Tuesday, February 24, 2015

There are No Neutral Actions

My delightful next-door neighbors leave their day-old NY Times for me on my doorstep every day. It's a great system: they read through the paper each day, and I get to read the Arts section and do the crossword puzzle. (It's how I relax.) The only problem is sometimes if I'm not careful, I get a glimpse of the Dining section. Painful stuff. Now, I know as an activist it's important to 'know thy enemy' and all, but if I took in every article, every advertisement, every piece of propaganda out there, I'd be a puddle right now. A big, wet puddle. 

The other day, as I ritually pulled out the beloved Arts section and started a recycling pile for the rest, I happened to see a cover story in the Despicable Dining section entitled "Reductio ad Perfectionem: What a Pigeon." I knew I should have moved on, proceeded to the crossword puzzle, and sunk into my word play. But, I just couldn't. I had to know. I regretted it the moment I read the first sentence: "A ROAST pigeon changed life. And his career." The author gushed over the chef's "duck foie gras with stuffed duck neck" and "rack of lamb," as I glowered at the description of the chef's "epiphany" the first time he "put fork to pigeon" and realized his training was all wrong." The poor dear went back to his room and cried. Amazing what a dead pigeon can do! 

The thing that frustrates me the most, I think, is that millions of people go about their days thinking these are neutral stories, that our meat-eating culture is just the norm and that anything else is a "political position." I've encountered this trying to get a veg show on TV, trying to get certain articles published in print media, and when told to be careful what I say during a lecture lest I "offend" anyone. The joke that pro-meat-, -dairy, and -egg stories are actually neutral and anything that smacks of "vegetarianism" is political would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. Think of all the product placements, the commercials, the print ads, the dinner scenarios on your favorite shows - they're all political, every one of them, and whatever products appear are a reflection of the interests of the person making the decisions. It's like saying journalists can be "neutral," as if they don't each come with their own agenda. It's nearly impossible. 

I was thrilled and surprised by a breakfast scene in a film called The Secret Lives of Dentists (which I do recommend) when the a carton of what was clearly labeled "soy milk" sat on the table. In another scene, the father was putting their dinner on their plates, and the girls said "what's that?" The father said "it's tofu" and moved on. It was just part of the scene, nothing dramatic, no statement made that was relevant to the scene. But a statement had been made, and it was so refreshing to see a vegetarian meal as a matter-of-fact part of a movie scene. We need more statements like this. 

Each one of us is in a position of power. We influence each other every day in so many ways: what we eat, what we wear, how we spend our free time. None of our decisions are neutral - they're seen and processed by everyone we encounter. If we all knew the power we have to inspire and influence those around us, when it comes to food in particular, perhaps we wouldn't be so afraid of making that statement, of speaking our minds, of speaking our truth. Cause whether you like it or not, you're already sending out a slew of messages about who you are and what you believe just by the way you do your hair or which shoes you wear to work. You don't have to be a journalist to influence minds. Use everything you are and everything you do right now to reflect what you believe. The chef who sticks his forks into dead pigeons and sundry other animals' body parts is making his statement. Why shouldn't you?

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