March 28, 2006

Michael Pollan: The Pathology of Desire

In a long essay in Sunday's New York Times Magazine about a quest to kill "his own" wild pig, Michael Pollan briefly envies the "moral clarity" of vegetarianism. He immediately comforts himself by declaring them "pitiable" because vegetarians "deny reality."

Yet at every step of his quest to "own" his meat, Pollan struggles with moral ambivalence and even disgust, requiring hundreds of words of twisted rationalizations. He does not deny his appetite for exotic meat, true, nor the violence necessary to transform an animal from a living individual in a vital social circle into a mouth-watering roast. Neither do vegetarians. Nor do vegetarians deny the natural repulsion we feel from the slaughter, as Pollan struggles to. But he must have his boar, so anything can be justified, any reality denied that does not fit the preordained outcome, the consumerist goal.

This is moral decadence. Most of us do not need to kill to survive. We hunt or eat meat only because we want to. It is a moral choice to continue or not. It is the same choice whether you kill your meal yourself or not, the same whether you write thousands of words about it or not, the same whether it's grass-fed and free-range or factory-farmed.

Pollan denies that reality and chooses to kill. He is proud that he is a "conscious carnivore," which only makes his choice especially chilling. The only reality indeed is his appetite.

animal rights, vegetarianism