by Raju Peddada
As always, for SNAM, to whom I remain eternally indebted.
"...my mother had the stupendous idea of serving for lunch that great delicacy of a whole stewed ox tongue, enormous, red and slimy, cooked to Dona Jesusita's recipe and laid out on a silver platter like the head of St. John the Baptist... I was left at the mercy of these Catholicism-afflicted woman."
—Hector Abad in Oblivion - A Memoir, American Edition, 2012
"Don't eat meat? You're kidding me... it's all protein, man... jacks up your IQ too." "Meat protein uh... it's highly acidic, mixes in your bloodstream, dissolving your bone mass... you pee out your calcium, bud -- ever heard of osteoporosis, all those hip surgeries? Excessive meat protein diet builds up toxic ketones... puts your kidneys in overdrive to flush this shit from your system -- bang. Renal failure in few years." "Pee out our calcium... get outta here!" "Why don't you lay off the porn... and Google the lowdown on meat protein -- what it does" "OK... maybe, but, it boosts the IQ of meat eaters." "Is there really a correlation? How about these geniuses -- Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Nadir Shah, Bin Laden, Mahmud of Ghazni, Timur, and Saddam -- there is a theory out there that people who eat meat become blood-thirsty... how about the Middle-East IQ? Emotional IQ is the real deal, by the way, here are some dumb vegans... Pythagoras, Plato, Plutarch, Da Vinci, Newton, Voltaire, Franklin, Emerson, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Van Gogh, Carl Lewis." "Come on, man, these are just tokens... only anomalies." "How about Ford, Gandhi, Einstein, Descartes, Bacon, Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Kafka, Hobbes." "Aaright...aaright, I get the drift -- but, it is so tasty, man --" "Now you've come to the point -- fast food brands sell fat taste to suckers like you... have you ever seen them advertise health? Taste is the killer, bud -- tell me something, would you kill for just taste -- sacrifice your innate reason, scruples and decency for it?
(Swans - March 25, 2013) Can we celebrate life without something dead on our plate? Can we celebrate at all, without this gruesome paradox? Every year ten billion land animals are slaughtered in the U.S. alone for food, and almost fifty-eight billion worldwide -- Are we going green, or red? In 2003, I saw this poster at a tourism agency in Marrakech of a smiling Berber woman, leaning her head onto and coddling a small lamb. I distinctly remember peering closer at the woman's eyes and teeth, experiencing an inexplicable chill. I couldn't tell if her smile was out of a genuine compassion for the hapless creature, or at the prospect of seeing it tender and juicy on her Tagine. Anyway, the sinister poster reeked of uninhibited and impudent hypocrisy. How can we explain the mitosis of unnatural malevolence in us, and the repression of our innate compassion?
Compassion is the fundamental and intrinsic component of imagination -- it primarily constitutes the faculty to visualize and feel what we would experience if we were suffering the same situation as others. Basically, the lack of compassion translates to the want of imagination, which, it so happens, is the keystone of literature and literacy. Literacy, through imagination and reason, engenders understanding and compassion. Unbelievably, keeping entire populations ignorant of this capacity, in developing literary imagination, had been the isolating and insulating strategy of the monotheistic faiths for more than 30 centuries.
How did they manage to deaden our intrinsic capacity to reason and imagine? By fear -- with savagely repressive doctrines and dogmas, deliberately and utterly inconsiderate of nature or it's constituents, which, over the millennia, had managed to compress and obfuscate our innate humanity and our capacity for compassion, turning generations into blood-thirsty, sword-wielding minions in the service of their exclusive religious clubs. This also gave birth to an insidious combination within their prisons of belief: arrogant ignorance -- AI (not artificial intelligence).
In these times, ignorance of what we eat can be construed as lunacy, but choosing to be arrogantly ignorant, especially with children around, is not only morally but physiologically fatal. Arrogant ignorance, borne of dogmas of exclusion, is drawing us ever closer to the Easter Island Syndrome. This obdurate, dangerous, and dimwitted tandem is exactly why billions across the world stubbornly adhere to habitual beliefs rather than heed scientific facts, reason, or even universal moral principles. The standard methodology of AI, in thwarting reason and compassion, resides in impudent statements like "It's only your opinion" or "You know it all." The arrogantly ignorant engage in this reductionist tautology when they are destitute of reason or facts. Is it hardly surprising that there is a direct correlation between the proportion of meat the illiterate or the ignorant consume, versus the literate and their moderately omnivorous or vegan diets?
To place the consumption of meat in context, we would have to turn back the parchments of history, and point to the Sinai Desert tribes that invented these blood rituals, that proclaimed man as their god's representative, and placed every living being under his dominion. Bruce Chilton, Professor of Religion at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, and Rector at the Church of St. John in Barrytown, New York, reflected on this very issue in his book Abraham's Curse: The roots of violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He observes that the mutilation and sacrifice of children in the name of religion is still a fundamental part of their culture, whether it the Islamist suicide bombings or beheadings, glorification of the killing of Christ, or militant Judaism. In the ensuing centuries, this theologically ordained and sanctioned cruelty and murder of non-believing humans had transmogrified into animal slaughter, what we today euphemistically call "industrial animal farming."
If there is "one true God," which I doubt, as a ardent follower of reason, wouldn't he be more interested in the larger issues like making humans, his "chosen" creation, honest, creating plants with fat and more protein, and designing humans with shorter lifespan and childbearing age -- than creating petty decrees for us, in having beards, carrying scimtars, fucking four wives to expand the faith, sacrificing animals, mutilating infant genitalia, and hating and killing non-believers? These decrees sound more from an insecure tribal than a god! Being a carnivore is being duplicitous -- a carnivore engages in deceit, stalking, scheming, cunning, and guile, to cheat some animal out of its own life. Isn't the "Humane Slaughter Act" an example of our shameless duplicity?
Consider this: from the time we wake up, to the time of our dinner, we involuntarily become party to a daily dose of systematic cruelty and massacre of animals when we eat meat. From the first meal of the day to the last one we are indulging in the propagation and promotion of systematic industrialized brutality. The worst thing about it is that the US Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control, the medical, as well as the pharmaceutical industry, and also the UN, know about the ballooning health disaster yet choose to turn their collective craniums the other way, due to self interest. Alarming and escalating risks for diabetes, heart disease, and myriad cancers have been reported by some gutsy and conscientious journals. Even if we discard the basic and fundamental moral principle "Thou Shall Not Kill," we are still confronted with a burgeoning health, environmental, and moral disaster. However, humanity's preponderance resides in mercy, not murder.
Here are a few facts that might rake our collective brains if we field even the mildest amount of sympathy and conscience for our own health, in the realization that meat = cruelty and disease.
—Humane Slaughter Act (HSA)... sad-sinister cynicism... like that Berber woman in the poster. —Mastitis, a common and costly disease on animal factory farms, affecting almost 50%. —100% of cows are force-impregnated, their calves are taken, and their milk stolen. —50% of pigs die between weaning and slaughter from respiratory disease due to toxic ammonia pens. —Slow growing, injured, lame animals are culled and bludgeoned and thrown into heaps... Jews at Auschwitz? Those who can do this to animals can and have done it to humans. —Over 100,000 unwanted marine animals caught, killed, dumped every year, source: US Govt. —We consume 59% more energy to cook one meat course compared to four courses of vegetables. —81% Of meat sold has fecal matter in it -- source: USDA & independent labs. —Standard American Diet (SAD) is the worst possible diet in the world -- 70% of 12-year-olds show signs of heart disease. —Only four companies in the U.S. slaughter 81% of the cows, 73% of the sheep, 57% of the pigs, and 50% of the chicken. Systematic toxic contamination is only the beginning. —According to CDC, there are unaccounted strains of bacteria and viruses resistant to antibiotics, in addition to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease), foot and mouth diseases. The horrifying part is that most mild cases cannot be diagnosed by farm workers. —The Hudson Institute's Denis Avery says that bioaccumulation is a disaster waiting to happen -- with Asia's increased consumption of pigs to 18 million tons in the late '90s, we'll need 2.5 billion pigs by 2050. It's an environmental disaster: wipe off forests to grow pig feeds. —Animal waste breeds new strains and forms of parasites, bacteria, and viruses resistant to even the strongest antibiotics. Epidemiology publications predict new plagues in the offing. —Ammonia, nitrogen, and concentrated phosphorus poison our water tables, retarding plant life. —47% of grocery meat and poultry are contaminated with methicillin-resistant Straphylococcus aureus, resistant to three classes of antibiotics. Remember, this is only the tip of the iceberg.Direct effects on the environment:
—Deforestation for animal feed production: almost 68% of grains go to sustain animal farms. —Unsustainable pressure on land for production of high energy animal feed. —Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer used in feed production found their way to our water. —Land degradation: drastically reduced fertility and drastically depleted water tables. —Loss of biodiversity due to eutrophication and acidification. —Species extinctions: both plants and animals due to livestock related habitat destruction. —Deforestation triggers global warming, melting frozen fresh water into oceanic brine.
In a 1978 study, Herb Schulback (soil and water specialist from the University of California) along with advisors Tom Aldrich, Richard Johnson, and Ken Mueller conducted an extensive study on the use of water in animal farming, with damning results. It was reported in the journal Soil & Water (No. 38, Fall 1978) that it took 5,214 gallons of water to "grow" one pound of meat in California! Dr. George Bergstrom, from the Michigan State University, in 1981 also presented an indicting study titled Impacts on the demand for and quality of land and water to the annual meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science. The above white papers continue to remain, mysteriously, the unheard environmental screams: 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat in the Midwest, vs double than that in California. If anything, it has gotten worse.
How about digesting these numbers from the World Watch Institute? The amount of greenhouse-warming carbon gas released by driving an American car in one day is 3 kg, while the amount of greenhouse gases released by clearing enough rainforest in Costa Rica to produce meat for one hamburger is 75 kg! Yes, we talk about going green, but it's red, as in blood, that we love, in our sinister self-destructive hypocrisy. Even Hindus, vegans for several millennia, are succumbing in droves to the charms of Western fast food brands, as if ingesting meat would somehow render them modern, compatible with the Westerners. A family of four at a fast food place produces 2 cubic feet of garbage, and where is this garbage going in India?
Unfortunately, humanity has speedily acquired the expertise and efficiency in killing methodologies, especially systematic industrialized killing, but has sadly and glaringly lagged behind in the accrual and adherence to universal ethics, or become cognizant and conscientious about the environment. What is more, the destruction of life and environment goes on unhindered, without compunction nor foresight -- dressed in base, self-destructive hypocrisy, like this American Beef Industry advertising campaign from 1988: "Real Food for Real People." You may recall this: the spokesperson for the campaign was the actor James Garner, who was hospitalized the same year for a quintuple bypass heart surgery. Real and direct foods are the vegetables, fruits, grains and nuts, and the real people are usually compassionate, and never get their nutrients indirectly, filtered through various animals.
Finally and unfortunately, in this debate, the dire consequences of eating meat on the environment had transcended the moral argument long ago, by virtue of the simple irrefutable principle -- our own survival as a species, which is dependent entirely on the sustenance of our environment and the diversity within it.
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About the Author
Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines. (back)