Yesterday was officially Memorial Day, even though we all had Monday off in observance. Well, actually, I worked,(yay for domestic workers)but on my way to and fro I had a chance to hear NPR’s coverage of the occasion. They had interviews with veterans and others about how they were spending the day.This was the first year I remember there being a perceptable tension between recognizing the sacrifice of the troops and enjoying the beginning of BBQ season. On facebook there were a rash of statuses’that said, if I may paraphrase, “while you are out there having fun, assholes, remember someone died so you could enjoy this day. Freedom isn’t free!” It smacked of Jesus’ dying for my sins, frankly. On the radio elderly respondents lamented the lack of respect they perceived from the American public.There was a defensiveness, almost a hostility that divided the world, at least in the minds of those speaking into those who do Memorial day right and the rest of us.
What bothered me was the generational blame game that seemed rear its’ head. These kids they said, they don’t appreciate what we did- they don’t know how it is. The multiple calls to reinstate the draft sounded to me like frat boys standing up for hazing. While I get the logic behind saying that if everyone had to go to War we wouldn’t be so keen on starting them, whose babies will unwillingly be slaughtered to prove your point? and who says we wanted to start them in the first place? As though we voted on these last few. Who are we talking about, exactly, when we say “they”? “They” who don’t care about history, who don’t spend Memorial day putting flags on gravestones, who should be drafted so they know what wars about. Which generation is in question? Is it mine? I definitely got dragged as a child to the cemetery. Our baby boomer parents, even the hippies, emphasized the enormity of the whole WAR proposition early enough in our minds.Besides,the gray haired men who sign the budgets and bills to pay for the war, they are my parents age at least and their own experiences with the draft hasn’t seemed to stop them from making war.
I know for sure the kids growing up right now have a grasp of the concept, because imagine that if you are a twelve year old girl and you live in America, you must take for granted that from the moment you were born, the United States has been at war.You grew up slowly piecing together the letters that graced the bumper of so many cars, “Support the Troops.” You see the most recent Katy Perry video, Part of Me, in which the message seems to be if you get mad at your boyfriend maybe the answer is to enlist in the Marines. You are the target demographic of the artist in question and you have just begun to be involved with boys romantically, in the sense that they tease you mercilessly. There is a strong possibility that this could be considered recruitment material.
As a six year old, you watched Elmo’s dad come home from being deployed for multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Since when does Elmo have parents?) The subject matter is both treacly and deep all at once. What does the future hold for you? Why do all the old people on public radio want to draft you? Why can’t they let you enjoy the sunshine outside? Do peaceful societies need these kinds of holidays at all? Yesterday I said a prayer for all the fallen soldiers and for the generation that hopefully won’t become them.
When I saw that the NY Times was holding an essay contest on the subject of why it’s ethical to eat meat, I knew I had to submit something. Though I didn’t make it into the finalists, I was glad to see some of the same logic used in a few of those that did. Here is my essay for those interested :
As a vegetarian poised to inherit a cattle ranching operation, I have put some time into the mental gymnastics that is rationalizing my role in the family business and the justice of the work itself. I can find no justification for modern factory farming, indeed that ugly version of animal husbandry is what made me an herbivore, but in its more traditional guise, one in which the animal’s quality of life is taken into account, I see little wrong. While I lack any formal education in ethics, my sense is the greater good can be served on the same plate as supper.
The cows we raise, with minimal intervention, live happy unadulterated lives before dying in an instant and in a way that benefits others. If I could choose, I’d live my life and die similarly. The struggle to find one’s place in the world, to create or attain a sense of meaning regarding one’s time here is what makes us human. If we generously assign animals equal feeling and sentience might they not grapple with the same concerns and in some way find peace on the dinner plate, if only in fulfilling the journey of their lives? Like Mr. Pollan’s book, Botany of Desire proposes, I think the argument can be made that through domestication certain species have assured their survival. The animals we don’t eat go extinct much quicker and with less purpose to their deaths.
Eating meat connects us to the cycles of birth and death, even if it’s been carried home in a plastic bag, sealed inside by layers of cling wrap and pressed against Styrofoam. The unconscious does the work for us. The Hebrew word for sacrifice- “korban,” means “close.” In the intimacy of consuming flesh we bring ourselves closer to nature, to the cosmic cycles of life and to each other. We cringe when we think of the animal that becomes meat and in the “cringing,” we are brought to our own mortality and the gratitude that accompanies that reminder causes us to treat each other better. Thanks to the suffering involved, it brings us outside of ourselves. There is both something given and taken in the process of killing. There wouldn’t be the same gravity with a carrot. It is no surprise that meat is at the center of our culture’s traditional gatherings: The Easter Ham, The Christmas Goose, The iconic Thanksgiving Bird.
In a more ideal setting, one in which the relationship between the prey and predator is greater, the dialogue with mortality becomes clearer. Imagine a hunter who has spent himself racing through the woods after a buck, unsure if the animal will escape and leave him hungry. If he prevails to find himself dripping sweat over the bloody carcass, what guilt is there in that hard won victory?
We are still animals ourselves, and to remove ourselves from the natural order, the ebb and flow of the animal world is its own sort of arrogance. Anthropocentrism, they call it. By eating meat we return to our baser selves, the hungry, wanting, warring bits that we regularly keep in check. It is a way to visit our natural state in a rational way. A release valve for the pressures of civility. If we want to behave the rest of the time, we may need to feed our inner beasts.
In limiting consumption to humanely and locally produced meat, eaten in moderation and ideally with community, most of the environmental and health concerns are mediated. I hope the ethical concerns have been addressed above.
P.S. Still vegetarian myself … the ethical remainder applies.