November 16, 2009

Auburn Ave. and vegetarianism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — ubikcan @ 2:00 am

In the last post I included some pictures of my trip to Germany in 2007 and the big sausage and pork knuckle dishes I had in Köln.

Well on Thursday I took a trip up Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. I hadn’t walked up and down the street for a few years and this was the first time with a knowledgeable guide, Dr. Josh Inwood of Auburn University. Josh did his PhD on the the history and politics of the avenue and had a lot of great stories to tell. He has a forthcoming paper on it as well I believe.

Anyway, continuing the food theme here is the Soulfood Museum on the avenue. Click for more pictures (including an incredible one of an ad surviving on a wall from the 1920s for Gold Dust Washing Powder).

I’m just about to start reading Jonathan Foer’s new book Eating Animals which I’m looking forward to. This is not a manifesto for vegetarianism but a true to life examination of the mass market food production industry in this country. A review essay appeared ion the New Yorker recently which is how I learned of the book. Check this out:

Foer ends up telling several stories, though all have the same horrific ending. One is about shit. Animals, he explains, produce a lot of it. Crowded into “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs, they can produce entire cities’ worth. (The pigs processed by a single company, Smithfield Foods, generate as much excrement as all of the human residents of the states of California and Texas combined.) Unlike cities, though, CAFOs have no waste-treatment systems. The shit simply gets dumped in holding ponds. Imagine, Foer writes, if “every man, woman, and child in every city and town in all of California and all of Texas crapped and pissed in a huge open-air pit for a day. Now imagine that they don’t do this for just a day, but all year round, in perpetuity.” Not surprisingly, the shit in the ponds tends to migrate to nearby streams and rivers, causing algae blooms that kill fish and leave behind aquatic “dead zones.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some thirty-five thousand miles of American waterways have been contaminated by animal excrement.

I didn’t know this and if it’s true (and I have no reason to doubt it) that’s a staggering and serious claim. While I continue to like the taste and smell of meat I’ve noticed that stories like this (and others quoted in the article which were new to me; seems there’s still plenty of argument left about eating meat) have even started to affect my feelings about flesh on my plate. (I’ve followed a pescetarian diet since August 2008.) Fish of course is the obvious next decision and I do try not to buy from fish farms because of the pollutants.

As far as I know Foer will make the argument that one should try to eat locally farmed and produced meat (if you do eat it) and “know the name” of your butcher. This of course is easier in the cities (well, the supply there is greater despite it coming from the countryside). And as he himself points out, there is so little meat food produced like this that there’s no chance of it being available in sufficient quantities.

Foer begins by pointing to the contrast between the ways Americans treat their pets (lovingly) and the way their animal food is produced (far from lovingly or even sanitory). Eating dogs would be a sustainable low-energy source of food but to even put it this way will be off-putting for many people (eat my pet??). He points out that in fact sad to say many euthanized pets become animal food or “food for our food.” Again, this is an offensive idea. (Of course you can elect to cremate your pet.)

So I think this is going to be a challenging read. I anticipate it will make me rethink again the kinds of foods and food production practices I am involved in. He is a novelist so I hope he writes effectively even where he is retreading old ground, but I also anticipate that much of what he will cover will be new. It is not per se a pro-vegetarianism book (although I understand he is a vegetarian) and maybe this will allow him to get beyond the binary veg-non veg divide. Looking forward to it.

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