Saturday, March 31, 2012

Macho Macho Man

Village People - Macho Man (version longue) by scorpiomusic

            When I first saw the “The Ethicist” contest in the Magazine section in the New York Times, I was pretty excited. Six hundred words to write an ethical defense of meat eating. OK, I’m game for a good intellectual exercise. And the judges are pretty solid: Michael Pollan, Peter Singer, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Andrew Light. All right. But the more I thought about the contest, I angrier I got.
            Let me explain.
            I could complain that this will be the best PR campaign for the meat industry. By baiting my intellectual vanity, the New York Times is giving the entire meat industry a butt-load of excuses for future lobbying campaigns. This is probably the best gift the beleaguered meat industry can ask for after the pink slime debacle. You know that Cargill, BPI, ConAgra, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and meat lobby are just champing at the bit for these results to come out so they can co-opt them. Why come up within some paltry excuses to eat meat, when those geniuses at the New York Times can do it for you?
            I could also complain about that this contest is also an exercise in intellectual masturbation by the New York Times. Already in the premises of the contest, the Ethicist has assumed that meat eating is ethically indefensible. So then what’s the point? To out every single defender of the industrial meat complex? Instead of having a public discussion about the ethics of meat eating, this, instead, will be a pissing contest amongst a bunch of philosophers to “trump the enter judge name here.” There’s no fun like straw-man fun for philosophers.[1]            
But what really gets my goat? The judges. Why? It’s not because I don’t think they are not qualified, nor is it because I don’t respect their work. Peter Singer, an ethicist at Princeton, has written the book on animal rights, Animal Liberation. Mark Bittman, cookbook author and food writer, has been writing on food for the New York Times for over a decade. Michael Pollan is the author of several books on nutrition, diet and sustainability, most notably the Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules. Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Eating Animals, which basically has converted many a person into vegans. And there is Andrew Light, environmental advocate and policy expert.
But there’s someone missing at this otherwise esteemed panel. Think about it.
            On the surface of it, this seems like a lame-ass complaint. Who cares if the judges are girls, boys or Martians as long as they can adequately judge the contest? This is not just a matter of diversity for diversity’s sake.[2] And it’s not just a matter of a lack of experts; there are plenty of amazing women who could judge this contest.[3] This is an issue about consequences as much as it is about principles…something that the New York Times contest seems to have forgotten. Why aren’t the people that have the largest stakes in the game not there to judge it?
            Look at these numbers: 62% of women do the grocery shopping[4] and 68% of women cooked the meals in their household.[5] And it takes a lot of time to do it: And according to the United States Department of Agriculture, women not only spend double the time at the grocery store versus men, but they spend triple the amount of time in meal preparation.[6]
            The issue here is not so much WHY women are spending so much time at the grocery store or cooking meals (which is subject to a WHOLE other discussion which is just as painful)[7], the issue is that women have skin in the game. If women are the majority of persons preparing meals, they have an enormous influence in how food decisions are made. It’s not just the ethics of food – it’s nutrition, sourcing, food safety, health claims and God knows what else. We should be the FIRST in line to be judging the ethics of food because we do it everyday for our families, friends and children.
            Look. I don’t want to be ragging on another sister…that’s not just my style. But Ms. Kaminer, if principles matter so damn much to you, why didn’t you think of the principle of utilitarianism? If you really care about changing the food system, think about those who do it every day…and it’s NOT a bunch of white males

[1] I have plenty of other complaints about this contest. I don’t seem to see any ranchers or biologists around. They deal with animals every day…and not on a hypothetical or meat counter basis. An evolutionary anthropologist would be good too to throw out all those stupid paleo arguments about eating meat. (I will deal with the paleo-diet another time. Another food fad that is based on faulty perceptions of evolution and pre-history.)
[2] Anyone that is interested in the diversity argument regarding this contest, should look at Carol J. Adams piece: “What’s Wrong with Only White Men Judging a Contest Defending Meat-Eating.”  She does a nice job breaking down the bias problems in both philosophy as well as in media and why it particularly matters in this particular context.
[3] Michele Simon, the author of Appetite for Profit, asked Ariel Kaminer (“The Ethicist”) about the gender choice of the judges. Kaminer said the judges were chosen mainly for their “name recognition.” Since when has ethics become American Idol?! Simon, thankfully, has placed a nice list of women who could easily go toe-for-toe with the panel.
[7] I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting that women should be the only people in the kitchen. I think Marion Nestle said it best: “The greatest gift you can give your sons is to teach them how to cook.” Right on, sister.

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