Category Archives: food policy

Things I want to research at UCSD

I just got back from visiting UCSD’s political science PhD program open house, and it looks like I’ll be going – we’re excited about the prospect of moving back home! And I’m looking forward to sitting on the other side of the desk for a little while. I had lots of interesting discussions with current profs, current students, and prospective students. Here are some things I’d like to work on, eventually.

Product-process distinctions and full-cost labeling in national and international trade policy. This ‘how the iPhone is and is not like a Chipotle burrito’ thread provides a good example of why more work is needed here: they missed what for me is the most obvious difference, that Foxconn is very different from the likes of Niman Ranch. And maybe if shrimp contained carbon (for farmed, via mangrove destruction) or bycatch (for wild-caught) labels, people would eat less destructively.

Social norms, social movements, network theory, food, and animals…lots of this work would actually fit better in the sociology department, which is right upstairs and has a few crossover profs.

Collaborations with local food justice, education, and conservation organizations. One of the theory profs. has lots of good connections to local food policy NGOs, and I plan to start volunteering again at Pazzaz again – and maybe more.

And hopefully I can build on my Fletcher and Center for Animals theses at the International Relations and Pacific Studies’ (IR/PS) Laboratory on International Law and Regulation.

More tangential research I would love to do, although I’m not entirely sure who would collaborate on any of this, either within the political science department or beyond it: speculative fiction and political theory; and games, gamification and nonhuman animals.

My long-term goal is to help move political science beyond the purely anthropocentric, whether through a trans-species rational choice theory (RCT) analysis or by building on the likes of Donaldson and Kymlicka’s recent Zoopolis. In addition to all this, I’ll no doubt get a thorough drubbing in quantitative political analysis, which is what the program is best known for. Bring it.

Deengate and twinkie pie

First, the good news: Americans are eating less meat, even if it’s still contingent on geography; in some places, this Onion bit may still be indistinguishable from reality. And depending upon your schadenfreude-ometer, Hostess’ bankruptcy and even Paula Deen’s diabeetus might be cause for celebration. Whatever else it is, though, it’s definitely some kind of teachable moment, and you know you’re in trouble when even the Fox News op-ed feed is berating you.

Deen, creator of the twinkie pie and the donut-encased bacon-egg-cheeseduckenburger, recently announced that she has type 2 diabetes, and the internets have not been kind. Jane Black sees a big missed opportunity in Deen’s decision to forego a transition to a saner and kinder diet–instead, she’s partnering with a costly drug endorsement, and preventive medicine be damned.

And this should all segue nicely into the upcoming Intelligence Squared debate, which will focus on whether the obesity crisis is an issue of personal responsibility or market manipulation. As always, it’s both, but here’s to hoping that the reigning queen of food porn can lead by example, even if the example in this case is a cautionary tale of a lesson not learned.

Horse slaughter

A number of my animal studies students have written interesting research papers on the law, policy, and ethics of horse slaughter. I’ve found the issue to be an excellent case study for various key animal politics issues: determining the boundaries of the moral community; understanding whose voice counts, and why; and parsing the the national and international political economy and trade law issues under consideration. The image featured above is from a campaign for electoral reform–“We Need More Party Animals”–but most of the things I came up with when I image searched ‘horse slaughter’ were too nasty. (And speaking of political animals and animal lovers, here’s one)

I actually changed my views quite substantially on this issue over the last few years. Originally, my approach was mostly utilitarian and anti-speciesist, and I couldn’t help but think that if some of the millions of people who called their congresspeople about horse slaughter-related issues (it’s the number one thing anyone in Congress gets called about..) would chime in instead about the billions of other animals sent to slaughter, it would have a better net effect.

But the more I learned about some key issues–the difference between slaughter and euthanasia; the welfare problems inherent in shipping and slaughtering skittish animals whose skulls are not an easy target for captive bolt guns; and, yes, the relational issues that arise from killing animals who traditionally have a strong human-animal bond–the more my views on the issue started to shift closer to a capabilities approach.

Here are some recent pieces on the topic, both of which I felt were lacking, but in different degrees and for different reasons: Josh Ozersky (Time food writer), “The Case for Eating Horse Meat“; and philosopher Mike LaBossiere, “They Eat Horses, Don’t They“.

And here‘s a piece on the growth of the animal studies field in today’s NYT: onward and upward!

Food fight: free to choose?

This picture was featured in an ad purchased by the Washington Legal Foundation in today’s print NYT. Fat taxes are causing a stir. Junk food marketing is coming under fire. It’s getting easier to track our food, at least in theory. So what does the industry shill formerly known as a Phillip Morris front do? Attack “platernalistic plaintiffs’ lawyers, government officials, and professional activists [who] are pecking away at consumers’ freedom of choice. They think we can’t manage our own lives, and through lawsuits, regulations, and taxes, they want to make our food choices for us.” There’s actually something to this argument from personal responsibility, but real choice would require much less imperfect information and an absence of manipulation verging on coercion…I don’t see the WLF pushing that level of deliberative democracy anytime soon. To paraphrase Nader: when all you’ve got to choose from is the evil of two lessers, you don’t have much of a choice.

In other news – I just got back from a trip to DC, where I ran a workshop on agriculture and animal welfare at the Public Philosophy Network’s conference on publicly engaged philosophy. It was great fun: after the opening talk by E.J. Dionne, Bill Galston, Hanna Rosen , and others, I participated in a workshop on social media ethics that helped clarify some things for me (about this blog, about my wikis, about FB and school, etc.), and there were some fascinating paper presentations on topics ranging from farm animals to climate change to bioethics to public policy. If anyone’s interested in getting involved, I’d recommend requesting access to the PPN wiki.

What counts as a “food dialogue”?

The US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance has decided to shift tactics from bunker mode to PR blitz, probably because they know Bittman and others are shifting the discourse, much as other front groups might try to intervene. The resulting Food Dialogues are trying to harness social media and to fight back against Meatless Mondays and other gradualist flexitarian programs. (If ever I’ve seen a sign that things like Meatless Mondays – or even meatless weekdays, for the more committed – are powerful policy tools, this kind of backlash would be it.)

The image above is from a study conducted by the USFRA, and I think this post by Civil Eats does a good job deconstructing it. Especially this: “While I believe the majority of our nation’s ranchers and farmers are respectful stewards of the land with the public’s best interest at heart—they’re working hard to reduce their environmental impact and address pesticide, artificial hormone, and antibiotics overuse—the USFRA clearly is not representing them. Instead, a look at the Alliance affiliates reveals that it is made up of, and funded by, the biggest players in the food industry, including those who profit most from toxic agricultural chemicals, polluting farming and food processing practices, and concerning animal welfare policies. No wonder, then, that that limiting protections from toxic pesticides and pushing back against antibiotic regulation are just two of the current policy priorities of USFRA affiliates.”

This response from La Vida Locavore is slightly more activist, but this passage gets at a core problem here: “Farmers, no matter how they actually farm, say they CARE about the environment and animal welfare. Which adds up to roughly nothing in reality, since the question does not ask what the farmers actually DO on their farms. But the last question is a loaded question.” Since environmental stewardship and good animal treatment are perceived as unmitigated goods by the public at large, only an idiot would say otherwise. Calling the Congo a “democratic republic” comes to mind — everyone wants the cachet of democracy, so they use the keywords and void them of meaning in the process.

All of which is unfortunate, because a real food dialogue would be a wonderful thing. Yes, Pollan et al can be disconnected from the concerns of the average producer and/or consumer, but to turn around and say that Monsanto has the answer? This Habermasian says thanks, but no.

(It should also be a red flag that this ‘dialogue’ is funded mostly by the checkoff programs, a.k.a. the people who try to figure out how put more cheese on pizza. Thanks to the schizophrenic mandate of the USDA, this is a program where following image, from the Onion‘s “World’s Fattest Town Makes, Consumes World’s Largest Mozzarella Stick”, would be right at home.)

Elitism and food

I’m late to this party, but I’ve been on vacation for a few days. Anthony Bourdain and Paula Deen are in a tiff, and the NYT’s former food critic Frank Bruni weighs in. Basically, Bourdain says Deen is destroying our health, and Deen says the expensive-ass foie gras eating foodie elitist isn’t one to talk.

I agree with Jane Black that Bourdain is really not one to talk, although he is of course free to do so. (I also agree that “values, priorities, and taste” may dictate more than “access and affordability” when it comes to our food habits) The CSM also has a reasonably balanced take here. Feministe, aggressive and race/class/gender-y as usual, makes some important points. And as usual, Nestle’s analysis about social movement and elitism-speak is spot on.

But the essence of this piece is that people can’t afford to spend more on healthy food, and in most cases I think think that’s just wrong. But it’s still used as a argument killing catch-all, and it will be until we address the shameful rates of food insecurity in this country.

The foodie-elitist conflation goes way back, and there’s been a lot of interesting pieces on politics and elitism recently. But what really bothers me is the unapologetic know-nothingness of a lot of these claims. They’re usually from the right, and they’re often openly anti-science. But the important point is that these kinds of arguments never get much beyond the base of Paul Graham’s hierarchy of disagreement. (below)

This is no surprise, really. These tactics function as discussion stoppers — essentially the rhetorical equivalent of just telling somebody to shut up. I show this graph to my students every semester, in an effort to get them to argue higher up this curve. If it’s easier said than done in my college classroom, I can see we’re going to have trouble parsing Palin’s “real America” in the 24/7 soundbite culture.

Yes, cost matters. And yes, culture matters. But Nestle, quoting Schlosser, is right: “social movements have to begin somewhere and several began with elites but ended up helping the poor and disenfranchised—the civil rights, environmental and women’s movements, for example.” Addressing these issues will require all manner of solutions, from all manner of perspectives. Branching AmeriCorps off into a FoodCorps, for example, is one small and recent step. But it’s a start.

Oppression-speak and myopic “clarity”

This interview with UChicago’s Robert Pippin got me to thinking about the effects of seeing the world through oppression-tinted lenses, especially after rereading (for class) Jeff McMahan’s recent piece (from which the image above is lifted) on the desirability of mass predator eradication. Setting aside the fascinating discussions on Hegel, art, and modernity, I want to narrow in on how Marx famously ‘turned Hegel on his head’, and the effects of viewing the world through zero-sum oppressionscopes. Viewed in such a light, various complex symbioses can immediately be reduced to hierarchical power differentials of oppressors and oppressed. But is this accurate, and would ‘liberation’ lead to a better world? I’m going to have to equivocate: sometimes symbiosis is indeed mere parasitism, but sometimes it’s commensalism and sometimes it’s mutualism. We want to shoot for mutualism. (Duh.)

(Full disclosure: I’m a graduate of Wesleyan University, and although my major–the ‘dead white men’ College of Letters–set me on its own course, the PCU-ness of many of my classes left an undeniable mark. Personally, I loved being able to study a core of ‘great books’ while being challenged by a range of broadly ‘left’ disciplines in my coursework. While my gripe at the time was more with what I perceived as the nihilist tendencies of postmodernism (we’ve since come to terms, albeit cautiously), the idea that hierarchy and inequality were categorically unjust seemed an unquestioned axiom of many of my peers.)

I’ll start by saying that some forms of human-animal relations are, indeed, pretty overtly zero-sum in this respect. Battery cage egg production comes to mind, as this blog post rejecting incrementalism points out, but this is as much because of the economics of “commodity” production in an age of economic globalization as because of anything inherently wrong with animal husbandry. (There’s a whole literature rejecting ‘humane livestock’ and what Francione terms ‘new welfarism’, and others neocarnism, that would reject animal agriculture as inherent parasitical. I don’t want to get in to that argument right now, other than to say that I think it’s logically coherent–indeed, with the exception of some nutritionally vulnerable groups, we’re not obligate omnivores–but ignorant of “the way the world actually is”. In other words, yes, I’m an incrementalist.)

Maybe it’s because I’m a Rortyan pragmatist who cringes when I hear single-premise constructs about ethics and policy (hence the contradictory ‘myopic clarity’ schtick). Especially in the case of food politics, I don’t see the other 98% of the world agreeing with the vegan ethic’s principle of harm avoidance overriding all of our other distinct moral premises anytime soon.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I’m cynical in the sense that nobody, not even the most dedicated vegan, is truly “cruelty-free”, especially those of us urbanites who live under what Marx accurately termed alienation from the means of production. This even follows from the second law of thermodynamics and the nature of ecological pyramids: in order for us to live, other living matter must die. This is true for any organism that is not an autotroph…so until we start figuring out how to photosynthesize or chemosynthesize, we have to remove energy from the world to live. So yes, we should all endeavor to eat and live lower down on the resource/food web. But these kinds of ethical concerns are distinct from harm/care/suffering, and they need to be balanced against each other.

And I don’t say this as a cheap rhetorical tactic (to merely prop up counterarguments as if they somehow changed the reality in question: see the Dawkins elevatorgate (just Google it) for a primer on how not to say “your issue is unimportant because other important issues exist.” Which often descends into the caricature: “Why care about animals? Kids are starving in Africa!”)

I guess all I’m saying is that I think we live in a tragically configured moral universe (as Sandel said of Isaiah Berlin’s views), and while I’m not a conservative, I have a lot of respect for the Burkean idea that social engineering projects don’t take you where you think you want to go (cue the ecological nightmare that would be mass predator eradication). Then again, if I see compelling evidence that we can restructure the global food system–or global predator-prey interactions–to bring about a broadly sustainable vegan future, I’m down. I mean, if the Vulcans do it…But large-scale veganic agriculture without massive synthetic fertilizer use (and resultant dead zones) and backbreaking stoop labor is not on the near-term horizon. (This also gets us into a whole other debate: the Vandana Shiva small-scale future versus the Economist techno-sustainable large-scale future. Again, I don’t want to go there right now.)

That said, I think the rich world needs to start eating about 90% less meat and dairy, and I think serious policy efforts need to be made to keep the rapidly developing world–especially China–from following in our dietary footsteps. But things aren’t looking good. But just looking at all animal husbandry as equally illegitimate is to paint with a comically wide brush. But I guess that’s why I’m a welfarist. (It’s also because I don’t believe that rights–whether human or animal–are anything other than a(n enormously useful) social construct)…but that’s a topic for another post.)

It’s a stretch to say that the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity, but, sadly, Yeats was on to something.

The paradox of happy meat?

So the big news this week is the HSUS-UEP deal over egg-laying hen wefare. I’ve been putting off writing about it, because I just started my Summer Animal Rights & Animal Welfare class, which runs intensively and keeps me pretty busy. It’s also hard to write about these issues, when the welfarist middle ground is openly scorned from both sides. Now that the dust has settled a bit, I want to use this case a springboard to talk about some fundamental differences between welfarists and abolitionists.

I played some of this video of Francione on moral schizophrenia in class yesterday, and the core idea, reiterated in Francione’s take on the HSUS/UEP deal complements James McWilliams’ new piece in the Atlantic arguing against ‘humane meat’ (indeed, he seems to be arguing the same thing there, over and over). To say that people consume animal products merely because they “want to”, or because “they taste good”, is at the core of McWilliams’ and Francione’s arguments. Indeed, they are arguing pretty much the same thing, I think, but McWilliams is probably trying to reach a different audience. But this is a problematic argument: it reduces our social and evolutionary history to a mere gustatory preference. For Francione to say, as he often does, that he can persuade anyone to be vegan in 15 minutes if they accept the premise that unnecessary suffering is morally wrong, demonstrates both hubris and myopia. (In my Rortyan opinion, of course; I have no doubt that others would view this very differently, but the ‘final vocabulary’ of “minimize harm” has to be balanced against various other vocabularies. The problems of fertilizer, runoff, and global veganic agriculture, for one…not that this is an insurmountable problem–actually, I don’t know the answer to this–but it’s a demonstration of how looking at these issues through one lens only shows you the elephant’s tail, so to speak.)

I’m not saying that ethical veganism doesn’t have powerful arguments in its defense. It does. But to trivialize all non-vegan diets as being “merely for pleasure” is, in my view, to frame the premises of your argument dishonestly. (It also opens up the whole Puritanical critique of aestheticism-as-luxury-and-therefore-morally-corrupt argument, which can be powerful but often runs the risk of collapsing into anti-consumption extremes.) This is also the logical conclusion of looking at the world through critical theory-tinted glasses that reflect only power relationships of oppression and inequality (Marxian rather than otherwise left-Hegelian). Viewed in this perspective, bigger cages aren’t the answer, and they never can be.

On to the matter at hand: the reactions were as varied as one might expect, and they read like a Rorschach test of political persuasions. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition presents a reasonably editorial-free overview. The Oregonian raised the scare flag of 8$ eggs. Humane Watch is as amusingly shrill and shill-y as usual, as is their industry-driven front, the Center for Consumer Freedom. Vegan Soapbox (from which I lifted the picture above) presents what I think is a balanced and honest overview that maintains a vegan ethic while acknowledging that this really is a big deal. I can’t find any specific commentary from the AVMA, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re playing their hand close to their chest, given their less-than-progressive record on farm animal welfare.

My view is that this is a big deal, and, pace this reasonable counterargument over at Grist, that it’s an example of effective policy pluralism at work (I just taught a class on public policy and five of the main schools of thought: pluralism, policy science, policy specialism, public choice, and critical theory). This is a case where interest group competition (the two lobbyists in question, the HSUS and the UEP, represent very different minipublics. Obviously.) overcame private interests to serve something resembling a public interest that takes nonhuman animal interests into account. I think this case will make for an important case study of interest group bargaining in the domain of farm animal welfare, just as the back-and-forth between PETA and McDonald’s accelerated the process of hen welfare standardization in the last decade.

Looking at the two images above, I don’t agree with Francione that they’re both clearly being ‘tortured’. Yes, implementation will clearly take a very long time. And yes, the fact is that enriched cages on the level of production market demand ‘requires’ will still likely involve large-scale animal suffering. But that doesn’t mean that two wrongs, to paraphrase Asimov, are equally wrong.

“Cage-free”

Why is the USDA helping to hype Perdue chicken indeed? “Always raised cage-free…we’re trying to make a better chicken.” A few thoughts: first, this is a form of greenwashing similar to Shaving cream, etc. cans advertising that they’re “CFC-free” —  it’s completely irrelevant. In the case of CFCs and other ODSs, it would be illegal for a company to use them, so all its advertising is compliance with the law. In the case of ‘cage-free’ meat chickens, broiler chickens are never kept in cages; this only applies to egg-laying hens. The real issues when it comes to broilers are stocking density and various forms of enrichment.

On the second point: it’s important to note that the guy in the video (a Perdue scientist, presumably) said “we’re trying to make a better chicken”, not “we’re trying to raise a better chicken.” This gets us into the important bioethical questions about biotechnology, animal genetics, and animal ethics. These aren’t your grandpappy’s backyard birds.

And they even managed to riff on the gendered ethic of care: “she talks to them more than I do”…

Facepalm

As if on cue, this 777-pound behemoth regains the ‘biggest burger’ title for America, fast on the heels of the “Meatful Monday” and the Coney Island eating contest. The interwebs are abuzz with fascinated Kobayashi profiles and light-hearted statistical analyses. Never mind the myriad human, animal, and environmental harms involved; this is America, goddamit. Sigh.

Eating, ethics, and regulation

What do competitive eating competitions, in vitro meat, and banning the sale of kosher/halal slaughter all have in common? One’s position on each of these issues will probably correspond to one’s location on the food ethics spectrum. The popular position in the US, for example, is that eating competitions are silly but fun, in vitro meat is icky and taboo, and banning kosher/halal slaughter practices goes too far in infringing on religious freedoms. I disagree on all three counts – let me explain why.

Competitive eating, to me, is morally repulsive rather than just frivolous. I feel the same way about many of the ludicrously wasteful lengths people go to for a shot at Guinness records (biggest burger, etc.). When we contemplate the multi-system damage done to the environment, humans, and animals by the world food system, such exercises in wanton profligacy are just, well, dumb. Similarly dumb is the president’s need to appeal to the average Joe by showing that he can eat all manner of junk food, Michelle be damned. So thanks, Onion, for articles like this.

Regarding in vitro meat and its fecal cognates…I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but never got around to it. Let me focus here on in vitro rather than “poop” meat, although the latter raises most of the same questions, if with a substantially larger “ick barrier” (And Colbert’s “schmeat” schtick is already blurring the line here…) The fact is that in vitro meat has enormous potential in a world of skyrocketing demand for meat and limited arable land for pasture and/or crops. It would also effectively address most of the current arguments in favor of ethical veganism. On the other hand, the Marxian critique–that this is just one further step in our alienation from the forces of production–is problematic. This is definitely an issue to keep an eye on, even if the current state of the New Harvest facility is quite modest relative to all the hype.

The case of banning undesirable practices is another troubling one. On the one hand, I can see the libertarian argument that bans are the wrong way to go about public policy, but in some cases I think they can send a powerful and useful message (I also disagree with the idea that a “nanny state” is necessarily pejorative; I mean, aren’t nannies nurturing and supportive?). In practice, the Dutch ban on religious slaughter exemptions is turning into a mess of ugly anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. This is unfortunate, but the fact remains that such slaughter practices were humane only by the millennia-old standards of desert nomads. We can do better now, and the limits of religious freedom don’t extend to treatment of other sentient beings.

The recent proposed ban of pets in ban-happy San Francisco is another case in point. On the one hand, they’re on the vanguard of social policy, and such actions could foreshadow similar moves elsewhere. (You see a similar logic at work with HSUS’s ballot initiative against sow crates in Florida as a preface to Prop 2 in California – it builds momentum by starting in a place that doesn’t really have the relevant industry in-state…a deceptive, even undemocratic, but effective tactic.) On the other hand, you run the risk of blowback; the double-edged sword of celebrity endorsements for the likes of PETA (i.e., it’s a “frivolous Hollywood cause”) is apposite here.

So should competitive eating be banned? In principle I want to say yes, but I know that this is just too out of whack with the American zeitgeist right now. Hopefully our stomachs for compassion will grow faster than our stomachs for, you know, eating. Happy 4th!

Digesting the USDA food plate

So the food plate is replacing the useless food pyramid version 2.0, and everyone is having their say. The consensus opinion seems to be that it’s a definite improvement over previous iterations, most of which showed the stamp of the animal ag lobby. (For a visual example of food lobbyists at work: the CSPI’s work often needs grain-of-salting, but this video is an excellent example of the murkiness of the science-policy interface. Oh, and the embedded video above is…about vegetables.)

A brief overview of the impressions I’ve come across. Some bemoan the absence of exercise, which was visually represented in the otherwise baffling food pyramid. Some see it as a small but much needed step towards reclaiming government authority over food leadership in a Beck/Palin age of ‘hands off my food’. Some questioned whether the USDA, a federal body with the promotion of American agriculture as its core mandate, is really competent to chair this discussion. Others, mostly in the comments sections, tooted their low-carb horns. Vegan dieticians questioned the inclusion of the dairy satellite on grounds of redundancy. The use of a plate rather than a pyramid was generally hailed as a common sense transition. There was, of course, varying degrees of snarky skepticism over the role of government as food nanny. (I’m setting aside, for now, Reason‘s derisive use of the term ‘nanny’, which until its libertarian appropriation was unequivocally positive in tone–Martha Nussbaum addresses this issue in the film Examined Life here). And, as usual, the Atlantic Wire has a pretty good overview of various other positions.

Marion Nestle’s first impressions are worth reading. She is generally supportive of the change, although she acknowledges that these are small steps, and that US ag policy under Vilsack needs to be brought into line with these recommendations. Her main quibble: “Protein.  I’m a nutritionist.  Protein is a nutrient, not a food.  Protein is not exactly lacking in American diets.  The average American consumes twice the protein needed.  Grains and dairy, each with its own sector, are important sources of protein in American diets.

I see her point, but this is a case where a one-plate-fits-all food is problematic, and ‘protein’ may be the best middle ground available. Vegan.com’s Erik Marcus approved of the protein moniker because it’s sufficiently broad as to allow for non-animal as well as animal proteins, and because it takes up less of the plate than the fruit and veg portions. On the other hand, the nutrient protein is present in three of the four foods listed (vegetables, grains, and dairy), making it possibly redundant–especially considering that most Americans get way too much protein, but are too macho and meat-addicted to take this seriously.

Edit: Nestle has a follow-up barrage of links here.

A buffet of food debates

(While I’ve been grading nonstop,) there have been a number of interesting debates and forums on food policy over the last few weeks: the Washington Post‘s Future of Food Summit, the NY Times online debate on farm animal cruelty, and, from a rather different corner, the Animal Ag Alliance’s 10th annual stakeholder summit. So I thought it would be a good time to talk about some recent food issues. Specifically, Forks Over Knives, weekday vegetarianism, and the debate over tilapia. Oh, and the above video is mostly unrelated, although I do think it obliquely speaks to our throwaway food culture.

I look forward to seeing Forks Over Knives, but was especially interested in Ebert’s review: “You are addicted to fat, salt, sugar and corn syrup. Your body has established a narcotic-like dependence on them, and you’re comfortable with that, just like smokers know why they keep on smoking…The bottom line: I am convinced this message is true. A plant-based whole foods diet is healthy. Animal protein is not necessary, or should be used sparingly as Asians did, as a flavoring and not a main course.” This is spot-on, and I hope Ebert’s thumb up will do a good deal in spreading the word.

I also think that things like meatless Mondays and weekday vegetarianism provide a more realistic approach to reducing meat and dairy consumption than alternatives like Francione’s Vegan 1-2-3 (although different approaches will of course work for different people). From the perspective of net benefit, of course, it doesn’t matter if someone’s a weekday vegetarian or a Wednesday-through-Tuesday vegetarian, but it does have the benefit of being heuristically catchy and allowing for special occasions.

On tilapia (I’ll be setting aside the issue of fish pain and sentience, here – but not because it’s not important): a recent NY Times broadside god a lot of attention in the food policy blogoverse, and with good reason — the authors questioned the green credentials of a fish that’s often lauded for having a high growth rate, omnivorous diet, and stocking density (and it has no planktonic phase). The article points out, though that there are other, more negative, reasons it has the name ‘aquatic chicken’: concerns about pollution and nutritional quality. Large-scale tilapia operations in China wreak havoc on local ecosystems, and the fish has far fewer of the sought after Omega-3s than the fattier fish that are generally less palatable to Americans. (Although I have no idea why…I think sardines and mackerel are delicious, which is good, because I try to eat fish that are trophically low on the ecological food pyramid. This is also why tilapia’s omnivorousness is an environmental bonus over farmed carnivorous fish, that have to eat fishmeal which is often trawled from wild catch operations.)

In light of all this, I read Helene York’s qualified defense of tilapia with great interest. Especially when looking at global seafood demand projects from the FAO, large-scale aquaculture seems like a necessary evil, at least until we can guide more and more people towards a plant-based diet–and this article raises a lot of the usual questions about scalability and whether this is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. To be honest, I don’t know enough about the topic to be able to make a definitive judgment. In the meantime, however, it looks like I’ll be laying off the frozen tilapia fillets.

In semi-related news, this Atlantic Wire breakdown of the French response to Foer’s Eating Animals is, well, so very French.