Saturday, December 5, 2009


Jeffrey Masson

Jeffrey Masson was a Sanskrit scholar who became a Freudian analyst and now devotes his time to vegan and animal welfare issues. He is a prolific author (see his titles that deal with animals and veganism in my list of "Books Read" in the left margin), his latest book (2009) being The Face on Your Plate. On March 30 of this year he did a book signing and hour-long discussion of the book and related issues at a bookstore. The hour-long presentation and discussion was recorded and made available to the public. You can watch it online here or below. (Happily, the embedded video below plays perfectly. Why can't all online videos be as large-formatted and stream as well as this one?)

I like these off-the-cuff presentations as much as authors' books. The live discussions reveal "who" the author is (personality, mannerisms, tone, etc.) which is often not revealed (as clearly) via the printed page. "Meeting" the author adds an extra dimension to reading his or her books. Plus, wittingly or unwittingly, these interviews always reveal insights about other "major players" with whom the author has interacted, conversations that rarely make it into a book. For example, I was intrigued by his remembrance of an interview with Alice Waters, the iconic doyen of whole/slow/organic food—the owner of the famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California. It revealed (at least from his perspective) that even the most esteemed leaders in a given field have not always thought about everything. His comments about, and stories of his conversation with, Michael Pollan, an even larger icon than Alice Waters, and Wendell Berry, were also illuminating. Masson, as an author and researcher, does prodigious research, interacting with the leading lights in the field.

I keep coming back and adding tidbits from this talk. He talks about how trends are changing in our culture by noting that when he was an undergrad at Harvard there were only two vegetarians (he and another), whereas the student body of Stanford University today is 25% vegetarian.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Palin, Pleasure, and Principle

(AP picture borrowed from the Los Angeles Times blog.)

I don't plan to read Sarah Palin's new book (Going Rogue), but am intrigued by what she has to say about vegetarians and her own meat-eating habits as reported in an article by Johanna Neuman on the LATimes blog (Nov 17, 2009). "Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has never made any bones, if you will, about her culinary preferences. She's a carnivore, a hunter and proud of both," Neuman wrote. Technically, Palin isn't a carnivore—she's an omnivore. Lions and tigers are carnivores—beings that eat meat exclusively. Omnivores eat a broad spectrum of foods including meat—possibly even mostly meat—but not exclusively meat.

That said, it's Palin's comments in her book that beg analysis. The former governor writes,
If any vegans came over for dinner, I could whip them up a salad, then explain my philosophy on being a carnivore: "If God had not intended for us to eat animals, how come He made them out of meat?"

I love meat. I eat pork chops, thick bacon burgers, and the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done-steak. But I especially love moose and caribou. I always remind people from outside our state that there's plenty of room for all Alaska's animals—right next to the mashed potatoes.
The Washington Post also notes the book contains photos of her history as a hunter dating back to her childhood under her father's tutelage, one showing her father demonstrating to Sarah and her friends how to skin a harbor seal (before the practice was banned) resulting in new seal-skin coats and mittens from the hides, made by her grandmother. On another occasion her father taught her (still as a child) how to field-dress a moose. He asked her to hold the moose's still-warm eyeballs which he planned to show his science-class students later that day.

We can forgive Palin's mis-use of the carnivore term—lots of people get that wrong. What is more worthy of attention are the two foundations for her attitudes and practices about animals: her environment and her assumed right to personal pleasure.

Environmentally, she is her father's daughter and a true daughter of the "Alaska" frontier mentality where foraging off the land was first a survival skill and then a badge of machismo, one Palin appears to wear proudly. She is not singularly guilty of wearing the mantle of her upbringing—who doesn't? Southerners who still salivate at the strains of "Dixie" are guilty of the same unwillingness to break out of the molds in which they were cast. Not all molds deserve breaking, of course. But if they do—and Palin's do—they need to be broken. Palin is openly verbal about her Christian commitments, but appears never to have allowed Scripture to challenge the assumptions about animals with which she was raised. In that regard, she is like most Christians who unwittingly do the same—they've never stopped to think that life in the kingdom of God might be different from life in "Alaska;" that the Bible speaks to more than issues of personal morality (don't lie, don't chew, don't hang with people who do, etc.). I would encourage the former governor to ask God (as every Christian should), "What is there in my personal kingdom that is inconsistent with Your kingdom—including my perspectives and practices regarding animals?"

Second—her priority on pleasure when it comes to eating meat. Anyone who uses this kind of detail in describing the meat they eat—"I love meat . . . and the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak"—is a person who has a serious stake in steak-eating. And who can blame her? It is the fatty portions of meat that give it the flavor humans crave (along with the cholesterol that eventually clogs their arteries and causes them to assume room temperature). Think of the envy that rises in most people when, on a balmy summer afternoon, they catch a whiff of the savory aroma of seared fat and flesh emanating from a neighbor's grill—and how they wished it was their meat on their grill that was making their mouth water. We are like Pavlov's dogs when it comes to the aroma of burning fat. Our salivary glands start pumping overtime when we detect the near-presence of "the seared fatty edges of a medium-well-done steak." Nobody could fault Palin for her honest expression of what promotes her personal culinary pleasures. But being honest about the wrong thing doesn't make it right.

In the prescriptions for sacrificial offerings in the Old Testament, the fatty portions of animals were reserved for God:
The priest must present part of this offering as a special gift to the Lord. This includes all the fat around the internal organs, the two kidneys and the fat around them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver. These must be removed with the kidneys, and the priest will burn them on the altar. It is a special gift of food, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. All the fat belongs to the Lord. You must never eat any fat or blood. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation, wherever you live." (Leviticus 3:14-16, NLT, bold added)
Don't misunderstand my use of this scripture—I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't eat fat because it violates Old Testament dietary or sacrificial precepts. (Why God instructed animals to be killed as sacrifices is a whole different discussion.) I'm not using it to say what the pleasure of fatty meats was not (not for man), but what it was—it was for God. Why? Because the burning of fat on a fiery altar produced the same pleasure in the nostrils of God (figuratively speaking) as it produces in you when you smell it in your neighborhood or on your own patio:
You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar, and burn their fat as an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma to the Lord. (Numbers 18:17b, NLT, bold added)
The Israelites reserved the most savory portions of animal sacrifices to burn so that the powerful flavor would ascend to heaven and bring pleasure to God as a "sweet aroma." If you think an 18"-wide Weber grill gives off a sweet aroma, think how the wilderness smelled when the Israelites fired up the 56-square-foot altar (five meters square; Exodus 27:1) within the Tabernacle (later in Jerusalem) and started lobbing baskets of fat-meat into its roaring, perpetually-burning flames. Sarah Palin would have gone nuts from the smell alone.

There is fat in all meat, of course, so burning the non-fat portions sets off the conditioned pleasure response as well. But the most pleasurable, the most savory, was reserved for God. We err when we think that "if it feels (or tastes) good, do it!" Pleasure is not permission. Liberty is not license.

The point is this: Just because something produces pleasure in this life doesn't make it right. Sex always brings pleasure, but that doesn't make non-proscribed sex right. Eating sugary foods is a conditioned pleasure, but that doesn't make their unlimited consumption right. Indulging oneself at the expense of others may result in pleasures of various sorts, but that doesn't make narcissism or hedonism right.

No amount of frat-boy humor ("if God didn't want us to eat animals, why'd He make them out of meat") can cover Palin's (or anyone's) willingness to extinguish the life of a sentient being (beings that were created for Jesus Christ, Colossians 1:16. I wonder if Palin asked Christ if it was okay to kill the reindeer—Christ's reindeer—shown in the picture above?) for her own personal pleasure. Does the seared, fatty portion of a steak taste good? Absolutely. I remember my own trips, along with fraternity brothers, to a local discount grocery store in college to purchase huge slabs of some kind of beef which we would throw on the fraternity house grill, and then consume with Palin-like gusto along with copious quantities of beer and frat-boor humor, followed by a couple of days trying to expel the remains. If I hadn't engaged in so much colon-cleansing in recent years I would assume there would yet be remnants of those pleasures remaining in me to this day.

Having been as uninformed and pleasure-based then as Sarah Palin is now, I can't be holier-than-her with these comments. But I can remind her, myself, and all that pleasure in life—especially unnecessary pleasures that come at the expense of other beings—is not life's highest goal. Our highest goal is to have our thinking transformed (Romans 12:2) so we continually submit our environmental conditioning and our at-any-cost pleasure-seeking to the principles and values of the kingdom of God.
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever. (Psalm 16:11, NLT)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Two Favorite Facebook Posts

A few months ago when I was active on Facebook, I began a "Kruidenier Family" Group (and posted a picture of the Kruidenier crest/coat-of-arms) that now has a rousing 28 members from around the world. (Hey -- it's not a common name.) Here are my two favorite posts so far:

Runner-up: My daughter Liz joined the group and posted this: "Okay . . . so now what do we do?" (Great commentary on the whole social media thing.)

Best quote: a Kruidenier named "Simon" joined the group and wrote, "Holy crap! We have a family crest???" (I'm taking bets on my "cousin" Simon's approximate age.)

It Just Needs to Be Said

While none of us is qualified to cast the first stone, there are times when it's necessary to speak the truth. And this sportswriter does just that about Tiger Woods.

The Car Your (Grand-) Children May Drive

Notwithstanding the fact that GM is bankrupt and should be out of business, this prototype they've developed (or something like it) may be the future. (Given the complexity of the power plant, it certainly bodes well for GM's service departments. No more Saturday morning driveway repairs.)

Food that Tastes Good

Here's a short clip that features farmer Rick Bishop whose 30-acre farm in Roscoe, New York, is dedicated to growing food that tastes good (i.e., is grown for nutrition rather than appearance, shelf life, etc.) He's one of the few natural/organic farmers I've ever heard mention using a refractometer to measure the Brix (sugar/solids) scale of his vegetables as they are growing—something (imho) all farmers should do. You can read a short interview with him here where he mentions being a student of the soil mineralization theories of the late Dr. Carey Reams.

The market featured in the above video is the famed Union Square Greenmarket in New York City. Here's another video featuring the same farmer, Rick Bishop, and his interaction with people at the Union Square Greenmarket. This is the stuff of life . . .

(Thanks to the Brixman, Rex Harrill, for the lead on this post.)