Friday Links

What Makes Life Good? An excerpt from Martha Nussbaum’s new book.

–Johann Hari makes the case against the British monarchy.

–How progressive are taxes in the U.S.?

–Ten teachings on Judaism and the environment.

–Marilyn of Left At the Altar reviews Laura Hobgood-Oster’s The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.

–A very interesting New Yorker article on the love-hate relationship between fantasy author George R.R. Martin and some of his fans.

–The fantasy of survivalism.

–Intellectual disability and theological anthropology.

–Do we need “Passion/Palm Sunday?” Seems like this comes up every year, and I’m not sure there’s a good solution.

–Mark Bittman on the cost of “lifestyle” diseases.

ADDED LATER: On Dutch efforts to ban traditional Jewish and Islamic practices of animal slaughter.

ADDED EVEN LATER: The spiritual benefits of headbanging, riffing (pun intended) on this Atlantic piece: How Heavy Metal Is Keeping Us Sane. (Thanks, bls!)

ONE MORE: It sounds like the movie version of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is every bit as bad as you’d expect.

Meat industry starting to feel the heat

Via Mark Bittman, an article on the effect that efforts like the “Meatless Monday” campaign are having on beef and pork producers:

Efforts like Meatless Mondays are yet another headache for the beef and pork industries. They have been struggling to cope with the soaring cost of corn for feed and to hold on to consumers because of rising retail meat prices.

[Food service giant] Sodexo’s alliance with the Meatless Mondays campaign coincided with an endorsement by Oprah Winfrey, who devoted a week of programs this month to promoting meat-free dieting. Another blow to the meat industry came from the release of the government’s new dietary guidelines Jan. 31.

Those recommendations, which guide health care professionals’ advice to consumers and dictate menu choices for government nutrition programs, called for Americans to cut back on the artery-clogging type of fats found in meat and replace some meat with fish or other seafood.

When a reporter demanded to know why the government didn’t just say, “Eat less meat,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responded that the seafood recommendation was “a way of saying what you’re saying.”

Those guidelines, coupled with rising prices for beef, pork and poultry because of soaring feed prices, are likely to combine to reduce meat consumption per capita, said Helen Jensen, an Iowa State University economist.

“Dietary guidelines are making suggestions and recommendations about meals that go along with substituting toward a lower-cost meal,” she said.

Here’s a response from the meat industry:

The meat industry says the efforts to reduce consumption are misguided and driven in part by animal rights activists. Consumers need the protein and nutrients that beef and pork provide, industry officials say.

There’s a bit of logical smoke-and-mirrors there, of course. While it’s true that people need protein and nutrients that are found in meat, it’s obviously not true that you can only get them by eating meat. And I certainly don’t think that any reputable nutritionist would say that it’s healthy to eat meat in the quantities that Americans tend to. And, even if you totally discount the concerns of those nefarious “animal rights activists,” American-style meat consumption on a global scale would in all likelihood be an environmental disaster, as well as driving up food prices for very poorest people in the world. There’s just no question that reducing our consumption of meat makes sense for health, environmental, global justice, and animal rights/welfare reasons.

Radiation, ammonia, chlorine…yum!

The Chicago Tribune reports on the various–and very appetizing–ways meat is treated to make it safe.


Does exercise make you thinner?

Maybe not.

One interesting suggestion in the article is that we evolved in such a way that constant, low-impact activitiy throughout the day may be more suitable for us than the intense, relatively brief bursts of activity in a typical bout of “working out.”

Public plan as second-best option

Christian social ethicist Gary Dorrien argues that a publc health plan–at least one with teeth–could be an acceptable second-best option, in lieu of a single-payer plan, which he favors.

I still don’t have firm views on specifically what kind of heath system reform is needed, but I am convinced that, as Dorrien puts it, “[h]ealth care is a fundamental human right that should be available to all people regardless of their economic resources.” At least assuming that the society can afford it, which would obviously not be true at all times and in all places.

We’re number 37! USA! USA!

The World Health Organization ranks the world’s health care systems.

EDIT: Note that the ranking is several years out of date. I mistakenly thought it was new data. Post in haste, repent at leisure, I guess…


Lately I’ve been trying–with some success–to follow Mark Bittman‘s “vegan before six” (or vegan before dinner) regimen, with one qualification: only during the week. On the weekends I like to leave open the possibility of eggs for breakfast or a grilled cheese sandwich with fresh tomatoes from the farmers’ market for lunch, or what have you.

So, for instance, the menu from today:


-1/2 cup soy milk
-1/2 cup mixed frozen berries
-1/2 banana
-splash of vanilla extract

Mix in blender/food processor (I use a hand blender)

(and coffee, of course)


Black-eyed peas, long grain rice, and salsa
Carrot sticks
Clif Bar (chocolate almond fudge)

Delicious stuff and entirely satisfying. Dinner will be vegetarian enchiladas with cheese.

Bittman advocates reducing consumption of animal products for both health and environmental reasons. I’m more moved by animal welfare concerns but don’t see those as incompatible motivations. And this post by vegan dietitian Virginia Messina convinced me that incrementalism is a respectable strategy (indeed, I doubt I’ll ever go 100% vegan). Ms. Messina’s blog, by the way, is full of good, practical, down-to-earth advice on diet for v*gans. For example, here’s a post on why it’s OK to eat convenience foods.

UPDATE: John suggests an amendment to this, noting that people might need more of a nutritional wallop at breakfast and that it would make more sense to reduce animal-product consumption at dinner first, and keep the bacon and eggs. It’s true that the American pattern of eating is backwards in some sense: does it really make sense to have our big, hearty meal at the end of the day? And yet, my sense is that skipping or skimping on breakfast has a lot to do with other patterns, specifically work. My impression (based on highly anecdotal evidence) is that in Europe, for instance, people both eat heartier breakfasts and start work later, whereas in the U.S. I think people are more likely to grab something on the go if they eat breakfast at all. I personally seem to be constituted such that I prefer not to eat a heavy breakfast and have gone years where I scarcely ate breakfast at all (coffee is my one sine qua non for starting the day). Nowadays I eat breakfast daily, but am usually content with a smoothie or a bowl of cereal. But I’m all for bringing breakfast back as the most important meal of the day, noting, for the record, that it’s entirely possible to have a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs vegetarian breakfast too.

Eating with civility

I imagine this will be of interest to some readers: “Civil Eats,” a site dedicated to “critical thought about sustainable agriculture and food systems as part of building economically and socially just communities.”

This post, by Paul Shapiro on big ag’s counterattack against animal welfare measures is worth checking out.

Beyond “organic”

Mark Bittman makes a couple of good points here: food labeled “organic” is not necessarily true to the spirit of organic food (i.e., is sustainable, treats animals and the land well, etc.); and you don’t necessarily have to buy “organic” food to eat better. An easier place to start is simply with eating real food instead of processed food, eating more fruits and vegetables, etc. This is largely the lesson of Michael Pollan’s books, too, and both Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Singer and Mason in The Ethics of What We Eat spend time examining the image and the reality of “big organic” producers.

In defense of pleasure

I liked this article at Slate making what should be an obvious point: whatever health benefits it may be shown to have, it’s OK to drink wine because it tastes good and makes you feel good! The “medicalization” of food and drink, where everything is touted for its (real or imagined) health benefits, has gone way too far. Other things being equal, pleasure for its own sake is good!