This is to be a story about the politics of food, and about food as a place to begin the revolution.
I’ve been puzzling for a long time over my intentions for this weblog. I’ve also lately been browsing through various popular online discourses, across the political spectrum, about our future as a species.
There’s a lot of millenial end-times thinking and speech, swirling about these days. Of course, we’ve just come through the turn of the millenium, and so that should surprise no-one. Prognostications of doom are mostly just ceremony; they have little predictive power. Really good futurists are rare (I’d count Arthur C. Clarke as one, and John Brunner as another). However, in the range of futures we can imagine for ourselves, we can at least map out the possibilities.
I find a lot of what I do here is relay videos–I get a little impatient with myself, because I think I should be investing more. However, part of what I’m doing at this moment is simply getting the habit of blogging, and I remind myself, I don’t need to be brilliant. There is so much brilliant stuff out there, so much worth witnessing, so much of what we need in this moment, so that we might learn to live as we ought to live.
Give it 20 minutes and 44 seconds. See if you don’t agree.
I learned about this woman, Brené Brown, from my friend Keith. Dr. Brown describes herself as “a researcher/storyteller.” Here she speaks about people, about feelings of connectedness and love, worthiness, vulnerability. I’m going to have to watch this once or twice more, think about it a little.
I like to read articles about science, and about research and experimentation along its various frontiers. These days, it seems to me that I am most amazed by advances in medicine and biotechnology. The New York Times recently told of a group of experimenters who have been able to grow a rat heart. Their process involves introducing a culture of stem cells into the heart of a rat cadaver. The dead heart serves as a “scaffold” for the formation of a new heart.
I’ve read other articles about progress in human tissue regeneration, and it’s beginning to seem obvious that, perhaps within my lifetime, we will have a medical science capable of growing new organs and tissues for us. Indeed, I read in a recent issue of Wired magazine, that certain cutting edge work is being done on techniques to repair grave wound damage, injecting stem cells at the site of surgery scars to literally “sculpt” new human tissue, including an infrastructure of blood vessels: these techniques are being applied in breast reconstruction after mastectomy.
I’ve long been intrigued by the concept of an attention economy; that is, an economy in which attention is the organizing principle: it has real value, you can sell your attention, you must pay to get others’ attention, some people’s attention is worth more than others’, and so on. If we consider our own lived experience in these terms (how do I get attention, from whom; where shall I give my attention), many affluent Westerners may find a lens that throws a whole raft of modern stressors into sharp relief:
there is so much that demands our attention (not enough hours in the day); and
our success can usefully be measured in how much attention we get (who wants to talk to you? who cares what you think?).
This morning I enjoyed reading an article at harvardbusiness.org: Why We Don’t Care About Information Overload. Working from the standpoint that ‘our attention has value,’ the author points out just how low a value many of us place on our attention. As he puts it, roughly, ‘We open junk mail, we watch junk television, we read junk email.’
If we are overloaded with matters demanding our attention, he says, it’s because we are selling our attention too cheaply. Even among those who’ve weaned themselves off television and who screen carefully for junk, I’ll bet it’s easy to think of various kinds of brain candy, rotting our metaphysical and perhaps spiritual teeth, that we’d be healthier to do without.
A strangely serendipitous juxtaposition: a Christmas skit by the Kids In The Hall, from their 1996 movie Brain Candy. Happy holidays, everyone, and thanks for stopping by!
Each year on January 1, we are called upon to declare, at least to ourselves, our intentions to self-improve. Pessimists would have it that we do not usually succeed in keeping our New Year’s resolutions. But don’t let that stop you! The keys to success, I’ve found, are to seek out the company of people who have or are seeking the kind of life you want for yourself, and not to beat yourself up for failing.
Happy New Year, and if you fall off that horse, just get right back on it!
I’ve often asked myself, why not eat pork? More specifically, why do so many people not eat pork, and believe they ought not to? The first (Christian?) answer I learned: pigs are unclean. They carry disease (trichinosis!). They eat garbage. Tacitly: they eat shit. From Jewish friends and acquaintances I have learned many things about pork as a phenomenon in contemporary Jewish culture and an aspect of Jewish identity. But I’ve never sat down with a Jew or a Muslim and, you know, talked about food. Probably something I should do.
Now, you understand, like many people I love bacon. And I do sometimes eat bacon, and sausage, and even (recently, as a shameful treat) a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich at Burger King. However, I have decided to reduce my consumption of pork, and so for example I don’t normally buy pork to cook, and I avoid pork dishes in restaurants. Of course, given what you’re about to see, perhaps you’ll agree with me that it’s time to stop eating pigs altogether.
Like many people, I’m not unmindful of the fact (as I understand it) that animals suffer before pieces of their flesh make it to my table. And like many people, I’m uncomfortable about that, and haven’t fully engaged with it as a moral issue deserving my attention. With pigs, however, as I have learned more about them, the moral issue has been drawn more clearly.
George Orwell taught us that pigs were clever. I had not thought much about that until I read a story a few years ago about the intelligence of pigs. I am not sure where I read the story, but it went something like this:
A pig farmer had some issue or other with environmental controls for his barn (pigs being sensitive to temperature?). Whatever the problem may have been, his solution was to give his pigs the job of controlling the heat in the barn. Knowing firsthand the cleverness of pigs in manipulating things like latches and handles, the farmer rigged up a lever to adjust the pig barn’s thermostat. The lever’s design was such that a pig could easily manipulate it with her nose (some pig’s noses, it’s said, are quite prehensile — a pig’s nose is also its hand). The pigs, it unfolded, quickly learned that they could control the temperature of the barn, and could be left to manage the setting to their satisfaction, no matter what the weather was doing. The farmer ended up saving on his heating bill, because as it turned out, the pigs preferred the barn a little cooler.
I don’t know if that story is true, nor have I been able to track down its source. If anyone has ever heard it I would be interested to learn its provenance. The story raises some fascinating questions about pig politics (which pig controls the lever, and how did s/he get that control?). However, the basic message for me was, do I want to eat the flesh of a being that’s smart enough to grasp the use of a thermostat? The answer: no. Later on I was inspired to pursue other stories about pig intelligence, and there are many. Among my readings I found one comment which stayed with me, and I paraphrase it here: that pigs are the only animals we eat that are smart enough to understand that they are food.
You know, when you watch that, you will be shown what pigs suffer. And you will see the horrifying brutality visited on these animals by the farm workers. But then I thought: if we make places like that and put people to work there, what do we expect those people to become? What must those people do to protect themselves in those places, from the raw horror of what such a place must be for other sentient beings? This we do not see. I suspect that like every pig, every human we see in that video is in terrible pain.