Friday, 16 June 2006

Thin Red Line

We went to Melbourne Central after work. Jo is desperately looking for boots to wear for work, so we figured the CBD's biggest shopping mall will do. With the sales on in full rigor, the timing is right.
Needless to say, I find the hunt for boots terribly exciting, so I spent most of my time in Melbourne Central's Borders shop. The rest of my time was spent in the Sony shop, where they had the same 50" rear projection TV twice: once was fed of a normal off the air signal and the picture quality was just shit, the other was fed off channel 10's high definition signal (it was 18:30, so it was Neighbors time), and the picture quality was not bad at all (the TV stood right underneath a very strong light, so it did look a bit washed).
Anyway, back to Borders. I saw three books I wouldn't mind buying at all if I wasn't in the mood to save, if I hadn't bought an LCD monitor yesterday, and if I hadn't had an incredibly huge backlog of books waiting for me. And then there's the latest problem we have: our bookshelf is just overflowing with books.

The first book I liked was Geoffrey Blainey's "A Short History of the 20th Century". Mr Blainey is a Melbournian historian; not that his location matters much. A couple of years ago we got and read another book of his, something like "a short history of the world", and we both really liked it because we learnt a lot from it and because it was written in a way that made you want to read more. Just as an example, I always wondered how people like the American Indians got to America or how the Aboriginals got to Australia some 60,000 years ago. I mean, there's a lot of ocean in between that and Africa, where we're supposed to come from, even if between you and me we all know we came down from Ararat, where Noah parked his ark. The explanation Blainey provides was stupidly simple: they walked. It's just that during the ice ages the sea levels were much lower, Indonesia was a part of Asia, Tasmania was a part of bigger Australia, and the sail to Australia from Indonesia was more like a short swim.
Anyway, that book omitted the 20th century, under the assumption that it's both familiar and too concentrated to capture at a thin level. So the new book comes along aiming at fixing this gap, only that it's only available in a hard cover at this stage and Borders sells it for a ridicules $50 ($17 in Amazon, which after currency conversion and shipment is still less than $30).
As we like to say, next time Gadget.

The second book was called Jpod. It's by this Canadian author, and it's a story about a cool computer games programmer and how shallow and empty his life in the pursuit of the dollar is. This is certainly something I can relate to, only that I'm past this stage and I don't think I can be classified under this classification anymore. I mean, leaving that lifestyle behind me was one of the reasons for leaving Israel behind. I think my friend Haim would probably find the book hits home given his capitalist nature, but I gave it a pass.

The third book is the main reason for this blogging session; everything so far was just one long preface. Written by another bloke from Melbourne (together with a fellow whose details I didn't bother reading), it's called something like "The Ethics of What We Eat".
Reading through the book you get yourself exposed to some horrid realities, some of which I was aware of and some not:

  1. Most of the meat we eat today is "generated" in plant like places where the animals are conceived, grown and processed for delivery in much the same way as you'd expect a car to be made but not in the way you'd expect a living, breathing thing to be handled. Pigs never see daylight, calves are grown in boxes, and chickens are locked in tight cages.
  2. Fish do not get a better deal. Those living in the oceans can enjoy life until they're caught, but then they can be dragged for a few days in a net only to eventually die suffocating, while probably injured from being beaten by clubs until they stop protesting (the fate of bigger fish). Alternatively, their gills may be cut, leaving them to bleed to death. Those that are "home grown" get to spend their lives in shit conditions all the time.
  3. Cows raised for their milk definitely suffer for it.
  4. The raising of animals for the meat industry requires a heavy toll on the environment, an unsustainable one in the long (but not too long) range.
  5. Lots of energy is spent delivering us meat and groceries.
  6. We are currently not paying the full price for the meat and the vegetables we eat. If we were to add the environmental impact to the price tags no one would be able to buy much in the way of meat.

The book's final chapter provides a listing of places where you can get ethical food from: Places that treat their animals humanely or places that sell vegetation that did not require toxic chemicals to produce. The thing is this chapter is less than 3 pages long, which shows a thing or two about the futility of this exercise in ethics.
The book is aware of this problem, and therefore it recommends straying away from meat as much as possible, preferably becoming a vegan, and buying locally raised products to help cut the energy impact.
The thing about all these problems is that addressing them is a sort of a lose-lose solution. Everyone is better off being selfish and eating meat, while the others around are to be more careful and eat less meat and pollute less. There is no real incentive for anyone, be it a person or a country, to stop this unethical behavior while others continue acting badly.

And where do I fit in? I am quite comfortable eating meat as long as I am not exposed to the ways in which they are made. Just like the Australians I mock who are willing to place people in detention with no trial for the "crime" of trying to get into Australia, as long as those detention camps are in the middle of nowhere where no one can see them.
I think that eating meat is fine because we obviously evolved to eat meat. That said, I think we should treat animals humanely if we are to continue behaving as if we are better than those animals; and I also think that since evolution does not really apply to humans anymore (at least not in its regular form), the excuse where we say we have evolved as meat eaters does not really apply.
So what should I do? Should I stop eating meat? And if I do, where is that line that says "now I'm a good person" which I need to cross in order to stop being an evil person?
Is it when I only get local vegetation? How close do I need to be to their origin? Would I still be a sinner if it turns out that I ate vegetables where bad chemicals were used to raise them? And if I don't know about it am I still guilty of committing a crime?
And what about eating food for pleasure? What about me becoming fatter and fatter? Aren't I just consuming vital resources from the earth in the process, contributing to the destruction of the environment to serve my momentary whims?

I don't have an answer to these questions, yet the fact I am obviously evil does trouble me.
Religion does not really offer much in the way of a solution. Pope Bene-dict said, according to the book, that production line farming of animals should cease; but is the church really doing much about it? Allow me to say my impression is that they are making much more effort to prevent Africans from using condoms than the effort they spend on humane animal treatment or sustainability affairs. Judaism doesn't fit the picture in the first place, as its ways of handling animals are often inhumane to begin with.

The more I think about it the more I tend to agree with Jo, who recently said it looks like we humans simply do not deserve to have this world that we are so busy selfishly ruining.


uri said...

As you know I prefer to get my facts through fiction.
You can try reading Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats (on, duh, meat) and All Over Creation (which is about vegetables, I guess).

Moshe Reuveni said...

What are these books about?
You take your time adding comments!

uri said...

Didn't I just (well, two and a half weeks ago) say that one was about meat and the other about vegtables (sort of?)
And remember I don't get notices when people reply to my replies.