Sunday, March 1, 2009

Re: Daddy Eats Dead Cows- The Dangers of Moral Retardation

There is an endlessly annoying article on Slate called "Daddy Eats Dead Cows," in which the author, who is not a vegetarian, describes the plight of living with a humorless vegetarian wife and two daughters that they have decided ("together"!) to raise as vegetarians.

I do not have a problem with vegetarians. Some of my best friends and relatives are vegetarians. What I do have is a problem with pompous scolds who believe that their way of doing things is the best and indeed only proper way, and anyone who disagrees with them is an uncivilized brute who doesn't care about anything or anyone else.

For example, what will we do when the girls have social events that don't include parents? Someday soon, they will be going out for pizza with their friends, and Cyd and I won't be there to order the veggie toppings. Will they be permitted to order meat? Obviously, they'll do what they want, but if what they want is to eat meat, will they have to hide it from us?

Cyd has a stock answer to this question: "When they're old enough," she says, "to explain that they know the animal has been murdered and that they want to eat the murdered animal anyway, then they'll be permitted to do so." She's kidding about the language (I think), but she's dead serious about the principle. Only when they're old enough to understand the ethical question will they be permitted to answer it for themselves.

He only thinks she's kidding about the language? This is his wife and the mother of his two little vegetarian sweethearts; he should know whether she is or not. I assume that this person wouldn't marry someone who still eats meat (he's just not allowed to keep any meat in the house) if she truly considered meat to be "murder," which is to say the moral equivalent of killing a human being. But why even phrase it like that, especially if it's your "stock answer"? Could you imagine being with a life partner who said, even jokingly, that you were a "murderer" as part of a "stock answer" to a question about your childrens' upbringing? That must be one hell of a fun household.

Besides that, why is vegetarianism the default position for this family? Don't they want to expose their children to as many positive experiences as possible? Believe me, your first taste of foie gras is life-changing. That is the most wonderful flavor sensation in the world. Imagine living your life without tasting tripe, tongue, marrow, ox tails, or pork rinds? They're trying to force their children into a lifestyle that one of them has browbeaten the other into believing is morally superior, while limiting their childrens' experiences.

In asking my vegetarian friends, however, I have found that children raised as vegetarians tend to accept vegetarianism as a fact of life. I shouldn't have been surprised, really: We all think that what we ate as young children was the best food in the world; it's only with some effort that we introduce radical changes to our diet. Vegetarianism comes easily to those who have never known otherwise.

Good for them. I'm all for raising children to be vegetarians, if that's what you're into. You have to do what you think is best for your child. I'm not opposed, at least not in theory, to raising children to be religious, either.

But I am opposed to raising children to be intolerant morally retarded scolds who think they're better than everyone else.

I figure that the only good reason to be a vegetarian is that it's morally right—otherwise, why bother? Brisket tastes good! Lox tastes good! But I spoke with one vegetarian mom who discourages her children from thinking of vegetarianism in terms of animal rights. Hilary Cruz-Abrams, a friend of a friend, lives in New York, where she and her husband are raising three vegetarian children "for health reasons." The eldest, a 6-year-old daughter, has asked her why the family doesn't eat meat. "And we've been very clear with her that it's not unkind, that it's not someone committing an evil act," Hilary says. "We talk about cavemen"—how they had to eat meat to survive.

So you see, meat-eaters are just unevolved "cavemen" who aren't as civilized and enlightened as we are. Can you imagine being around the children in that family? They're going to think that anyone who enjoys the flavor of a foie gras and kobe beef hamburger is a slow-witted moron to be pitied. (Like for instance, you know, Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.) Why is that better than framing the argument as one of "animal rights"?

By the way, does the author really believe that the only good reason to be a vegetarian is that it's "morally-right"? There is plenty of evidence that a vegetarian diet is quite healthy indeed.

But one of the beautiful things about children, of course, is their hyperactive and keenly felt sense of justice, which easily outstrips their parents'. (Ask anyone who has watched Bambi or Old Yeller with a room of children.) No matter the parents' reasons for vegetarianism, children whose consciences have been pricked are likely to find their way to animal rights; it's a better sell than "the environment" or "your health"—and for good reason. Hilary admits that her daughter's vegetarianism includes "a sensibility of 'That was a cow? I like cows. That seems unkind.' " My friend Carole, mother of two vegetarian daughters, thinks that killing animals is wrong, but she worried when her girls got a bit too drunk on the message. "It was important to us that we not teach them that vegetarianism is superior and that people who eat meat are bad," Carole told me. "But at some point when they were very young, they became militant vegetarians. When Sarah was around 3, they became quite outspoken about how meat was disgusting, and we told them to tone it down and let people eat what they want."

Can we please, please, please retire the worn-out cliche about kids having a greater sense of fair-play and justice than adults? (And what in the hell do those horrible films "Bambi" and "Old Yeller" have to do with anything? I worry about any child who can sit through that nonsense at all.) Children are the future and they're great and all that, but they are venal, cruel, bullying little leaches who require guidance from human adults in order to learn not to be so absolutely vile in their behavior.

I think that what people really mean in this context is that children are more impressionable. The kids take the mother's "joking" militance and the father's half-hearted mealy-mouthed impressions that eating meat is bad, and they run with it. They become "outspoken," and "militant." The adults see in their little sweethearts the very thing that they wish they could be. It's no different than those parents who push their children into playing sports. They're trying to live vicariously through them- to see them become the militant full-on vegetarians-for-life that they wished they could be.

Indeed, the author says as much early in his essay:

From the time we met, I admired Cyd's commitment to vegetarianism. I had taken baby-steps toward vegetarianism myself: After reading Peter Singer's Animal Liberation in my mid-20s, I had given up chicken, which seemed to me the most cruelly abused of all the factory-farmed animals. Yet when, during our courtship, Cyd said that having a vegetarian household, and doing our best to raise vegetarian children, was important to her, I hesitated (or, rather, picked a long, loud fight).

He admires the full-on commitment to the vegetarian lifestyle that he himself failed to achieve. So he's letting her decide what the kids eat- and hopefully those kids will succeed where he failed. He admires it so much that he totally capitulated to her on one of the most important aspects of their child-rearing.

By the way- the vegetarian wife got to decide on their daughters' diet. What did he get to decide on?

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