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.