaten them. It's possible to do because farming is an outrageous amount of work with very little profit. The one benefit you have over workers at a steel mill, for instance, is that you can feed yourself and your family and maybe some of the neighbors, if you're lucky.

I am ambivalent. I've worked picket lines with people in slaughterhouses and packing plants. I'm not as removed as a lot of people are from the reality of our meat industry.

I guess I need to learn more about how to feed the world and keep an industry alive without involving animals in the equation. I need to get educated.

Daisy said...

Raven, it's incredibly complicated. I don't know everything I should know. I've taken some positions that I get into trouble with (for instance, I'm vegetarian, not vegan) and I've taken other controversial stands in the animal rights movement when I've been relatively clueless, and then regretted it.

There are some reactionary tendencies within vegetarianism, too; a lot of bourgeois utilitarianism--animals at the expense of people.

But as in any other struggle, figuring it all out is a lifelong task! :)

belledame222 said...

I'm sure you're right. I cop to my own hypocrisy. I eat meat, yes. I haven't weighed in on the dog-fighting thing, although I don't like it. meanwhile I get more upset about stories about cruelty to cats than I do a lot of human interest stories. g figure. yeah, it's not fair or rational; it has to do with my own attachments.

I could -maybe- see becoming a pescatarian lacto-ovo, ideally with local farmers who raise the chickens and cowses right. I don't feel like I'm in a position to make a lifestyle change of that magnitude at the moment, honestly. also I really like meat. and leather. I can't see becoming a vegan, I'm afraid, barring dire necessity.

Bryce said...

caught ya. why did you put 'racism' as one of the tags? you ready to go there?

you think it's related, but you didn't say that, D.

splain lucy.

Daisy said...

Bryce, yeah, there is, but I am not politically advanced enough to coherently explain it yet. Working on that!

Suffice to say that rich, white CEOs of meat companies are still considered upstanding citizens, while Vick is going to the pokey.

Belledame, slow withdrawal is best!
I am lucky in that I never liked meat as much as I like cheese. And of course, now I have elaborate theoretical justifications for my cheese! :P

Kim said...

"Now I wanna be your dog."
Iggy. Daisy: always cool!

I agree with you Daisy -- I'm pretty staunch when it comes to my veggie beliefs even tho currently I am eating meat. Back in the 90's I very into the whole vegan/animal rights movement, yet when I got pregnant everything when nutsy there for a while and I started eating meat -- haven't quite been able to recapture my self-disipline about not eating animals, although my politics on it remain the same. (Kind weird, that, for certain, I know.)

While of course I would never eat a dog/horse/cat, etc. I don't believe in a heirarchy among animals: if you wouldn't eat a dog, why is it okay to eat a cow?
(Keep in mind, tho, folks, I'm not self-righteous when it comes to this: I do believe deciding to eat/not eat meat is a personal decision.)

I'll get back on the veggie train, eventually. Just kinda waiting for that light bulb/"I can't eat this" moment again. It'll happen.

Erin said...

You're right in that both cases we harm animals in order to obtain something that we want, and that the difference is one of closeness. In general most of the people that you would have this argument about wouldn't be involved in anything other that the consumption angle of the animal when it comes to leather/meat/byproducts. They do however own and care (sometimes very deeply) for their own pets.

There is also the capitalist tendency to excuse something because it gets you along or has a larger benefit. Eating meat from animals that are cruelly killed is ok because (a) it tastes good and (b) you "need" it to survive.

Note that I'm not claiming that either of these things are right, simply that they are what I believe to be the hidden assumptions and experiences behind the "Dogfight bad Burger good" argument.

Oh, an amusing side note... when one of our family members was going on about how the punishment should fit the crime and vic should be put in a dog pen with a hungry pit bull, Lissa stopped them dead in their tracks with the suggestion that a more appropriate punishment would be to give most of his money to PETA.

Disclaimer: I love meat, and though I wish I could obtain it in some cleaner and less cruel fashion, I'm not likely to be able to stop eating it any time soon.

Daisy said...

Kim, lots of pregnant vegetarians describe cravings for meat, and I think there might be something to that, especially if you've been on a relatively low-protein diet for a long time. I've heard this from gung-ho animals rights types, too.

On FRIENDS, Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) started eating meat again when she was pregnant, because one of the guys (forget which one) said he would go vegetarian for her, and they could "trade diets" for the duration of her pregnancy. I thought that was a sweet thing to do, and politically pretty right-on! More of that! :)

Lillet Langtry said...

Hi Daisy!

Thanks for backing me up, too!

Re: meat cravings in pregancy: I had a big discussion about this with vegan mom, and she realized that her meat cravings weren't really about needing meat but that she was craving comforting foods from her childhood. Like, my comfort food was always the Burger King Chicken Sandwich, the breaded one, and whenever I am sad or PMS-y I usually want one. But when I figured out it wasn't CHICKEN per se, but a warm breaded salty thing I was longing for, it was a revelation into how to veganize all kinds of cravings. It's not about protein, either -- per calorie broccoli raab has nearly as much protein as chicken.

xox L

Trinity said...

"a lot of bourgeois utilitarianism"

yes. UGH. peter singer anyone?


that's probably why I eat meat. because so quickly these issues of complicity become about who's in, who's cool, who KNOWS THE DEAL. and... maybe I'm just entirely too cynical but I think there are more than a few veg people who care less about the animals and more about a picture of themselves as no longer complicit, or about the subculture, etc.

Where for me: I'm hypoglycemic. I fly into nearly violent rages if I don't have enough protein. And that's when I don't nearly faint.

Is it possible for me to figure out a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet? I'm sure it is, but I'd spend a lot of time feeling ill and desperate for meat and cheese.

Which is not to say it wouldn't be a "good" thing if I did, in some grand quantifying of all possible actions ever way, but it just never seemed to me to be the best place to put my energy.

There's a lot I can more efficiently fight for without making myself ill in the process, and there's no slaughterhouse in this country (or any other) that will shut down if I stop eating meat.

I can still care about cows and other livestock and care about dogfighting while eating my burger... or at least so I believe.

Daisy said...

Where for me: I'm hypoglycemic. I fly into nearly violent rages if I don't have enough protein. And that's when I don't nearly faint.

You have CP, and as you no doubt realize, this is pretty common in people with muscle spasms and other muscular-related health issues like MS, etc. You simply use up more protein (and probably amino acids like Carnitine) than other folks. Supplementing might help, or it might not. (Carnitine is pricey, and I probably wouldn't be able to take large amounts if I didn't get it for free.)

If vegetarianism were more mainstream, we might be able to figure out WHY these things
happen, and make a good protein supplement for PWDs with muscular issues. As it is, there is virtually no research going on. Mostly what they know about vegetarianism and health has been discovered by accident, in studying various subcultures like Jains and Buddhists.

harumph, growf!

And yeah, Peter Singer infuriates me. Don't get me started on him. Actually, saving the rant for a future blog post... I figure he'll say some more stupid and offensive shit at some point, and then I'll post the tirade. :)

HI LILLET! (((kiss)))

Daisy said...

Bryce, check this out, it's great. Found the link on The ANGRY BLACK WOMAN:

White People and they dogs, placing the Michael Vick situation in perspective

Trinity said...

I understand Daisy. At the same time, hearing very evangelistic veg*ns claim that everyone eats meat because they place yummy above thoughtful gets wearying. I just want to swap bodies with them for a while and watch them either do the ton of research it would require to find a stable diet or shrug it off and agonize over whether they'll put up with the lactose intolerance because cheese is kinder than meat or if they start wolfing down salami when they realize they're passing out.

And then ask them if they care any less about slaughterhouses.

belledame222 said...

and then the other thing is: y'know, a lot of those -other- animals...they eat other animals. i'm not saying i'm totally closed to the idea that humans don't have to be among those; just, it IS part of nature, it really is. Slaughterhouses, commercial ones: I get it. Ever eating any other animal ever...eh, I think that has to be a personal choice. I mean, I love my cat; maybe there's a way to keep him fed on a veg diet with taurine supplements, but damn, I don't think he'd be happy about it. and he'd still be chattering at the birds through the window...and the birds, they eat the insects, and...

i also think it's a lot less viable for some cultures than others, depending on location, etc. etc. if you want to argue that Americans eat more than our -share- of meat i can't argue with that in good conscience.

Daisy said...

Belle, that all may be true, but I'm curious. As an agnostic, why do you think it should be up to humans to decide which creatures get eaten? Why are we intrinsically "better" than the cats, for instance? (I know the religious argument.)

True, animals eat other animals, and that's the point. I hope we are evolving beyond barbarism, although I often have my doubts.

bint alshamsa said...


I don't talk about it much because I have several vegan/vegetarian friends but, I am passionately against about the animal rights movement. There are several reasons but my main view is that we should fight for animal welfare, not animal rights. I see nothing wrong with eating meat of any kind including dogs, cats, seals, and any other "cute" animal as long as the creature isn't on an endangered species list. As I see it, we are simply another creature in the food chain. Like other omnivores, our bodies are designed to eat a diet that includes meat. Eating other animals doesn't mean that we are superior to them or more deserving of life. It also doesn't make us barbaric. As a matter of fact, I find the term barbaric to be a bit problematic in these arguments.

I think I'm going to blog about this post, if you don't mind. I've wanted to write about it for quite a while now.

Daisy said...

Bint, we will have to agree to disagree, but I am certainly interested in your thoughts and your post; looking forward to it.

belledame222 said...

As an agnostic, why do you think it should be up to humans to decide which creatures get eaten? Why are we intrinsically "better" than the cats, for instance? (I know the religious argument.)

I'm not at all sure that we -are- "better" tbh, or at least -so- much better, species-wide. As per "evolving past"--well, that's the question, and I don't actually think that it's -that- separate from the religious -impulse- to do that; to transcend, to get beyond the "bestial."

but from my own pagan/pantheistic-tinged agnostic spiritual perspective, if you want the more metaphysical aspect of it, I guess my thinking goes: death is a part of life; the food chain exists as it does for a...well, call it a reason, it exists, and even if we stop eating toward the top of the food chain we're not gonna transcend the whole process. Not on this mortal coil.

I don't see it as "humans are on top of the food chain, it is our manifest destiny to eat these critters put here for our delectation," if that's what you're asking. Not at all. I eat meat, simply, because I like it, and because I can. I'm lucky, iow. when I die, I'll be food myself.

That said, I can see arguments for vegetarianism, sure, certainly on an individual level, -maybe- on a collective level--I'm not nearly up enough on all the various ecological and environmental and so on arguments. I certainly buy that factory farming includes a lot of abuses that are bad for the consumers as well as the actual animals.

But, I just am leery of attempts to become -too- good, I guess. I hear you personally saying you can't do it, you'd be Fern in Charlotte's Web, you love Wilbur, and I totally respect that. The fact that I'm not there might mean that I'm more callous, or...whatever it means.

but y'know, I'm not all that convinced that say a scallop is that much farther up the evolutionary scale than a mushroom; and I actually suspect consciousness is a lot more fluid than "you've got a working brain and nervous system, you're conscious, that is consciousness." in other words at some level I think it's -all- alive, it's -all- conscious. the fact that we eat ourselves/each other is fascinating and kind of horrific when you look at it too closely. but i guess at the most abstract level i buy the idea of maya, that it's all play, it comes from the same source and goes back to it.

'course we don't most of us live at such an abstract level, and again: cruelty at the human level of understanding is a factor, sure, and there are plenty of arguments in favor of vegetarianism from that perspective; you maybe can't avoid it entirely, but you can minimize it.

Daisy said...

Belledame:I'm not at all sure that we -are- "better" tbh, or at least -so- much better, species-wide. As per "evolving past"--well, that's the question, and I don't actually think that it's -that- separate from the religious -impulse- to do that; to transcend, to get beyond the "bestial."

If you read my thread about St Rose, you know that this is definitely important to me, so you are right on the money here.

I was far more influenced by Gandhi's arguments for vegetarianism than by Peter Singer's. I am not totally a rights-based vegetarian, which gets me into frequent ideological skirmishes with other vegetarians.

But I admit, it was easier for me than for other people; acting like the aforementioned Fern as a child, crying over run-over turtles, freeing the trapped fireflies from the jars the boys kept them in, etc. Although I have to say--it was because I actually identified with the animals (the same impulse in the movie I reviewed, Fantastic Planet, which is probably why the movie has always hypnotized me). *I* wouldn't want to be raised for the purpose of being food, and for this reason, I simply can't sentence any other creature to that.

And on another level, I consider this deep identification with animals and other people (empathy) a spiritual blessing and gift, and I have always cultivated it, so we are back to your first point about renunciation/asceticism. In so many ways, it's the key to my politics, religion, tarot... everything I am.

As a result, it's often difficult for me to understand why everyone doesn't agree with me in regards to not eating meat.

(Belle, you are so thoughtful and smart, no wonder you charmed the would-be troll over at I SHAME THE MATRIARCHY, hahaha! :D )