A Rebuttal to a Rebuttal: An Eating Plants Reader Responds to An Angry Butcher

Some context: what follows is a rather brilliant point-by-point rebuttal of Berlin Reed’s rebuttal of my recent piece in the Atlantic.com. All the drama can be followed by reading the past several postings here on eatingplants.org. It is an understatement for me to express my sincere appreciattion for the INTELLIGENT feedback that comes in on this blog. That is a rare quality these days.

Off we go:

From: Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten

I read the article original article this is responding to. The point was that small farm meat advocacy will just be co-opted by big meat. The language was sharp in some points, and perhaps could have been softened as to not slight the ethical butcher since that wasn’t the intent, but overall, I didn’t read it as an attack as such. Anyway, onwards to the reply:

EB- “the moral superiority complex that plagues so many herbivores”

HE HAS A BLOG CALLED THE ETHICAL BUTCHER! McWilliams has a blog called Eating Plants. No matter how Reed goes about defining what he means by ethical butcher, whether it’s a label, a blog, or a project, there is inherently some moralizing going on. He can’t really spin around and say, “Oh, those vegans, so many with moral superiority complexes!”

EB – “I will never assume to know what others should do; I find that to be a dangerous mindset.”

His book is titled The Ethical Butcher: Real Food Rules. Whether “rules” means “a prescribed guide for conduct or action” or “the exercise of authority or control” (Merriam –Webster), it sure seems he is suggesting what others should do. Also, his livelihood seems to depend on being a butcher. McWilliam’s doesn’t really depend on being vegan, he can write about whatever he wants to and may even be less marginalized if he wrote about something else.

EB – “worldwide vegan fascism”

I’m not sure that it’s worth even engaging with this individual with this sort of rhetoric. Which vegan organization is campaigning in impoverished countries pulling meat off of people’s dinner plates? I know that there’s plenty of leafleting on college campuses with affluent young people capable of making lifestyle changes. There is Heifer International though, whose mission is to give impoverished people livestock. Good? Bad? Well, there’s some criticism to content with (http://goo.gl/JMV61), but regardless, it’s certainly not a vegan organization.

EB – “Going vegan doesn’t answer..etc”

But neither does “ethical butchering” or “avoiding soy.” With the soy avoidance, it’s clear that we’re dealing with the usual WAPF kool-aid. Livestock, even the local “pastured” kind, still consume plenty of cereal crops akin to soy. Even Joel Salatin doesn’t escape this.

EB – “The outdated obsession with meat as the crux of the problem is unnecessarily narrow-minded”

If by outdated he means, “advocates who pointed out the problem decades ago,” (you can go back even a hundred years even) that’s not being outdated, that’s being right. Animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change, deforestation, and depleting fisheries. It’s unnecessary, certainly in the amount that is condoned, and it’s easier to reduce animal product consumption than to “free ourselves” from “the complex web” whatever that even means.

EB – “I have never, ever argued against being vegetarian or vegan.”

No, it’s just that vegans have a moral superiority complexed, destroy the world with soy and “precious veggies”, cause animals to suffer (deliberately I wonder?), are “dogmatic,” “elitist,” “outdated,” “obsessive,” “narrow-minded,” “unrealistic,” “short-sighted,” “fascist,” and wronger than wrong, but no, no arguments against being vegetarian or vegan. It all reads like a bullet points from the retarded Vegetarian Myth except he loses a few points for not mentioning that vegans need B12 so it’s unnatural and no society has ever been truly vegan, oh, and something about hunter-gatherers. For extra credit he could have at least mentioned the welfare of plants and microbes.

EB – “I abstain from soy at all costs and I don’t eat any seafood other than shellfish and a very, very short list of truly sustainable fish.”

He believes soy is the problem, so he abstains at all costs, which is unfortunate because the comparable costs of meat eating that soybean eating can displace is very high. Legumes also fix nitrogen. Soybeans that feed people really aren’t that big of a problem and of course soybeans can be organically sourced. Most of the tofu and soymilks on the market are organic, all are non-GMO, some brands are even regional/local depending where you live. If you live in New York (Brooklyn), Fresh Tofu Inc. produces tofu for the tri-state region from Pennsylvania and the organic soy beans are sourced nearby. Commercial animal products are a big problem, they make up 99% of the animal food supply, but when vegans abstain from them for very good reasons, it’s “fascism?”

EB – “Going vegan doesn’t preserve generations of time-honored traditions “

Who cares when we are reading articles on illuminated screens transmitted through a computer network. I thought we were supposed to be solving big problems, not having cultural day. Can’t cultures honor their languages, their stories, their dance, and dress, even their holidays, maybe that means modifying meals to a vegan menu, maybe they consume animal products on those special occasions. I can only refer to Jonathan Safran Foer who presents the idea that culture is more than what we put into our mouths. Also, since vegetarianism is ancient, it most certainly is a cultural item that can be integrated into most any other cultural milieu. Certainly any cultural people near a decent supermarket.

Here’s what I find most obnoxious with the notion of time honored traditions used in defending hunting or butchering animals. Long before humans could write they could kill animals and figure out how to consume them. It’s not rocket science. If civilization collapses tomorrow in typical Hollywood fashion, enough survivors will be able to figure out on their own how to hunt, fish, and butcher any animals they may find in order to survive. We don’t really need to practice. If buttery is a skill, it’s one that far less intelligent proto-humans mastered long ago. Chimpanzees hunt and manage meat eating just fine.

Somehow when vegans eat vegetables it’s, “your precious veggies,” that could only come from the worse circumstances, but then he eat vegetables it’s fine, because his menus “teem with fresh, seasonal vegetables.” Hey, that’s great, but any vegan can do the same if they want to. Also, I’m not going to suggest to everyone never to eat non-seasonal frozen or canned vegetables, because that isn’t really helping anyone to make eating less meat easier. It’s not possible nor desirable for everyone to exclusively eat fresh seasonal vegetables. People should each oranges and other nonseasonal fruits in the Northern winter. It’s healthier (plenty of studies show this) for people to consumer fruit year round and the environmental impact is relatively negligible (compared to any meat eating). Sure, conditions of many agricultural workers are poor, but that’s not inherent to growing vegetables and solutions have more to do with labor and immigration policies.

EB – “I can actually still count the number of animals I’ve served over the past two years,”

I can actually still count the number of animals I’ve eaten over the past two years. Zero. Whoop dee doo. A feat only possible because it’s not really a feat at all. It’s fairly straightforward and simple, I wish I had this feeling of moral superiority that people like Reed claim vegans exhibit, but I don’t self-congratulate myself as if I’m preforming some sort of notable or courageous deed. If I had a blog or a new book coming out I wouldn’t title it ethical anything, that’s for sure.

EB – “I don’t eat very much meat and one look at my latest menu will dispel your claims that I encourage wanton meat consumption.”

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they don’t eat very much meat… The point is that ethical butchers become symbols of meat consumption for everyone else whether you like it or not. The proof is Center for Consumer Freedom linking to your blog, but it’s also apparent in attitudes of a majority of indifferent meat eaters. Meat eating can be done right, they have an example in ethical butchers, so all meat eating is justified. These people will wait until the industry reforms itself while maintaining high supply and low prices.

EB – “In my opinion, the single most critical element in the perpetuation of factory farming is corporate greed.”

As McWilliams (and many others) have pointed out, that’s where the slow food movement (or locavores, or whatever we want to call it) gets is a bit off. Factory farming of animals is older than people think and it exists because lots of people want to eat lots of animal products and that is the only way to cheaply supply them. The accusation is that corporate greed leads to factory farming. A glib rebuttal could be that greed leads to eating animals when there are viable alternatives and that leads to factory farming.

EB – “The issue is the system through which most of the animals we eat are supplied.”

A system that is there to meet demand. It’s not there in a vacuum. So long as meat is promoted, either by small or large scale entities, the demand won’t decrease nearly enough as it should. Does consuming less animal products solve all our problems? No. But it is a very large problem and the solution is “easier” — it’s a social problem, “easier” in a relative sense — to implement than retrofitting our civilization into some sort of primitivism hybrid. That’s a massive social and infrastructure problem; one that is unfeasible.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

5 Responses to A Rebuttal to a Rebuttal: An Eating Plants Reader Responds to An Angry Butcher

  1. Michael says:

    Ethical Butcher: “I will never assume to know what others should do; I find that to be a dangerous mindset.”

    Decries corporate greed, Monsanto, “unethical” butchers, the living conditions of migrant workers, anti-traditionalism, unsustainability, and the invasion of the magic bubble in which people are to be rendered immune to the repercussions of their food choices.

  2. CQ says:

    I already commended DBS in a previous post, where his comments first appeared. I’m glad they’re featured front and center here. Thanks, James.

    Michael, how truly you speak.

    We’re all yearning to be free of strangleholds, limitations, deceptions, lies foisted upon us by unethical and greedy corporations and individuals.

    And when we individually advance beyond those strangleholds, we naturally long to bring others along with us into our new territory. And so we share with them what we have discovered about the personal and corporate evils we’re exposing and overcoming, hoping that they, too, will see through the wrongs they’ve been influenced by, and take a more virtuous, less selfish path. Just like us.

    That’s precisely what EB is doing, trying, in his own way, to reform a broken, corrupt system. And that is commendable.

    So if EB expects people to listen to his models for change, then he should agree that there might be still better ways of eating than what he’s now practicing. Even if it means more fully acknowledging and appreciating the vegan ethic he left behind, for whatever illogical reason.

    Vegan McWilliams’ efforts to awaken others are no more a “dangerous mindset” than are EB’s similar efforts. In fact, since vegans don’t participate in needless creature killing, a form of hedonism, one could say that vegans are just the opposite of dangerous. They are salutary for every species.

  3. Brilliant! Thank you.

  4. Provoked says:

    “If I had a nickel for every time someone told me they don’t eat very much meat…” I thought that too! I really think I’d get more mileage out of a shirt with that message than an vegan shirt. Certainly though, the conversation wouldn’t go where and how they’d want.

    I absolutely love this rebuttal! Thank you DBS!

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