Monday, April 07, 2008

Lay it on me.

You may already have gleaned that I work at a university, so now I will tell you that the library system at my workplace will deliver books to your campus office. Given that the libraries are spread out over two cities, this is a big bonus that I am going to be taking advantage of like ALL THE TIME. About two days after launching my request off into the intertubes, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter showed up in my mailbox, adding a tiny charge of excitement to my workday. When I'm done with the book, I just put it back into the special bag in which it arrived and send it on back. Hooray!

Many thanks to all of you who recommended this book, by the way. I love that it is co-authored by an ethicist who examines food choices using sound data and logical thought processes because that is the only way to convince people that food choices are important and not just an arena in which bleeding hearts blubber about our furry and feathered friends. Despite the litany of horrific things happening behind closed doors at factory farms and the fact that farm animal welfare is not regulated until you get to the slaughterhouse, I have to say that THE most depressing part about the book is how market-driven every shitty corporate practice is. Over and over, producers say things like "well, if I don't do this, the farmer up the road will, and I'll be out of business." It's always about increasing productivity and yield, and never ever about doing the right thing: for the animals, for the planet, for the workers, for the people who ultimately eat the food.

Obviously, this is true in other industries as well. If you've been with me for awhile, you know that I've been tweaking my shopping habits on an ongoing basis. My two month experiment with buying nothing new last year, or whenever it was, most definitely changed the way I shop for clothes--permanently, I think. At first, I found that retail stores were generally just depressing me with their excess and sameness, but now I can't go into one of these places without wondering how many types of exploitation produced that $10 shirt and wondering who else is picking up the tab. That's another thing this book does such an excellent job of making clear: the low low prices that we seem to expect as our inalienable right along with life liberty etc are essentially fake, full of costs that are shouldered by people who live next to polluting factories or whatever. Sing it with me: Freedom isn't free, no, there's a hefty fuckin' fee.

On the other hand, some companies and people are trying to do the right thing and the fact that Whole Foods, for example, is hugely profitable and is still one of the 100 best companies to work for (number 16 this year, in fact) shows that there is a giant place for ethical business in a capitalist system. But there still needs to be a cultural shift, not only in the standard American diet (which is as SAD as its acronym suggests), but also in the way we think about food and about everything that happens before it gets to our tables. Well, it's a little bit chicken and eggy, isn't it, the whole question of supply and demand. Businesses and consumers need to be moving toward better choices simultaneously.

It just makes me crazy that for so many people, self-interest and profit can outweigh everything else. It's tiring to think about.

Also, I'm finished with fish, except maybe something that my dad caught.

Oh yeah. I started out this post talking about the library, and what I really wanted to ask for is more book recommendations, about anything. I need to quit rereading stuff so much.


  1. That's what sickens me about the evils of Corporations; every thing, living or not, is a commodity to be squeezed for all it's worth. Even shifts into big-biz organics and green products are starting to reek of how corporate pirates can most make money from it. It physically nauseates me that the Well Being For All is only an after thought, if a thought. I could go on and on. I won't preach to the choir.

    Anyway, I too REALLY enjoyed the ethics perspective of the book. And I wish your library delivered to my house.

  2. My husband has read it, but I haven't (yet). We're both vegetarians who have had this flirtation with fish and both came to the "no more fish" decision independently. Him b/c of that book & me b/c it was just feeling way wrong. I actually think the Planet Earth series may have sealed the deal for me.
    What kinds of books do you want to be reading? If you're on a food kick, there's the "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. I recently read the father/son duo books on addiction (nic sheff & david sheff) that were very interesting, especially read together. Have you read any cormac mccarthy? hmmmm...books. I'll keep thinking. I know I have a long list I just can't remember it right now.

  3. Just cooked my 2nd Veganomicon recipe and gave you a little shout-out in my head!

    I know I'm, what, 10 years late to the game or something, but I just read "Into Thin Air" for the first time and it blew my mind. Now I'm reading "Nim Chimpsky" which is new nonfiction about a cool little chimp who got one hell of a crap deal.

  4. This may sound super corny, but your blog got me seriously thinking (for the first time) about the connection between buying retail and harming the environment/people trying to live safely in it. Though I have always considered myself a fairly progressive and self-aware consumer, I didn't really think of new clothes/new stuff as a problem until I got into the maven haven action. I'm sure I'm not the only reader to be influenced in this way, so please rock on.

  5. Chinesetwine, the Kingsolver book is the next one that should be delivered to me. I had to recall it, which I love doing--o the power!

    Dori, I don't think that's corny at all. Our culture does not make it easy to make those connections, not at all. One thing this book has made me think about a lot for the first friggin time is the connection between animal rights and women's rights. You cannot, as a woman, read about forced pregnancy and lactation on animal farms without making that connection.