How Diet Reflects Personal Values, Narratives, and Cultural Meanings
Food is a basic human need that none can barely live without, though there are several factors that relate to eating that determine one’s choice of food. Such factors vary depending on the cultural set-ups, environments and beliefs that certain people hold regarding the choice of food, the process of preparation and the people involved. In his book titled “Eating Animals”, Jonathan Safran Foer makes a strong argument against consumption of animal food production. He starts by evaluating the issues of ethics, what goes on in the factories and assesses if indeed it is humane to take away the life of animals so as to satisfy one’s needs. In his attempt to show the ways in which nature of diet reflects personal values, cultural meanings and narratives, Foer does not convince the readers because he bases his arguments on personal choices rather than the whole truth.
One of the stories Foer narrates is that of the grandmother’s post-World War II experience. Having fled Germany, she is hunger-stricken and as a vegetarian, she can only be offered pork by a Russian farmer. Being a Jew, this act is unacceptable for her, and when asked whether she would rather choose to die, she confidently narrates that life is more than just staying alive. She insists that if her actions further violate her own principles then it is not worth taking. He, therefore, reasons that the nature of one’s diet is reflective of the personal values, narrative and cultural meanings which is not entirely the truth.
Different individuals portray various values and the latter dictate the choices they make regarding food. Such values revolve around the care for self and that of the animals that we kill for food. For the case of eating meat, Foer argues that the need to satisfy our own needs supersedes that of caring for animals such that one would rather kill an animal for food and fails to care about its life. Thus, when one chooses to kill animals for food, it is evident that such people do not care much about life. He argues that being faced with the choices of animal farming and eating meat is a serious dichotomy of what is important and what is not. Lack of regard for animal life, according to Foer, suggests the same for human life. Therefore, whether one does it consciously or not, the killing of animals for food violates the rights of animals. He is left wondering whether the one who act in this way cares about the health of the animal or living at all.
There are questions that arise from Foer’s arguments against the vegetarians. One is left to ponder if it is possible to gain all the nutritional requirements by entirely abstaining from animal products. Moreover, one would ponder the demarcation between looking into the health of an animal and killing an animal for food. Such questions pose a reasonable challenge to Foer’s viewpoint. For instance, in an animal farm, animals are generally well taken care of, whether they provide labor, for the case of the beasts of burden, or just animal products as is the case of extracting dairy and meat.
Therefore, I would strongly challenge what Foer stands for and argue that it is right to kill animals for food as long as the welfare of such animals is in question. Moreover, animals are widely regarded an alternative protein source, as long as one does not consume too much of it, which is harmful.
Narratives play an important role in forming perspectives about certain things. Some people would entirely rely on narratives to form their opinions, judgments and perspectives regarding food. Foer, in the introduction, narrates the case of a starving grandmother in the aftermath of World War II and delightfully emphasizes that she declines the lucrative offer of pork which was against her values (Foer 215). This incident strengthens his belief that life is more than just staying alive.
On the other hand, most individuals who consume meat only interact with the end product without the knowledge of the conditions of the animals and the process that is involved in killing them. He thus narrates the experience of secretly visiting a meat farmer and realizes that the positive and well-executed marketing totally contradicts the life of the animals in the farm. As such, he states that if only one were aware of the secrets of the factory business, they would desist from taking meat. His argument highlights the unethical handling of the animals and their poor living conditions. The author maintains that this treatment of animals is not always deliberate of the farmer. It would be detrimental to the sale of meat and most individuals would rather purport to quit meat consumption. This argument holds water, though it cannot be used to entirely negate meat eating.
As is the case of the grandmother, her decline to the pork offered by the Russian farmer is neither based on the poor living conditions of the animals, nor the unethical process of killing them for food, but rather for cultural reasons (Foer 138). This is evidenced by the fact that chicken with carrots is portrayed as her favorite dish. It is then obvious that chicken must be slaughtered for food; provided the living conditions are fine and the process of killing is ethical, one need not entirely believe in the narratives in order to form perspectives.
Every group of individuals is tied to particular cultural practices that dictate their way of life. This may vary from one group of people to another. When it comes to food, culture dictates what food to eat, when, where, how and why to eat such. Religion lies at the heart of culture and so Christians, Muslims, Hindus and other religions would tell you that they hold certain ritual practices in line with keeping with their religious faith.
In his narrative, the grandmother rejects eating pork and would rather risk further starvation than break the Jewish law (Foer 168). This is purely a cultural viewpoint according to the religious law. Pork was generally regarded as unclean and therefore anyone who consumed it consequently became unclean. However, this was not the case for all the animals since the same Jewish customs permitted the killing of certain animals for food.
On the other hand, certain individuals argue that the cumulative effects of consuming certain foods is a health hazard, and therefore resort to total banning of the food. In such cases, the affected groups would recommend alternatives in line with keeping both the nutritional and healthy standards. To some, eating red meat is prohibited but the right amounts of white meat are just fine. Therefore, when culture prohibits the consumption of meat, then it must provide a cogent argument in support for the taboo. If the reasons are justifiable, then the consumption of meat should be looked into but the whole idea of incorporating cultural generalizations regarding the issues of food does not hold any water.
To sum up, even though Foer’s narrative in “Eating Animals” is meant to help him decide whether he needs to be a vegetarian, his argument cannot be taken as whole truth. The issues regarding food have always revolved around personal values, narratives and cultural meanings but it is also appropriate to examine them, in-depth. While it is agreeable for one to live by a set of guiding principles, such values must go beyond personal feelings of emotions and fear. If eating of meat makes one feel they are belittling animals, then one needs to be ready to forgo the nutritional requirements. But most importantly, the dignity of animals does not entirely lie in their right to life, but also in taking care of them while they are alive. As to whether narratives and cultural values play an important role in forming eating habits, it is mostly important to dig deep into the underlying effects for one to make a sound judgment. Such arguments would be justifiable when the matters of health for both the animal and the human are at risk. Foer eventually opts for his son to be a vegetarian and states with clarity that he does not regard those who eat animals as lesser beings.
Foer, Jonathan S. Eating Animals. Little, Brown & Company, 2013.