Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The world's newest religions

When I went vegetarian in 2001, the hardest part of the transition was replacing meat. How could I replace the central part of the meal? So I ate a lot of fake-meat products--veggie burgers, tofu dogs, and the like. But I asked the wrong question: going vegetarian doesn't mean replacing meat.

But that's at the heart of the matter when people ask why I'm a vegetarian. "What do you replace meat with?" they ask, unable to imagine how I might answer. A similar question seems to be implied when people learn I'm an atheist. What do I replace God with? The binaries become tofu versus meat, God versus the Void.

Or, in some cases, Religion versus Science. Because movements need war metaphors, religion needs, for fundamentalists, an opposite. But strangely enough, people often define their opposites by the very thing they are. Thus, global warming becomes "a religion." For Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson, the city's suggestion that people eat less meat is "a crusade."

These are old tropes, familiar in the "War on Terror" and Richard Nixon's conquest of cancer. Usually, one drums up support for a cause by attributing a religious aura to one's acts. But I find it ironic that groups associated with religion attempt to denigrate their perceived opposites as religions. Maybe it's easier to tilt at windmills if you see them as false idols rather than separate modes of inquiry or different lifestyles.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

All things green

I'm not a pot smoker, but I'm sympathetic to Michael Phelps. (We have similar body types, you see.) Here's the statement he should have released about his bong photograph.

If Germany can do it

Re: Eating less meat in Cincinnati

Looks like we're not alone. If Germany can realize the environmental and economic dangers of heavy meat-based diets, maybe the Germanic city of Cincinnati can, too.

Monday, February 2, 2009

How PETA screwed the pooch

Not that Super Bowl ads are ever that good, but last night's were terrible. And even though I'm not crazy about PETA, I would have loved if they'd gotten an ad in. Not the ad they made, but the ad they should have made.

You're probably aware of the following:

'Veggie Love': PETA's Banned Super Bowl Ad

Yes, PETA made an ad they knew would get banned so they could have a PR round of instant meaningless controversy. They even feigned surprise that the ad was banned. (Though I admit that anything that leads to the phrase "screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)" has benefited the world.) But PETA would have done much better to make a good advertisement using the same theme, one that would have made their point as well as the airwaves.

So, free of charge, my case for the ad they should have run, the ad that would have used the "veggie love" theme:

We open at a dining table with a woman chewing her food, licking her lips, etc., and saying how wonderful the meal is. The camera pans back: her dining partner is a guy in a giant broccoli suit. (Fuzzy.) Various shots of romantic dinners with men paired with asparagus-women, women paired with pumpkin men, etc. Then the "studies show that vegetarians have better sex," with some actual effing suggestions about where to find this info so people don't immediately dismiss the claim. Finish with a closed door, moaning sounds, maybe even a joke about how the broccoli gives good head.

I'll admit that what I've described above isn't necessarily a great ad, but it could be aired, it has some wit to it, and it's engaging. What PETA ran (or, rather, made much ado about not running) has none of those things. And as many admirable things as PETA does, their stunts don't make the case for vegetarianism well. Hell, they don't even tap into the potential target market viewing the Super Bowl, unless you believe that the condescending truck and beer ads accurately reflect the viewership.

Eating less meat in Cincinnati

The city of Cincinnati now has a food task force as part of its Green Cincinnati Action Plan (warning: link goes to pdf). Since the Plan was passed last June, this isn't news. What's news is that our local newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, posted a news item about the Plan's food recommendation with the odd headline "Cincy wants you to eat less meat":

"Yes, even in this city symbolized by a flying pig and once called Porkopolis, officials worry about residents leaving too big of a carbon footprint. So as part of the Green Cincinnati Plan to make the city more environmentally friendly, proponents want you to at least think about choosing fruits and vegetables more, meat less.

"Nobody wants Jeff Ruby to have to take out an ad that says, 'Why are you hurting my restaurant?' " said Daniel Oerther, chairman of the University of Cincinnati's environmental engineering department who leads the city's food task force."

The suggestions laid out in the Action Plan are reasonable, even in a city as meat-centric as Cincinnati. But the Enquirer's comments section provides us the entertainment. To witless:

"Global warming! In a pig's eye! Have you greenie weenie's been in a cave the last week or this winter? Don't suggest or tell me what to eat! It's none of your dam business! It's called freedom you dunder head's! So stick it where the sun don't shine!"

"What a joke. Man made global warming is a HOAX. (, has the data to show what a HOAX it is. Humans are only responsible for less then 1/10th of 1%, so any changes we make have almost no affect on the total amount of co2 in the air. This is more about control and making money then it is about saving the planet."

"how about teaching people to stop eating so much fast food and start eating a bit more healthy. Keep the theme a bit more basic. Meat is an important part of the diet for a human. We do not need to spend money on this program, nor do I need someone telling me what to eat."

"Eating all vegetables and no meat is not healthy as it is not a well balanced diet. Most vegetarians I know out there have very little muscle tone and just look plain sick. On the other hand, eating mostly meat and no vegetables is also very unhealthy. The key here is moderation. Make sure you eat a well balanced diet and there will be no problems."

"I don't trust people who don't eat meat!"

There's no point in taking the time to refute all this, but for one point: meat is not a necessary part of a human diet. Not only are vegetarian and vegan diets perfectly healthy, they're better for you than meat-based diets.

Of course, that's beside the point. What's crucial here is how the Enquirer, our terrible newspaper, angles the story: they take a single recommendation from the Action Plan and skew the story. Cincinnati won't be regulating diets; the city would undertake a relatively inexpensive ad campaign to promote a lifestyle choice that's better for individuals and for the city as a whole. But the responses online reflect paranoia about the city legislating all freedom out of their lives.*

*I'm not aware of any freedom to eat meat, but that's another issue for another post.