I blame it all on a book. Specifically, I blame it on The Omnivore’s Dilemma by one Michael Pollan, which I read in March of 2008. I remember this clearly, because I was visiting my dad in Colorado for a little late-season skiing. We are both terrible skiers, but I do remember trying to chat my dad up about grain elevator politics during the Carter administration. It wasn’t the most lively discussion, but I guess not everyone can get excited about grain elevator politics.
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan pursues three meals by getting down and dirty with “three principal food chains”: industrial (think fast food), organic (think friendly neighborhood co-op), and hunter-gatherer (think hunting wild pigs). For his hunter-gatherer meal, Pollan actually traipses into the wilderness with a shotgun to win his dinner of wild boar and chanterelles with his own two hands. He concludes that this hunter-gatherer meal is the most gratifying of the three, largely because the path from sun to energy to human is so honest and direct.
Readers, this planted a pernicious little seed in my brain.
Although I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the idea of eating other animals, it’s just too easy when supermarkets go out of their way to make meat look as little like meat as possible: boneless, uniformly-shaped food objects wrapped neatly in plastic wrap. We can convince ourselves that these tidy packets bear no relationship to the creatures we love. But after reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the whole meat-eating thing finally made sense to me: it was OK to eat meat — carnivores and omnivores occur naturally in the wild, after all — but only if I was actually OK with killing it, too.
I have clung to this romantic notion for a couple of years now, halfway believing that someday I would eventually get around to going hunting or even lending a hand to one of my farming friends with their livestock. But then, just the other day, I finally had the obvious epiphany: I don’t actually want to kill anything.
So, as the nerdy librarian type, I’m looking for some lit to help me hash the rest of this out. I think my philosophy has morphed into one of avoidance more than anything else. I’m sure a few little tasty morsels of bacon will find their way into my diet here and there, and I don’t expect friends and family to make special exceptions for me when they’re entertaining. But I do want to stay away from it whenever there are other reasonable alternatives. Pollan’s chapter on “The Ethics of Eating Meat” looks like it has some great leads, such as Animal Liberation by Peter Singer, Ill Nature by Joy Williams, and Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin. I’m also pretty psyched to read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Anyone have any other titles to recommend? I’d love to hear about them!