Friday, April 24, 2009

Reading Michael Pollan is bad for you. Or good.

I'll be the first to admit that the happy-happy love chibi tone of the whole online knitting world sort of gets to me after awhile. As people who know me in real life will tell you, I'm a bit cantankerous, and I like my spirited rants. Don't take this to indicate that I'm actually unhappy or even particularly grumpy- I just enjoy a good grouse. And goddammit, this is my blog, so I'll grouse all I want.

And today, we are grousing about vegetarianism. I will tie it back into yarn at the end to make you happy.

But first, here's a sock:

Abstract Fibers sock yarn, Sweet Pea. Knit a bit loose, really, but I like them. They feel nice and textury.

Now that I have placated you with sock, we will continue.

First of all let me say that if you simply don't want to eat meat, that's totally fine. I'm not going to argue with preference. If you're creeped out by the idea of dead animal going in your mouth, regardless of how in concordance with natural order such a phenomenon is, then don't do it. I don't eat duck because I think they're too darn cute. I refuse to try lamb or veal because they're babies. I don't eat seafood 'cause it's icky (yes, I've tried it, many incarnations of it. It's icky.) But let's talk about some of the reasons people go veg:

1. I don't want to hurt/kill animals. Well, that's super. Noble, for sure. Unfortunately the majority of grain/fruit/veggie farming, especially on an industrial scale, destroys habitats, chops up little creatures in farming equipment, and poisons any animals who dare come near it. So you're still killing animals, and in fact it's entirely possible that more creatures died to make your Boca burger than would've if you'd had a real burger. And we're not even necessarily talking about the bugs who are killed on purpose - birds can eat those bugs and get poisoned, pesticide run-off is a HUGE problem (remember those fragile eagle shells?), small animals can eat pesticide-covered grain and produce. If you buy organic you're given a pass on most-to-all of the pesticide-related issues, but you're still destroying more habitat and potentially chopping up more field mice than your carnivorous friends. If we really wanted to get the most food with the least habitat destruction, we'd rely on pasture-fed meat animals, who will pretty much run around happily co-existing with our rodent, bunny, and bird friends. If you're going to insist on being a vegetarian for this reason, it is your responsibility to source all of your food very, VERY carefully. That means no prepackaged "big organic" veggie pizzas, no Rice Krispes, none of that nonsense. You'll be dealing exclusively with small local farmers who use humane methods of pest control, or growing your own food. Which is totally great if you can manage it, but most people can't, and if you can't, you might as well have a nice grassfed steak.

2. It's healthier. Hahahahahaha. Depends a whole hell of a lot on what you're eating, friend. A lean cut of responsibly raised meat is probably quite a bit better for you than some overprocessed pretend-meat bullshit.

3. If we stopped eating cattle, we'd have enough corn to feed everyone and nobody would go hungry. Sorry, Jessie, who I doubt reads this, but still. First of all, we already have plenty of corn. Rather than give it away or do anything useful with it, we find ways to pack it into processed foods, sweeteners, soft drinks, gas, even yarn... anything we can possibly think of, including all those nice novelty vegetarian/vegan products. (This is rapidly making us all fat, but that's a rant for another day.) Secondly, the cows don't want our stupid corn anyway. It makes them sick, it makes them yield unhealthier meat, and the facilities that they're forcefed all this corn muck in are pretty much horrible. What needs to happen is a rise in demand for grassfed animals (which happens when you EAT grassfed meat, not when you stop eating meat altogether), which will force at least some of the cornfields to stop making so much crappy corn and maybe grow some real food. Or, hey, maybe we'll get nice and start feeding other countries. But the reason we're not doing it now has very little to do with a shortage of food.

4.You are against animal "slavery". First of all, you're an asshole, and I just thought you should know that. Second of all, please familiarize yourself with the ways of evolution. We did not "enslave" domesticated animals- we co-evolved. As a species, any given animal wants to be safe and healthy long enough to reproduce and continue the species. We provide that protection. They no longer have to do anything but eat and copulate and lounge around in the sunshine. And yes, at some point, we eat them- but we afford them a faster, more humane death than natural predators would, that much is for sure (Have you SEEN what wolves do to a sheep?) We tend not to start eating their internal organs while they're still alive. Really, they got a pretty good deal. A nice give and take. Hell, sometimes they totally got the better deal- my dog is asleep on the couch right now. He gets fed three times a day, and sometimes he gets treats and yogurt (and if he's sick, boiled chicken and rice) and he doesn't do squat to help around the house. He just steps on your lap and smells bad and gets hair on things. He's never had to hunt for his food, because his ancestors realized that, hey, if they hung around humans and were nice and affectionate, the humans would feed them. Sweet deal! Dogs are doing pretty damn well compared to their wild ancestors, and even though we eat them eventually, it's pretty safe to say the same of cows. Hell, I don't even know what a wild chicken looks like- guess they didn't make it.

If I'm missing a reason, let me know (besides religious reasons- those aren't based in logic so I can't really logic my way out of them. Carry on as your god prescribes.)

And now to the issue of vegan knitters:

I'll give you silk. The silk moths are killed. Even for Tussah. If this bothers you, don't use silk.

However, this whole "omg wool is bad" bullshit is kinda silly.

Let's look at the alternatives to animal fibers:

Cotton: Big pesticides, big problems. (Look into organic cottons if you're going to use the stuff.)

Rayon/Bamboo/Corn/Soy Silk/anything that did not start off a fiber-like substance: SERIOUS chemical processing is required to make these things turn into yarn. Nasty, nasty chemicals.

Acrylic: it's made from oil transported by vehicles run by oil and processed by machines that are on some level probably run by oil. They also pretty much never biodegrade, and WILL MELT ONTO BABIES, who last I checked, were also animals undeserving of your cruelty.

Linen and hemp: Actually, these might be fine, I don't know much about their growing practices. I could imagine similar issues to cotton.

Do you know what hurts animals? Pollution. Pesticides. Chemical runoff. Smog. Pretty much anything that hurts the environment, really.

Do you know what doesn't hurt animals? Haircuts. Slight indignity, maybe, but they'll get over it. And yes, maybe once in a while a sloppy shearer will nick an animal. But that's rare, and still better than being poisoned to death by your drinking water.

And yes, mulesing hurts. But flystrike hurts worse. (Google it. Google image it.) And they're breeding out the need for mulesing as fast as they can.

If you're concerned about the whole animal slavery aspect, allow me to remind you that you're a douche, and go read the paragraph above. Sheep have a pretty sweet deal. Nature is less kind to sheep than we are, and there would be a lot fewer of them if we hadn't formed this little bond. They're classic prey animals, and a hell of a lot fewer would make it to reproduction if they didn't have us and our dogs (ironic descendants of their predators) protecting them. From a species perspective, this is a smart move. Hell, even from an individual perspective: live longer, die gentler. (With the possible exception of lamb, which I've already mentioned I'm not crazy about. Those are perfectly good wool animals you're wasting.)

All that said, I've heard nasty things about the superwash process, but I'm not sure I care enough to handwash my socks. I also don't hope to imply that I live by any of these guidelines, but then, I also don't present myself as a morally superior being because of what I do and do not eat/knit with (I am very comfortable with the food chain.) But if you're going to go veg, do it right. A vegan knitting with acrylic and eating super processed corn "food" because it's somehow better for the animal kingdom is just an idiot.


  1. I agree with you on a lot of points, but I'm curious about a few as well. It takes a lot of vegetable matter to produce just one serving of meat (I'm not going to look up the exact numbers, but you get the general idea - an animals needs to eat a lot to grow up and get eaten). If livestock are pasture-fed, the situation is different, but the vast majority of animals are not raised that way. Hypothetically, if everyone were to eat vegetarian, we'd need to grow much fewer crops - so, much less habitat would be destroyed, fewer pesticides would be used, fewer fieldmice chopped, etc etc. It has always seemed to me that this is a valid argument for at least greatly reducing meat consumption, if not going vegetarian. I haven't researched the issue in a few years, though - is the situation otherwise?

  2. If everyone is vegetarian, though, more farmland is needed to grow the grain/fruit/veggies that they do need. This would probably be less than the amount that we give cows, though, you're right. But it's pretty unlikely that everyone will go vegetarian. It makes more sense to move them to grass, which has the benefit of enriching the land that they're on and cutting way back on corn land, without having to compensate to produce more vegetarian food.

  3. I agree with so much of what you wrote. Your issue #4 about "animal slavery" is probably my biggest pet-peeve on the issue. Not because it is the most prevelant or even the worst, but because the sort of person who says things like that are so seldom the sorts of people willing to have a reasonable debate about personal ideologies.

    And I do know what you mean about the happy-go-lucky nature of the internet knitting community. It's good to be kind and respectful, but sometimes I just want someone to rant a bit or tell me what they really think. Just once, I'd like to be told "that's ugly" by a fellow knitter. I think I could take it.

  4. rawr. give the cows grass, it's what they want.

    no really though, i want to know who you talked to that thinks overly processed fake meat is healthy, i will beat some kale over their heads.

    my rant is definitely those smug vegan/vegetarians that think using all acrylic is better than wool? wtf?

    p.s i'm a vegetarian, but not an idiotic one. i'd like to think so anyway. who really knows.

  5. Just found your blog yesterday. Spent a few hours reading back. Very enjoyable.

    Today, love the rant. And very nice tie-in with the yarn. Impressed.

    I don't debate vegetarian. I only defend my actions on eating meat. LOL We buy grass-fed, local farm raised beef each year and process them ourselves. Two cows feed our six families for a year. It's pretty cost-efficient and much better meat. Really fresh.

    And I'll add Michael Pollan to my Amazon wish list

  6. Just to clarify, I didn't mean that it was likely that everyone would go vegetarian - heck, the same logic holds true if only a couple people reduce their meat consumption. It was just to paint a better picture in one's mind. I do agree that it's a wonderful idea to move livestock to grass, and I personally have 0 qualms with eating meat that's been raised that way. I've found it very hard to find that type of meat around here though (college student in the suburbs...ugh), so my solution has been to simply cut back on meat in the meantime.

    About needing more land to grow the plants that vegetarians would be eating instead of meat, from what I've heard, we could use pretty much a fraction of the crops now being used to feed livestock to grow that extra food. Raising meat (especially cows/beef) requires huge amounts of resources when it's done as it typically is now. Ick, the whole factory farm thing grosses me out to no end.

    Thanks for the post, though. I can't stand vegetarians/vegans who feel they need to be self-righteous and at times downright silly about their choices. The situation is so much more complex than they usually paint it.

  7. Man, it's hard to respond to people on this thing.

    But yeah, I totally recommend the Omnivore's Dilemma (I haven't read his other books, I might someday if they show up in my house, who knows.)

    And good vegetarians are the a-ok :-)

  8. I need to talk to you more. I miss you.

  9. thanks for putting it so succinctly. I totally agree.

  10. Despite being called lamb and veal calves, they're not really babies anymore. For a strictly grass-fed "lamb", it takes 150-250 days to get to a market weight of 95-105 lbs. Most veal calves are at least 18-20 weeks old and at least 450 lbs. at market weight. (Numbers are from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs and Wikipedia -- most readily available I could find.) Chime, though, on your other points.

  11. ha!... not to mention our humongous national 'emergency stockpiles' of grain that sit in storehouses until they, did i hear mention of starving people around the world, being robbed of food by those hungry cows? perhaps some sharing IS in order, human-to-human, though, don't blame the bovine.

  12. Hemp is definitely better than cotton - it doesn't require herbicides or pesticides. It's not as soft though so it has to go through processes to soften it - now idea what those involve.

  13. What I like most about your argument is that there are good ways to go about being vegetarian as well as bad ways, and good reasons as well as stupid ones. Just as there are for those of us who eat meat. But I see very little that any of us can do for the environment just by eating differently. Now, instead of just making, packaging, and delivering meat products, companies use oil and plastic and other non-environmental stuff to make both vegan and meat products available. So from where I stand, it's a lose-lose situation as far as eating goes.

    I agree with you that if we really want to make a difference to the environment, there are far better ways of doing so than preaching vegan values to the community.

  14. I love Michael Pollan, and highly recommend his earlier book, The Botany of Desire. It's part science, part history, part hymnal to four forms of plant life: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. He discusses how we've changed them and how they've changed us and our own history. I didn't think I'd be into a history of plants after I read Omnivore's Dilemma, but Botany of Desire is eye-opening in its own way. Pollan's a wonderful writer and as corny as this sounds, he has a beautiful brain.

    (However, I don't really recommend his newest book, In Defense of Food, because it's simply a distilled, condensed version of Omnivore's Dilemma.)

    Let's not forget that cows produce tons of methane every day, which contribute to greenhouse gases, and that corporations like McDonalds clear rainforests to provide grazing space for cows. I don't advocate worldwide vegetarianism, but it would do the environment so much better if we simply ate less meat.

    Thank you for bringing these issues to the knitting table!

    Go wool yarn!

  15. Totally agree! I don't agree with people who rant this way in public, but you are obviously responding to someone ranting vegetarianism at you, and then venting on your blog which is totally kosher, in my opinion.
    I honestly giggle when people say that wool is evil. What, do the sheep need it? Have they ever seen a sheep that hasn't been sheared for only a relatively short time? Sheep were bred to be sheared and now they NEED to be sheared. If wool is evil then by the same logic haircuts are evil. It's not like sheep get pumped full of hormones so they artificially produce wool the way cows are made to produce milk. It just grows!
    Also, as much as I hate thinking about field mice getting chopped up by equipment (which I really do), the human toll that is required for the commercial-scale farming of produce is much more devastating than the death of cows. Humans who are forced to work for lower than minimum wage in jobs that are potentially very dangerous is much sadder than diseased cows. Humans are sentient beings and the current understanding goes that cows are not. It is indeed evil to suppress the freedom of a cow, but it is much more evil to suppress the freedom of a human being.

  16. If you would like to meet some snarky, skull-obsessed, multi-crafty crazy folk, come chat with the men and women at the
    forum. there are crafters, particularly obsessed knitters, of all skill levels and persuasions, and you will find people you probably already know!
    they already know about you because I told them. I love your hats.

  17. I think one of the most troubling things surrounding this debate is that fact checking is so difficult. There is a lot of research right now that attempts to determine how negatively (and from the look of things, the answer is "very" to "oh my goodness") animal husbandry impacts the environment. Between the GHG emissions of large animal-based farms, to the manure run-off into the water table, to the dangers of safely storing large amounts of dried grain for feed (ever seen a silo explode? I have!), to issues of bona fide animal neglect and cruelty, I'd have to say that varying amounts of concern are valid.

    Now. This is coming from someone who eats meat, though probably only once or twice a week --- which is about as much as anyone needs. I also knit and spin with wool, as well as silk. I even eat Lamb on special occasions.

    That said, this is still an issue worth serious thought.

    I mean, one thing to consider is that the vast majority of Americans eat WAY, WAY, WAAAAYYY more protein, especially animal protein, than they need. Seriously. It is not good for your kidneys or your liver. Meat at 2 to 3 meals a day is simply not a sustainable diet if you don't want health problems later in life.

    However, I agree with you, Alex, that processed meat substitutes are not really a good solution. For example, eating legumes as your main source of protein is both more environmentally sustainable (you can grow them yourself, for example, even if you only have a little porch to do it on) than either meat or expensive and overly processed substitutes.

    The wool issue is a bit gnarly (pun!) because I know of farms --- especially in my area --- that harvest wool, honey, and other animal products by *seriously* harming. Boiling an entire beehive for honey is terrible. Similarly, sheep raised in confinement in an effort to keep their fleeces debris free and without blemish seems cruel to me.

    Does it stop me from eating honey altogether? Nope. Love the stuff. Do I still knit with wool? You bet!

    I guess I'm saying it is not so clear and dry of an issue --- if it was, people wouldn't debate with each other (or themselves!) so much.

    Just trying to offer a few counter points while maintaining my sympathy for the majority of your points. It's a tough issue!

  18. You make great points and you are fucking hilarious!!!
    My Mother-in-law is a self-righteous vegetarian and I will be sending her a link to your blog the next time she pisses me off.
    Thanks for the good laugh! I am going to grill a burger now.

  19. Dude, I was a veg for about 8 years, just because it felt like what I should be eating at the time. I got so much crap from folks for not having an animal rights stance..."you shouldn't wear leather if you're veg", and "omg, dont you know what they do to those poor animals you don't eat" I think it pissed them off more that I didn't preach at them. At any rate, I think your right. Rock on.

    Cool trip photos by the way.


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