So we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Sunday and wandered around for nearly three blissful hours. While we were there, we played with the "Real Cost Cafe" exhibit, which explains in painstaking detail which seafood options are good or bad for the overall health of the oceans.
We also picked up our updated Seafood Watch guides (bad news: Chilean sea bass is still on the "Avoid" list) and managed to avoid the usual perverse craving for a post-aquarium seafood dinner. Somewhere, I'm sure a conservationist is weeping: "We have signs all over the aquarium warning people of the dangers of mindless seafood consumption -- and you want a plate of calamari!"
Yes, I love the animal flesh. Yet I am increasingly uneasy with my appetites. And reading the Atlantic Monthly's review of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma does nothing to allay the growing dissonance:
[T]he idolatry of food cuts across class lines. This can be seen in the public's toleration of a level of cruelty in meat production that it would tolerate nowhere else. If someone inflicts pain on an animal for visual, aural, or sexual gratification, we consider him a monster, and the law makes at least a token effort at punishment. If someone's goal is to put the "product" in his mouth? Chacun à son goût.
As one of the people who was duly outraged by Michael Vick's actions (and DMX's), realizing anew that I'm complicit in this toleration puts a terrible taste in my mouth. It's one thing to give up pork for ethical or environmental reasons, but is reaching past it for the chicken really much better ("A View to a Kill," Gourmet, May 07)?
The rest of the review goes on to fault Pollan for justifying his own carnivorous cravings thusly:
[H]e derives the rightness of meat eating from the fact that humans are physically suited to it, they enjoy it, and they have engaged in it until modern times without feeling much "ethical heartburn." [...] [B]y reducing man's moral nature to an extension of our instincts, Pollan is free to present his appetite as a sort of moral-o-meter, the final authority for judging the rightness of all things culinary.
It's an interesting piece because the anger is both articulate and well-supported with choice arguments. I would also venture to say that the review is an effective article as well, because it's given at least one reader a framework for internal debate on ethical eating, and what actions are appropriate.
I am still balancing a number of competing ethical and practical considerations as I grope toward a dietary philosophy I can live with -- how the food was produced, whether we can afford it, if my enjoyment of the finished dish justifies the conditions under which the animal lived its life. Anyone else out there mulling these things too? Why do you eat like you do? And what would you change?