Would you give up meat for Natalie Portman?

27 10 2009

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Natalie Portman penned an article in the Huffington Post today about Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals, which inspired her to “convert from a twenty-year vegetarian to a vegan activist.”  Throughout her impassioned article, she argues that we should all be vegan because animals have personalities and feel pain, because the torture of animals under mass farming is unacceptable, and because the consumption of meat is detrimental to our health.   She lists a number of health concerns, including the development of new bacterial strains due to the overuse of antibiotics on animals and the respiratory ailments caused by “the copious amount of pig shit sprayed into the air” on mass farms.

Portman then asserts that our food is reflective of our personal beliefs, and in this way, eating meat out of respect for one’s dinner host and tablemates when meat is served is akin to accepting rape to please one’s dinner hosts.  It’s a compromise of principles. 

The main problem with Portman’s argument is that she is confusing environmental health and animal abuse concerns with the general morality of eating meat.  It is possible to be an animal rights activist and still eat meat.  Those of us who are undoubtedly against mass farming and the animal torture it necessitates have the option to cook with only antibiotic-free, free-range chicken, or only wild fish, or only kosher beef.  

Environmental pollutants certainly do taint our food, but instead of arguing that we should stop eating fish as a result of water pollution, why don’t we work to combat the source of the problem?  Water pollution poisons fish, but it also poisons our drinking water.  E. coli taints spinach and tomatoes in the same way that it taints red meat.  To simply stop eating meat is to ignore the issues of pollution and irresponsible farming that are really causing all the health concerns.

If Portman is going to argue that eating meat is immoral because animals have personalities and feel pain, then she should embark on a mission to stop animals from eating each other.  When a coyote kills a cow, it hurts the cow just as much as when a  human slaughters it.  You can’t stop another species from ever feeling pain, and you can’t remove any species from the food chain for protection.

I respect veganism and vegetarianism as personal choices, but I have a hard time respecting those who judge and proselytize. The ability to be vegan is a privilege– there are whole communities of people that would not survive without the ability to eat meat, and millions of people here in America simply can’t afford to feed their families tofu, broccolini and whole grain rice every night.  So if you’re going to be an activist, protest the overuse of antibiotics on farms, or the unnecessary torture of chickens, or the fact that factories are allowed to dump their pollutants into the Great Lakes rather than the dietary habits of your neighbors.  

What do you guys think?  Would you give up meat for Natalie Portman?