Life as an Extreme Sport

food ethics

How and why we eat has been an interesting aside for me since reading Michael Pollan’ The Omnivore’s Dilemma last summer. Always something of a binge reader on food history and related books, I really took advantage of living close to Powell’s to go overboard on the subject. But one prolific food writer I have yet to crack a book of is Tony Bourdain. I’m not sure why – I generally agree with his stand on celebrity chefs, I find his travel show No Reservations to be exceedingly funny and fascinating (and in fact have the New Jersey episode saved for a weekend of fun some time), but the actual reading of his works has simply never happened.

I’m making my way through a backlog of episodes of the show – the DVR caught over a dozen episodes in some marathon while I was in Oregon – and opted to do a little reading on Bourdain while watching him eat his way through Ghana. This quote from a Salon article is interesting, and rather nicely articulates a major concern people have when it comes to Peter Singer, animal rights, speciesism, and food ethics:

It would be nice to think that people know the difference between a crap chicken and a good chicken. If you can afford a good-quality free-range chicken, it’s nice that you have options. A lot of people in the world can’t afford that.

I like the idea that we could live in an agrarian wonderland, where there are heritage animals wandering freely and making delicious farm-fresh eggs, but that ain’t gonna happen; there are too many hungry people in the world.

I love Whole Foods talking about lobster and clam cruelty, when people are being fucked to death, kidnapped, starved, bombed. [The grocery chain recently stopped selling some live shellfish on the grounds that the practice is inhumane.] There is so much cruelty to humans — so much cruelty to animals — in this world. And people are worried about a fucking mollusk. Unbelievable.


  1. I love it when bioethics-inclined people talk about food. I take a different approach than that Salon article, though. Not to sound (too much) like Mr. Rogers, but stopping cruelty to humans and animals starts with concern for the mollusk, I think. So here’s to holding out for that agrarian wonderland…

    …and TV cooking shows for fun.

  2. As with most things, I actually think it’s going to take a little from column A, a little from column B. Some folks favour a top down, solve the problems with the humans and then tackle the animals approach, and others favour a bottom up, mollusk to primate way of thinking of it.

    Personally, I have a harder time putting aside my concern for people over that of, say, shrimp – however, I rarely eat shrimp, not because I think it’s cruel to the shrimp, but bad for the environment. (Trawling. Uck.) But I don’t necessarily think that the people who believe it’s easier to make changes with critters further away on the species scale are wrong.

    However, I do see Bourdain’s point that it is very hard to feel the same passion some people get over being, oh, strict vegan, when there are people who aren’t getting enough to eat, period – and food politics has nothing to do with why they’re not eating. It’s hard to not think that that particular sort of activist is focusing on easy issues, rather than tackle the difficult and hard ones behind, say, genocide and hate.

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