Dan Barber’s “return to the land” argument is weak and ridiculous, but not all wrong »
Dan Barber courted some veg-rage back in December 2010 when he asserted that “You have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian,” and last week Slate interviewed him about it. It’s on video, above, and watching it made me feel the same head-against-the-wall frustration that I do when Michael Pollan opens his yap to opine about how meat-abstainers are wrong, and eating animals is noble. Here are my responses to three of his particularly obnoxious points.
1. He points to the “iconic New England pasture that was built by the dairy industry” as a reason for keeping animals for food. What did the landscape look like before the dairy industry brought their milk-and-death business to the area, Dan? How did it look before the Industrial Revolution? How did it look before the Dutch and English and Spanish came and murdered all the native people? How did it look during Pangea?
2. He condemns a vegetable-based diet as much heavier in “food miles” than his local produce/animal product diet. Man, let’s address food deserts before you insist the nation go full locavore. Of course we should strive to eat more sustainably grown food! But when the choice is between dead cow from a feedlot and mixed vegetables from factory farms, choose the vegetables. They aren’t cutting down the rainforest to grow soybeans for my tofu, they’re doing it to feed the cows that the majority of the U.S. eats. Factory farms are bad for us ecologically, socially, ethically, morally—why go after the vegetarians when there is a much bigger bad to attack? I can’t tell if he’s advocating we all go full backyard chicken, or turn factory farms into small-scale, ecologically friendly farm collectives, or what.
3. The New England landscape “doesn’t want” you to grow vegetables, so that means it does want you to grow animals for killing? And oh no, Michael Pollan is worried about the extinction of farm animals? There is a major difference between “keeping some animals on your farm as farming tools” (eating grass, fertilizing with their waste, pest control) and “keeping animals en masse for slaughter.” You acknowledge that what you want is to “use the resources of animals on a farm in an intelligent way,” which is something I agree with—until you jump from keeping animals to eating them. Why? Isn’t barbarism like killing living creatures for our gustatory pleasure a thing of the past?
You know what? I do agree that vegetarians have blood on their hands. All the male chicks that are killed because they can’t produce eggs? All the male calves born to the perma-pregnant dairy cows, that are sent to veal farms? The treatment of the layer hens and dairy cows themelves? So much blood. That’s one of the reasons I observe a vegan diet: To keep the blood-as-byproduct off my hands.
[Please visit Adam Merberg’s Say what, Michael Pollan? blog for much more extensively documented reasons why this argument is nonsense.]
Surprise! Another quest for “ethical eating” ends in an omnivorous diet »
GQ's food writer, Alan Richman, has an eight-page article in the July issue on his recent “ethical eating” odyssey, and is it ever illuminating and not at all like The Omnivore’s Dilemma rehashed!
Sorry, that was a lie. In reality, his conclusions are not very far from Michael Pollan’s, except Richman’s a lot snider getting to them. Underneath his Big Quest persona, he seems kind of angry:
"Today our true believers fervently pursue such principles as ecologically sound, socially just, humane, halal, kosher, nitrite-free, gluten-free, free-range, certified organic, or raw, whatever their cause demands. Yet not even vegans, our ultimate culinary ideologues, can match the commitment of those who dedicate themselves to the land. Farmers are, literally, America’s unwashed nobility."
This sets the tone for the entire article: Richman loves and idealizes farmers, and dismisses vegans and vegetarians out of hand. Here’s a typical zinger: “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.)”
Poor Alan Richman wants it both ways: to be able to eat ethically without taking into account the fact that killing animals is unethical. Raising animals to kill them for your meal is unethical.
Check it: “‘We Americans prefer not knowing that the food we eat had a life. That way we don’t have to face the awful truth—that the food we eat had to die. We push away fish that arrives whole, with its glazed eyes, distressed not by the fate of the animal but by our own discomfiture, a dinner date ruined. Most of us would prefer that our livestock were treated indifferently, even inhumanely. If we consider animals inconsequential, a meaningless food source, we won’t be ill at ease when they emerge from the kitchen nicely cooked.”
Wrong, Richman. Vegans don’t eat animals because we know they have lives, and we aren’t so selfish as to presume we have the right to take away their lives for our meals. We’re the ones going undercover in slaughterhouses to expose the horrific conditions for the workers and the animals, and the ones protesting those conditions. We do not consider any animals inconsequential, because we don’t make an arbitrary distinction between “food” and “pet.”
Eric Ripert, however, does make incomprehensible distinctions: he’s a practicing Buddhist, and “says that if he were to operate his restaurant under those religious teachings, the decision of what to feed customers would be simple: vegetables, nothing else.” And I’d play the Goldberg Variations, but I don’t own a piano, so I can’t. You are a practicing Buddhist, but you own several seafood restaurants, and as a judge on Top Chef you eat all kinds of animal products without blinking. So what’s the point of mentioning this, exactly? It’s not endearing—it sounds crazy. Of course not all Buddhists are vegetarians, but saying you would serve vegetables, except you already serve fish, so you can’t—that is fucking stupid.
Equally stupid is Dan Barber’s assertion that “Where we are, the environment is telling you to eat meat.” Did he ask the soil himself, Richman? Did you put your digital recorder down to the soil? It’s one thing to need a few animals to help with the ecosystem; it’s quite another to house “an animal-breeding facility.” That’s using them, which is gross and disrespectful. But Alan Richman loves farmers! So Dan Barber can have sockeye salmon flown to upstate New York from Alaska because he believes they have the best fisheries, and it must be acceptable because he’s a farmer and a chef. Don’t question him, he’s supreme master meat-farmer.
Then of course Richman gets to bring up Mollie Katzen’s later-in-life switch to an omnivorous diet: “‘For decades I ate brown rice, broccoli, and tofu…. And I felt tired, depressed, and irritable. As I’ve aged, I’ve felt a need for animal protein.’” Omnivores love it when vegans and vegetarians start eating animal products again, like it’s a giant game of red rover and they’re winning. Mollie Katzen is a grown-up and entitled to her own decisions, though maybe if she’d been able to eat more delicious vegan cheeses, tasty protein sources, or even just more non-animal-based fats (olive oil! avocados!), maybe she wouldn’t have felt this “need.” Who can say? None of us here eats exclusively brown rice and vegetables, though.
Ultimately, it seems like Alan Richman’s problem is that even if he could find food that met his nebulous standards, he wouldn’t know what to do with it, and further, he has no faith in “we” “Americans.” Again, if he stopped ignoring the non-animal-eating community, he might stop despairing so much. We know how to cook at home, because the majority of restaurants in the majority of the country do not cater to us. Instead of using the whole animal, we use the whole vegetable—cook the leafy greens, and use their hard ribs for stock. Our diets are richer, cheaper, healthier, more varied, and (arguably) more delicious than an omnivorous diet.
Richman moans that “We no longer regard food as a gift, the way so many foreign cultures and religious families do. Instead of giving thanks and expressing gratitude on holidays, we gorge ourselves with meat.” Has the idea of a Thanksgiving without meat ever occurred to him? It’s fantastic. What about potlucks, or brunches? Within the vegan community, we cater to each other while we work and wait for the greater community to cater to us. Group meals are exciting and fun, each dish a present to friends. We get a lot of joy out of cooking and eating, part of which comes from knowing that animals didn’t suffer and die for our meals. How exactly is that "ethical eating run amok"?
Richman’s narrow-mindedness does him a serious disservice. If he really wanted to discove how to eat ethically, he should have researched vegans and/or vegetarians. Otherwise, he frames his article disingenuously: this is “talking to independent farmers and a couple of restaurateurs about how I can feel less guilty about eating the same way I do now.” And that is a bunch of bullshit. At least Michael Pollan made an effort. Alan Richman used his budget to travel around eating a lot, get his relatives to write about their own hard work living consciously, and type up the same stuff everyone else has been saying about eating meat and vegetables and Alice Waters and Dan Barber since the publication of The Omnivore’s goddamn Dilemma. What a waste of time.
Loads of food, loads of swears, vegetarian kids, meat-obsessed men, literal and figurative pigs AND MORE in today’s link-o-rama! »
Volunteers from Harvest Sacramento picked over 1,300 pounds of citrus fruits from trees in Midtown Sacramento last weekend; it all went to the city Food Bank. This included fruit from trees in private homes whose owners weren’t able or willing to pick it themselves. Our state capital is now surely scurvy-free and we couldn’t be prouder. [image via Sacramento Press]
Fun-times vegan-style events!
Super-important news, don’t forget: the very second East Bay Vegan Bakesale happens tomorrow, Saturday Mar. 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in front of Issues (20 Glen Ave. at Piedmont Avenue) in Oakland. Even the SF Bay Guardian is (moderately) excited about it!
Tomorrow is also the fourth annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, at Fort Mason!
Celebrate the Great American Meat-Out with the San Francisco Vegetarian Society on Sunday, Mar. 21! For a $5 donation you will get hors d’oeuvres, lunch, and attendance at talks by Bob Linden and Dr. Will Tuttle. The event runs from 12:15 to 3:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Center, at 1187 Franklin Street at Geary.
It’s Vegan Week at Supperclub SF! This is especially useful if you are into “participating in” your “dining experience,” rather than “ordering and eating it while conversing pleasantly with your companions” and/or are a hippie gourmand(e). We hear the food is quite good, regardless, so now is probably the time to make reservations for Sunday, Mar. 21, or Tuesday through Thursday, Mar. 23-25.
Next Friday, Mar. 26 Lorna Sass, author of Short-Cut Vegan and Cooking Under Pressure, will give pressure-cooker demonstrations: one at the Ferry Market Plaza at 11 a.m., and one at Omnivore Books—3885 Cesar Chavez St. at 26th Street—at 3 p.m.
Items of social and political import!
Animal-abusers often become people-abusers, so state laws regarding convicted animal-abusers are growing stricter and more prevalent. This is progress, yes? At least authorities are learning to remove animals from abusive situations.
You know what kids love? Animals! You know what kids hate? Hurting animals! You know what conclusions that leads kids to (of their own accord!)? Not eating meat! Yes I know, this is probably another non-trend piece, but at least it is a positive trend piece, rather than some douchey 30-year-old who wears exclusively leather accessories and insists that raw meat is the diet of the future.
Vegetarian kids who buy school lunches may get a break soon: Washington (D.C., duh!) gossip has it that our D.Kuch may have traded his “yes” vote on the healthcare reform bill for E.Kuch’s inclusion—meaning, veg options!—in Michelle Obama’s new campaign for healthy childhood eating habits. Believe it? I don’t know. But I do know that we love the Kuciniches and are super-happy to have Elizabeth’s support for this program.
You could learn to make tasty vegan food to serve the Kuciniches—or your family, whomever—at the Secrets of Vegan Baking site, which has instructional videos by Christine Dickson.
Yes I know, Starbucks is terrible and disappointing. But: VEGAN FRAPPUCCINOS, come on! Now we can drink gigantor coffee milkshakes just like everybody else. America, fuck yeah!
Or if maybe you are doing a “make fast food items at home” thing, as that shit is tasty but also totally vile and full of animal parts, try this recipe for a vegan Shamrock Shake. There’s spirulina in it!
The SFBG praises Urban Tavern’s German vegetable stew. They don’t say whether you can get the enormous pretzel without the “beer sausage,” but I sincerely hope so. I lived in Germany for a year, a freshly baked enormous pretzel is fucking delicious, let me tell you.
FYI, corn is fucking food and fuel prices all up, again. In case there was any question of corn being the most insidious sister.
Executives at giant food corporations continue to be stupid assholes! Who’s surprised?
Erykah Badu continues to be a crazy-awesome human! Who’s surprised?
Dan Barber discusses organic farming in an intelligent, coherent manner—until he gets to the “MY veal and foie gras are totally awesome” bit.
Hello St. Andrew Beach Mouse, from Panama City, Florida! It took a lot of patience and skill for photographer Joel Sartore to capture this image, as well as pictures of six other endangered animals. [image via PDN Photo of the Day]
I love My Life Is So Awkward! This week Caroline reported on a cat who had been called for jury duty, and whose human companion, in response, “chose ‘Does Not Speak English’ as the BEST reason why her cat could not serve on a jury.” Better: “The disqualification was denied and now she is hoping it is cleared up before the summons date so she will not have to bring her cat to court. ” DYING.
Don’t worry, you fucking savages, the Muslin Kenyan President isn’t going to take away your “right” to cold murder fish straight out of our national waters. He may ban “puppies, sunshine, and MOST DISTURBINGLY the leopard-print Snuggie,” who even knows anymore.
It looks like dolphins actually sort of hate it when people swim “with” them, and “dolphin tourism” totally freaks them out and makes it impossible for them to live happy porpoisey lives. Best idea: leaving dolphins the fuck alone!
The USDA’s Economic Research Service presents 100 years of American diet trends, including a ton of graphs. Gross-out data include: in 2008, the average American ate 31.4 pounds of cheese. JESUS CHRIST YOU FUCKERS THAT IS SO MUCH CHEESE. That is, like, a three-year-old child of cheese. So, so disgusting.
For fuck’s sake: PETA and
a meat company called “Bullwhip” (which is Google-immune—seriously, you try searching “Bullwhip meat california -peta” and see what happens) are is play-fighting over Sex.com. Really, PETA? Fucking really? Just shoot me in the face, already. [Ed: turns out the “Bullwhip” part is fake! That’d explain why it’s un-Googleable]
There is a World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies, and in this year of the Tiger it has officially asked its members to stop prescribing “tiger products,” presumably because tigers are endangered, and consuming their skins and/or bones is totally useless.
Ha ha, remember how the United Nations was considering a proposal banning the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna, and the U.S. supported it? Yesterday the U.N. basically said Fuck Off, fishes, we want our sashimi, rejecting the proposal, which “puts the fate of Atlantic bluefin tuna back in the hands of…the very body that drove the species to the disastrous state it is now in.” Fucking AWESOME, U.N.
Grub Street San Francisco launches its version of its parent blog’s column, the San Francisco Diet, with inaugural diarist Michael Bauer. You guys, Laura would be the perfect contributor! Let Grub Street know: our girl must be featured.
Offal IS awful. So is every other part of the animal, Dan Barber! »
Apparently there is a school of thought that acknowledges all the problems involved in animal agriculture: the ridiculous waste; the environmental holocaust; the abuses and tortures inflicted on farmed animals, and yet recoils at the thought of becoming vegetarian or vegan. It’s difficult to grasp the logic, except maybe that giving up meat is too “spartan,” strict, and ascetic—just no fun at all. Dan Barber seems to be one such, and his solution, as best we can understand it from this editorial in The Nation, is that we all just need to be eating less rib-eye and more tripe?
It’s understandable, maybe even commendable, that his message appears to encourage the use of the whole dead animal rather than leaving an obscene amount of waste after taking only the choicest cuts. But he never really makes a case for these assertions:
"We need radical thinking, but we don’t need a revolution. We don’t need an overthrow of capitalism. Nor do we need to become vegetarians. We need not become spartans. We’re just going to have to learn how to cook."
Comparing vegetarianism to something as radical as overthrowing capitalism is a ridiculous argument. Barber himself uses the words “morally and environmentally toxic” to describe the production of meat; by this same rationale, organic farming is radical socialism.
Eating meat isn’t something that we all just have to “man up” and get used to. It’s not good for you and certainly not the animal. Why do we encourage people to just get over it and do what it takes when there IS an alternative that’s so much better? Barber never explains why we “don’t all need to become vegetarians,” or why exactly that’s such anathema to him and his supposed readers.
Also, he never really explains what he means by how we need to “learn how to cook.” We can’t properly nourish ourselves without competently flaying a liver or stomach? If chefs and epicureans like Barber would put the same gusto into teaching people to cook fresh vegetables, legumes and grains, we’d be healthier and better for it. Why not invest money, time and effort into creating vibrant, beautiful dishes with fresh tomatoes, lentils, red potatoes, tofu? Tofu is a lot cheaper than most types of offal.*
People eat those parts of the animal because they’re foisted on them, not because they taste good or are nutritionally superior. They have to be covered with salt and spices to be palatable. You can force your palate to acclimate to them, but why not just accustom yourself to tempeh or quinoa? After all, you can get used to eating ANYTHING. (Trust me, I’ve learned to like Marmite.) Why expand your palate in the direction of universal carcass, and not the other, healthier alternative? People who initially balk at the thought of meat “missing” from their meals are doing themselves a disservice by not making an earnest effort to go the meatless route. This isn’t ideology, this is science**.
He also addresses this issue from an “America vs. the developing world” perspective, as if all of India and China sit down to our castoff tripe stew at every meal. But increasingly, our bad meat consumption habits have infected the rest of the world, and the taste for prime cuts of meat is associated with privilege and economic prosperity. It’s delusional to think these countries won’t direct their resources away from their offal-eating roots as they can afford it. Barber’s portrayal of “other cultures” seems a bit filtered by privilege: American culture as dynamic and those more entrenched peoples existing in some Romantic 19th Century Authenticity Land, as if their cuisines don’t evolve with globalization in the same way ours has.
Tsk tsk, Dan Barber. I imagine your disciples will now circle jerk over sweetbreads*** while they read this article but maybe for once someone will stand up and be all, “Bitch, you crazy!” Ah well, a pink dino can dream.
*And veganism is not some elitist thing that only those with access to Whole Foods and farmer’s markets can afford to venture into. I was a poor vegan on food stamps for several years; it can be done. And generally, when buying groceries and cooking for oneself, vegan is the cheapest option available.
**Why do you think giant bad guy corporate health insurers are begging people to “thrive” and please just eat a fresh vegetable once in a while SHIT YOU ALL ARE COSTING US HELLA MONEY.
***Sweetbreads. Has there ever been a more deceptive name? I mean, you think you’re sitting down to a delicious cinnamon roll and then BAM! Stuffed shit tubes! Man, it’s worse than internet dating. All I’m saying is, it’s a scary world out there.
Marilu Henner, Michael Bauer, Dan Barber, AWESOMENESS, Millennium, Animal Place, Michael Vick, INSANITY, Recipes, Street Food AND MORE: Friday link-o-rama! »
Let’s look at restaurant reviews in the Chronicle! Michael Bauer writes up Wexler’s, a fancypants barbecue place in the FiDi; was there anything pertinent to the cruelty-free set? “The kitchen doesn’t ignore vegetarians, either, offering a lunchtime smoked carrot plate with collards ($10) and a “farmer’s cookout” ($14) for dinner, with smoked eggplant chili, corn on the cob and Texas toast with smoked garlic butter.” WELL THEN.
You know that activism aphorism, “think globally, act locally”? Apparently this year it extra-applies to tomato production, and chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill is pretty pissed about it. His tips to home gardeners: Don’t fear science; grow more than one variety of tomato at a time; and eradicate your late-blight-afflicted tomatoes as soon as possible. Practice biodiversity, Victory Gardeners!
Millennium’s Heirloom Tomato Dinner may be the last time you taste those fruits of the vine this year, should Dan Barber’s predictions come true. Perhaps attending the feast on Aug. 26th between 5:30 and 9 p.m. for $60, with an extra $12 bloody mary flight, is the wise tomato-lover’s choice.
Are you aware of the excellent work The Marine Mammal Center does? That place is amazing. A friend of Vegansaurus is a longtime volunteer there, and it’s been in the national news recently, rescuing California sea lion pups—pups!—that have been washing ashore in “record numbers,” tiny and starved and very ill. If you love dolphins and otters and seals and all their brethren, this is the place you want to support.
On Saturday, Aug. 22nd, you can hit up the School Lunch Sound Off! Come by and bring all the students that you know! They can WIN AN IPOD just by being awesome and creative. Free snacks and drinks, activities and great speakers. OH AND MARILU HENNER. We’ll be there so you should too! After you hit up this event, head over TO (read below, just go with me):
The last two weekends of August the streets will run with food. First, on Saturday Aug. 22nd from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. is the first-ever San Francisco Street Food Festival! Admission is free, and there will be food and cocktails, with no item over $8, all on Folsom Street between 25th and 26th Streets. This is ridiculously close to Vegansaurus H.Q., so you better believe we will be there in our eatin’ dresses (and pants!), as the vendors list appears to have a decent number of veg dishes.
Second, Aug. 28 to 30 at Jack London Square in Oakland is the second annual Eat Real Festival. Admission is free, and they have all kinds of entertainment planned, as well as a full-on farmers’ market and a beer “shed.” The list of vendors looks pretty impressive, too. Don your finest eating-wear and join Vegansaurus—it is rare we miss an opportunity to eat on the cheap—though we will of course be missing the butchery contest on Saturday, Aug. 29, because, puke.
Oh yeah, Michael Vick is gonna be on 60 Minutes on Sunday. If you want watch him fake remorse, that’s the place to do it. Actually, instead of watching that, pick your dog up a Michael Vick Chew Toy and then please to look at all the adorable pit bulls up for adoption at PBRC. Even better, a photo of Hazel. <3 <3 <3
You know how you’re always saying that someday you want to live on a farm and have a million animal friends? Well, here’s your chance! Animal Place is hiring a rescue ranch manager who will live onsite with hundreds of awesome rescue animals. You can cuddle pigs and snuffle bunnies to your hearts content! You’ll also be responsible for scooping literal TONS of shit and have to live in BFE with little human companionship, but fuck people, we’re the worst; chickens rule, humans drool. I KNOW there is a Vegansaurus reader or two who are interested in this. If so, email Marji at Animal Place for more details!
And finally, Susan over at FatFree Vegan Kitchen has posted some bomb-looking recipe for oven-fried green tomatoes. I would like it noted that I only typed “oven-friend” twice before getting it right. Man, I love fried food.