Thursday, August 25, 2011

I'm a vegetarian, but I'm not so foolish to think Michael Pollan trumps Julia Child

Following my recent column about vegetarianism, I received a wave of hate mail from meat eaters. This came as no surprise -- as food has finally become a political issue in America (as it should), some carnivores have become increasingly aggressive toward anyone or any fact that even vaguely prompts them to critically consider their culinary habit. Although the stereotype imagines vegetarians sententiously screaming at any meat eater they see at the lunch counter or dinner table, I've found quite the opposite to be true. In my personal life, I go out of my way to avoid talking about my vegetarianism while I'm eating with friends, family or work colleagues, but nonetheless regularly find myself being interrogated by carnivores when they happen to notice that I'm not wolfing down a plate of meat.

Having been a vegetarian for more than a decade now, and having been raised in a family of proud meat eaters, I'm going to use this space to publish a brief primer for both vegetarians and those who are considering vegetarianism -- a primer on what kind of blowback you should expect to face when you are forced to publicly explain your personal dietary decision, and what succinct, fact-based responses are most appropriate when confronting the tired cliches that will be thrown at you from enraged carnivores. [. . .] (David Sirota, “A vegetarian’s guide to talking to carnivores,” Salon, 24 August 2011)

The carnivore-in-the-vegetarian's guide to discussing sensibly with its new solely vegetarian self.

David, I'm glad to hear you read the comments. I feel it's always appropriate, but not always a class-circumspect thing to do (or at least to admit to).

I grew up meat-eating in the 70s and 80s. Loved so much of those times, and the food -- the whole pleasure of life learned "encountering" it -- is something I treasure. It may be that someone vegetarian at birth is not missing out on something if they never came to know what tastes, what treasurable stories of experience, meat afforded us, but I think that those of us who went vegan at some point but certainly remembered how much they once enjoyed meat, should always communicate some considerable fidelity to this fact.

You shouldn't be killing animals for food -- to be able to consciously kill an animal is something that if we don't powerfully and fully flinch from, automatically shows us possessed of sadism, some disturbing capacity to switch to a otherwise disconnected self when engaged in acts of violence. But it may really be that the world of experience is wonderful, resplendent, "Julia Child" lessened in not knowing the tastes afforded by meat. (No one in our century-past communicated a love for food that surpassed what she afforded [compared to her joie-de-vivre, our Pollans in fact seem depleted, and as if out of their venerance for unadulterated, rough-skinned vegetables]. The 60s and 70s had abandoned restraint and went whole-hog for pleasure, and this generation of highly evolved people weren't yet one that had abandoned meat. The unfortunate thing about current vegans is that they came on mostly after the 60s and 70s golden ages had passed, and so haven't yet had their time when they didn't also communicate shrewism, scolding, restriction. That'll come, but only after the current depression fully unfolds, another possible world war, and then, finally, accompanying the collective agreement that a golden age is once again fully warranted.)

It's hard for us born loving meat to know for sure, but if true, we shouldn't be afraid to admit this even as we lessen the pleasure we take from fat, expand that we take from vegetables and legumes, and refuse to inconscionably kill what should simply have been respected.

Link: A vegetarian’s guide to talking to carnivores (Salon)

Reading lists, and all they entail

While there's no way to know whether Hillary Clinton would have hung tougher than President Obama with those recalcitrant Republicans, here's a safe bet -- her summer reading list would have included a few more women authors than his.

Obama opened his Martha's Vineyard vacation by purchasing Daniel Woodrell's "The Bayou Trilogy" and Ward Just's "Rodin's Debutante." He'd already packed novels by David Grossman and Abraham Verghese, along with Isabel Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns," a nonfiction account of black migration from the American South. (Some reports also had Obama carrying Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" and Emma Donoghue's novel "Room.")

That would make Obama's reading 70 percent male -- which is actually a better male-female ratio than the past.

[. . .]

Now the fact that the president of the United States apparently doesn't read women writers is not the greatest crisis facing the arts, much less the nation -- but it's upsetting nevertheless. As I suspect Obama would agree, matters of prejudice are never entirely minor, even when their manifestations may seem relatively benign.

It is a well-known fact among those of us to whom this matters that while women read books written by men, men do not tend to reciprocate. The reasons for this imbalance are the subject of much speculation and little conclusion, but, simple as this may sound, it looks an awful lot to me like we think they are more interesting than they think we may turn out to be. And I very much doubt that's a message Mr. Obama means to endorse -- especially as a father of daughters who might enjoy and even be inspired by seeing their father cart around a book emblazoned with a woman's name writ large.

In recent months, women writers have tried to call attention to this discrepancy and received some hefty pushback. In February, a group called VIDA released a study detailing jaw-dropping differences between how often men and women are reviewed in such publications as the New York Times and the Atlantic. Both publications reviewed dramatically more fiction by men than women. (Robin Black, “President Obama: Why don’t you read more women?” Salon, 24 August 2011)

Don't push the fe-man too far!

When you deliberately elect in a man who is now essentially constituted to abay women's whatnot anxieties, you have to allow him his escape to his man-cave, else he go insane and lose all use. What is Obama but someone elected to obey our mothers' demands that we now show self-sacrifice, to evidence our awareness that we should have spent more time diligently attending to them?

Robin, What Makes You Even Slightly Different..

...than the chuckleheads who have been ripping the president's reading list from the Right?

You are a parasite; your article is parasitic. (Chupacabra)

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troll bait

This article virtually screams for Zorkna's contumely, and alas will richly deserve it when it comes. (absolut carnage)

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Strange Article

It must be silly season if this article gets such a high billing on the Salon home page. Seriously Robin I hope this is not keeping you up at night!

I suspect most people, regardless of sex, do as I do when selecting reading material - chose based on subject of interest regardless of whether the author is male or female. (hemp4evr)

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Why Are Women So Resentful?

What horrible person would make a gender issue out of the President's reading list on an annual vacation? How sick are so many women in this society? (mobutu)

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Holy crap!

I bet he doesn't have any Sarah McLachlan on his iPod either! The cad! (greengoblin)

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Women aren't good writers. Hey, write a stupid article, get a stupid response. (g50)

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This is a ridiculous article

I'm sorry. This just sounds like one more dumb reason to bash Barack Obama. I think the President should be able to read anything he damned well pleases on vacation. This is a waste of brain cells and energy. (gaylefleming)

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A Reason NOT to Be President

At least if you're NOT president, you don't have people complaining that your reading list doesn't have gender balance among the authors.

Geeeeeez! (cross1242)

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[50 more consecutive responses of essentially the same]

another perspective

What is noteworthy about these comments, aside from their viciousness, is their complete failure to understand the point of the article they are commenting on. A serious issue is raised, and it is not what President Obama reads or doesn't read. It is the fact, well documented (as is pointed out) that women writers do face a struggle for recognition beyond that confronted by all writers. Since President Obama's reading list was made public, it afforded a perfectly reasonable way to raise the larger issue. It's too bad that commenters have seized on this harmless illustrative device as if it were the central point of the article; had they bothered to read in order to understand, we might have had an interesting discussion instead of an outpouring of venom. (mysteryperson)


RE: It is the fact, well documented (as is pointed out) that women writers do face a struggle for recognition beyond that confronted by all writers.

This privilege is evidence of a culture that has mostly surrendered the rest of the ground to women, so long as "they" have some elevated mountain top to swap secrets, share signs, and indulge in all men for awhile. Some women want even this sundered, but when this is accomplished -- the termination of such a obviously-needed masculinist ritual -- the results aren't pretty (see Donald Tuzin's "Cassowary's Revenge" for an example of what happened after a millenium-held long masculinist cult dissolved).

Most men are still born to insufficiently-respected, insufficiently-loved mothers. Such mothers don't magically, despite their lack of sustenance, become enabled providers, but inevitably look to their boy children as "gay hags" do gay men -- to satisfy, serve, and then dispose them until their next craving. Later in life these unfortunate men are either going to need an incredible dose of spot-on therapy or masculinist sexist escapes, or else, and even if very literate, they’ll start doing base things like suiciding themselves or indulging on impulsions to physically abuse women.

Women, grow up and afford yourselves a more mature understanding of what lies behind these masculinist escapes. Also, admit you voted for Obama for what actually leads to him needing these periodic escapes -- because you sensed in him someone constituted, fully broken, to respond to your distress and needs.

Really, people?

The vast, vast majority of these comments just go to show how important it is that SOMEONE make the point(s) Robin Black made in her piece. Otherwise, the myriad sexists on the internet and off might never come crawling out of the woodwork spitting their venom.

I invite you to call me a feminazi for posting this, but the issue of gender in the arts, and how prominent people consume them, does deserve to be examined. The sickening anti-woman stench coming off of this comment thread is evidence enough of that. Once Obama's summer reading list has been publicized (and it has been!), critics have the right to ask questions about it. And the lack of women writers on Obama's summer reading and other reading lists - conscious or not - just speaks to a larger, society-wide issue.

The New York Times reviews far more men than women ( and, (again) whether it's conscious sexism or not, it's reflective of a bias that (AGAIN) is also reflected in this disgusting comment thread.

Or it could just be that women write worse than men.

(For the clueless among you, also known as most of you, I was being sarcastic in that last bit. You're welcome.) (seriouslah)


Re: I invite you to call me a feminazi for posting this, but the issue of gender in the arts, and how prominent people consume them, does deserve to be examined. The sickening anti-woman stench coming off of this comment thread is evidence enough of that. Once Obama's summer reading list has been publicized (and it has been!), critics have the right to ask questions about it. And the lack of women writers on Obama's summer reading and other reading lists - conscious or not - just speaks to a larger, society-wide issue.

I considered it, seriouslah. It's right there, and kinda obvious -- or were you too much prepared to enjoy your indulgent haughty snark to internet plebs to consider it? Still, what did you make of my argument that masculinism owes to a need for compensense, for boys who grew up with insufficiently loved and respected women who could not then but help using their dependent boys to feed them some of what they'd been denied?

How to disagree

It is with some discomfort that I disagree with Robin Black’s piece. I am a friend of Robin’s and have been an admirer of her writing since before she was published. The problem with her premise, I believe, is that she is conflating two things that on the surface appear to be related but which are not. The coverage and positioning of female writers (sorry, I just can’t go with the popular usage of “women writers”) in the media and what President Obama chooses to read in his free time are vastly different. One is a business/editorial decision and the other a matter of personal taste. Could both have influence? Sure. However I think it’s reasonable to assume that someone in the editorial meeting at Time magazine thought Jonathan Franzen was a pompous gasbag but still sided with putting him on the cover. Hopefully the President chooses to read books that he is truly interested in and not because he’s trying to make some sort of impression.

Robin Black does not need anyone to defend her. She is quite capable of that all on her own. I find it, however, despicable the language used and way in which some here have disagreed with her. Many of the cowards who have posted comments would shirk from the chance to voice their opinions publicly on matters of art, politics, or society, and yet feel free to do so in the basest, most vulgar ways on the internet because of its faceless, impersonal nature. Yes, we live in a country where freedom of speech is a right; however, shame on us if we don’t use it in a manner that is commensurate with its importance. (bdudlick)


Re: Robin Black does not need anyone to defend her. She is quite capable of that all on her own. I find it, however, despicable the language used and way in which some here have disagreed with her. Many of the cowards who have posted comments would shirk from the chance to voice their opinions publicly on matters of art, politics, or society, and yet feel free to do so in the basest, most vulgar ways on the internet because of its faceless, impersonal nature. Yes, we live in a country where freedom of speech is a right; however, shame on us if we don’t use it in a manner that is commensurate with its importance.

Dudlick, I'm not sure if you're a dude, but you sure sound like a gentleman concerned to defend his lady from unruly ruffians. Just so you know, feminists have long ago dissected such ostensibly women-serving behavior as vile and inherently patriarchal, because it reinforces the idea that women, however becoming and noble, are more delicate than men, which would leave contentious stuff like politics and business mostly to those better constituted for the fray. Yes, you begin by saying she surely is capable of defending herself, but with her absent from the discussion and you immersed within it, this seems about anxiety-calming, about manners, and being fundamentally disingenuous, and this too does your case no good.

Also, if you are a guy, a marxist perspective would have your gentleman's refutations of the boarish to be mostly about aristocratic privileging at working class expense. To other eyes, that is, it's about selfishly making claim to the chick and dicking her, dudlicks. Thought you should know.

Link: President Obama: Why don’t you read more women?

Good times, and turkey dinners

But before any of these inquiries are but a twinkle in Isaac's eye, I know I'm going to face an interrogation about vegetarianism. At some point soon, he'll ask why our family doesn't eat this stuff called "meat" that's everywhere.

I have my substantive answers already lined up, so I'm not worried about what I'll tell him. (We don't eat meat because it's unhealthy, environmentally irresponsible, expensive and inhumane.) With this question, I'm more concerned about the prompting. Why is he almost certainly going to ask at such an early age?

I think I know the answer -- and it's not the ad campaigns that make meat seem like a rational choice ("Beef: It's What's for Dinner"), a healthy alternative food ("Pork: The Other White Meat") or a compassionate cuisine decision (Chik-fil-A's billboards, which show a cow begging you to spare his life by choosing chicken). No, Isaac's going to have questions because of the grocery -- more specifically, because of the vegetarian aisle that subliminally glorifies meat-eating.

I realize that sounds like an oxymoron, but the next time you go shopping, imagine what a kid gleans from veggie burgers, veggie bacon, veggie sausage patties, veggie hot dogs, Tofurky and all the other similar fare that defines a modern plant-based diet. While none of it contains meat, it's all marketed as emulating meat. In advertising terms, that's the "unique selling proposition" -- to give you the epicurean benefits of meat without any of meat's downsides.

Obviously, this isn't some conspiracy whereby powerful meat companies are deliberately trying to bring vegetarians into the megachurch of flesh eaters. If anything, it's the opposite: It's the vegetarian industry selling itself to meat eaters by suggesting that its products aren't actually all that different from meat. The problem is how that message, like so many others in American culture, reinforces the wrongheaded notion that our diet should be fundamentally based on meat.

For those who have chosen to be vegetarians, this message is merely annoying. But for those like Isaac who are being raised as vegetarians, the message is downright subversive. It teaches them that as tasty as vegetarian food may be, it can never compete with the "real thing."

That message will undoubtedly inform Isaac's early curiosity -- and maybe his questions won't be such a bad thing. Maybe they'll motivate me to spend more time in the supermarket's raw produce section, and maybe my ensuing discussion with Isaac will help him better understand why our family has made this culinary choice.

However, that doesn't mean the subtle propaganda won't ultimately win out, thus adding another carnivore to a destructively meat-centric society. (David Sirota, “Why do vegetarian products glorify meat,” Salon, 19 August 2011)

Turkey dinners

If you grew up loving your turkey dinners, if some of your favorite childhood memories are of the times around the succulent-meat-a-plenty table or excursions to eat fatty steak, burgers, or prime ribs, then you remain fidelitous to the good things in your past when you choose Tofurky and veggie bacon after really connecting with and deeply caring about the truth that it is a terrible thing to kill animals for sustenance. For you, it isn't transition but fidelity to the blessed things of your past that were very much part of the furnishings for the love that made you care. Though it might be even more mature, to move on entirely might well in fact for you be about birthing a new kind of inorganic rupture and violence.

Link: Why do vegetarians glorify meat? (Salon)

When progressives fail just to mind their own business

There is a shadowy group of malcontents in America today, plotting a grand takeover of our political institutions in order to completely remake the country according to their wishes. Despite the fact the members of this group are a small minority of the population, and an unpopular one at that, they seek to infiltrate the courts and the government at every level, in order to replace our long-standing system of law with their own extremist, undemocratic religious code. These true believers are especially dangerous because they think they're doing God's work, and you ignore them, or play down the threat they pose to America, at your own risk. This tiny band of fanatics is largely distrusted and despised by regular Americans, but a terrified media coddles them and pretends they're harmless. I am speaking, of course, of the Tea Parties, a group now officially less popular among Americans than Muslims.

Professors David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam have a column in today's New York Times explaining that the Tea Party movement is made up largely of ultra-religious ultra-conservative Republican partisans (shocker?), and now that America has caught on to this fact, the Tea Party people are much less popular than other groups who largely seek to mind their own business:

Polls show that disapproval of the Tea Party is climbing. In April 2010, a New York Times/CBS News survey found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of it, 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Now, 14 months later, Tea Party supporters have slipped to 20 percent, while their opponents have more than doubled, to 40 percent.

Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right.

So it turns out that going around in funny hats screaming at people for a few years is not a great way to endear yourself to the American public, unless you're Joe Pantoliano.

Better luck with next election cycle's rebranding campaign that fools everyone in the political press for a year or so, ultra-conservative Republicans! (Alex Parene, “Tea Party people less popular than many other hated minority groups,” Salon, 17 August 2011)

... until Progressives become the minority group of concern

Yes, and we can expect Salon to gleefully join with Obama in destroying them. Afterwards, now lost in the feeling of healthy vigor and purity acquired in disposing of presumptive malcontents, they'll begin their war on progressives (real ones), who also unfairly would hoist their minority agenda on the rest of America. Though it was what they did in the '60s and '70s, and, we remind, to everyone's benefit, time now to see similar efforts/presumptions on their part as simply "Tea Party" beyond countenancing.

Few of us will escape the drive to make someone else embody our own -- to us -- increasingly suspect selfishness. Tea Partiers first, and then in a far more brutal way -- for their representing it vastly more convincingly -- their inverse: the best, least regressive people alive, true progressives.

Obama is about so depleting America that most everyone will be hardened and made spirtually pure from knowing long sustained true suffering. This is his (albeit, mostly unknowing) agenda, and it is drawing, and will continue to draw, most of us to it. I expect a second term, and a president progressives will fear to assail, for fear of what their liberal friends might say and do in return.

Link: Tea Party people less popular than many other hated minority groups (Salon)

Not exactly seeing it in its best light

Since you all abandoned the other thread

"Starkey racism row: It is the political elite's ceaseless denigration of white working-class culture that has 'turned kids black' "


What changed is not so much that blacks, followed by whites, immersed themselves in the lingo or outlook of their ancestors, but rather that white working-class culture has in recent years been denigrated to an extraordinary degree. From the way the white working classes speak (un-PC, foul) to what they eat (”junk food”, which makes them “obese”) to what they wear (the girls dress like “slags”, the boys like “scum”), virtually every facet of white working-class life has been subjected to the ridicule of the political and cultural elite, finding itself mocked on TV shows and tut-tutted over or legislated against in parliament and the press. Meanwhile working-class institutions are either in a state of disarray (trade unions being the best example) or have been invaded by the intolerant nannies and nudgers of the prole-loathing elite: consider the public house, once a relatively free zone, now colonised by morality cops on the lookout for smoking, excessive boozing and anything with a whiff of rowdiness. Football games, post-work pints, EastEnd attitude, northern grit – hardly any aspect of white working-class culture has escaped being problematised by the snobs, therapists and health obsessives who govern modern Britain.

At the same time, immigrant cultures are more likely to be celebrated, as “vibrant” by the educational establishment and as “cool” by the trustafarian chattering classes who like nothing better than listening to Niggaz with Attitude on their outsized headphones. The movers and shakers of modern British society demonise white working-class culture while simultaneously slumming it with what they consider to be the “noble savages” of the immigrant community. In such a climate, is it really any wonder that white working-class kids are “turning black”? Their so-called “blackness” was not in any way the cause of the riots, but it does point to a problem that at least contributed to that urban upheaval: the fact that huge swathes of lower-class youth feel cut off not only from society but also from their traditional cultures, turning them into confused, at-sea, potentially nihilistic individuals.

Comment from Australia:


Today 06:07 AM

We see the same here in Australia. White kids listening to gangster rapp, acting like black thugs, they've completely lost their own identity. Also the media is constantly telling white people over here how evil we all are leading to a depressing sense of identity as well. We are only about 5-10 years behind the UK and I fear for our survival as we are being swamped with Black American culture (especially) and the constant witch hunts by the media against whites whilst trying (unsuccessfully) trying to cover up the growing horrific crimes commited against white Australians by African and other immigrants. There is huge racial tensions between the Africans and Aboriginals who call them 'invaders' (are you going to call Aboriginies racists Fabian delusions?) and even our Middle Eastern immigrants have problems with them. I never hated any other ethnic group before but am growing tired and weary of this no so-obvious planned destruction of Western countries and the now inevitable genocide of the European race.

See, folks, this is happening all over the Western-European world. And people see it. Even the other "trolls" on Salon who hate me say the same thing: "Oh, it's hate whitey day again on Salon."

So, what can we do? (—Grand Duchess Anastasiya Nikolayevna’s paregoric bottle, in comment section of associated press’s “London police charge 1,000th person in riots probe,” 17 August 2011)


The liberalism you despise is about to come to a complete close. The reform in manners you hope for will come to; it'll keep people feeling contained and controlled as a snug-fitting Nazi uniform.

Liberalism has been just awful for quite some time, but the truth that is so important to understand but near impossible to be countenanced, is that everything since the late '70s was due to become a frustratingly warped form of its earlier incarnations. Liberalism will once again unambiguously shine golden, but this will require the commencement of a new golden age, where regressives give progressives some stretch and more or less for a time let them lead the way, and where progressives themselves are free from self-shakles they'll end up applying when they too have decided society has had it too good. This will come only after what we're about to see here: the emergence of the – everyone-agreed -- noble working classer, the emergence of the spritual greatness of original stock folk, and a war against polluted others that everyone will feel good about but that will obnoxiously, terrifyingly outdo in carnage the scapegoating and casually applied debasement you goad liberals for.

Link: London police charge 1,000th person in riots probe (Salon)

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