Sunday, August 3, 2008

Two Recent Takes on Food and Responsibility

--I’m not really a fan of the New York Post, but their brief profile on Steve Dublanica—a.k.a. “The Waiter”—is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it represents the public unmasking of Dublanica, whose blog Waiter Rant inspired his “new book of the same name.” Secondly, Dublanica raises a salient point regarding restaurant dining:

“ ‘You need to know where your food comes from,’ he says. ‘The same thing holds true for restaurants. You should know that the waiter doesn't make a salary and a tip [or] that a good percentage of restaurants don't treat their employees well.’ ”

Is this somewhat obvious? Sure. But I think it’s a good reminder; even if a restaurant or food-related business is sourcing organic ingredients and humanely-raised meat, their responsibility—and our responsibility as diners and consumers—doesn’t stop there. This means being willing to criticize the establishments that we otherwise love (A good example is Whole Foods: great produce despite the high prices, excellent commitment to paying a living wage, shaky record regarding unions.)

--Gordon Atkinson offers a thought-provoking entry on hunting and gun control at his blog Real Live Preacher. In response to the recent shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Atkinson first describes his family’s history of hunting for food. He then praises both “careful hunters” and “gentles vegetarians”; criticizes irresponsible gun ownership and those complicit in consuming factory-farmed meat; and finally circles back to gun control and the possibility of finding common ground. This line of thinking isn’t perfect—he generalizes a bit too much, and really unpacking all of these issues would require a much longer essay. Still, I found one passage to be particularly striking:

“Honest and careful hunting of the type that leads to frugal living, care for the land, and respect for what it means to take the life of an animal is a good thing. It’s a natural thing. It’s much better than dropping into a fast-food restaurant and eating meat that doesn’t cost much or cost you anything in time and trouble. The meat industry treats animals as things. They grow up in pens and cages, do not live decent animal lives, and are killed with no sense of compassion, stewardship, or conservation.”

For years, I’ve been ambivalent about hunting deer, especially with regard to my home state of Indiana. One the one hand, Indiana’s deer-hunting season is crucial to controlling overpopulation, and there are enough restrictions to encourage responsibility. And deer hunting also has a practical food value, especially when processed venison can go to food banks. On the other hand, I have a hard time grasping why anyone would experience enjoyment while hunting, and I’m prone to lapsing into generalizations myself when it comes to shooting deer for sport.

Yet as Atkinson, points out, this is a hypocritical stance on my part considering how much meat I’ve consumed from fast food chains over the course of my life. He’s correct to note that there’s a huge difference between reckless hunting and conservationist-based hunting. For omnivores who stand disconnected from the source of their meat, there are valuable lessons to learn from the latter.

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