Tag Archives: Jonathan Safran Foer

Insufferable MoFo

1 Oct

Vegan MoFo month has come along at just about the perfect time for me. As you can see, I haven’t done any blogging lately, so having to blog 20 times this month will surely get me back into the habit. And also, I recently celebrated my two year veganiversary, so veganing has been on my mind.

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, it’s been mostly a mix of restaurant reviews and what I like to call my pseudo-philosophy, which is more or less my thoughts on being vegan. When I first started veganing, it changed my perspective on the world like few things have ever done. Lil ol’ meat-eating me didn’t realize how much the use of animals to provide things for humans was ingrained into the global society of peoples. You can meet someone from just about anywhere on the planet and you automatically have something in common: you both eat and use animal products. And I didn’t see this until I stepped outside it.

Even though I haven’t been blogging much lately, I’ve been posting a lot of vegan phoodographs on Instagram @insufferablevegan and I also tweet @InsufferableV

Part of the reason for my slowdown in blogging was that I Settled In and got used to being vegan. And people got used to me being vegan. So the culture clashes slowed down. Like most things, you get accustomed to it. One of the other things that’s happened in the last two years is that veganism seems to have caught fire. Do I only see it this way because I’m vegan, or do the NVA (Non-Vegans of America) also see it this way? I bet they do. It feels like it’s hard to avoid.

I wrote up a whole page when I started my blog about why I went vegan, and I also have an FAQ you can read, but I’ll give you the basics of vegan me if you care. I’m almost half a hundred years old and ate meat and plenty of it for my first 47 years. I didn’t love the way I ate and mostly thought about losing some weight rather than what I was eating. I could lose 10 to 15 pounds in a month or so with some effort, but over the next six months it would find its way back. This happened a few times. Then I met a friend of a friend who is vegan. She seemed so normal, and cool, so why the hell was she doing this weird vegan thing? To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure what the word meant, though I had a pretty good idea. “Are you new-agey?” I asked her, even though she didn’t seem it. “Uh, no” or so came the response. So it got me thinking. Why would a non new-agey person do this? What could possibly be the reason? As I said, I wanted to lose some weight anyway, so I figured I’d try it and see what it was like. I was curious to see the perspective.

And then after about two weeks of this, and eating weird foods, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book and I knew that I couldn’t go back. And it really made me question myself for not figuring it out decades earlier. After all, my friend-of-a-friend-now-my-friend figured it out in college or so, so why was my head in the sand? Or wherever it was. It didn’t speak well of me. Oh, well.

So here I am two years later and, for those of you who might not be vegan but are considering it, let me tell you, it is easy. I mean it. At this point, I feel like I am not really lacking for anything. Plus, being vegan has one of the greatest fringe benefits you could possibly imagine: when you realize there’s something stuck in your teeth, you know it’s not a dead animal!

I’d like to thank a couple of people in addition to the friend who started it all. There are two people whose early support of my blog made me feel I wasn’t just typing to an empty room, and who encouraged me to keep going. They are myvegancookbook.com and @10ftdoll — thanks so much to both of you!

And thanks to those of you finding your way here via MoFo. I hope it’s a fun month!

An open-faced letter to Jonathan Gold

24 Mar

Dear Mr. Gold,

I’m not sure what an open letter is but I think this counts as one.  As I’m sure you recall, I tweeted you a 2007 video showing abominable conditions at a Canadian foie gras producer and you replied back to me and said that this video was “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and that “all 3 US producers are impeccable.”  Then I sent you a recent video of conditions at the three U.S. foie gras producers – with some of the footage being as recent as late 2011 – and you went silent. It wasn’t surprising in a way, given that there’s no definition of “impeccable” that would allow for the conditions seen in that footage.

But don’t you think you owe it your 30,000 followers on Twitter whom you told that the U.S. producers are “impeccable” to then either defend those producers or admit you were wrong? Don’t you think it’s cowardly to accuse me of sending you “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and then when I send you a new video that’s current and couldn’t be more relevant, I’m met with radio silence?

I also found it surprising that you used the word “propaganda” – such a meaningless word thrown about by both sides in any argument. Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Even facts can count as propaganda. If your purpose was to be harsh by using such a word, then I don’t mind, since I was harsh in my first few tweets to you as well. But if that was a heartfelt use of the word then I find it very disingenuous.  Especially after the second video I sent you.

I was also troubled by what was implied in your tweets, which was that you DO have concern for the animals that become foie gras and that that’s why you were certifying the U.S. producers as “impeccable.” But DO you really care? Does this mean that you always check the provenance of foie gras before partaking? Does it mean you did not eat foie gras a few years ago when conditions were like those seen in the video you called “outdated”?

I took a look at the menu for Umamicatessen, where you enjoyed the foie gras donut featured in your adoring review in the Los Angeles Times (which didn’t even mention that foie gras is soon to be illegal in the state of California, though that’s even more your cowardly editors’ fault than your own). Well, it turns out the menu for Umamicatessen does not describe the provenance of the foie gras used in their donut. Did you ask them? I would guess you did not, even though your tweet to me suggested that you ARE concerned about such things. Did you make a reasonable effort to guarantee that the foie gras you were about to consume came from one of the three “impeccable” U.S. producers?

Aren’t you being a phony here, Mr. Gold? Trying to act like you indeed are concerned about the welfare of these animals and the conditions at the various production farms, and yet not really checking, and possibly never being concerned enough to check before partaking?

I also imagine that you roll your eyes at the upcoming ban on foie gras and see it as the work of pandering politicians and a misinformed and hysterical electorate, without stopping to think that this was not a measure to ban all meat, which would have gotten very little support, but a measure to ban a form of meat that is created in a way that is particularly cruel for the animals whose livers are taken.

As I said in one of my tweets to you, I wonder if you have a family cat or dog and if you’ve ever taken a moment to think about how you’d feel if someone shoved a long metal pipe down its throat the way that foie gras producers do to their animals.

Your writing is all about pleasure, about how food, well-prepared, can afford us one of the greatest delights that humanity has to offer. But do you ever take a moment to think about the lives of the animals that become this food? I know that’s tough to do, Mr. Gold, because I was a meat eater for close to half a hundred years. I was in denial, too. I occasionally heard about or saw the undercover videos revealing conditions at factory farms, but I chose to ignore them or to imagine them to be isolated incidents. Most likely I simply tuned it out before it was ever capable of gaining a toehold in the part of my brain that thinks about things.

But I was not a food writer for a major American newspaper, yet alone a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I did not have the professional obligation to consider the topic from multiple angles and in great detail.

What you are is an enabler. You enable people to view the mistreatment of these animals as something they needn’t ethically concern themselves with, to view it as something insignificant when compared to the end that justifies these means:  a sumptuous donut. After all, here is a prize-winning writer at a bastion of American journalism giving the continued consumption and treatment of these animals his imprimatur.

You spend your days seeking out new and mind-blowing tastes, which is fine, hey, it sounds like a great job, but think about what it rides on the back of. I stopped eating animal products after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book. Perhaps you consider that to also be “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” never mind the fact that Safran Foer, one his generation’s leading literary figures, took two years out of his life to research and write this book.

And Mr. Safran Foer, to my knowledge, is not a vegan. He is a self-described vegetarian, and according to his book, an on and off one at that. Perhaps you have read his book, which would come as a pleasant surprise. If not, you should, unless you fear, as I think you may, that it would lead you to stop eating meat and perhaps all animal products.

While I don’t eat meat anymore I am not someone who actively advocates for others to stop. My family and friends still eat meat and I do not attempt to proselytize them. I only bothered tweeting you in the first place because I found your foie gras donut orgasm to be so brazen and defiant and, well, hard-hearted. It was, to my mind, a political statement: I will eat whatever I god damn please.

I have tried to refrain in this letter from making analogies. The atrocities carried out on factory farms on a regular basis can be compared to many things, but those who defend meat are quick to accuse those who compare things of equating things. I’m sure you and they might even take offense at the use of the word “atrocities” to describe such treatment, thinking that word should only be reserved for human mistreatment. But if you’re going to throw around the word “propaganda” like a political hack on a cable news show then I have no problem using a word like “atrocities.”

As I mentioned in my tweets, I’ve been a big fan of your writing for years. Not that you need me to tell you that; you’ve got thousands of fans and a Pulitzer Prize. But don’t you believe that such a prize, especially a journalistic prize, comes with obligations and responsibilities, especially concerning honesty? And not just being honest with me, I wouldn’t expect you to care about that, but I’m talking about being honest with those 30,000 followers you told about the “impeccable” U.S. foie gras production. I can’t imagine that any of those 30,000 followers who watched the second video I sent you would think those conditions were anything but appalling, yet alone “impeccable.”

One of the major changes underway at this time in America, Mr. Gold, is a reconsideration of how we treat the animals that become our food. I wouldn’t expect you to be as contemplative a meat-eater as someone like Mark Bittman, whose recent New York Times columns have been in the vanguard of this current reassessment, but to blast out a blowhard huff about “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” when you and your bloodied-apron friends are about the only ones left defending this fort seems like the behavior of a spoiled little child.

If you consider yourself an intelligent person, which you no doubt do, and which I no doubt consider you to be as well, then the problem here must not be intellectual but rather psychological. Beyond the fact that you make your living writing about food, the great proportion of which comes from animals, there seems to be an unhealthy refusal to reconsider your current positions.

Were you to begin to question the ethics of eating meat, or even the tiny fraction of meat consumption that is foie gras, perhaps you fear your whole world would unravel. Foodie friends would abandon you. The industry you embrace would brand you a traitor. You would have to, gasp, refrain from certain things you find to be delectable! But delectability at what cost?

It seems pretty clear what direction the world is moving in, and on what side of history you will be left on, and there were no doubt many Pulitzer Prize winners who won for columns that would now make our skin crawl in 2012.

Again, not that you care about that. But you should care about the obvious. You should be better than the typical American who eats meat out of habit, who doesn’t think much at all about their food or where it comes from or how it’s made, who isn’t one of the country’s leading food figures, and who spend most of their lives eating food you probably wouldn’t even want if trying to survive a plane crash.

Take some time, Mr. Gold. Re-think your positions. Then please get back to me. Thanks.

Animal Acres is the place to be

14 Feb
Animal Acres 
5200 Escondido Canyon Road
Acton, CA 93510
661.269.5404

I went for a tour at Animal Acres. You can do that on a Sunday. At 11 and 1. And Sunday’s the perfect day to go, because it’s only a 40 minute or so drive from LA. And you get to see animals, and dirt .

Animal Acres is now part of Farm Sanctuary. It’s their third location, after the granddaddy in Watkins Glen, NY and another in Northern California.  And their mission is to rescue farm animals, or take in rescued farm animals, or “farmed animals” as they called them, or something. I’m close at least to their mission. I bet it’s on their website.

Anyway, they’ve got turkeys and ducks and roosters and hens and goats and sheep and pigs and calves and cows and steers and bulls and horses and nice staffers who give good tours. They’re kind of gentle on the whole factory farming thing in their docent-speak, or maybe I just know a docent amount about that already so it didn’t surprise me, or maybe they keep it toned down for the kids. Though I did hear someone say they used to show a video with some factory farm abuse in it and that they might resume showing the videos as part of the tour again.

Which made me wonder about the best way to go about introducing this concept to people who might not be familiar with it, particularly if there are kids around. Do you shock them, or go easy? There’s something to be said for shocking. If people eat this stuff, they should know how it’s made, and how the animals are treated. But maybe they already know. And maybe shocking them pushes them away. And maybe shocking is like shaming, and people don’t want to be shamed, so it doesn’t work. Not sure. Is it better to plant a seed about plant-based food, and what it prevents, and hope it takes root. (Smack me, please.)

And what about the kids? Now kids to me, are often the ones who get it. As Jonathan Safran Foer says, kids see that chicken is chicken. It’s as we get older, and realize that society excuses the abuses we recognize as children, that we shrug and think: well, my parents are eating animal stuff, and my teachers are, and my (other important “moral” and “ethical” and “good” people in my life) are so it can’t be so bad for me to do this also, right?

Indifference is learned. Repression is learned. Denial is learned. (And I was nothing if not a quick learner.) So what’s the best approach to unlearning folks? It seems like getting up close to these animals, even petting a pig or a calf, is supposed to help. And maybe it does. Maybe the combination of being with these animals, and hearing how they’re treated, is enough. I don’t know. I didn’t ask any other visitors on the tour if they eat meat and if they’ll give it a second thought now. I hope so, of course. But I’m not sure.

I’ll say one thing about the experience though (even though I already said one thing about it) it was nice to be around so many vegans. It seemed like most everyone working there was vegan, and that was a kind of cool feeling. (If you don’t know what “cool” means, ask your mom.) I don’t tend to have a lot of like-mindedness on this topic in my life. Pretty much none. However, the people who work there have plenty of like-mindedness, and didn’t need more of it from me, much as I was enjoying it from them. But they were great about answering questions, and explaining how the animals came to be there.

Some of the animals like pigs came from things like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, where kids raised pigs and then didn’t want to see them prematurely killed for food so they called up Animal Acres and asked them to save them. Some of the animals come from local humane societies, including a goat that the cops found in a bag in the backseat of a car whose drivers were on the way to conduct an animal sacrifice. And there were a couple of horses that were once thoroughbred racers, and some calves that were taken in after “a girl tried to rescue them from a veal truck.”

If you don’t know this, and I didn’t, pigs are big. You see one walking around, it might as well be a hippo. And you can’t imagine this thing in front of you, this giant living thing, having to spend its life in a metal cage unable to even turn around. That message was there, but they didn’t rub it in your face. There wasn’t a lot of, “So don’t eat ham” or “Bacon is torture.”

But they did explain how there wouldn’t be a veal industry if there wasn’t a dairy industry that threw off male calves as a byproduct of milk production. And they did explain how a dairy cow will usually live to be 20 if left unkilled or even as old as 40, not the ripe young age of 5 or 6 that they’re usually killed at now. So I did learn stuff. Particularly that weather and whether have a secret brother: wether — a neutered male goat or sheep. Did you know that word already? I didn’t. And I am going to kick some mean ass the next time I play Boggle.

All in all it was well worth the drive, and might be an especially good — and gentle — way to make some non-vegan friends or family re-think what they eat. And like I said, it’s a quick drive on a Sunday and it’s right off the 14. So go have yourself a nice day up in Acton. Wether permitting.

Jonathan Safran Foer

3 Dec

I mentioned in my very first post that two weeks into a tentative dabble with veganing, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book and that then there was no going back. (Note to aspiring writers: Do not use the words that, then and there in a row.)

There’s probably not much lamer in a blog than writing about a two-year-old book (and if there is, I’ll find it, you just wait) but after reading what I felt was a catty and vicious attack on Safran Foer by a leading vegan website, I wanted to defend him (like he needs me to come to his defense).

What makes this attack even more pathetic is that the attacker openly — and proudly — admits to never having read the book. But that doesn’t keep this ethicist from posting a photo of Safran Foer with a photoshopped pus mustache (pustache?) under the headline “got pus?”  (Though to the attacker’s credit, a “got milk” reference is pretty original and cool.)  What angers this critic is that Safran Foer is a vegetarian not a vegan, and the critic knows this because he’s read some reviews. In fact, the reviews are apparently enough to tell this critic all he needs to know about the book.

Well, I apologize for talking about a book that I actually did read, I know that’s so 20th century, but it seems pretty clear that this critic is simply jealous of Foer, and of the fact that this vegetarian has done far more to turn people vegan and alleviate animal suffering than this webmaster ever will. Yeah, I thought it was odd too that Safran Foer hasn’t actually come out and declared that based on what he now knows, he’s become vegan, but he does say that if you really want to do something to alleviate animal cruelty it’s better to give up eggs and dairy because those are the worst-treated animals. So it’s not like he’s saying that drinking milk is just swell.

Safran Foer also says he spent over a year researching this book. Keep in mind, he’s one of the country’s young literary stars, and he interrupted his fiction career to do this. That shows some dedication. And he also talks about how he snuck into a factory farm at night and broke into a building housing chickens. Has the critic ever done that? I won’t presume to know, since that would be presumptuous.

Can’t the argument be made that it’s more beneficial to animals to convince people to become vegan or vegetarian, than to spend your time bitching about people who convince people to become vegan or vegetarian? This critic needs to have a couple of stiff ones at his next Vegan Drinks event and then sit in the corner thinking about who’s done more to help animals. Maybe then he’ll take down that catty photo and feel at least a little embarrassed about having put it up in the first place.

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