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Blood in your food, you say?

June 16, 2010

Many times over the past few weeks I’ve been tempted to comment on various things I’ve stumbled upon in the media or conversations I’ve either overheard or been a part of.

I’ve been reading Karen Davis’ Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs and Moby and Miyun Parks’ GristleI’ve read some astoundingly thoughtless and sexist comments reacting negatively to research connecting rape to hockey culture.  I’ve thought a lot about the UFC coming to Vancouver and the connections between the sport and the organization and how they are implicated in the perpetuation of violence against both people and animals.  I’ve  wondered why Vancouver’s City Council is not making the connection between why “backyard chickens” are a bad idea and the need for a shelter to care for these chickens once the novelty of keeping them wears off.  And I’ve pondered the misguided intentions behind the Threadless peliCAN t-shirt to help raise funds for the oil spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico. (I say misguided because they’ve produced something that requires quite a bit of oil to make, and this seems to defeat the t-shirt’s purpose.)

Today, however, I encountered quite the head-scratcher.

I am at work.

My mental radio station, always on replay in my mind, is finally playing something other than an irritating commercial ditty: The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony.

Bittersweet, indeed.  Something in the rainy day ether saw the coming conundrum far sooner than I did.

I tear my cuticle.  Bleeding far more than such a tiny tear should, I head to the kitchen for a bandage.  Two coworkers are in the kitchen, preparing early lunches.

Sucking on my finger, one coworker asks what happened, which inspires her to tell a story of how last night’s dinner had almost been ruined by her blood.

Cutting her hand on a Magic Bullet blender, her boyfriend had to rescue their dinner from her bleeding palm.  Thankfully, no human blood was harmed in the making of dinner.

The story prompts an exuberant “Gross!” from the other coworker, who then, feeling silly for having spoken so quickly says, “Um, I mean, it’s good that your dinner wasn’t ruined.”

The symphony of violins in my head comes to a crashing, calamitous halt.

“Wait,” I think.  “Let’s rewind here for a moment. You think a few drops of your own blood in your food is gross? Have you really looked at what you’re eating?”

I don’t say anything out loud.  I don’t say anything at all lest a fitting but altogether inappropriate comment should come out of my mouth.

Of course, the irony of what they said escaped them.  Chopped up dead bodies and blood mixed into their creamy, cheesy, pus-laden pasta sauces and tortillas?  Not gross at all, right?

Somehow it’s more acceptable for them to be eating other animals and all of those animals’ bodily fluids (including their blood) than to get even a little bit of their own bodily fluids in their food.  Because, you know, that’s just gross.

What I’ve illustrated here is an obvious disconnect that even a meat-eater or vegetarian could understand if it were put in terms more diplomatic than the dialogue that went on in my head.

Let me spin this disconnect into another scenario.

What if we turned the tables here?  What if, instead of cow’s milk, human milk was used for the cheese and cream in our lunches?  Even I think that’s gross.  But for me, my disgust with “food” made from cow’s milk pretty much equals my disgust with the idea of making the same food from human milk.  So why is one kind of milk more acceptable than another?  It’s not, really.

Cows and humans – we’re both mammals.  We both produce milk for the same reasons.  If we’re going on the basis of culinary taste, well, there really is no reason at all why we shouldn’t consider human milk as an equal candidate for use in cheese and other dairy products, right?

And, well, I’ll leave it up to your imagination to think about why eating another animal, like a cow or a chicken, is not as gross as eating a fellow human.  No matter how we look on the outside, we’re all pretty much the same on the inside.

This is what I came away asking myself: what it is that keeps many of us from making the connection I’ve illustrated here?  What is it exactly that stops us from understanding that purposely eating another animal’s blood or body should be seen with as much revulsion as deliberately eating our own blood or bodies?  And how do you get to that nugget of a trigger in each person’s mind that illuminates these connections so they can begin to understand what they’re participating in?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2010 6:07 pm

    Great post.

    Visceral.
    Gusty.

    Very interesting aesthetic juxtaposition.

    Now I have an ear worm…

  2. June 16, 2010 7:24 pm

    Oh I hear you! I find it absurd that people find eating some animals (or their byproducts) gross, and other animals fine.

    And I think about how people think pigs are filthy, wouldn’t want to touch one without an antibacterial wipe afterwards, and would certainly never lick one! But eating the crackling is delicious. How they think most animals are dirty by nature, they are repulsed by dog hair, find something that an animal has licked dirty, but would happily eat lactative secretions from them (only if you choose the right animal of course!). How human breast milk is yuk and wrong to drink if you are an adult, but animal breast milk is normal – much more normal than juice from a legume or a nut.

    Way too much hypocrisy and conditioning that people just never question. And if you question it yourself and choose to eschew meat and dairy you instead get questioned like you’re a little unhinged!

  3. June 17, 2010 10:53 am

    Thanks for the comments, ladies 🙂

    I’m still thinking about this one for several reasons.

    Today, I watched the same coworker who expressed the sentinment that our own blood in our food is gross lay several slices of medium rare steak on her lunchtime sandwich. Most of us know that medium rare steak is pink because it has a bit of blood in it that hasn’t totally coagulated like it has in well-done steak. My thoughts on the obvious misconnect here between what she said yesterday and what she ate today is that she honestly isn’t thinking about the blood in her steak. It’s something completely off her radar. I think it’s normal enough for her that it’s not even a thought in her mind that the blood in her lunch isn’t much different than the blood circulating in her body. There’s nothing to prompt her to even consider this, because there’s nothing that would make her want to question what she’s doing.

    Maybe this is the part of the answer to what I asked at the end of my post yesterday. What I mean is, we’re all familliar with the experience of cognitive dissonance – we’ve all at some point in our lives experienced a moment where two or more conflicting concepts enter into our minds and cause us a moral dilemma that prompts us to create some sort of a resolution either by justifying the side of the conflict we agree with or changing our perspective and actions to align ourselves with what we believe in. Whatever isn’t “normal” to us causes us to take a second look at what we’re presented with. And this is when change can take place.

    Now, how do we present these moral dilemmas in ways that don’t cause people to put up walls and get them to at least think about issues without being defensive and feeling attacked?

    Also, another irony that didn’t escape me yesterday was the fact that I walked into the kitchen sucking on my finger, consuming my own blood. Most of us have done this without thinking about it, it’s such a small amount of blood. Funny, then, that there was such a negative reaction to the idea of human blood in our food when there I stood, literally eating my own blood. Somewhow that’s not gross to most of us. And yet the amount of blood I would have consumed would not have been much different from the amount of blood that could have ended up in my coworker’s dinner. It’s interesting that how the blood is consumed is what’s objectionable, and that any consumption of blood – not matter the source – is not questioned.

  4. June 18, 2010 7:45 pm

    I have to reply again. Your post kept me up half the night for the last two nights – I have to sleep.

    I need to break it down – tell me where I’m wrong.

    First, the ear worm. I think I implied that it was The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony”. It wasn’t.

    It was a song written and performed by a comedy troupe called “The Frantics” on CBC radio way, way back in the very early 80s. The song is called “The Meat Song”. It is brilliant. The first two verses I don’t recall, but the chorus is very rhythmic, loud beating drums, very little other instrumentation:

    “Meat, meat, meat –
    Delicious!
    Meat, meat, meat –
    Nutritious!
    Meat, meat, meat!”

    The final verse:

    “See that man just walking there?
    (Walking down the street!)
    Don’t be shy – just club him dead!
    For he is made of meat!

    Meat, meat, meat –
    Delicious!
    Meat, meat, meat –
    Nutritious!
    Meat, meat, meat.”

    It makes me laugh.

    Onto the seriousness of your post.

    The Blood Analogy
    Self-consumption is very different from consumption of things that originate outside of our bodies. I’m not biologist, but I think that organisms who self-consume as a way of getting nutrition don’t last too long and, eventually get taken out of the gene pool, right? The fact that your colleague didn’t want to consume her own blood would seem to be less a question of morality and more of a question of instinct – her own blood would fulfill no or very little nutritional need and if she choose her own blood as a source of nutrition, she could get really ill – like blood loss?

    Her boyfriend’s unwillingness to consume her blood in their food – assuming he was unwilling, nothing in this story indicates otherwise – I can also read from a evolutionary point. You generally don’t consume your mate as a source of nutrition.

    Also, organisms that do practice self-consumption as a form of getting nutrition are often very ill – a human child that bites it’s nails is often trying to make up for some lack of nutrition or is suffering from anxiety, a cat that eats its fur off and starts eating through its skin is suffering from an allergy to flea bites etc.

    Can we treat the transmission of blood related viruses/illness as read? Taking human blood into your mouth, which may have micro-cuts, is hardly a great idea.

    I’m comfortable with a human not wanting their own or their partner’s blood in their food. Human blood isn’t a great source of nutrition, especially if it your own, and could potentially be dangerous to consume.

    Context is everything.

    Everything above is about consumption of these things as “food”, a source of nutrition – but this is the context the stories set up. Consumption of the same things – blood, flesh, other bodily fluids, of the self and of someone else – in a different context is acceptable. Consumption of these for anything other than nutrition is ok, because it isn’t linked to nutrition.

    Am I way off-base here?

    You put your finger in your mouth to clean away your blood, partially clean your wound, and to benefit from those crazy enzymes that promote healing that could be in your saliva. You didn’t suck your own blood for a snack or as lunch. The nutritional value that you may have received from consuming your blood is negligible.

    You colleague also did not consider her blood as a nutritional source, it did not belong with her food for consumption.

    We can’t consider your (or her) blood “food” in either context and to do so confuses the issue. This a false analogy – you sucking on your finger and your colleague not wanting to consume her blood with dinner have vastly different contexts when in relation to the consumption of non-humans for food and we cannot consider them to be comparable.

    If you write in your next entry that you had a glass of your own blood for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in between, well, then we can talk about self-consumption as a source of nutrition and compare human blood/flesh and animal blood/flesh as dietary choices and explore the morality of those choices.

    I mean – we would have a lot to talk about.

    If you start consuming your mate’s blood or flesh for meals, then we would also have a lot to talk about.

    The Milk Analogy
    Another intriguing analogy. I had to think about this a lot as we don’t usually process human milk into other forms and I got quite caught up in that detail, it was distracting and at first I thought it was the important part of the analogy – it isn’t.

    I think I got there – human milk is a commodity.

    Yes, human milk is the perfect food for human babies and there are better ways to get nutrition for adults. Cows milk is the perfect food for baby cattle and there are better ways to get nutrition for adult cattle.

    But, I think cow’s milk is a substitute for human milk. Same for baby formula, same for anything like “nut milk” or “rice milk” or “soy milk”. These things have appeal to us as humans because there is some element of safety to it – psychological similarity, appeal to earliest memories maybe?

    Do we believe is is just coincidence that they are all called “milk”? I don’t buy this coincidence – evolution of the English language isn’t subtle.

    We are given non-human milk after we are weaned, often as part of the weaning process (whatever form, goat’s, cow’s, nut etc) because it is familiar – it resembles human milk, our first food, and I’m sure that similarity has something to do with why a lot of people continue their whole lives to consume milk in some form.

    It may be that this issue is actually reverse – we exploit cows because we cannot exploit humans this way. Cow milk is a substitute for what we really want – human milk.

    Sublimation.

    Many humans are unsuccessfully weaned, so we consume a “human milk” substitute, which is cow’s milk.

    This is also a false analogy because one could be thought of as a replacement for the other, it re-frames from “why is this treatment acceptable for cows and unacceptable for humans?” to become “we cannot do this to humans so we do it to cows instead”.

    The next part I have even more trouble with.

    I think you summed it up perfectly in your second last paragraph in your original post.

    This is exactly the problem – we look different on the outside, we behave differently and this makes consumption of a non-humans “less gross”.

    This is the worry.

    It isn’t moral.

    “Gross” isn’t a moral term.

    It is an emotional term.

    You aren’t appealing to moral reasoning, you are appealing to emotions – I’m ok saying that you are appealing to aesthetics.

    I’m very comfortable with that – my dietary choices are based on emotions and aesthetics. Probably a lot of people make more emotional and aesthetic choices about what they eat rather than moral ones.

    I admit to people when they question my decisions that I cannot defend my restricted diet on a moral basis. Nothing deflates someone faster than admission that your choices are not moral when they are ready for a moral fight.

    There is a difference between moral choices and emotional or aesthetic choices.

    The solving of a moral dilemma is never “gross” or “yuck” or “i like that” or “yay!” – those are emotional statements. Emotional statements stop this discussion and are never convincing – they create walls between us. They allow the person we are talking with to respond by saying “You see gross, I see yum!” – end of discussion.

    Don’t confuse interesting analogies with moral dilemmas.
    You are way, way smarter and more intelligent than that and I have to call you on it.

    I think, I will always think, that change takes place when we stop confusing the issues. When our analogies are real and when we stop trying to have moral conversations with emotional language. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t present false analogies and expect people to respect our reasoning. We can’t answer a moral question with emotional language and expect to be taken seriously.

    If our dietary choices are moral, then let us use moral reasoning and moral language and stop using emotional words.

    If our dietary choices are emotional, then let’s admit it and stop telling people these are moral issues.

    If these are financial or nutritional choices, then lets use the appropriate language.

    Oh, that we could have this conversation in person.

  5. June 29, 2010 5:29 pm

    Brilliant post! I don’t look at non-vegan food as food anymore, I find it weird that I ever looked at the flesh of animal and thought it was appetising but most people still do.

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