Food: culture and politics (The controversy over Foie Gras)

I stumbled across this interesting case about the foie gras ban in California some years back. I’ll just summarise the things I learnt and my thoughts.

Yes, ban it No, don’t ban it

Foie gras farming is inhumane. Just look at the pictures/videos. Yes, there are some farms which are better than others, but still these points are a reality.

  • FORCE FEEDING the ducks/geese with metal tubes shoved down their throats
  • Some die from overfeeding? Their livers are ‘diseased’?
  • They’re dirty and living in terrible conditions (factory farming in general?)
  • They’re too overweight and fat to run away/retaliate when they’re eaten alive by rats in the factory farm (why are there rats in the factories in the first place?)

That’s a biased viewpoint.

  • Force feeding isn’t a bad thing. These animals do not have a gag reflex
  • It can be done calmly, the animals don’t panic and it’s basically not harmful for them; emotionally, mentally (hmm how can we know this?)
  • These birds gorge themselves on food before a migratory flight; it’s not inherently bad for them

But this site

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/ingrid-newkirk/5-big-fat-lies-about-fatt_b_6482104.htm just basically overturned everything which those in favour claim:

  • The ducks do have gag reflexes? They do vomit (there are graphic pictures) and choke to death on their vomit
  • Besides, (this was the viewpoint of a vet) even though they don’t gag, they don’t like it.
  • The ducks which have less gag reflexes are those that swallow whole fishes, but those aren’t the species that we farm
  • Ducks don’t gorge themselves until they’re unable to fly/walk…
 
 

Will it lead to a slippery slope, of banning all food (meat) production in the future? Is some foie gras farming more humane than other meat production? How far should we ban this (factory farming) practice. What exactly are we banning again?

Yes, there are different ‘levels’ of farming animals. Some are better and some are worse. We need to work with the system and create laws that promote ‘humane’ farming rather than outright banning.

But. Is that (banning all meat production) necessarily a bad thing?

(Personally I’m not sure how any meat production is ‘better for the animal’; ‘more comfortable than if they would be in the wild’, etc, but. Couldn’t you make their lives even more comfortable if you treat them as pets rather than food? Or why not just leave them be (impractical to look after all animals like we do with pets; feeding them and stuff) – ok I’m totally not eloquent here and there are many other documentaries talking about why you should/not eat meat).

We were called to look after the earth. I think we can look after it by (leaving it alone); we need not feed animals, they can hunt and look after themselves?

 
 

Industry and money that can be generated!! (tbh I think this is a terrible argument. Just because something can make money isn’t a good enough reason. There are alternatives?)

 

This act takes away the freedom of people – the chefs who like to use this ingredient, and the people who like this food. (Haha this was the argument used by some people, since ‘THIS IS AMERICA (California), THE LAND OF THE FREE’)

Other thoughts  

Can you love an animal but farm it for food? In the same why can we love our (cleaners/any other undesirable job) but (exploit them) by making them do jobs which they may not want to do? Does anyone actually want to clean shit for a living/ does anyone actually want to be a cleaner (yes? If the circumstance is right?). I’m not talking about working for the right pay because. Money can be a tricky thing (e.g. is buying organs from poor people for $10k alright?/ is it alright to pay someone lots of money to be a surrogate mother?)

Do we have a right to ignore what we don’t like to know (how the things we consumed are produced)?

Food and culture is another issue:

What about the ‘authenticity of food’, we’ll take away French culture if we ban foie gras? A bill was passed in France, declaring that foie gras is ‘part of the cultural and gastronomic patrimony, protected in France’. I also remember this interesting article I read but can’t seem to find the link for. I think it was written by a Singaporean vegan; basically the main problem about going vegan for her, was losing her culture. Almost all cultures around the world eat meat (?), and sometimes it’s impossible to get that exact same taste without utilising meat. This is an article which discusses something similar: https://mediadiversified.org/2018/01/24/giving-up-the-food-of-my-family-life-as-a-vegan-in-diaspora/  Personally, I’m not big on culture. Just because ‘it was done in the past’ doesn’t mean that we should continue to do it. I’m not a sentimental person, so I’m cool with not keeping food culture.

Sources:

Documentary by Munchies, VICE news https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjQWwhxz5rQ

Audio discussion; Office Hours. This is a little bit more about how a DeSoucey did her sociological work about this case http://files.thesocietypages.org/downloads/OH108_DeSoucey.mp3?_ga=1.267936845.2106610009.1470668076

Book; Contested Tastes, by Desoucey: Chapter 1 is free here: http://assets.press.princeton.edu/chapters/s10708.pdf; this is the full book, if you’re a uni student and your school has access: https://muse.jhu.edu/book/52193

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More than Ourselves

I just came back from a (para) church camp. There was quite a lot of interesting things that I learnt from it and I will share these insights bit by bit. Here’s just one of them:

I think in Singapore, when it comes to morals (particularly in the religious sense), we’re pretty individualistic. There’s quite a lot of history and reasons behind this, I suppose. Our post-colonial mentality – ‘individualism’ as an inherited concept from the west, as opposed to the eastern ‘communal’ (arguable), the post-modern age (more grey areas, ‘you do you and I do me’, rise of relativism). You could even quote scripture for this: Matthew 7: 3-5; take out the plank in your own eye before you comment on the sawdust in your brothers – be more self-reflective. We’re a conflict avoiding society, we believe peace necessitates conflict avoidance. We lack a rebuking culture.

Yet, this camp challenged me to think about ‘communal’ sins. Communities are known to have been punished for sins of the individual – yes, families, but also those ‘unrelated’ to the individuals. In a contemporary sense, think about the many deaths in human history (genocides, wars, and ethnic cleansings) because of a few individuals sins. We’re complicit in those sins because of our inaction, we’re a part of those sins, it’s a passive sin, but a sin nonetheless. It’s so related to my unhappiness about being trapped in society: (I believe I’ve wrote about this before?) our society’s terrible failures at combating global problems like poverty, climate change, etc., individuals being so deeply entrenched in the capitalist system (exploitation of nature, animals, and people. And there is no way out for the individual, in a sense). In this societal/systematic sin, we’re all, as individuals, either unaware, uncaring, or simply, choice-less. It reminded me of how I used to be so passionate about the sins I committed (thinking about the everlastingness and severity, being consumed by the guilt). And now?

I don’t have a conclusion. But let us remember that we’re much more than ourselves. We’re responsible and accountable for the state of other’s lives (and afterlives, salvation).

‘How to be Good’

What do you think being good means?

I’ve been reading ‘How to be Good’ by Nick Hornby (spoilers in this post?) and I’m quite surprised at how much I like it (I’ve read English authors from a young age and that’s why I can identify and understand them. I’m glad to have discovered him again – bad experience with Funny Girl and didn’t read him until today). Lots of wise words and relatable stuff in his book, perhaps because I’m in a situation which is similar to both Kate and David (I’m a little more David). Lots of nice themes too.

So what does it mean to ‘be good’? Kate repeatedly mentions that she is a ‘good person’: she is a doctor (a fulfilling career, she heals people, it’s something noble, isn’t it?), she has a good family whom she begrudgingly loves, she is still together with David (even though she isn’t sure whether she still likes him; he’s rude and mean, but now that he has changed for the better, she isn’t quite sure whether she loves him either). She’s generally a ‘girl next door’ (that’s a compliment, right?) She’s not different from everyone else (but does her doctor thing make her slightly better than everyone else?) Is David good/better? (He changes for the better; now he’s sympathetic to all people out there, he’s more understanding. Hell, he wants to help the homeless! He opened up his house and got people on his street to do the same). But what happens when people take advantage of your goodness – there is safety to think about (besides, you don’t exist by yourself, what if your good deeds affect the people you love/people around you. Have you considered how becoming a monk would rob your parents of, greater financial stability knowing that they have a son whom they can count on in the future if they so need money? Not to mention emotional closeness and stuff). I too have made some changes in my life, I am trying to be ‘good’, but this book really challenges what it means to be so; perhaps Kate is ‘more good’; she has been good her whole life compared to David whom ‘just learnt how to be good now’; ‘good’ is something which she IS, rather than something she aspires to be, it’s her whole career and life, she doesn’t need to change anything about herself to be good (or is that a cop out excuse for her not to think about how she can be better?)

 

“What is the point (in all these efforts at ‘doing good’)? Please tell me, because I don’t understand.”
“The point is … The point is how I feel. I don’t care what gets done (giving away all my possessions, anything radical or simple.) I just don’t want to die feeling that I never tried (note the emphasis on himself). I don’t believe in Heaven, or anything. But I want to be the kind of person that qualifies for entry anyway. Do you understand?”

Give up things that don’t mean too much to you (for the betterment of our world)

I will readily admit that I’m hypocritical.

As I transition to consuming less meat/going vegan (which I guess I have for the past 2 years), I’ve had quite a few ‘conceptual’/mental/idea challenges. ‘Is veganism really going to help the environment?’ Issues of mono-cropping, flaws in it (plastic over biodegradable things, food miles vs consuming local food). Should I spread the message about this; should I make more people eat less/no meat? That answer is an important one: if I believe that it is important for the environment, I should advocate it to more people. But then again other questions like ‘how much should I enforce this/persuade people to do it?’

I’ve been asked before, why do I do this. There are plenty of good reasons out there; I’ve attached videos before (honestly, we all know that this is the right thing –this video again, ‘Why Vegetarians are Annoying’) popular words like ‘ethical, environmental’, and very importantly which we don’t usually think about, but for ‘other humans’ too (yes, while consuming vegetables puts those who rely on meat for income at risk, we too need to remember those exploited by the meat industry. Think about the very exploitative fishing industry – this article on slavery being one out of many).

But I have this very important tenet: I live this way because it is easy for me to do so. Not easy as in ‘I’m never tempted by the smell of meat’ and ‘I hate the taste of meat’, but rather I don’t see it as a HUGE sacrifice compared to people who may be way more attached to their meat.

I was considering about my own personal ‘sins’/hypocrisies regarding my purported care and concern for the environment. A huge one would be electricity usage. I’m on my computer and phone quite a bit, something I think I’m unwilling to give up. Energy usage in general: I take public transport freely without concerning myself too much about the emissions – while some argue that the buses will still run with or without me taking them, it does send a signal and feeds into data collection. If everyone thought like me and took public transport freely, there is the cumulative effect, transport authorities would put even more buses on streets and trains to run more frequently.

So perhaps my conclusion is 1) obviously, not to judge. 2) I think it’s important for each and every individual to question ‘what can (I) do to make my world a better place’? In particular, my ‘environment’, the world. As stated above, it’s not just about nature, but if you cared for people, you’ll be concerned for the environment too. You have to do something; give something up that ‘doesn’t mean a lot to you’.

(Of course, there are lots of other questions. Even if we are completely self-focused and take people out of the equation, consider how many things can you give up? New habits can be made; when you deny yourself something you’ll learn to let go of it more easily in time? How much responsibility do you have in giving things up?)

Values of human, human values

“In Twana society, individuals gained prestige and social status not by hoarding up their surpluses, but rather by generously giving goods away, in a manner that signified the incorporation of other people.” (The value of a river – Lansing et al., 1998)

How different is it from our society, where we ascribe worth to the rich? Sure, there are philanthropists, but how much are they talked about, how much are they celebrated? While we say that the people who give their lives away are admirable, we don’t really want to be them. Selfishness, the traits, is deemed better. We may be disgusted with other’s selfishness, but maybe we are secretly jealous of their unashamed self seeking ways.

The tether of Thought

I’ve been studying quite a lot about politics lately. Usually I hate politics – I’m not the most sociable person, I don’t like dealing with ‘political situations’: this person said this and that, all the ‘drama’ (I don’t keep up with it, I do hear but I pretend not to know. Or I don’t tell people that I know). I usually am quite careless with what people tell me (not in a bad way, IMO), I’m not afraid to say what I think/what other people think, as long as I deem it within reason (i.e. I know that relationships aren’t going to be severely harmed if I decide to speak my mind). I would say I’m quite a logic driven person, I like to get things done, I don’t like dealing with paper work, I don’t mind if you hurt my feelings (usually, haha. I mean, feelings are temporary, and I would like to think that people are generally nice and know how to be tactful. I can see things from people’s point of view).

Anyway. Politics, to me, is something that like most things, everyone should know and think about, but not specialise in. Politics, IMO, doesn’t really get things done. You can learn about it forever. Methodological practices – who is speaking, are they being heard/represented, are actual things being done etc. (tons of readings and information out there about this), justice and all that stuff.

I suppose I’ve come to appreciate politics a little more, after studying about it. Ok, well, I kinda already found it fascinating to a certain extent but perhaps more so during the last year. I watched videos about the flaws/manipulation in statistics and stuff.

I want to talk about logic, reasons and other associated terms:

  • REASON: broader, includes logic, but includes arguments/rhetoric. Anything can be reasonable but not everything logical. Reason gives meaning to things; modernism?

I don’t particularly like reason.

I usually say that ‘while I understand your POV, I don’t think that excuses it’. Think about all the crappy reasons that has been given to excuse things – I didn’t do my homework because I didn’t feel like it. That’s a reason, but it isn’t a good one. ‘I stole because I’m in need’. Sure, it may be humanly forgivable/understandable, but not divinely forgivable/ethically and morally correct? And of course there are implications not taken into account/impossible to measure: even though you were in need, who is to say that the person you stole from is not in greater need?

  • LOGIC: branch of math/science that is concerned with deductive theorems which can be dis/proven with absolutely/certainty. A positivist approach?

I usually veer towards this. A little Weber-ian – I believe in the dictatorship of the official, the one who knows more, the expert who knows best. I think I’m fairly submissive to (excellent) authority (you must prove your worth, but I think I can follow pretty easily. I am willing to sacrifice myself for the greater good? Generally. Even if I am disadvantaged. I can withstand ‘bad things’.) But unfortunately, now, knowledge is impossible to know and creation of knowledge is so political. Logical deduction can be correct, but also contradictory and has huge flaws (read this: http://www.whirledbank.org/ourwords/summers.html – it argues that the World Bank should encourage more migration of dirty industries to less developed nations? It’s ‘true’, utilitarian, logical.)

  • EMOTION: yet another way in which we can make decisions. And I guess there are many more; COMMON SENSE, LISTENING/PARTICIPATORY COLLABORATION.

Is making decisions based on emotions what makes us human? While we may accept that sometimes the poor are as such due to their own fault, we need to acknowledge that sometimes its chance, misfortune, circumstance, inequalities which has been passed down from generation. We need to have the human quality of being kind (if that is possible/such a thing). But emotion is so un-grounded, we can argue about whose feelings are more important forever.

I suppose I’ve just been thinking. How do we make and dream of a better world?

Unequal valorisation

We got back our results for our summer school modules last week and the quiet people who could write but did not party got good grades while those people who were loud and mingled a lot did not. This is a generalised statement (I’m assuming the louder ones were not as good writers), but this is true from the few people I heard from. I had wondered how the professors would grade the course. There were some sentiments but nothing definite: we want you to get out of your comfort zones, human geography is about interactions and forming relationships rather than grades, etc. I wish everyone would just get an A. It really doesn’t make a difference. To me, at least?

I was working with someone very different from myself and I think it wasn’t necessarily a bad team. We were very dominant in our different talents. One to socialise and collect/ask for information, the other to record, think and make coherent thoughts. That does not mean that one is more important than another. But the value we ascribe to different talents is very different.

This differentiation of value is natural? What is the point of doing research and finding out a great many things if you are unable to record it, to communicate your findings to other people, to make what you have found useful/apply it to situations? But at the same time, if you merely thought and did not find out information/your data is flawed due to limited understanding and interaction, what good is your research as well? (This idea can be applied to many things like in our capitalist society – we value services more than real goods, but this definitely doesn’t mean that real goods aren’t any less important. We value leaders, but a leader is not powerful without followers).

I think this unequal valorisation is precisely why the idea of communism cannot really work (or at least my idea/the convention idea of all people being equal, greater equality; I don’t mean the dictatorial kind of communism that we see in certain places) – ah, I had a stronger argument, but I lost it. Maybe I will write it as a comment if I remember, another time.

It’s about us VS them, it’s about hierarchies and seeking differences. It’s the differences that draw us closer together as communities (being able to bitch about the same person draws people closer together. It builds trust, a common identity, stuff like that). It’s natural for us to seek out these divisions and to say that one is better than the other? (That’s how divisions – of labour – came about? Is there anything wrong to say one is better than another? It’s necessary, isn’t it?)

I’m not really bothered by this difference in value; I guess I just see it as life, I don’t see the need to create a more equal world. Things about the gender wage gap, how I am doubly discriminated as an Asian Female (but not really, here in this part of the world, where I am the dominant race, although the gender thing MAY be an issue). I’m just tired of being calculative – there is no end to counting my privileges nor my dis-empowerments.

But ‘uncertainty doesn’t mean ignorance’: I should still dream of a better world. It’s just the question of ‘How do I make the world a better (more equal?) place’?