Friday, December 3, 2010

Michael Pollan eats animals with consciousness, ceremony and respect.

An Animal’s Place is a long article that starts with Michael Pollan recounting his first opening “Animal Liberation” while eating “a rib-eyed steak cooked medium rare,” delighting in the details of his steak as a way of reassuring his meat-eating, book-buying readers, “if in parts of this article I should appear to question the ethics of consuming animal products, don’t worry, it’s a long article, you can rest assured I’ll circle back and justify meat eating in the end.”

The arguments against killing animals for human pleasure seem to have caught Michael Pollan by surprise. He spends the first hundred paragraphs of the article being astounded by simple ideas. “Okay the suffering of animals is a legitimate problem,” he says, “but the world is full of problems and surely human problems must come first. But, hold on, “there’s no reason I can’t devote myself to solving humankind’s problems while being a vegetarian…”

Eventually, he gets to the horrors of the factory farms. He punctuates the harsh description with a sheepish apology. “Simply reciting these facts … makes me sound like one of those animal people, doesn’t it? I don’t mean to … it certainly wasn’t my intention to ruin anyone’s breakfast.”

And if you read further, I’ll redeem myself, proving I’m not one of those animal people by giving you a feel-good way of eating meat and feeling morally upright at the same time, which can best be summarized thusly: Animals may have an interest in not being killed, I’ll admit that, but damn their flesh tastes mighty fine so I’m going to find me a rationalization. I’ll first convince myself consumption of meat is a biological invetiability I’m helpless to resist. But I won’t stop there. Because I want to feel more than helpless. I want to feel a sense of moral purity when I chew the flesh of animals so I’ll pay a visit to a family farm overflowing with animal happiness.

"Before you swear off meat entirely, let me describe a very different kind of animal farm," he says, and he takes us to Polyface Farm. “Here, Joel Salatin and his family raise six different food animals … in an intricate dance of symbiosis designed to allow each species, in Salatin’s words, 'to fully express it’s physiological distinctiveness.'” At least for the few months it has remaining before Joel Salatin expresses his species’ psychological distinctiveness and kills the animals for money.

And dance of symbiosis? Are those randomly splattered words supposed to mean something or has Polyface Farm put Michael Pollan in some kind of ecstatic trance? He writes of “hens fanning out over the pasture .. a diet of grubs and grass makes for exceptionally tasty eggs and contented chickens … meanwhile the pigs are in the barn turning the compost.” When Michael Pollan starts rhapsodizing like this, you know he’s about ready to pick up his knife and fork and dig into another a rationalization.

"This is where, it seems to me, animal rightists betray a profound ignorance of the workings of nature. To say of one of Joel Salatin’s caged chickens that the life of freedom is to be preferred betrays an ignorance about chicken’s preferences.”

Life of freedom? Nobody’s saying Joel Salatin’s chickens want to thumb it across the country like Jack Kerouac. They want freedom to live out their lives without having their necks slit. But Michael Polllan is hell bent on ridiculing the his straw dog animal rightists.

"To many animal rightists, even Polyface Farm is a death camp. But to look at these animals is to see that as the sentimental conceit it is."

And why is it a sentimental conceit? Because these animals are happy.

"Chickens live like chickens, his cows like cows; pigs, pigs ... animal happiness is unmistakable. and here I was seeing it in abundance."

Nothing would make these animals happier than to wind up in the belly of a best-selling author. Nothing would make the best-selling author happier, either. Great tasting sausage with the happy awareness – yes, he too is happy; everyone’s happy on Polyface farm – that he’s not like those unrefined rubes who eat their slaughterhouse meat. Michael Pollack had pangs of conscience and he did something about it. He went through agonizing self-reflection and then Joel Salatin and Polyface farm showed him the light. You can have it all. Soft, chewy flesh and a country-fresh rationalization to boot. These animals have it good. “a mutualism between species,” Michael Pollan says. They couldn’t subsist in the wild. They’re grateful for the life farms like Polyface give them. They’d hoist the blade themselves if they only had hands.

But they don’t have to because Joel Salatin does it for them. Joel is a religious man who understands “people have a soul; animals don’t. It’s a bedrock belief of mine. Unlike us, animals are not created in God’s image, so when they die, they just die.” Joel’s bedrock belief just happens to coincide with the source of his income. Funny how that works.

Michael Pollan still can't over how good these animals have it, pre-slaughter.

"For any animal, happiness seems to consist in the opportunity to express its creaturely character -- it’s essential pigness or wolfness or chickenness."

And here Michael Pollan expresses his essential Michael Pollanness.

"Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent … maybe when we did eat animals, we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve."

Well when he puts it that way. What animal wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to have its neck slit for the opportunity to be eaten by Michael Pollan with consciousness, ceremony and respect?