Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In the 17th century, an English poet started a poem with the line "If we had but world enough and time." A recent news story got me thinking of that line, but in a far different context than the poet intended. In case you haven't read about this, Heather Mills wants all of us to consume less dairy in the interest of protecting the environment.

This story has forced me to confront the fact that I am simply not a very good person. I didn't rush right out and picket the nearest dairy farm or milk processing plant. As a matter of fact, I'm sitting here right now drinking a pint of 2% as I compose this post. Even though Heather Mills, that most eminent of intellectuals, thinks it's wrong, it's disgusting, it's morally and ecologically indefensible, I'm drinking milk.

But back to the line if we had but world enough and time. When I read a story to the effect that a certain celebrity or even a regular person thinks that I ought to become a vegetarian in the interest of the environment, I find myself getting angry. I find myself wishing that I had but world enough and time to kill the cattle that turn into my steak, the birds that turn into my poultry products, the pigs that turn into my ham and the fabulous, nebulous, chimerical animals that turn into bologna, hot dogs and sausage (the king of the processed meat).

I understand that a considerable amount of energy goes into the industries which enable me to consume animal products with only the minor inconvenience of having to obtain said products from a grocery concern. But I wonder if, as both model and the single most important voice on any issue at any moment, Ms. Mills could tell me how much energy, how many natural resources and what manner of carbon footprint come out of her public appearances, photo shoots and bilking a has-been of some of his wealth. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet that she consumes more of the world's resources than I do.

Not only that, there are a number of people employed in industries that provide meat to the masses. I'm willing to bet that not very many of these people are capable of inducing a deluded old fraud with millions into marrying them. Perhaps these people might have a bit more pride or decency than to marry a man in order to fleece him in a divorce settlement and come away with an enhanced platform to rage against the dying of the light. But all sins are washed clean when one lectures from the left on any given issue, right?

At the end of the day, the creatures that go from the field to my bill of fare are animals. I'm not too worried about the death of cows, chickens, pigs, fish and whatever other animals are sacrificed to sustain me. It's not like they were people. God knows, people do enough horrible stuff to other people and still other people expect me to be up in arms over it that I just don't have the energy to care about the fate of animals.

It is true, or at least mainly true, as Ms. Mills points, out that humans are the only people that consume milk from another species on a regular basis. It's also true that no other species has the cranial capacity and opposable thumbs to milk another animal. That said, have you ever seen a domestic cat that would pass up milk put in front of it? I think dogs will drink milk, too, if they get the chance but I don't know for sure, since I hate dogs and spend little time around them.

There was a time when people had to eat meat, consume dairy products and wear animal skins and furs to survive the winter in most of the world. Now, with the Industrial Revolution and the consumption of fossil fuels, people can survive winter without living as our ancestors did. But the instinct to eat meat and drink milk still lingers in the recesses of our brain, deep in Jung's collective consciousness. It will be part of our mindsets for generations to come.

While there are some who say that we can, and ought to, rise above those instincts to live a vegetarian lifestyle, I don't believe it. If that were the case, a million vegetarians wouldn't sit down at table this Thanksgiving to eat Tofurkey. There wouldn't be a market for tofu based ice cream substitutes. Vegetarians want to have their soy-based cake and eat it too.

As I am not a vegetarian and I refuse to eat something that looks like chalk flavored jello, I know very little about tofu. I do know that it doesn't grow on tofu trees, and none of the people I know who do eat tofu seem to be able to make it from scratch. So tofu must be made somewhere, right? And if it is made somewhere, it must be a byproduct of some of the same ecologically unfriendly practices that go into meat packing and processing, right?

I do have vegetarian friends, and while I don't necessarily respect their choice, I do respect their right to it. I just find it slightly more hypocritical than my choice to follow my ancestors and eat meat. If my eating meat has a carbon footprint, so too does vegetarian living. The protein supplements and whatever other nutrient replacement devices vegetarians to which vegetarians resort to replace what they miss by not eating meat don't come from magical elves. They have to be made in a factory somewhere with the attendant environmental consequences. Plus it's unnatural to be taking pills all the damn time.

On the off chance that a vegetarian or vegan or other such crank reads this and wants to scare me by pointing out the unsanitary conditions associated with the factory farming of food animals or an Upton Sinclair style expose on conditions in the meat packing facilities, bring it on, I can take it. I hope the FDA is on the ball and things are clean and safe.

But at the end of the day, any person who eats food they didn't watch from the very beginning to the moment of consumption runs the same risk. Who really knows whether various and sundry pests are finding their way into the hot dog machine? Who knows if Doug at the Dole Salad packing center isn't coughing up flu germs in such a way as to have a microbe or two in the mixed greens bag you buy at the store? We all rely on the good will of our fellow men and the forbearance of reptiles when we eat.

So I am going to sit down at Thanksgiving dinner and eat a turkey leg so big you'd think I was Henry VIII, but for the wives and the whole Protestant thing. And I'm going to drink Bud Lights and root against the Jets and the Lions and the Colts. And I just might think of Orwell when he wrote that "the food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of his carcass; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity."

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