James McWilliams: What’s Being Butchered Here is Logic

James McWilliams’ recent piece in The Atlantic has been making the online rounds recently. I read it this morning and thought he highlighted a few interesting points about nonhuman animals that often get passed over when people are discussing sustainability and food production. Namely, McWilliams discusses the ways in which Darwinism problematized the binary human/nonhuman paradigm which, for a stone age throwback, still gets a lot of play in certain quarters.

When humans and non-human animals are part of a continuum, rather than qualitatively distinct forms of life, human meat-eaters confront a serious quandary. It becomes incumbent upon us to forge a contemporary justification for carnivorous behavior. Aristotle and Genesis will no longer do. By undermining the long-held basis of inherent human superiority over non-human animals, the science of evolution obliterated the framework within which thoughtful carnivores long justified their behavior. As it now stands, human meat-eaters, unless they reject modern science, support the killing of non-human animals without the slightest intellectual or ethical grounding.

I can’t say I’m a fan of foodie-ism as it pertains to real solutions for the problem of food production, distribution and sustainability. It rankles just a little bit to see people turning food into an expensive hobby when you know that over a billion humans worldwide are starving, to say less of the 45 billion nonhumans being murdered every year for a nutritional need that does not exist. I’m glad that there seems to be a consciousness shift away from CAFOs and industrial monocultures, but sometimes well-meaning people can be frustratingly blind to matters of class or species privilege. Food is not a toy. We live and die by it. Or, as Josh Harper put it: “reading a Michael Pollan book doesn’t excuse you (or him) from having to consider the lives you are taking and the suffering you contribute to.”


5 Responses to James McWilliams: What’s Being Butchered Here is Logic

    • Alex C. says:

      Great article, Melody! Thanks for passing it on. McWilliams has been on a roll recently.

      • It’s interesting. His book “Just Food” really hits it on the nose while completely shooting off base. His thoughts about the local movement and “green” meat are so right-on. But he advocates for fish farming as the future of sustainable protein and is weirdly uncritical about GM foods. All that being said, I think his book’s really worth reading.

      • Alex C. says:

        I haven’t actually read “Just Food,” but it seems like he might have revised some of his opinions since it was published in 2009. I don’t want to attribute anything to the guy he hasn’t said and you’re right to be skeptical but, if nothing else, he seems to be a reasonable person who can change his opinion when presented with new evidence. We’ll see where he goes from here.

  1. Yeah. I’ve read a lot of his stuff at this point and have been impressed by his open embrace of vegan ethics (he didn’t seem to be so into that before.) But we’ll see. Just Food is really worth a read, if for nothing other than his amazing analysis of locavorism as well as his thoughts on eating mammals (some of the best-articulated numbers I’ve come across). But he says some things in support of fish farming and GM foods that kind of blew my mind re: their inanity. I haven’t read anything further about his fish views, but he definitely seems to continually miss the mark in contexts where he could be giving a good, complicated anti-corporate, anti-capitalist analysis. He’s a vegan and a valuable voice, but he’s not a radical… at least, not in an economic sense.

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