Drew Sheneman with a worthwhile comment on the meat scandal.
He's got a point, of course, and one branch of the vegan movement has to do with the moral/emotional implications of eating animals. Sentimental stories of 4H projects and Wilbur the Pig aside, farm children have for centuries come of age by learning to differentiate between pets and food.
And, for centuries, there have always been some who chose not to, though, of course, there are more now that people are less in touch with the original sources.
Which is not to say that it's unreasonable to feel more compassion for an animal with personality than one without. As Jules said to Vincent on the topic of eating dog, personality goes a long way.
At last the Red Queen began. 'You've missed the soup and fish,' she said. 'Put on the joint!' And the waiters set a leg of mutton before Alice, who looked at it rather anxiously, as she had never had to carve a joint before.
'You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,' said the Red Queen. 'Alice—Mutton; Mutton—Alice.' The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and Alice returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.
'May I give you a slice?' she said, taking up the knife and fork, and looking from one Queen to the other.
'Certainly not,' the Red Queen said, very decidedly: 'it isn't etiquette to cut any one you've been introduced to. Remove the joint!'
Not only does this issue of personalities and delicacy hinge in large part on personal experience and cultural norms, but also on abundance.
I interviewed an Italian-American WWII vet once who told me about going through Southern France with Patton when they outstripped their supply lines. He and a buddy went into one town (which was off-limits, but so what?) where they found an Italian restaurant. His childhood language skills and their Yank uniforms made them instantly welcome and they swapped some cigarettes for a couple of bowls of stew.
"What is this meat?" his buddy asked, but Frank responded that they probably didn't want to know. However, his friend persisted, so he asked, and their hosts -- having seen though not been able to translate the back and forth between them -- burst into laughter.
"Did you see any cats in the street?" one of them asked, and Frank laughed, but, upon getting the translation, his friend was not only unamused but, well, in the words of the old song ...
Sensitivity aside, this is a matter of truth in labeling, and, however you feel about eating this or that, if it's labeled as this, it shouldn't turn out to be that.
But here's where my bullshit detector goes off -- and it may in fact turn out to be a horseshit detector, but it has served me well for a couple of decades anyway:
I don't think the numbers add up.
In South Africa, the scandal includes a great deal of pork and chicken snuck into ground beef products, and that makes some sense. But the testing also detected water buffalo and, without having shopped in Capetown I can't be certain, but I suspect water buffalo would be more expensive than beef.
Unless a processor is sneaking animals into the food cycle that should have been sent to a rendering plant, the motivation doesn't make sense, and, if they are, then the numbers don't make sense: It's one thing to process downer-cattle, and that certainly happens far too often, but how many sick water buffalo are there, and how regularly could you get hold of them and insert them into the line before someone blew the whistle?
In this long and non-frantic South African news report, there is a distinction made between cross-contamination and intentional substitution.
For observant Muslims and Jews, using the same grinder for pork and beef is, of course, a problem. But beyond the religious issue, the trace amount of pork detected seems inconsequential both in terms of truth-in-packaging and in terms of consumer fraud.
The thing is, it's not the possibility of some purposeful substitution that I find hard to believe, but the percentages. And, if the percentages are being boosted by simple, low grade cross-contamination, then the purported results are being hyped beyond reason and certainly beyond the bounds of ethical science.
What touched off my thoughts on this was not the horsemeat revelations but a study by Oceana, a conservation group, that showed that a third of the fish sold to consumers was mislabeled, and an astonishingly 74 percent of mislabeling of fish at sushi restaurants.
I'd expect some by-catch -- unintentional fish caught along with the target species -- to slip into the supply chain now and then, and by-catch is a sustainability issue that is not properly dealt with and needs to be.
In fact, if you care about the fisheries, you really should check out this three-part series from NPR about extremely dubious sustainability verification. Sustainability is a much larger and more critical issue than the niceties of whether the fish you ate and enjoyed is what it was purported to be.
I suspect this whole thing is going to get a second look and there will be more complete disclosure of what it all really means.
In the meantime, don't eat anyone to whom you have been properly introduced, and don't take these DNA testing stories at face value, either.
And now, here's your five minutes and eight seconds of sustainable zen, because good art is better than bad science: