Cuddled and Killed

GQ correspondent, Alan Richman attempts to talk about ethical eating in a recent article, Eat No Evil, featuring a halo-crowned, severed cow’s head in a romanticized, baroque style photo – a cow we are asked to believe may have been loved to death. Alan’s healthy serving of skepticism accompanies him on a road-trip through various incarnations of ethical eating – none of which involve veganism. He says, “I have always eaten exclusively for taste, which seemed like a good plan until now”, and his sentiment is not an isolated one. A newcomer navigating the ethics of eating can be easily overwhelmed and misled by greenwashing, whitewashing, and other wolves in sheep’s clothing in their reluctance to change habits, and Alan can not hide that he is one of those newcomers.

For example, he says “Only your doctor or your mother should tell you what to eat, and these days I’m not so sure about Mom,” not realizing how dangerous a doctor’s nutritional advice may be. Richman has no idea that most doctors have a shameful, mere few hours of nutritional training – and that only one-fourth of medical schools even require med students to take a course in nutrition!

One would think that in an exploration of ethical eating, veganism would be revered, but instead, Richman takes several juvenile stabs at the vegan lifestyle with no real vindication, possibly to justify his avoidance of having to validate the most obvious ethical diet. “I don’t romanticize vegetables. I don’t believe in their nobility, nor have I been convinced by those who claim plants have feelings and scream silently when tossed into a hot pan. (I wouldn’t mind if that were true, since it would require vegans to starve themselves to death)”, he confides to his audience of mostly non-vegans. Accompanying the article are Richman’s “10 Commandments of Ethical Eating“, of which number seven is “Consider vegans a warning sign of ethical eating run amok,” situated next to an embarrassingly unfashionable closeup of an enthusiastic vegan from the Veggie Pride Parade.

Alan Richman must make enemies of vegans in order to evade confronting the obvious: that veganism derails most of the dilemmas inherent in the ethics-of-food quandary: hurting and killing animals, carbon footprints, groundwater pollution, fragile ocean ecosystems, overuse of land and resources, human welfare, health concerns, etc.  Richman’s unfriendliness toward vegansim as a viable, ethical lifestyle is the major failure of his piece, and on a deeper level, the unveiling of his personal insecurity. His logic follows that vegans must be written off right away, otherwise he’ll have to actually look at and talk about what they’re doing and conclude that it may actually be a wonderful solution.

Today, even Mollie Katzen eats meat. “For decades I ate brown rice, broccoli, and tofu,” she told me. “And I felt tired, depressed, and irritable. As I’ve aged, I’ve felt a need for animal protein.”

Like a homophobe, his stereotyping, reliance on anecdotal anti-vegan sentiment,  and offensive depiction distracts from any need to substantiate the lifestyle, and he allows his personal opinion to obscure facts. We all know plenty of tired, depressed and irritable non-vegans, but that’s rarely blamed on their diet.

The article is in partial earnest; he makes some valid observations about the need to recognize animals as individuals with complex emotional lives, but misses many glaring flaws. The story is riddled with Alan’s eagerness to believe what every “humane” farmer who loves their animals to death (literally?) has to say, and he seems to want nothing more than permission to continue eating animals minus his new-found guilt. He devours  the humane myth as quickly as he would a lamb chop that was cuddled before killed.

Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston prepared meat from pigs that he had fed and touched, which raised this ethical point: “I felt the pressure. I had to do them justice.”

These humane killers (let’s be honest, that is what they are claiming to be) wax poetic about raising, naming, loving and then killing animals as if there are no other options for survival. As if breeding and slaughtering animals is somehow unavoidable; if we must kill animals, let us do it with love, right? The flagrant flaw is the fact that we have other options – kinder options, more ecologically sound and healthful options – and they’re more than brown rice and tofu, contrary to what Richman would have us believe.

“I traveled to farms raising animals in North Carolina, Michigan, and Massachusetts, where I was awed not only by the humane treatment of cows, pigs, goats, and sheep but also by the commitment of the people caring for them,” he says. Then later, “After this trip, I cooked ethically raised lamb at home and expounded on the fine existence the animal had led. A guest pushed her plate away and said queasily, “You sound like a funeral director.”

In all the discussion of fantasy-farms where the animals are treated like family (that are killed and eaten), the darkest parts of animal agriculture are left out. The continuous pregnancies dairy cows must endure, only to have the mother-child bond that nature intended destroyed as their children are torn away and turned into veal or more dairy cows so we can drink the milk meant for the baby. He never mentions how mother cows bellow for days after this. Nor does he talk about the unwanted male chicks who are ground up live or suffocated to death because they have no economic value (they do not lay eggs), or the fact that even “grass-fed” and “humane” meats end up at the same, horrific USDA slaughterhouses. The list goes on.

Like the twisted logic of an abuser who justifies his violence by saying it comes from a place of love, Richman writes “Nobody loves pigs more than Ed Mitchell, chef and co-owner of The Pit, in Raleigh, North Carolina…”. Actually, Alan, I’d ague that people who rescue pigs from those that would slit their throats and devour their bodies, love them more.

The solution is simple. Go vegan.

Written by joshuakatcher

Joshua Katcher is an adjunct professor of fashion at Parsons The New School. His research focuses on sustainability and ethics in fashion production. He started The Discerning Brute in 2008 as a resource for men who want to make intelligent decisions concerning their lifestyles. With a focus on “fashion, food & etiquette for the ethically handsome man”, The Discerning Brute produces expert, essential content and boldly takes a stand. Brave GentleMan, the integrated, eCommerce brother-site of The Discerning Brute was launched in 2011 and features “principled attire” and “smart supplies” handpicked for informed indulgence.
The Discerning Brute on Facebook

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
You can leave a response, or create a trackback from your own site.

  • Rebecca Ratliff

    Could not have said any of that better myself. Of course he doesn’t mention any of the horrors that there is no getting around. To do that would tear a gigantic hole in the argument that eating animals could be in any way ethical.

    Humanity makes me so very sad. But then I read the words of other vegans and I feel a glimmer of hope.

  • Constance

    I have always thought it was WORSE to say how much you loved and cared for animals you raised to eat. Makes me wonder about that persons ethics, if you can name it, love, and fed it-then slaughter it. geeze!

  • Pete

    Absolutely brilliant. We should use “veganphobe” more often, because they are indeed operating on personal insecurity.

  • Kezia

    You da man, Joshua Katcher. This is brilliant.

  • Velva Peterson

    Keep on keepin’ on telling it like it is…the whole truth, as horrific as it is.

  • Eric Walton

    Well done. As in so many cases, people who tout the virtues of an omnivorous diet either ignore the vegan option altogether or find a straw-man argument that allows them to dismiss it as a fringe idea. As always any objective analysis of the facts sheds a crippling light on the specious arguments made by the Alan Richmans of the world.

  • Rebekah

    Great article. I really like that you touch on the two major points of cruelty that affect ALL dairy and egg farms, including the “humane” ones…the separation of mother cow and her calf, and the disposal of baby male chicks. It is so easy to get wrapped up in this idyllic image of hens pecking the dirt and cows grazing on pasture and to think, “hey, I am supporting kindness to animals!” when buying these products. I myself convinced myself of this as a conscious lacto-ovo vegetarian, who only bought dairy and eggs from these farms. As a vegan, I now realize that this only served to assuage my guilt, and the reality was that I was supporting these cruel systems. While I am happy that the American public is growing increasingly aware of factory farming and more people are choosing to support small farmers, I fear that the underlying cruelties inherent in ALL farming methods are being swept under the rug.

  • Ryan Varga

    In defense of Raleigh NC, being a student at NCSU and one of the few vegans I know in NC, The Pit does offer barbecued tofu. Not many restaurants here offer meat substitutions. :) Love the blog

  • Mark Middleton

    What a fantastic post, great exposure of the veganphobe / vegan denial way of thinking. Devastating for Alan.

  • Athonwy

    Excellently written as always Josh. Thank you.

  • Dan Mims

    Awesome piece, Joshua. I think it’s embarassing for GQ — which purports to speak to the intellectual side of man — to publish such confused and self-deferential gobbledygook.