Sunday, May 17, 2009

The University of Georgia

Athens, Georgia.


Coming to Georgia in March and finding a fully-formed snow man – err, snow person – greeting me on campus creates a moment of incongruity. Pear trees are beginning to send out blossoms, but snow is on the ground. Georgia has had a rare March snow storm; and after the big wet flakes had lost their fascination, they continued to fall. Trees are down along the river that abuts the campus; this area provides a nice forest-y feel next to all the institutional buildings, but apparently campus expansion will take some of it away. The river water is brown, from all the melting snow; and limbs of trees lie broken off from their trunks. We pass the “Meat Tech” building; a small sign announces it. Georgia is the biggest poultry producer; and UGA focuses on “poultry” in this department.

The Save Our Species sponsors talk about how often, after an event –a film or a speaker – students will come up and say, “my uncle/father/family are farmers but they don’t do what that film says.” It is hard to imagine one’s family as culpable. The animal industrial complex (Barbara Noske’s term) requires workers on all levels. We have learned how contract farmers who provide the birds to the big companies like Tyson slowly got pulled further and further into factory farming to continue to make a profit. Warehousing animals was one of the consequences; medicines to deal with the effects of keeping birds so close together, and debeaking, and all the other inhumane treatments appeared. Somebody has to do that.

People do not want to see themselves as inhumane. Afterwards, at a vegan Mexican dinner and book signing, I talked with students. I hear from several of them, “People say, ‘I get it, but I don’t want to give up my hamburger, or I don’t want to give up my chicken sandwich.’” I’ve heard that too, and my temptation is to respond to the second part of the sentence and say “well, you’re selfish.” Clearly, this is a difficult thing to do if you want to keep your friends. Then I realize, no, they don’t get it. If they did, they wouldn’t have any doubts, they would know that they can’t live with themselves if they continue to eat animals. That’s the difference – if people see what they are doing as eating hamburger, they haven’t made the connections. I say, “You should tell them, You don’t get it.

In 1969, when my sister Nancy was newly married and living in Roxbury, Massachusetts, she and Merv invited some other Harvard students to a dinner. She spontaneously can create a feast, anywhere, with any thing. I had just completed my first year at the University of Rochester. I was completely mesmerized by a Harvard graduate student in history and his disquisition on American culture. He said, “Cultures show what they worship by erecting their tallest symbols in honor of it. Look at the United States. We worship gasoline. All of the large signs on interstates beckon you to get gas.” Driving from the Atlanta to Athens, we passed a Hooters sign unlike one I had ever seen before. It is so high up in the sky! We are past it before I can take a photo, but it is just like the signs for Esso, or Mobil, or Sunoco (gasoline companies of the 1960s). So there it is; in a world of sexual politics of meat, our culture worships Hooters.