About Me

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My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I'm stuck. I can't stop obsessing about veganism, vegetarianism, environmental issues, food issues, health. I guess, as far as obsessions go, I could do worse. But I do worry I'm boring my "readers" (all, oh I don't know -- five of you?). Those of you who have known me for awhile know I tend to do this -- get stuck on an issue, work it out to death, and then go on. I also do this with celebs and TV shows -- get stuck on one or read everything ever written about somebody, watch every show or movie that person ever did, and then move on. That parallel kind of disturbs me, but it's true.
If I'm honest with myself, it's how I arrived at my dissertation topic. Several years ago, for pleasure, I was reading Indian novels -- LOTS of Indian, Pakistani, Bangledeshi novels -- and then I moved on to articles and books written on South Asian immigrants. As I came up on the time when I had to start thinking of a dissertation topic, I knew I just HAD to find a way to do my dissertation on something South Asia-related. Only problem? I had just spent years prepping to be a medical sociologist, with a specialty in mental health, and with a young family and a husband with a very good job, it was unlikely I was going to India for field work. (I would have LOVED to have been able to do that.) I solved that dilemma by using second generation South Asians in a study of intergenerational conflict and mental health. After finishing the dissertation, my obsession was(almost)gone.

I suspect other people who have written dissertations have also experienced the near-total cessation of interest in their topic. After all, writing and defending a dissertation proposal, writing and defending an IRB proposal, designing a questionnaire, advertising a study, doing background readings, interviewing 33 people and transcribing two-hour long interviews for each, surveying over 100 people anonymously, coding data, and THEN writing a 300+ page document does induce weariness of whatever topic one chooses. And I didn't mention editing or total overhaul of chapters.

But I am nowhere near reaching that saturation point with my current obsession. Yesterday, I posted a question on Facebook about whether or not my friends agreed with me that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) occasionally crosses the line with their tactics. The answers I got back can basically be summarized as "I am leery of any organization that seems to believe that any means justifies the ends." That's my point of view.

For instance, I thought PETA was very rude to refer, in a Twitter feed, to the recently deceased Oscar Mayer as a "rotting corpse." No matter how much I may agree with them that, in hindsight, Oscar Mayer contributed to the proliferation of really awful-for-you foods, he has a family who is(I assume)grieving his loss. To speak of him that way (and to send a letter to Kraft foods suggesting that the Wienermobile be buried with him -- that I found in a PETA blog and in a Tweet) is just really low. Really immature. If I use a word common to PETA-supporters' generally immature vernacular, it was LAME.

In fact, I think the Weinermobile should be in a museum. Perhaps PETA could start one. The museum could document how foods have been chemically altered over time, often filled with things that are known carcinogens. The museum could use the Weinermobile to show how advertising often hoodwinks us into thinking things are OK that are absolutely NOT.

But Oscar Mayer need not be demonized; he was a product of his time -- nothing more, nothing less. The only thing really remarkable about him (compared to all other 95-year-olds who also died last week) is that he capitalized on the time much better than his peers. In this capitalistic society, we need to stop and remember that -- and remember that our society ENCOURAGES this. I doubt he was a horrible person, filled with the intention of poisoning kids. I doubt that very much.

I can't help but compare Mayer's capitalization via processed meats and simplified food preparation with what I see as the capitalization of MANY people on the general idea of "live your dream life now." I find this theme EVERYWHERE -- in my friends' businesses, in blogs, in bestselling books, on TV shows (most notably, Oprah), and in tweets. While this is a nice thought -- I don't disagree with it -- it's also something people are making money on. Some people are making LOTS of money on this general idea. Do you see the parallel to Oscar Mayer? I do. Different outcome, sure. But similar social pattern. It's a sign of the time, just as surely as packaging foods and creating machines to do all our work were the sign of the times 90 years ago.

Last night, I did a little research into two organizations commonly held up as iconic by vegan, vegetarian, environmentalist types. I read PETA's webpage (there are lots of subsections; I concentrated on what they say about themselves) and I did the same for the Sea Shepherd (of "Whale Wars" fame). My conclusion: the Sea Shepherd does a better job of explaining itself and of being less rhetorical, less inflammatory, less immature. Yet the Sea Shepherd' cause -- protecting wildlife, particularly ocean wildlife, enforcing whaling laws, conserving the oceans -- is prone to the libel "ecoterrorism," due to the fact that the crew actively attempts to intervene with whaling (and other) activities. PETA, too, is often criticized for its tactics. I happen to think, however, that PETA deserves more of the criticism it gets than does the Sea Shepherd. PETA could improve, IMHO, by being more polite.

Yesterday, I found a poem, written by the Captain of the Sea Shepherd and posted on his MySpace page. I reposted it to Facebook. While kinda funny, it was not a great response to his critics. (My friend called it "lame.") Yeah, it was. That's why I went over to the webpage itself; what is there is NOT lame. I suspect a lot of people who call the Sea Shepherd names have not taken the time to check them out in detail. Do it.

I remember, several years ago now, finding a little interview with Jorja Fox (of CSI fame -- my current TV show obsession) regarding PETA. In the interview, she describes PETA's "rock and roll" personality. In describing them that way, she seemed to suggest that their tactics are "cool," defensible, and I am VERY sure that a lot of people follow PETA (and the Humane Society and the Sea Shepherd) because Jorja is an advocate of those organizations. I'm not dissing the organizations or the celebs; I don't begrudge Jorja her opinion. But I do think all people -- moi included -- need to take a step back and REALLY look into organizations that are promoted by the people we currently admire. It's not enough to learn about their causes; after all, it's hard not to support the ideas of protecting animals and oceans. But tactics matter too. It's a good break on an obsession.


  1. The dichotomy of liking people who support things you find distasteful is, to me, as easy as being a meat-eating ecologist who strives to live green and won't drive. But there's a reason you'll never see JFO run a drive for the PETA. I try to keep MY personal politics out of the matter, and respect the fans as much as the fan-object.

    Still, after ten years of it, you get pretty good with the comprimises!

    Moderation :)

  2. I've got Sea Shepherd in Google Alets, and your Blog came up. Interesting reading. I found myself thinking "that's me"!

  3. Everybody flips out if PETA advocates eating less meat, but nobody flips out when the American Cattle Association tells they that beef is what's for dinner.

  4. To Hart -- I did not flip out (nor would I) when PETA advocates eating less meat (I advocate the same). As for the jingle of the ACA -- that's all it is. And for better or worse, it's still normative (which is why fewer people "flip out" over it). Elaine

  5. I agree with you about PETA. I think it's a great example of an organization that could do a lot more good in the world if it would change its attitude, tacticts, priorities, etc. I think they turn off at least as many people as they convert. Probably way more.

    On the other hand, a lot of people said that about ACT UP in the 1980s. In hindsight, it's pretty clear that what worked for them was the combination of their traditional lobbying efforts and their in-your-face obnoxious street theater activities. (Yes, I have taught "Social Movements".) And, as with ACT UP, I can see how activists would feel that more extreme action needs to be taken just to get people's attention. So PETA activists feel strongly enough that "meat is murder" that it would justify far more extreme actions than either you or I would be comfortable with. And at least they haven't yet resorted to murder as have certain other extremist movements in this country.

    But this is different than AIDS. When it came right down to it, it was fairly easy to convince people that we should support medical research, even if it was putatively for the benefit of a group they didn't like much. But most Americans like eating meat. The effort to move towards vegetarianism and/or veganism has to be seen as a multi-generational task.

    So, yes, work on reduction first. And getting people familiar with alternatives to meat. And producing and marketing more alternatives to meat. But this will take time.

    I don't know that much about PETA but I wonder

  6. When thinking of PETA, I am reminded of William Shakespeare's play "As You Like It" in Act 3 Scene 2 when Orland and Jaques speak to each other.

    Jaq: God be wit you; let's meet as little as we can.
    Orl: I do desire we be better strangers.

    Do I dare write how I truly feel about PETA? I find this organization to be replete with blind zealots who fanaticism undermines any reasonableness of animal welfare issues. I await the day their tax exempt status is revoked and the propaganda which they spew forth vanishes from the Earth.

  7. Whoa! Teacher Man! Honestly, your last sentence sounds as fanatical as some of PETA's actions. (But I'm glad you commented; there's a lot to discuss here.)

  8. Elaine, what's most interesting to me about your post is the insight into you process information. You truly have the DNA of a scholar. It takes that kind of pit bull tenacity to really research a topic.

    That said, I'm out of things to say about PETA, vegans and vegetarianism. You've already written more than I've been willing to read up until this point. :-)

  9. I enjoy your obssessions/kicks (whatever you want to call them). Right now I'm on a kick to find out all about sugar and how it is killing us. We definitely need a nutrition overhaul in my house. I'm working on it.

    The PETA and anti-abortion movements have a lot of similarities, don't you think?



Politeness is always appreciated.