Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Sunday, November 09, 2014

That's A Little Real for Me

Alec Wilkinson has a story in the New Yorker called "Read It and Reap," about Modern Farmer magazine.  As I'm writing this post, you can read it for free through that link, but I'm not really writing about it to recommend the story (it's about average for a New Yorker piece).  I mention it because there's a passage that I think gets at a funny dynamic in life.  The editor of Modern Farmer, Ann Marie Gardner, is putting on a dinner, and she needs to buy some chickens.  But the farm where she buys the chickens has only frozen ones—unless, that is, she can wait a few minutes so they can slaughter some more.  Gardner is conflicted:

A bird in the other room squawked, and Gardner flinched. “That’s fresh, that’s real,” she said. “That’s a little real for me. Let me think about this. We really need chicken.” 
She walked out to the parking lot and called the chef who was to grill the chickens. “I’m having a crisis, because they haven’t killed the chickens, and he’s going to kill them for me,” she said. “I’m really seriously thinking, Couldn’t we just do pasta?” She walked in a tight circle. “It’s true, it’s very fresh chicken,” she said, nodding. “That’s one way to look at it.” When she walked back inside, the man said, “Next ones coming through the window are yours.” Gardner took out her checkbook. “I love the chef’s attitude,” she said uncertainly. “ ‘It’s very fresh.’ They’re not sentimental about it.” Another bird squawked, and Gardner put her hands to her cheeks, then pressed her fingers to her eyes. “People who raise chickens say that if you saw the individual personalities they have you’d never want to eat chicken again, so I guess my next up is to get some animals, huh?” Sniffling, she wrote a check for $84.93, and took the chickens, which I had to carry, because when she touched them she discovered that they were still warm.
I sort of sympathize with Gardner, and I sort of don't.  That is, I think it's probably very natural to feel the way she does upon coming face to face with a live animal that you intend to consume.  Most of us spend our lives a long way away from the animals we eat (in my case, I try not to eat animals, but I eat plenty of eggs and milk that I'm sure are produced in squalid conditions).  It's a reality that is intentionally kept hidden away.

But then, part of me (the vegetarian/self-righteous part) thinks that it's awfully convenient to switch back and forth between concern and unconcern so easily.  I mean, that's a little unfair.  But the chickens don't stop getting killed when you drive away.  You just can't see them anymore.

And I think this is part of a broader dynamic, where there's a weird...  alliance is too strong a word, but a weird mutual understanding, a synchronicity, between people at opposite ends of the spectrum.  I get what this farmer is doing:  he's making a living rearing and slaughtering chickens.  He and I just disagree about whether that's the right thing to do.  (In fairness, his farm is probably vastly more humane than a standard factory farm, for instance the ones that provide the eggs I eat.)  But this magazine editor, even though her sentiments are superficially close to mine, occupies a sort of untenable middle ground.  She's a dilettante.  Unlike the farmer (who gets his hands bloody) and unlike me, she doesn't take the fact of chicken slaughter seriously, until it's thrust into her life.  And then she drives off, soon to forget about the whole thing (or forget about it enough, at any rate, to keep enjoying chicken).

In the same way, I think priests and (serious) sinners sometimes get each other in a way that casual churchgoers can't quite comprehend.  To a layperson, some things just seem beyond the pale.  But the priest has struggled with good and evil and understands how people can come to a place in their lives where even fairly terrible sins are understandable.

Anyway it's an interesting dynamic and I actually think it has good narrative potential.  I'm sure it's been exploited in literature but I'm not, at the moment, coming up with any examples.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you really eat facotry farm eggs? I woudl think you would get organic pasture raised etc etc. I am able to find those fairly easliy and I would think you would have spent more search time than I have.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous restaurant food said...

see above

2:06 PM  
Blogger James said...

The short answer is that I don't bother to investigate whether restaurants use factory farm eggs or not, and I imagine that a lot do. The same goes for various egg-based products that I eat, such as mayonnaise.

6:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home