Monday, June 25, 2012

Eating Meat-Eaters

Gherkinson’s Disease:

1.The condition which compels men to overcompensate their lack of manhood by overachieving in other areas, bodybuilding, for example.

Gherkinson's Disease, I'm 6 foot 5 and washboard abs. Black belt in karate and drive a Maserati. (via)

So, the above found my inbox the same day I saw a post on FB about how aggressive vegetarians are about proclaiming their beliefs.

Which I find hilarious. Now, I’ve been mostly vegetarian for over two years now. I’m not vegan; I eat cheese, even eggs, occasionally shellfish--yes, which, yes, makes me a huge hypocrite, yes, but fuck you anyway. They’re my rules, not yours. I’m not trying to join a religion. Nor am I trying to impress anyone. And I don’t honestly give a fuck what you eat, so crawl down out of my ass.

Which minor screed above should give you a feel for the kinds of reactions I am used to getting when the subject does come up. People are often curious, which is fine, as to my reasons--which include my health and alarming proliferation of fat cells, disease, antibiotics, my reluctance to eat not only animals, but animal shit as well (which is, sorry to break it to you, virtually always along for the ride when you eat meat) the morals of factory farming, and the environment--all of which I am happy to explain. And discuss.

But I don’t as a rule bring it up. I have acquaintances I’ve known for months or even years who are surprised when they find out I don’t eat meat.

And let’s make this clear: I really, honestly don’t give a fuck if you eat fast food burgers, eat your cat, or eat out your mom.

 [Well, the cat thing might bother me a little bit. Unless your cat was an asshole. And then we could probably talk. Cats can be jerks.]

But mostly, none of my business. I don’t care if you order a burger next to me while I eat a salad. I don’t care if you smear your face with the blood of filet mignon and make yummy, slurpy, moaning sex noises while I eat a cheese quesadilla.

I might even film that.

Point being, I am aware that meat exists, and that people eat it. I once did too. But I really, really don’t preach about it. If you ask, I’ll discuss, but I won’t even bring it up, not unless it’s relevant--say, if you’re ordering an appetizer for the table, or planning a cookout or something.

So, then, the thing is when it does come up, I often find myself in this weird “gotcha” conversation--yes, the same one over and over with different people--where it seems like people are trying to catch me out on some contradiction in my philosophy.

Which, again, I don’t quiz you on your philosophy of sucking down Wendy’s on a daily basis, or eating Taco Bell taco “meat” which contains so many adulterants that government regulations could conceivably forbid them from calling it meat, or eating chicken nuggets made of meat scrap paste, running sores, bleach water (up to 11 percent is perfectly fine, according to USDA regs) and, again, shit.

So you see, I could go on and on about all this, but I don’t. I don’t preach to anyone about what THEY eat, ever (except in writing, and if you don’t want to read it, you know where to click, haha). If pressed, I will talk about what I eat and why. But I certainly don’t go around proclaiming how awesome I am and how awful you are. Like I said, you can shove burgers, chicken-bleach-shit-water, or raw cubes of heroin down your gullet for all I care.

But what’s funny about this, especially w/r/t my friend’s post on wildly aggressive vegetarians, is that in addition to the aforementioned “gotcha” conversation about what I do and don’t eat, the other one I encounter regularly involves a weird aggressive “macho carnivore” attitude.

There’s a sort of hard-eyed, jutted-out chin, shoulders-out stance I associate with looming redneck fights and high schoolers trying to be badasses that reminds me of this attitude, in which people say things along the lines of, “Bacon’s good! I like steak! No one’s gonna tell me what to eat!”

It has weird overtones of like NRA propagandists: “You can have my steak when you pry it out of my cold, dead [probably arteriosclerotic, sausage-fingered] hands.”

It’s as if they think there were some shadowy, powerful group of vegetarians trying to squelch people’s God-Given Right to devour animals. It’s an attitude that also reminds me of certain Christians, a weird “I’m a loner! I’m a rebel! ” attitude, as if they are some oppressed minority battling for their not only their rights, but their lives as well, much like the whiny yet combative, weirdly aggressive and bossy sort of “victimology” that Sarah Palin has perfected.

And there’s a weakness, an insecurity about this attitude which is very interesting, and takes me back to the urban dictionary definition at the top of this.

[SIDEBAR: There’s also a certain addict’s defensiveness about it: “They ain’t gonna tell me to quit smoking! No sir! I’ll keep smoking as long as I want to!” Which of course completely misses the point that on some level it’s not really you deciding you want to smoke anymore, it’s the drug. But at any rate.]

There is a strong sense of overcompensation here.

I am using as a jumping-off point Jonathan Safran Foer, author of “Eating Animals,” an excellent book that everyone should read, no matter what--or whom--you eat. He posits--and here I paraphrase--that when you think about it, eating is just about the most intimate activity we undertake, and we do it several times a day. What could be more personal and close to your beliefs, your self-image, your perceived place in the world and your history than food? Other than perhaps WHO we stick our bodies into and WHO we stick into our bodies, there is nothing more personal than WHAT we stick into our bodies. It follows that people would be sensitive and sometimes irrational about food.

So I find it weirdly touching when guys--it’s almost always guys--want to take up an uber-masculine and aggressive angle on eating meat. Meat that 99 percent of them have never even seen on the hoof except driving past it at 75 mph, have never once killed, cleaned, gutted or butchered, ever in their lives, meat in whose production they have not participated at all, except to plunk down their money at the drive-thru, or maybe at the grocery store, where it comes in neat little packages, with the blood all nicely sealed up in plastic, so you don’t get any on your hands or clothes. They remind me of this guy.

Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

I think--and here’s where I maybe take Foer’s argument a step further--that this need toward macho-meat-guy posing may come from some small voice that reminds them that they didn’t do shit to earn that food, nor do they have a true sense of providing that food for themselves, nor a close relationship with their food or even any real idea where it comes from.

I believe on some level they self-identify as weak in that regard, and thus overcompensate, Gherkinson’s Disease-style.

It’s as if I were to order all my furniture from Ikea--pay someone to cut down the trees, convert them to lumber, finish and drill the pieces, machine the screws and hardware and package it all up, then pay someone else to deliver it, to come to my house and unpack it and put it together for me and move each piece to the exact spot where I wanted it--and then, after all that, I were to go around crowing about what an awesome carpenter I am.

 Close enough.

Not that we all must raise and kill our own animals--or veggies, or shrimp, or cheese for that matter--in order to truly appreciate what we eat. But the machismo line of thinking does imply some sense of ownership, some sense of a Right to Meat that is incongruous with how far removed actual meat and meat production really is from the greasy, grey, flat-squished things smooshed between two damp pieces of doughy Styrofoam that you pick up in those white McDonald’s bags.


I think on some level even the most obtuse, blinkered carnivore senses this disconnect, and realizes that there’s something inherently wrong with the way he gets his (so-called) meat. I think on some level, when we’re forced to actually think about it for a second, we realize something isn’t right. And I think that makes people uncomfortable.

And so I say again that, this missive and others like it aside, out in the world, it’s the meat-eaters who are aggressive, judgmental, and in-your-face about their choices, and that like most aggressiveness, it comes from defensiveness. It's not the vegetarians by and large who are uncertain and therefore aggressive about their choices.

At least not this one.


DeeDee said...

OMG. YES. I could have written this blog. Er..not as well though. BTW, because I do eat fish I refer to myself as a a hypocritical vegetarian, because if you've ever been fishing and watched that trout flop around on the boat, you know you're eating an animal. I also think pescatarian sounds...well.. pesky.

wasabius said...

Thanks so much for the kind words, DeeDee! I appreciate you reading, and i especially appreciate that you know what i'm talking about. :-) i'm about to go to a family reunion in the heartland and the subject always comes up in the way i described, this sort of tongue-in-cheek thing.
i strongly recommend foer's book that i mentioned--the section on industrial fishing is the shortest, perhaps because it is so apparently, obviously, clearly messed-up.
(i like your phrase, hypocritical vegetarian, though, haha!)
again thanks for reading!