Letters - Summer 2014

Responses to our Spring 2014 Issue

By Our readers | June 9, 2014

 

The Carnivore’s Conscience

Reduced to its essence, James McWilliams’s “Loving Animals to Death” (Spring) is nothing but a lengthy logical fallacy: “If it’s bad to eat animals, then it’s bad to eat animals.”

This omnivore has no contradiction: I deplore factory farms because of how their methods may impact the quality of the food that the animal becomes. The animal’s well-being before slaughter is only relevant to me in this context. God help people such as the author if plants are someday deemed sentient. Would he then be willing to starve for his dietary ethics?

James M. Beidler

Leesport, Pennsylvania

 

It’s hard to understand how folks who say they love animals, or at least who don’t want them hurt, can rationalize killing and eating them when better alternatives exist. Animals are subjects of their own lives, with their own interests, and it’s long been time we end this practice of their mass exploitation. It is not only possible to eat well on a small budget without consuming meat, dairy, or eggs, it has also been deemed a healthier choice by the American Dietetic Association.

Caroline Kraus

from our website

 

When I was a child, our family, though not farmers, grew most of the food we ate. The goats, pigs, rabbits, cows, and chickens (most of which had names) were raised for meat as well as for eggs, milk, and butter. Though we treated them well and were grateful that they sustained us, no question ever arose when butchering “Major” or “Mabel.”

I have read McWilliams’s article with great interest and, I believe, openness to its burden. It strikes me that the ethic it espouses—really based upon sentimentality—is only possible for the substantially affluent. I, too, reject the needless suffering inflicted upon animals by factory production and avoid support of that as best I can, but all life lives upon other life. That’s one of the reasons our family pauses to give thanks before our meal. I will continue to eat omnivorously, and I will continue to be mindful of the life that has been given—and to be aware that some people have no food source at all. Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking article.

Douglass Gilbert

from our website

 

Beans and rice aren’t luxuries—most of the developing world eats very little meat because animal products are the relative luxury commodities. The only reason meat is as cheap as it is in the United States is due to government subsidies. Even if one had to be affluent to prevent the suffering, slaughter, and exploitation of animals for fleeting gustatory pleasure, that would still mean that the affluent have no excuse for continuing to participate in such practices. But forgoing the eating of animals needn’t be any more expensive than not, so it’s a moot point.

Kyle Key

from our website

 

I think McWilliams’s article was unfair to Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer may promote the Food Movement as the lesser of two evils, but he explicitly rejects the possibility of ethical animal consumption in Eating Animals and is himself vegan. He is hardly in the same boat as Michael Pollan, and you should have made that clearer.

Chad Hill

from our website

 

James McWilliams responds: James M. Beidler declares my argument to be “a lengthy logical fallacy” based on premises that differ radically from my own. My primary concern has nothing to do with “the quality of the food that the animal becomes.” Instead, it centers on the ethical inconsistency of nurturing farm animals’ interests one day and ignoring them the next. As for the idea of plant sentience, to even suggest a basic moral equivalence between slaughtering a pig and a carrot ignores not only common sense but also the ample science documenting the significant cognitive differences between plants and animals—differences that have distinct moral implications.

Douglass Gilbert writes that my ethical perspective is “really based upon sentimentality.” He’s right. The unnecessary suffering that billions of farm animals endure daily saddens me beyond description. But no contradiction exists between sentimentality and ethical consistency. What social reform movement has not been fueled by passionate sentiments? To feel emotions for animals and, based on those feelings, make a cohesive ethical argument against eating them strikes me as not only perfectly consistent, but perhaps even necessarily so.

I agree that Jonathan Safran Foer’s approach to animal agriculture is more nuanced than Michael Pollan’s and Mark Bittman’s. That said, Foer did write a book condemning the consumption of animals—and then promoted an app guiding consumers where to buy chicken.


Understanding Schizophrenia

My thanks to Priscilla Long (“What Killed My Sister?”) and the Scholar for this lucid, clear, heartfelt, yet solidly documented essay on schizophrenia as it relates to her late sister. It has helped me understand an illness that affects so many people and those close to them. Understand it, at least, as far as such a complex illness can ever be understood.

Maya Khankhoje

Montreal, Canada

 

Thanks for opening up the discussion on the causes of this complex disease/condition/illness that is laying claim to the brilliant, creative, and quite average among us. It is heartening to know that a small chance for a cure exists. But mostly your article points to a complex set of causes and conditions that bring about schizophrenia and a loud call for empathy, compassion, and further research for cure and treatment. If not for the grace of …

Stacy Lawson

from our website

 

I lost my brother to suicide three years ago—he too had schizophrenia. He had never been mistreated, but he was adopted (as a month-old baby), so we don’t know his family history. He became a self-medicating drug and alcohol abuser, as well; he would take anything to quiet the voices. He lost his incredible gift for playing guitar and the ability to read more than a sentence at a time. Spending years in a psychotic state while everyone around him thought he was simply a drug addict destroyed many cognitive functions. It also made the chance of recovery very slim; he had been sick so long, he did not know what “well” was. The voices and the memory of voices were his reality. He knew his fate was to live heavily medicated—numb and in slow motion—or in terror, being repeatedly taken to the hospital and committed for short periods of time. His experience was nothing but pain and fear, and I don’t begrudge him his decision to end his life. Today’s treatments help some people, but not all. For many, like my brother, the treatment was worse than the illness. A cure is what we need.

Jane Daly

from our website


The Cover Story That Wasn’t

In his thoughtful review of Evelyn Barish’s valuable biography of Paul de Man—the Yale guru of deconstruction who was revealed to have been a Nazi sympathizer, a bigamist, a con man, a thief, and a cheat (“The Fabulist,” Book Reviews)—Robert Zaretsky repeats an error that Barish herself makes: “Pairing photos of Nazi storm troopers and de Man, Newsweek featured the story on its cover.” This is untrue. I know; I wrote the article, which ran in February 1988. The piece spread the news, quickened the debate, and assumed a large significance in the minds of diehard de-Maniacs. But the magazine did not put the story on the cover. If only Barish and Zaretsky knew how hard it was to persuade a senior editor to support my request for three back-of-the-book columns on a disgraced (and deceased) academic, they would not have mistaken an assumption for a fact.

David Lehman

New York City

 

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