Thursday, May 11, 2006

We are what we eat.

I'm reading the most fascinating book right now.

"The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter."

It's co-authored by Jim Mason and Peter Singer. As some of you may know, I think Peter Singer is one of the most brilliant thinkers alive. If I could choose any living person to spend a day talking with, Peter Singer would be at the top of the list, edging even Joaquin Phoenix out. I don't agree with all of his theories, because ethically and philosophically speaking, I'm neither a humanist nor a strict Utilitarian. But I AM a fan of ethical debate and consciousness, and of sound, logical arguments. They make me weak in the knees, in fact.

Hence my love of this book.

The book looks at the normal diets of three American families, representing a spectrum of different ways people choose to eat. There's the Standard American Diet (SAD for short), which is the cost and time conscious choice of in a majority of American homes. Then there's the Conscientious Omnivores, who eat meat, but usually buy organic and pay attention to where there food is coming from. Finally, we meet the vegans. Everybody know what vegans are nowadays, right? Singer and Mason examine the products each family buys on a typical shopping trip, and then traces them backwards through the production process and look for any ethical problems that pop up.

You can anticipate the obvious, popular ethical issues like crowded chicken and pig farms, slaughter house practices, and fair trade issues. But there are some other food-related ethical issues most people don't think about, like environmental problems and animal suffering issues with seafood, ethical arguments for eating locally produced food, the ethics of obesity, and the question of whether it is ethical to raise children as vegans or not.

One of the things I like most about Singer is how accessible his work is. His philosophy is easy to understand and engaging to read. And though he's one of the world's foremost animal rights experts (having authored "Animal Liberation"), he isn't preachy. He approaches this book with the understanding that most people are going to continue to eat meat. He takes into account the fact that for most families, price and availability is their number one concern when stocking their kitchens. He just wants more people to be aware that eating choices, as much as anything else, have an impact on the world around us. He suggests that making even small changes in the way you think about food can make a difference.

Anyhow, I'm thoroughly enjoying the book, and I think some people around here would probably like it too.


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