Monday, December 16, 2013

Bacon Nation

Most of us are familiar with the phenomenon of privileged, empowered folk who fancy themselves under siege. Who rail against the unreasonable demands of welfare recipients and the unemployed, even as those at the bottom of the economic heap receive an ever-smaller slice of government revenue. Who claim that unreasonable environmental regulations are being rammed down their throats even during prolonged periods during which environmental standards are being eroded. Who stand shoulder to shoulder in their determination to resist the forces of what they inevitably term “political correctness”—and just as inevitably, who suggest that they are a beleaguered minority bravely resisting a juggernaut. It might seem that conservative, well-to-do whites hold most of the cards in places such as Texas or Alberta, but that’s only a matter of appearance, it seems; that if you look a little closer you can find community organizers, and feminists, and environmentalists, and gay rights activists—all of them with nefarious agendas. Alberta’s Ted Byfield was speaking for millions when he said “our distaste for political correctness comes from resisting arbitrary efforts to control what people think.”

In no area is this feeling of being besieged stronger or stranger than the world of meat and vegetables. In most restaurants in North America there are no choices available on the menu for vegans. None. In most supermarkets in North America it is impossible to buy free-range meat or eggs. Not difficult—impossible. Where North American restaurants do offer vegan options or North American supermarkets do offer free-range options, there are almost always far, far fewer of such options available than there are the choices of cruelty: factory farmed meat, eggs, and dairy products. Surely in such circumstances meat eaters could not imagine themselves a beleaguered minority. But that is in fact exactly how many meat eaters do see themselves. When Peter Kaminsky and Marie Rama, in their popular recent book Bacon Nation: 125 Irresistible Recipes express their resistance to the “the food police who would have us eat a diet mostly made with boiled lentils and mashed yeast,” they are not two alone. It is a brave band fighting against the oppressors, and it is a brave fight. I can speak from the inside on this one; I’ve seen them in training, the food police, with their billy clubs and their bullet proof vests and their handcuffs at the ready, readying themselves to go house to house with the nutritional yeast, readying themselves for the force feedings, readying themselves to harden their brutal hearts still further in the face of the anguished cries they will hear as they confiscate the cheese and the bacon. It’s not pretty when they go into action, I can tell you.

The real fear, of course, is not that any police force will force meat=eaters to eat lentils and yeast, but that if lentils and yeast are given equal treatment—if people are given all the information about how good such things are for human health (and how unhealthy bacon and chicken and cheese are), if there is true freedom of information about what goes on in the factory farms and the slaughterhouses, eating factory-farmed meat and eggs and dairy products will become less and less popular, will even become socially unacceptable. Perhaps it could even happen with meat and eggs and dairy products of any sort. Today that seems like a ludicrous fear. But it may well be more far-sighted than it seems. An Ottawa professor who teaches undergraduates about the literatures and cultures of the past—and often hears those undergraduates adopt an attitude of moral superiority towards their ancestors—reported to me not long ago that he makes a practice of inviting those students “to speculate about what, in 100 or 200 years, will be worthy of the condescension to our present that they … routinely send in the direction of, say, an 18th-century culture that would hang someone for sheep-stealing, or a 19th-century culture that would fight a civil war in substantial part about the desirability of retaining slavery.” His answer? “Our contentment with killing and eating animals.”

Those in bacon nation are not content or complacent, of course; they are staunchly resisting the oppressor. The food police are in league with the community organizers, and the feminists, and the environmentalists, and the gay rights activists; where will it all end? Have faith, vegans; our time will quietly, peacefully come. But for the sake of the animals, may it be soon.

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