"This Is Hope" is a crossover book for self-identified environmentalists, species rights advocates, vegans and vegetarians, those dedicated to true sustainability, fish and wildlife "management" professionals, students of deep ecology, and those who want to know the biocentric solutions for our dietary, consumer, and reproductive choices.
Will’s Blog

Part 10: Relax with Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan comforts doubting carnists. He wants everyone to relax about the slaughter of individuals from other species. Aside from an occasional comment about his queasiness when he kills chickens, he artfully soothes his readers, dulling concerns they may have about the omnivore’s obvious penchant for killing sentient species. One supposition he employs is that the chickens he is killing are like zombies who are not experiencing anything as he kills them. Pollan chose to interpret what he saw in the eye of these chickens as the “seeming obliviousness” that is suspiciously like what he said about steer number 534. Grabbing the chicken, “[He] looked into the black eye of the chicken and, thankfully, saw nothing, not a flicker of fear.”

Can a chicken be in shock from being pulled from the known security and community of his portable roost, carted to an unknown place on the farm where chatting strangers moved quickly with their bodies, arms, and hands that grabbed him by the neck and turned him upside down? If chicken were a songbird knocked from the sky after flying into a reflective glass building or power line, perhaps Pollan would recognize shock. Pollan does not cite scientific papers written by ethologists describing animal behavior. We know that accurately severing neck arteries with a knife brings rapid unconsciousness, but that is not the same thing as knowing what is being experienced before and during the moment of the cut by the chicken before the lights go out. Pollan is preparing chickens for an economic order of value, not the natural order where individuals are living a life and have intrinsic value. What, I wonder, did the chicken see in Pollan’s eye? Anything?

Despite his occasional misgivings about eating chicken after seeing their composting remains, Pollan moves on quickly. He gets over it. Repeatedly, he holds out ideas and reasons to turn away from the omnivore’s carnism and briefly acknowledges the suffering and destruction we inflict. But he gets over it. When he writes a chapter about “The Ethics of Eating Animals,” you can count on him to weaken all reasons that compel us to make wholesale vegan changes in our relationships with individuals from other species. In a few sentences, he tells us that we have reasons for being culturally confused about eating animals, that we seem eager to extend moral consideration to them especially in factory farms, and that science is revealing the complexity of their abilities in language, culture, tool-making, and even self-consciousness. But he gets over that, too.

As Dilemma does what it does throughout the book, we see the weight of those important factors immediately brushed aside, illogically: “And yet, most of the animals we eat lead lives organized very much in the spirit of [Rene] Descartes, who famously claimed that animals were mere machines, incapable of feeling or thought.” Assuming that Pollan is merely observing what his carnist omnivores do to animals, omnivores who impose this organizing upon their lives, and does not mean they are indeed machines, why does he choose to ignore them as individuals from other species and the science revealing their abilities in the language, culture, and tool-making he mentions? He gets over that and moves on, not answering what science is revealing and how to respond to it fully as vegans do. What he has done is insert a sentence affirming the complex abilities and sentience of other species, then ignores the need for us to respond to those discoveries. We are not supposed to notice this shell game.

Ethologists study nonhuman species’ behavior. They would not look a chicken in the eye and pronounce to the world, no fear here! It would be an unacceptable statement without proof in the ethologist’s world of scientific methodology; it should be just as unacceptable in Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan has acknowledged complex sentience as if obligated to check a box, but then abandons the trail of evidence that would bring him to an unavoidable conclusion far different from the killing he embraces. Carnism is the predominant pattern that runs throughout Omnivore’s Dilemma. Its allegiance to the omnivore’s carnist culture was never really in doubt.

Part 9: Cross Pollination

Pollan declares that he intends to take the “approach [of ] the diner as a naturalist might, using the long lenses of ecology and anthropology,” while employing “the shorter, more intimate lens of personal experience.” My charge is that he cannot do this without evaluating his choices from a more thorough consideration of ecological, as a naturalist would, and anthropological outcomes. This includes examining more deeply the legitimacy and appropriateness of carnism itself and whether being an omnivore within today’s ecosystems is a moral and survivable human adaptation to Earth.

He makes an appealing argument for us to reduce some of the environmental impact involved in animal agriculture, but cannot bring himself to stop it altogether. Instead, Pollan romanticizes our human history of carnism in general, and hunting and other cultural practices in particular. The traditions he defends are destroying the planet. He cannot claim to look at this issue thoroughly as an ecologist might, nor make a credible claim of waxing anthropological given his unexamined impacts, like the GHGs spewing from omnivore choices, upon other people geographically distant from his dietary choices. This “short lens … of personal experience” strikes me as being nothing more than an extension of his own cultural, anthropocentric wet blanket that he drapes over the entire enterprise.

Omnivore’s Dilemma needed to include, at minimum, a studied comparison of carnist omnivorism to an alternative vegan human ecology. Bypassing that need allowed him to retreat to where his personal traditions live. Pollan’s central theme is that we face a dilemma about how we choose our food in the midst of plenty. It can be addressed with a basic knowledge of vegan, organic (veganic), whole foods nutrition. Instead of a fair, side-by-side comparison of omnivorism/carnism to veganism, he chose to describe vegetarians, who also have more to ponder about dairy, leather, and eggs, and by inference vegans, as urban eccentrics wholly detached from “the real world.” He never wavers in his allegiance to carnist omnivore culture and the worldviews that support it. Whether he likes it or not, his undeniable storytelling craft has bolstered food epicureans and their enabling chefs, gluttons who treat him as an icon. There is a communications media happy to grant all of them absolution for the destruction and suffering omnivore choices create.

A telling critique of Omnivore’s Dilemma comes from B.R. Meyers, contributing editor for The Atlantic at the time, in his book review titled “Hard to Swallow.” He wrote: “For centuries civilized society took a dim view of food lovers, calling them ‘gourmands’ and ‘gluttons’ … They were even assigned their own place in hell … force-fed for eternity.… [F]ood writers’ hostility to the very language of moral value and Pollan’s use of language [is] to side step and diminish people like you and me who are calling out for different answers to the questions Omnivore’s Dilemma raises.”

Although he proscribes “eat mostly plants,” Pollan distances himself from advocating a vegan diet even in the face of overwhelming proof he visits, but only briefly as a seeming formality. He wrote, “People feel like they have to take sides on this plant/animal divide, and I don’t think we do. [Mother Jones interviewer, “There’s no dilemma?”] “No dilemma.” Pollan advocates we get chickens out of cages, reduce the consumption of animal-sourced foods, especially those produced under industrial conditions, and increase access to healthy foods for the underserved poor in cities. These are a few of the many other unquestionably good changes he promotes. Pollan gives the industrial botanical agriculture and industrial animal agriculture a well-deserved kick in the pants but he fails to offer adequate justice for ecosystems, people who depend upon them, and the billions of sentient beings he approves of wasting.

He may still see past his self-imposed limits and come to a vegan conclusion. Pollan appreciates how the power of our food choices creates both the worst and the best outcomes possible. Despite his failure to understand the rest of those connections, we can use some of the seeds he has been planting—unwittingly—for a vegan new human ecology even as he denies the need for it.

Part 8: Food Chains Revisited

In Part 5, I wrote,

Doing further harm to our understanding, he (Michael Pollan in “Omnivore’s Dilemma”) does not accurately report our connections and our relationships to ecosystems through food choices. He writes, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about the three principal food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic, and the hunter-gatherer.” Though sharing some similarities with food chains, the first two are at best methods of production with the third being methods of acquiring food. Claiming that hunter-gatherers are a food chain instead of a method of procuring food is an idea I hope readers will see as obviously misapplied.

When Pollan applies an ecological term like food chains to organic and industrial methods of food production, he is comparing plots of land under agriculture to nonagricultural food chains that occur inecosystems. In botanical agriculture, one can plant and harvest rice by hand (nonindustrial), then use pesticides and herbicides, and thereby not be organic. Those are aspects of production. They are not food chains. A cropped field is a very narrow view of the larger biological world. Food chains describe the interconnectedness of food energy flowing through species but farms are not the same as the ecosystems they are embedded within.

Here we continue with a description of what food chains are—a far cry from what Michael Pollan is telling you.Food chains describe the procession of species, one consuming another. They are complex biological relationships that never leave ecosystems. If a lion eats you, then you are part of her food chain, as iswhat you ate. When a sea lion consumes a fish, he occupies a place in a food chain. That place is called a trophic level. Below the sea lion in his food chain are fish who may have eaten smaller fish; that creates another place in the food chain, or trophic level. Smaller fish may have eaten phytoplankton or zooplankton, and zooplankton ate phytoplankton. All are trophic levels in a food chain.

The primary producers, the foundation of our and most species’ food chains, are able to convert organic matter, usually by photosynthesis, into useable food for primary consumers. In the oceans, zooplankton are primary consumers of phytoplankton, the primary producers. On land, examples of primary consumers are plant-eating insects and herbivores like deer. They are consuming the primary producers, plants. At every point in a food chain from phytoplankton, to zooplankton, to smaller fish, to larger fish, to sea lion, to shark, each step is a trophic level. Humans are capable of being primary, secondary, tertiary, and onward consumers. It can get more complex, and often does.

In the phytoplankton to sea lion food chain I just described, food chains can overlap into complex food webs. Food webs reflect how food chains overlap. Farmers try their best to keep their crops out of other species’ food chains and webs by applying herbicides and insecticides, planting genetically modified crops, or as we all want, use veganic practices to accomplish the same things. The farmers do this because they are responding to the ecosystem trying to take back habitat in which the crops are growing. In the book, This Is Hope, there is an illustrated figure of a food web consisting of many overlapping food chains.You need only follow a few connections to see how food chains must not be described as industrial, organic, and hunter-gatherer.

A few species are able to chemosynthesize their nutrients in places like deep sea volcanic vents. It is important also to remember the decomposers, the fungi and bacteria that break down the detritus, the organic matter that remains after the deaths of other species, so it is available for uptake by others. This is nutrient recycling.

Vegans are primary consumers of primary producers, plants. Vegan human ecology means we eat low on the food chain. Many of us are vegan for environmental reasons. We see the fields where our food is grown as part of the ecosystems that also belong to other species, not just our own. We do not eat fish because they come from other species’ food chains and webs. They are impacted by our decision to eat fish or not and it has nothing to do with industrial, organic, or hunter-gatherer methods of production and procurement. We are most concerned about our ecosystem niche and how it affects all other species.

The closer we are to eating primary producers, plants, the more energy and resource-efficient we become. That is because energy is lost during respiration, metabolism, and locomotion. So the lion who ate you in my earlier example got only a fraction for the food value you consumed over your lifetime. Cattle eating corn return a small fraction of the corn’s energy and nutritional value as meat, as Pollan recognizes. If we graze millions of invasive cattle who displace wildlife, we cannot avoid profound outcomes for our human ecology, ecosystems, and wildlife management. When we eat lower in our vegan food chain, there is far less impact upon ecosystems than any case of animal agriculture Pollan envisions. Methods of production and procurement are important, but they do not inform us sufficiently about the most important decisions we must make about our food.

Next: Part 9/ Cross Pollination

Please remember “This Is Hope: GreenVegans and the New Human Ecology

Hi everyone,

If you’ve finished reading my book, This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology / How we find our way to a humane and environmentally sane future, PLEASE post reviews now on Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/this-is-hope-will-anderson/1114047241?ean=9781624884061), Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/This-Is-Hope-Vegans-Ecology/dp/1780998902) , GoodReads, and elsewhere. Reader reviews carry more weight with people considering a purchase than the editorial endorsements.

And if you’ve been putting off buying my book, please keep the momentum going by making your purchase this weekend. Use the Amazon link found on the GreenVegans (www.greenvegans.org) website to order so that an automatic donation will be made. Also, search for the Facebook pages: https://www.facebook.com/GreenVegans?ref=hl and This Is Hope: https://www.facebook.com/ThisIsHopeGreenVegansAndTheNewHumanEcology?ref=hl. Like them both and post comments.

I am getting great responses to four versions of my four PowerPoint conference presentation regarding Hope and books sell well afterwards. Leaders in the movement give it praise, but until I speak at more events, I need you to spread the word. Portland, Oregon is a mystery as I’ve received no responses from my several inquiries over four months time to vegan stores of the species rights community there. So, without demand from them, Powell’s Books won’t open up for me to present. If you’ve friends in Portland, please give them a nudge. Your support is really appreciated and will move the agenda forward in ways not yet obvious to non-readers.

In peace and healing the Earth, Will

Part 7: Pollan’s Livestock Kills Ecosystems

In a summary of Livestock’s Long Shadow, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) “recommends a range of measures to mitigate livestock’s threats to the environment” that include “… land degradation … greenhouse gas … emissions … water pollution … biodiversity loss ….”  Through us, our vegan new human(e) ecology does far more than “mitigate” those disasters; we are eliminating them—directly—through our immense personal power and responsibility.

As the FAO further reminds us, “The sheer quantity of animals being raised for human consumption also poses a threat of the Earth’s biodiversity. …and the land area they now occupy was once habitat for wildlife. In 306 of the 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, livestock are identified as “a current threat,” while 23 of Conservation International’s 35 global hotspots for biodiversity’— characterized by serious levels of habitat loss—are affected by livestock production.

There are alternatives to the type of animal agriculture Pollan promotes, alternatives available at the command of at least a few billion people who are economically and environmentally able to access them. The meals he prepares to demonstrate his food chains and his flimsy effort as a vegetarian described in Dilemma hide the bigger problems of carnism. Pollan stopped at the same fence line where he said ecosystems began.

He chose to ignore the science behind his food choice conclusions that, as I wrote earlier in this blog, were based on erroneous applications of biological terms like “food chains”. Now, there’s a movement blinded to the fact that “family farm” and locavore sources of meat, dairy, and eggs are also maladaptive and destructive to ecosystems.

Next Post: More About Food Chains

Part 6: Dancing at Polyface Farm

Omnivore’s Dilemma rightly decries feedlots, educates us about many insane aspects of our food production system, reminds us of the injustices perpetuated upon the botanical farmers through public policy, worries about the degradation of soil, helps us understand how cow stomachs work, and describes his ideal of animal agriculture. But Pollan also encourages readers to swallow statements like “In fact, when animals live on farms the very idea of waste ceases to exist; what you have instead is a closed ecological loop—what in retrospect you might call a solution.” He was referring to a specific type of small-scale farm, Polyface Farm. It is an effort by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin and his family to be sustainable, if not kind.

This is a comment one visitor sent into United Poultry Concerns: “I toured Polyface on a sweltering day. Chickens were in tiny cages with tin roofs in the beating sun, panting like mad. The cages were located over manure piles the birds were supposed to eat larvae from. Rabbits were kept in factory-farm conditions in suspended, barren wire cages. There was no sign of freedom or compassion for these animals.”

When Pollan calls Polyface a closed system that ends at the fence line is overstated at best, and from an ecosystem perspective, false. That is perhaps the inevitable outcome when food chains are defined non-biocentrically as industrial and organic production on farms, and hunter-gatherers procuring food away from farms. A farm’s land remains part of and continues to interact with the host ecosystem, no matter what activity occurs. Farming or no farming, it just interacts differently depending on what is happening on the land and in the air and water.

We can remember that all farms were once naturally evolving habitat. They are now fragmented, fenced ecosystems, multiplied hundreds of millions of times in animal and non-animal agricultural plots girdling the Earth, but part of ecosystems still. In addition, remember because I repeat it enough, grazing cumulatively uses up to 26 percent of Earth’s arable land “while feed crop production requires about a third of all arable land.” Similarly, remember that livestock accounts for 20 percent of terrestrial animal biomass. That is a monumental amount of habitat removed and invasive species introduced. Animal agriculture is an immense, unnecessary contribution to the loss of ecosystems. Omnivores are at its core.

Part 5: Give Us Our Daily Food Web

We now arrive at the key failure of Michael Pollan’s unsupportable assertions that transport him, and apparently many of his readers, to false and ecologically destructive conclusions regarding food choices.

 

Doing further harm to our understanding, he does not accurately report our connections and our relationships to ecosystems through food choices. He writes, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma is about the three principal food chains that sustain us today: the industrial, the organic, and the hunter-gatherer.” Though sharing some similarities with food chains, the first two are at best methods of production with the third being methods of acquiring food. Claiming that hunter-gatherers are a food chain instead of a method of procuring food is an idea I hope readers will see as obviously misapplied.

 

When Pollan applies an ecological term like food chains to organic and industrial methods of food production, he is comparing plots of land under agriculture to nonagricultural food chains that occur in ecosystems. In botanical agriculture, one can plant and harvest rice by hand (nonindustrial), then use pesticides and herbicides, and thereby not be organic. Those are aspects of production. They are not food chains. A cropped field is a very narrow view of the larger biological world. Food chains describe the interconnectedness of food energy flowing through species but farms are not the same as the ecosystems they are embedded within.

 

If we start thinking that farms are the beginning and end of our food chain, we drift from more traditional references of complex food chains that occur in ecosystems. Though intensely altered, an agricultural field is still embedded in an ecosystem. If we believe Pollan’s proposal that agricultural fields or agriculture itself are representative of stand-alone food chains (his industrial and organic idea), I believe the inevitable result will be a disconnect between what Pollan thinks our food chain should be in agricultural systems instead of what ecosystems need from our food chain choices. Even if he is speaking metaphorically, this is dangerous. All of our food choices must provide the best possible outcomes for ecosystems. In fact, Omnivore’s Dilemma refers to Polyface Farm as being a complete ecosystem that ends at the fence line. No farm ends at the fence line. They are part of and extend into the rest of the biosphere. He forgets to write that the fences themselves are damaging to ecosystems.

 

It is at this biocentric ecological level, and within the context of ecosystems, where we must make our dietary decisions. Ignore that, and we will get a Pollan set of omnivore answers that are insufficiently adaptive to ecosystems and unsustainable. In a biocentric choice, individuals of all species have intrinsic value. Telling of his human-centered perspective, intrinsic value is sorely lacking throughout Omnivore’s Dilemma.

 

For instance, Pollan advocates nonindustrial meat, dairy, and egg consumption at some lowered level that easily satisfies his industrial, organic, and hunter-gatherer faux food chain. But when measured biocentrically instead of anthropocentrically, we see the omnivores’ destructive effects on native species and ecosystems. It is here that we have created the unnatural, invasive species relationships between livestock and the ecosystems where we exploit them both.

NEXT POST: Dancing at Polyface Farm

Part 4: There’s a Contract Out to Kill Steer #534

In the last post, this is where I left off: If Michael Pollan ever taps you on the shoulder asking for a dance, run like hell. If you do not, this is what can happen. He will be as dismissive and unfeeling for you as he was for the individuals in his book. Toward 534, a young steer named after the number on his ear tag, he turned a blind eye. Pollan bought 534 to document what he already knew would be a steer ’s short, barren, industrialized life. A social, intelligent being, 534 had experiences that undoubtedly included attempts at bonding with others of his kind. Those bonds were shredded by animal agriculture’s customary practices. The rancher-humans forcibly took him from his mother, shuttled him from one group of stranger-steers to another, and then drove him to an industrial feedlot.

 

After standing idle and distant while 534’s innate needs were denied to his short life, this is the observation Pollan gives his readers: “As I gingerly stepped toward him the quiet shuffling mass of black cowhide between us parted [Pollen’s steer was now at the feedlot], and there stood 534 and I, staring dumbly at one another. Glint of recognition? None, whatsoever. I told myself not to take it personally; 534 and his pen mates have been bred for their marbling, after all, not their ability to form attachments.”

 

Dilemma reports very little contact between him and 534 prior to that moment. Pollan’s observation in a feedlot helps us understand at least some of how his worldview is constructed, how he sees this meat unit, number 534, and how he will perpetuate the myths he needs to remain an omnivore.

 

Part 3: Dancing With Michael Pollan

 

Here is part three of sixteen installments from “This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology” / How we find our way to a humane and environmentally sane future. Each installment will be posted at www.thisishopethebook.com. Though “This Is Hope” covers many subject areas using 730 citations, these modified excerpts focus on Michael Pollan’s book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and the damage it has done to our understanding of ecosystems and the food choices needed to protect them.

 

Peter Singer, philosopher and author of Animal Liberation (whom Pollan castigates), and Jim Mason, journalist, environmentalist, and attorney, who with Peter Singer wrote Animal Factories, take exception to Michael Pollan’s use of this argument as well. In “The Way We Eat”, they remark, “Pollan is surely not asserting that any individual animal ever consciously made a bargain with, to, for example, trade her eggs or milk, or even his or her flesh, for a year or two’s food and protection from predators.”

 

Pollan earlier alluded to his perception that we are “dancing” with farmed species to their benefit. He infers that sheers numbers equal benefit for them. However, his human half of the dancers always intended to use the lives of these species for their own purposes, not to benefit the eaten for their own sake. Livestock are not making mutual bargains as he asserts. He narrowly, and I believe wrongly, interprets this as biological mutualism, which means both species benefit from the relationship. Does he believe these are benefits for the other species?

 

We distort their ancestral genetics and leave them with such artifacts as huge cow udders prone to painful disease and turkeys bred for white-meat breasts that grow so large they are unable to walk; we induce growth rates in poultry that painfully overload their hearts and lungs; we remove offspring from cows to the deep, emotional distress of mother and calf; often days after birth, we butcher those calves; we kill young cattle, pigs, and sheep (lambs) within months to a few years after birth and deny them the experience of a natural lifespan; we diminish or eliminate altogether their quality of life; we deny them their natural behaviors, including nurturing; and we sever their social lives time and again. This is not mutualism and not prosperity.

 

Cattle and the other domesticated animals he considers have a wild ancestry. That we vanquished their ancestral cultures, communities, knowledge, languages, roles in ecosystems—their entire species’ identity, ecology, and quality of life—is not calculated in what Pollan terms a mutualistic “dance.” How can Mr. Pollan say Holstein dairy captives are prospering when they are killed at five years of age on average in the U.S., instead of living out their natural lifespan of 20 years and more? His inappropriate use of the term mutualism is useful to the storyteller but a fiction in the argument Pollan wants us to believe. We are not dancing with other species. They did not evolve “expressly to gratify our desires” as he asserts. This is about domination, opportunism, exploitation, and the elimination of their species’ ancestral genetic attributes and free will. We commandeered their evolution.

 

His next book, “In Defense of Food”, continues this theme but accurately calls our relationship with livestock symbiotic instead. That biological term can be used to describe a wide range of relationships, from mutually beneficial to parasitic. We have shaped these individuals to produce and be food for us. Along the way, we removed much of their ancestral adaptive abilities for normal ecosystem survival. They have little to no control of where they are, what they eat and drink, when and how they mate (artificial insemination), their relationships with others of their kind, or even when they empty their udders. If Michael Pollan ever taps you on the shoulder asking for a dance, run like hell.

 

Next, part four: There’s a Contract Out on Steer #534

 

Part 2: The Most Important Dilemma / Flawed Choices

Here is part two of sixteen installments from “This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology” / How we find our way to a humane and environmentally sane future. Each installment will be posted at www.thisishopethebook.com.

Though “This Is Hope” covers many subject areas, these modified excerpts focus on Michael Pollan’s book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and the damage it has done to our understanding of ecosystems and the food choices needed to protect them.

The Most Important Dilemma: Problems with Flawed Choices

A popular movement in food culture deserves attention from the perspective of human ecology. Its proponents describe themselves as omnivores. Like all omnivores, they choose to eat both plant- and animal-sourced food. However, these omnivores call for tweaking, not ending, carnism to make it acceptable. They oppose some critical excesses of industrial agricultural practices and ill-considered consumer behavior, but do not challenge the appropriateness of carnism itself. Switching to locally sourced, organic, grass-eating cattle meat over the grain-fed industrial animal product is the kind of change that leaves them satisfied. These reformed omnivores allege their dietary choices are environmentally sustainable and humane. There is no foundation to either claim.

Michael Pollan is perhaps the most popular omnivore reformer since his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma was published in 2006. A professor of journalism and skilled writer, he performs an important public service because he draws millions of people into thinking about agriculture and how we choose the food we eat.194 He brings more people to the table, so to speak. Tragically, he and the reformed omnivore movement that responded to his messages remain stuck in a current human ecology that is neither adaptable to ecosystems, thus unsustainable, nor moral in its treatment of individuals from other species. I will refer to them simply as omnivores from here on.

Pollan rallies us to consider our food choices. He shares his discoveries about the absurdities of industrial corn production and its connections to factory farming. He rallies to the dangers of monocultures and pesticides. This is great stuff. I recommend his books. But it is not long before his carnist worldview becomes evident in the aberrations and biases found in some of his most important presumptions and conclusions in Omnivore’s Dilemma. He falls short of doing justice to the great questions he raises about our food choices.

In Dilemma, Pollan uses inappropriately applied terms and unfounded concepts about ecology, ecosystems, animal behavior, the motivations of vegans and vegetarians, and the few philosophers he chose to represent them. And after a few perfunctory acknowledgments about their goodintentions, he becomes unpleasantly dismissive of vegans and vegetarians.

The first clue to the book’s conclusions arrives quickly on the initial pages. “But in the end,” Pollan writes, this is a book about the pleasures of eating, the kinds of pleasures that are only deepened by knowing.… Many of these species have evolved expressly to gratify our desires, in the intricate dance of domestication that has allowed us and them to prosper together as we could never have prospered apart.”

With one broad stroke of his personal and deeply anthropocentric worldview, he dismisses humanity’s history of horrific treatment of billions upon billions of sentient beings and ecosystem losses long before factory farming existed. He asserts that this “intricate dance” has been beneficial to the sentient species farmed for their meat because they now exist in large numbers. This author considers they are “prospering” when we artificially induce their short productive lives that “gratify our desires” but gives no accounting of their innate value. Population equals good in this simple equation. He asks us to believe the absurdity that all of the suffering and abuse we have rained upon them would be—if choice were possible—the choice domesticated individuals from other species would make just so they could now exist in the billions.

Norm Phelps, author and founder of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians, pulls back the curtain on similar unexamined worldview assumptions about our relationships with domesticated species. “Unsupported by evidence, the ‘volunteers for death’ theory is a self-serving justification for modern-day animal slavery and slaughter projected backward in time so it can masquerade as legitimate scholarship. It is the interspecies equivalent of claims that African slaves were happy in their servitude because it spared them the risks and uncertainties of freedom.”

As Phelps is reminding us, if Pollan’s criteria were applied to human slaves, we would see it as racist. When it is applied to other species, it is called speciesism.

Next, part 3: Pollan’s Dance of Death

GreenVegans.org
Subscribe to This Is Hope

Why do vegans allow vegetarianism to define veganism?

April 22nd, 2017

Shake hands, declare independence  We must end our non-critical acceptance of vegetarianism’s[...]

The 2016 Election: Endless Green Vegan Opportunities?

November 30th, 2016

It’s difficult to imagine what the next several years will be like after this—the 2016 U.S. electi[...]

Are Vegans Vegetarians? Conclusion

September 19th, 2015

We lost the struggle for the original definition of “vegetarianism” and “vegetarian” in 1847, 168 ye[...]

Are Vegans Vegetarians? Part 4

August 17th, 2015

Food producers are harming veganism because of the way they label their products “vegetarian” an[...]

Are Vegans Vegetarians? Part 3

July 26th, 2015

Before I describe how international and U.S. organizations inappropriately reference veganism as veg[...]