Saturday, May 31, 2008

Fifty Million Tons

I've had a number stuck in my head for weeks.

Fifty million.

As in fifty million tons of pork consumed each year in China. For those of us who are vegans because we feel it is wrong to regard a sentient being as a commodity to produce, sell and consume, what does this represent ?

I'm not dumping on China. There are plenty of statistics to go around. Lets focus down to per capita, USA, 2005: 65 pounds of beef, 49 pounds of pork, 100 pounds of chicken, and 16 pounds apiece of turkey and fish, or 2/3 pound of flesh a day.

And let's take the long view. In 1950, according to another source, the per capita US meat consumption (chicken turkey veal lamb beef pork) was 144 pounds. In 2007 ? 222 pounds. Over that time, per capita chicken consumption skyrocketed from 21 pounds per annum to 87 pounds per annum. Beef went from 44 to 66 pounds a year, after peaking in 1975 at 85 pounds per year. Pork starts at 65 pounds per year in 1950 and, by 1990 levels off to 40-51 pounds a year.

And slaughter ? 98 million pigs, 34 million cattle. Nine billion chickens. Billion.

What is a vegan to do in face of this rising tide of meat ? In face of the carnivorous arguments ?

It tastes good.

Humankind has always eaten meat.

God permits it.

Well, "God," if you want to get scriptural, "permits" -- even orders --a lot of unsavory things. Like what ? Oh imperialistic genocide for example.

Nothing new under the sun.

I am glad the BCP Daily Office Lectionary is about to enter Ecclesiastes. I have been weary, lately, and I need to spend time with a voice of canonical weariness. In September I'll have finished the two year cycle of readings where I began it, just after the book of Job. Between the Preacher and the famously afflicted righteous man lies a vast swath of Old Testament law and history, Numbers, Joshua and Judges. As I said, I have been weary lately. Weary of the whole, unending, unchanging historical cavalcade of affliction: war, oppression, degradation. And weary of the fungible, unscrolling bolt of grief and absurdity that forms our collective imagery, from Iraq to Walmart to sweatshops to foreign aid workers sexually abusing children to the titillating and asinine discourse that passes for political discussion, to flag pins and mouthy preachers, to a cluster bomb ban unsigned by the nations most apt to clusterbomb.

And listen: Can you hear that ? It's the sound of people busily strip mining the Bible for passages that will justify and excuse every prejudice and appetite, from homophobia to mysogyny, from meat eating to the pursuit of wealth, from murder to war. In God's Name.

I close my eyes. I see a parade of smug faces, mouths working furiously, veins bulging above the clerical collars, eyes glazed with the marmoreal conviction of an absolutely finished faith.

I speak to them. They smile, as if saddened by my ignorance and apostasy. "Yes, but...." they reply. I am always wrong.

I whipsaw from the There is no one who does good, no, not one of Psalm 53 to the confession, we have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created.

Fifty million tons of pork. I see it piled high as Babel, a meat cathedral putrifying in the desert sun.

Here, in its reeking shadow, we pray for daily bread. And Kingdom, even though the metaphor hurts our mouths.

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