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Reconsidering some choices

July 7, 2009

A lot of other things have been going on around here lately, and I haven’t made time to write about them and their implications. But, when I was heating up some leftovers for lunch earlier, one train of thought became insistent.

Standing there and pulling bristles out of a piece of seasoning meat I’d dry cured with the same tweezers (well washed!) I’d just employed to pluck out some of my own eyebrows, waves of cognitive dissonance hit me again. It set off a cascade of thoughts about the wétiko interconnection here, especially given my current living situation.

To offer a bit of background: since the late ’80s, I’ve gone through periods of vegetarianism–veganism, for a couple of years–and repeatedly returned to eating meat. Most of this was due to episodes of severe depression, during which I had neither the energy nor the inclination to do much shopping and cooking for myself. So, I gave in and ate what the rest of the family was eating, then spent a lot of time beating myself up over it in fits of perfectionism. I have kept eating meat since my big, mid-late ’90s crash.

My main objection to eating meat all along has been based on suffering caused by not-so-sustainable wétiko farming practices–whether I’d yet seen how it fit into a larger pattern, or no–and encouraging that by gaining benefit from it. Eating animal products “produced” through those methods is just not compatible with right livelihood, for me. (In a rather codified Buddhist version of the concept, or otherwise.) Nobody in the house had opportunity to hunt or fish respectfully anymore–and I was not well-suited to it temperamentally, even if I’d had the time and access to land–so that wasn’t a workable alternative to readily purchased animal products. We didn’t know enough people who were still raising animals responsibly to get anything other than eggs that way on a regular basis.

Earlier, I did also flirt with the popular ideas of health and, not incidentally, potential weight loss benefits (IBTP), but those were secondary considerations mostly used as further justification. Especially when explaining myself (lordy, the expected explanations!) to people who didn’t share a similar worldview; “teenage girl dotes on animals and wants to be thin” is a far more comfortable and acceptable story in modern Western society. More on the need for justification, later.

So, I’ve been going along for about ten years now, having varying levels of trouble rationalizing my purchasing and eating habits. Periodically, I have cut back on meat consumption and made a point of buying more responsibly raised stuff, which, given the price difference, makes eating more beans attractive! I also gave up dairy products for a while, due to a protein allergy and lactose intolerance (being part of the world’s majority who weren’t made to consume it). It did improve my allergy load immensely, but once again my cheese addiction pulled me back in. My last attempt at stopping smoking was not as difficult as giving up cheese, probably thanks to allergic responses!

Lately, I have been just about able to justify buying mainly RSPCA-monitored meat, even if their standards seem to be much looser than mine. The animals are still being overly confined* and treated as commodities. (Also some lamb, which is not too scarily raised.) It’s still done–no to mention sold!–according to the same basic ways of thinking, however.

This may be changing, however. Tonight I purposely planned a veggie meal, and announced to Nigel that there are many more a-coming.

Earlier the contradictions in my continuing to eat meat struck me hard in a “the personal suddenly looks very political indeed” kind of way, and so did the falseness of some of my attempts at rationalizing it. In particular, some of my feelings of insulation got stripped away, as it occurred to me that I’ve plopped myself right down in the middle of one iteration of Wétiko Central. Some of those familiar justifactions just won’t fly now, if I don’t want to catch the wétiko myself. This was one of those mini enlightenment moments which are hard/nigh impossible to do justice in words.

I also saw even more clearly how these cases of exploitation, objectification, commodification, and all that nasty stuff are all part of one big wétiko mess. I’d certainly been familiar with lines of thought tying veg*anism, feminism, anarchism, etc. together, but more closely perceiving the Horrible Wétiko Gestalt still horrified me. I’m interested in reading some of Carol Adams’ stuff, somehow having missed doing so until now. It definitely sounds like she and Jack Forbes are seeing the same type of cannibalistic society, in this interview:

Basically, I believe our culture objectifies, fragments, and then consumes women and the other animals. The consumption may be different—cultural consumption for women—but the process is one in which a being loses the right to self-determination. Our culture goes to great lengths to equate women and animals and so differentiate men, especially white men, from the objects of their violence.

I don’t kid myself that small choices will make any dent in the larger problem, when it’s essentially the whole system that’s messed up. But, this falls into the same category as most of the other small choices: I can certainly avoid doing things that I don’t think are morally/ethically right, and feeling like crap because of it. That’s what it boils down to, at least for now. Guess I’ll be waiting for my own version of the Twistylution. 🙂

* More background: this aversion is at least partly cultural, and another of the older attitudes I managed to pick up strongly. (Worthy of another post: how I probably turned out more traditional in outlook because of my “disability”, spending a lot of time around older people.) Where I’m from, people still don’t tend to think it’s right to confine animals closely. They may have needed to do more Euro-American style small agriculture for a good long while now, but people will still talk about you horribly if you don’t give the animals more space than what is frequently presented as “free range” here in the UK. This is no doubt another reason for the decline of small farming, when people think feedlots are morally wrong.

Bruce Johansen gave a pretty good overview in the link I provided earlier–more info on the economy in general can be found in Barbara Mann’s Iroquoian Women–and that’s another thing that transfers across Nations. After the Trail of Tears, Cherokee “Livestock generally ran loose most of the year, except the saddle horse and plow animals.” (link) Interestingly, cattle and horses are grouped with deer in another reminiscence.

These days, the population density is higher, so people do have to fence in larger animals to keep them from destroying crops and the like. But, you still find an amazing number of feral chickens in Virginia’s New River and Roanoke Valleys. (And also in parts of West Virginia, apparently, as per the link. Any resemblance between said WV and reservation stereotypes are strictly coincidental. Mmm hmm.) We don’t have a bunch of feral hogs, probably because they were tearing things up too badly. Surprisingly, the introduced chickens apparently aren’t doing noticeable ecological harm.

The cultural differences there only became so obvious when an English visitor was absolutely amazed at a family of chickens ambling across a country road. Guess I’d seen enough of them not to think much of it anymore. Doesn’t everybody have road chickens?

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