Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Eating Personal? The Divide

Lots of talk about this so I thought I'd post a poll. See Sidebar.

Here are opinions I've collected so far:

Yes. Eating is personal. It's my business:
  • Al Gore (Former Vice President) in answer to: Have you become vegetarian? "No, I have not. ... I don't plan to. I respect those who do. But it's a personal choice and will remain so."
  • Jonathan Safran Foer (Author "Eating Animals"): "My decision not to eat animals is necessary for me, but it is also limited -- and personal."
  • Nicolette Niman (Manages Niman's livestock ranch): "I feel I can personally make a choice to refrain from consuming meat for my own individual reasons."
No. Eating is not personal. It's everyone's business:
  • James McWilliams (Author "Just Food"): "It's hard to avoid concluding that eating cannot be personal. What I eat influences you. What you eat influences me."
  • Bruce Friedrich (PETA): "The influence our eating choices have on others [is important]. ... The public aspects of eating are critical."
  • Wendell Berry (Writer): "Eating is an agricultural act."
  • Michael Pollan (Author "Omnivore's Dilemma"): "Eating is a political act."
  • Alice Waters (Restaurateur): "Eating is a political act."
See my previous post for a link to McWilliams article which addressed this issue.

Results of poll:

Is eating personal?

I believe the illustration is by Patrick McFarlin, an accompaniment to the book "What We Eat When We Eat Alone".


Steve Parker, M.D. said...

If anyone believes that what I eat is their business, just how far will you go to enforce YOUR views that differ from mine?


ElDoubleVee said...

You forgot an important one. One maybe not seen by the pampered, privileged social classes. "Eating is surviving."

Anonymous said...

Sure, eating has political consequences, just like everything else, but only a minority set out to make political statements. I'm between the two options. uncomfortable with either extreme. You can't eat endangered species because people (to a limited extent) have politicized food. That's a good thing.

Lisa said...

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Bix said...

Appreciate your comment, Lisa. But since this is an ad-free blog I removed your link.

Bix said...

It's getting difficult for me to hold onto the idea that eating is personal. Everything each of us does has consequences, and those consequences add up.

So, we voice our desire to maintain subsidies on grain commodities (corn, soy, and the like) when we consume meat produced from them. (Those who have less of a choice - the poor, the institutionalized - are consuming what the rest of us make available to them.)

I think I understand what you're saying Steve. I don't want to consume products of livestock factory farming, but I feel compelled to when 99% of the animal protein on the market is factory farmed. I feel that others have enforced their views upon me. But then, that's what I'm saying ... that the aggregate of peoples' choices affect everyone.

Bix said...

In one breath, Jonathan Foer says that how he eats is personal. Then he spends paragraphs and chapters arguing how our food choices are anything but personal. How they affect the planet and the people and animals that live on it.

So, which is it? Or is it so much of both that the question is moot? Endlessly arguable?

If there were 10 people left on the plant, but only food for 5, is it every man for himself? Or would humans divide everything up? I have lots of thoughts but no quick answer to that.

Someone here in comments said they were "uncomfortable with either extreme." That's the conversation, right there.

caulfieldkid said...


The more I think about it, the more I think it may be a logically improper question. Or as you put it, "so much of both that the question is moot."

The one thing that is ironic: Those with the greatest freedom to make it a personal choice are also those who have the greatest ability to make an impact to the whole.

Perhaps it is simply a case of - "with freedom comes responsibility." We are free to choose our diet, but we must realize we are responsible for the consequences of those choices. And those consequences are not singular to our person.

I think that the underlying question that you are really getting at is one of culpability. At what point does someone step in and enforce that "your fist ends where my nose begins." That is the real noggin' scratcher. There has to be a line somewhere, but I have not yet figured out where it is.


Bix said...

Good stuff, shaun.

Culpability. What does someone do with the knowledge that the more meat they eat, the more others suffer? I mean, once you grasp that, how do you proceed? Is it every man for himself? Maybe it is? Isn't that the idea behind capitalism ... that the whole benefits when individuals are free to pursue their own self-interests? So, in the case of meat ... the greater the demand for meat, and the closer we get to an unsustainable production, the greater the economic incentive to find creative alternative means to continue providing meat? (I don't know ... cultured meat?)

Or is there another way to proceed? Can the choice that individuals make in free societies be one of collectiveness or distribution? Well, I'm sure not going to solve the capitalism vs. socialism question here.

Foer, in "Eating Animals" said:

"Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless -- it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another."