Foer: Feasible or Fantasy?

Written by Alexander Zentgraf

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Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer was perhaps one of the most eye-opening books I have had the privilege of reading all year. It critiqued our society’s and the world’s anthropocentrism utilizing compelling emotional appeals and factual presentation of the severe environmental impacts we cause via our apathy towards animal suffering. For me, not only did it call into question my dietary habits (and make me avoid Raising Cane’s far longer than I thought possible) it also made me question whether Foer’s dream to disavow and demolish the practice of factory farming was possible or even desirable? After all, a trip to my recent Fry’s showed me that the cost for a dozen factory farmed eggs came out to $1.69, a feasible cost for any family. The organic, environmentally friendly and supposedly more animal conscious brands? Eggland’s Best organic large brown eggs were $4.99 and Pete and Gerry’s Organic free range were at an astounding $5.99; that’s three-and-a-half times the amount of the cost of the factory farmed option. Milk didn’t fare much better. The factory farmed cow’s milk came in at $2.29 while it’s shelf neighbor and organic, grass-fed competitor charged a whopping 2.5 times the amount at $5.79. Foer’s dream of animal-free products wasn’t any more economically viable. A half-gallon of coconut milk was $4.19, and Rice Dream’s organic rice milk was a brutal $5.37 for a 64 oz.

Some of you may not find these differences significant. Chances are you can throw down a few extra dollars for your eggs to soothe your conscience. But can everyone? The United States Census1 states that there are currently 39.7 million Americans in poverty (12.3% of the population). For context, the poverty line for a family of four (two adults and two children) comes in at $24.858. The lowest 20 percent of the population spends an average of 15.4 percent of their income on food2 –  about $3,767 per year. To put it into perspective, using the eggs from earlier, if the family used all $3,767 dollars for food on Pete and Gerry’s eggs they would only be capable of affording 5.16 eggs per person per day – this does not meet one quarter of a caloric deficit diet for weight loss – alternatively, if they were spend their money on Fry’s Kroger brand eggs they could afford 18.3 eggs per person per day, which is more than sufficient. There’s also the issue of the “deeply impoverished,” the classification for the 5.6 million Americans who fall below half of the poverty line.

This doesn’t mean Foer’s goal is wrong, it’s that it’s premature. The problem resides in the moral dilemma that seems inherently tied to the progression of animal welfare rights and the burdens it places on the economically disenfranchised. Food prices have stayed constant over the last 20 years3 in no small part due to the stability that factory farms provide. Even though animal welfare organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have been around since 1954 and animal rights organizations have become more vocal and more prevalent since the 1970s, animals are still enclosed in inhumane conditions. At first, its easy to do as Foer does and claim the immorality inflicted on animals it is due to factory farms greedy exploitation of animals, especially when everyone seems to be advocating for better animal welfare if not outright animal rights.But the reasons for welfare stagnation are due to consumer demand, not just companies. Consumers talk about reform and activists preach Kantian ethics touting that we should treat animals as an end-in-themselves, but we all voice our opinions with our wallets and many of us are hypocrites behind closed doors, purchasing the factory-farmed, cruelty laden meat while chastising the companies that made it available to us. We all want change, but none of us want to foot the bill. Not all of us are hypocrites, however, many Americans are dependent on this food to provide for their families. Moral qualms for the suffering of animals are quick to fall by the wayside when money is tight, and your children are hungry. Meatless Mondays and other suggestions by Foer to reduce our environmental impact are great ideas, but until more economically viable avenues of production become available for the disenfranchised among us, Foer’s dream for the end of factory farming is only a fantasy and maybe that’s for the best.

 

https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2018/demo/p60-263.html

2 https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/high-income-households-spent-half-of-their-food-budget-on-food-away-from-home-in-2015.htm

https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/chart-gallery/gallery/chart-detail/?chartId=76967

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Corporate Greed Disguised Behind Social Activism

 Written by Ivory Wright

If you consider the history of Nike when they gambled and made Michael Jordan a black man the face of their brand, the company exploded in revenue and skyrocketed as far as basketball apparel. Similarly, Nike made Tiger Woods the face of golf or the William sisters in tennis. Nike has been capitalizing off minorities for years which are the faces of their sports. Nike knows that long term making Colin Kaepernick the face of the corporation will drive stock prices and revenue up. This is especially troubling considering a majority of Nike marketing icon are black, but 15% (2 out of 13) of their board of directors are black.

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Making a black man or women the face of a brand or industry has not changed minds about cultural views on the issues in America. Kaepernick has sacrificed, like money a career and a sport he loved that he will never be able to play again. He made a moral decision to kneel for racial injustices knowing and accepting the consequence that would come with it.

If Nike had said they were going to end their contract with the NFL for their lack of support for minority’s and freedom of speech, I could see that being a supportive powerful move Nike could make to show that morality is more important than money. Additionally if the CEO of Nike spoke out against the issues in America and about how the NFL is shutting player’s up it would have been a powerful move to show support for the cause.  Look at how Nike responds to cancer awareness month. They go above and beyond. The CEO make a persona statement of how they are supporting the breast cancer movement and are supporting cancer awareness.

This is similar to the book No Impact Man by Colin Beaven.  This guy took the time out to make no impact on society for a year and then wrote a book on it. You have a corporation such as Nike who wants to make a moral impact on society by featuring controversial sports figures. To show the popularity and impact Nike products have on society, we can look back to August 2018, Nike was among one of the brands used in the Southside Chicago Police

Operation called “Trailer Trap,” were they set up a bait truck in the low-income community filled with boxes of Nike and Louis Vuitton shoes. They would then sit back, wait for kids to see the shoes, and go into the truck to arrest them for theft.

In the book No Impact Man was he morally motivated or financially motivated? For Nike was it a sacrifice on the company’s behalf to affect a moral and ethical change in society and bring awareness to a problem or was it a stunt? What obligations do corporations have in bringing awareness to in society? Nike nor Beaven was interested in educating the masses, there were more interested in the sale of their product. Nike has an existing 1.1 billon dollar contract with the NFL until 2028 and Nike signed a deal with Kaepernick making money on both side of the playing field. Are they activists or marketers?

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Does Money Really Save A Life?

This post is from a student who had technological difficulty with the blog. Jennet Kirkpatrick is not the author.

Peter Singer brings an interesting and radical approach to ending poverty in the book The Life You Can Save. Peter Singer claims that every person should donate a percentage of their income to aid agencies. In conclusion he states if “you do not donate to aid agencies you are doing something wrong” (Singer 2009). After reading this text and participating in the class discussion it made me question my own morals and to what degree am I willing to help others. Singer has a way at tugging at your emotions using vivid imagery and stories to deplete the main point, how much are you willing to donate to help others? Does it make you a bad person if you do not donate to aid agencies? Should I be spending money on materialistic items? Does donating that extra money to aid agencies really make an impact? These questions made me look at poverty in a new way than I have before. Personally, I believe donating money can only help so much. Singer’s idea of everyone donating a certain percent of his or her income to poverty is simply not feasible. Money alone is not the solution to ending poverty once and for all. Take the United States as an example, the United States spends vast amounts of money alleviating poverty and inevitably there is still poverty within the United States. From looking at the United States poverty and how low-income citizens are offered resources like Medicaid, food stamps, and other government assisted programs, is there really a need for assistance or do citizens just become dependent on the government? In 2012, “49 percent of Americans live in households that receive some form of government benefits”(Palmer). While working citizens are consistently having these taxes taken out of their paychecks the number of citizens receiving government funded assistance keeps increasing. These government-funded programs are enabling citizens to remain on government-funded programs. While ending poverty is a huge goal for everyone, I think Singer’s approach just offers to throw money at the solution without knowing where exactly that money is going too and how the citizens spend this money. What would Singer think about people depending on government money and using it for things other than food? Is it important for everyone to make the same amount, donate the same amount, and live in this unanimous “harmony”? Does this unanimous harmony actually exist or is it the government trying to be “big brother”? I think Singer’s approach is lacking reliability and is unfeasible due to the life-style choices and the amount of money United States citizens already donate to citizens living with low incomes in the United States. The United States should focus on relieving poverty within the United States before trying to figure out how to end poverty internationally. Singer’s book makes you feel immoral for not donating to aid agencies but when in America we currently have everyone paying the same amount to government funded programs and the numbers just keep on rising. What does Singer think about the United States poverty and has welfare enabled people to remain on it? Should other resources be offered to help end poverty such as jobs and employment opportunities? While Peter Singer offers a different approach to ending poverty, I believe it would just enable citizens to remain impoverished, just as the welfare system has in the United States.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2012/09/romney_says_47_percent_of_americans_receive_direct_government_assistance_is_that_true_. Html

 

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Does Beaven Think of Lower Income Citizens When Proposing his Idea To A Sustainable Way of Life?

This post is from a student who had difficulty posting on the blog. Jennet Kirkpatrick is not the author.

 

Beaven takes living an eco-friendly and sustainable life to a whole new level in the novel, No Impact Man. Beaven discusses the struggles and difficulties of living a completely eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle and reflects on whether his year long trial is a feasible long term plan for all citizens. I don’t believe there is one person out there that will tell you they would rather live a wasteful and non-environmentally conscience life if asked. The fact of the matter is that living a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle takes a lot of effort, time, energy, and most importantly money that most families simply do not have.

 

Beaven emphasizes the purpose of buying local organic products in order to stop the funding of unethically sourced food production, immoral treatment of cattle, and environment pollution. The government has set strict regulations for organically produced food products in the United States. These organically produced food products miraculously cause no harmful impact on the environment. Organic food having no harmful impact to the environment does come with a big raise of costs. In 2014, the census bureau reported that there were 45 million Americans roughly, 14.5% of the population, living below the poverty line. The median household income this year was calculated at $51,939. With the rising cost of living in America, and a slowly recovering economy it just is not possible for some families to go out and buy all organic food products or buy locally as Beaver stated. A consumer reports study conducted in 2015 revealed that organic food products cost on average 47% more. For struggling families living paycheck-to-paycheck it is more practical to opt for the cheaper less eco-friendly option. Beaven stated it was unethical to source food products that were not organic and locally grown. What I question is does Beaven expect poverty stricken families to buy all organic? Is it unethical to set everyone to the same standard when it comes to what food they buy when not everyone makes the same income?

I believe that the only reason Beaven was able to somewhat live a no impact lifestyle was because he had all the necessary money and resources. I believe Beaven’s solution is only aimed to certain type of family demographics here in the United States. The average American family may not be able to buy all organic produce, buy the electric car, or incorporate solar panels into their homes. I believe there much better alternatives to achieving a more self-sustaining lifestyle that can benefit Americans of all different incomes. If Beaven really wanted a better solution to a sustainable way of life, the best option would be lobbying to decrease the costs of organic food. This would be a simple way individuals from all walks of life could participate in helping the environment be more sustainable. Was it unethical for Beaven’s to present this radical lifestyle and offer solutions that only seem accessible by a certain class of citizens? I believe that if Beaven truly was interested in creating a sustainable way of life for all citizens he would focus on trying to make organic and locally grown food more accessible for all types of people instead of writing a paperback book which obviously worsens the environment.

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A reliever to the starter and the community.

Since we recently discussed Do-Gooders in class, let me tell you about one.

Not everyone knows the name Sean Doolittle. To the casual baseball fan, he’s a relief pitcher with a scraggly beard but little do they know about the charitable things he’s doing off the mound.

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Doolittle pitching for the Oakland Athletics.

Recently, Doolittle and his girlfriend, Eireann Dolan, did a thanksgiving dinner for Syrian refugees in his Dolan’s hometown of Chicago, IL. Doolittle is also an ardent supporter of veterans. The couple also bought tickets for LGBTQ kids to go to Pride Night at an Oakland A’s game. 

I really admire Sean’s passion for helping the community; being a “reliever”, too. (Pun intended). but I will ask: WHY? I don’t see anything wrong with what Sean is doing; he’s not stepping on anyone’s toes but why is he doing this? The time and money he spent providing a Thanksgiving dinner for refugees from Syria could have been spent with his own family but why refugees? Is he a Do-Gooder for doing all the stuff mentioned above?

In her book, Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar defined a do-gooder as someone who “always feel themselves responsible for strangers” and “they consider themselves conscripted by duty” (Page 10).  Does Sean fit the description? Regarding the statements Sean said in the articles above, I think he does fit the part. I don’t intend to criticize Sean and his girlfriend for doing the things mentioned above by calling them Do-Gooders. He sets a really great example for other players in the league. This is not something that only Sean and his girlfriend can do. I really admire how he publicly takes a stand on an issue that is somewhat political and can lead to heated arguments. Not a lot of famous people can do such a thing. However, utilitarian philosoper Peter Singer will disagree. He donates 10 percent of his income to an organization and proposes that everyone follow suit. In 2014, Doolittle inked a 5-year, 10.5 million dollar deal with the Oakland Athletics. If we do the math, Doolittle would have to donate $1,050,000 over the span of 5 years. In Singer’s book, Sean has to give more because he makes more. This is what makes me not like Singer because as we discussed in class, he sees dollar signs. He hears “ka-ching” in his head.

I’m not quite sure if Singer realizes that even if the Thanksgiving dinner Sean and Eireann held for Syrian refugees, the help for veterans and the tickets bought for LGBTQ youth may not cost them a million bucks, the simple act of extending a helping, welcoming hand, may have a profound impact on a person’s life and also send shockwaves in the community, inspiring other people to do same and help others. I don’t think that you can really put a price on the effect on helping those who are less fortunate. The present could only be for a dollar but it can mean the world for someone else.

Anyway, kudos to Sean for redefining the word “reliever”. Not only good at getting the final outs of a close game but also good at helping the community.

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Personalizing the Impersonal

I noticed during our discussions over Kant and Singer, there was a clear and outspoken majority that was uncomfortable with the propositions made within each respective text. More implicitly and perhaps because of the use of narrative and context, Foer and Beavan brought about a similar response. The response was that of discomfort, expressed in dismissal and even irritation.

I found this to be striking.

What makes this so odd to me is the fact that in practice, out in the real world, many of us admire the behaviors described in these books. We speak of our vegan friends, saying “I could never do what she does.” We envy their weight as a result of their diet. We are perfectly comfortable to encourage, support, and admire such behavior as well, so long as we are provided with no rationale as to why our vegan friend chose the life they lead. Yet as soon as we are provided with a rigorous examination of the reasoning behind the behavior, reasoning that made the behavior appealing in the first place, we lament our discomfort and feelings.

I contend that we take such issue with these texts, and indeed spent a majority of class discussing our own feelings about the texts rather than the content of the text, because the arguments therein are irrefutable. I will not here justify or defend whether of not this is true of the arguments as it outside the cope of my post, but for practical purposes let us assume they are true (indeed, perhaps by merit of making us feel guilt, anger, etc. proves that these are good arguments). These kernels of irrefutable truth carry with them a clear moral implication and consequential obligation to act in one way or another. This is to say that when a moral argument is irrefutably true, we cannot help but feel and be obligated to fulfill that moral argument.Furthermore, if one is acting contrary to that moral argument and is not willing to act, one becomes acutely aware of the fact that one is disregarding that moral argument.

This realization elicits a fundamental and important shift in the understanding of the arguments made within the texts by Beavan, Foer, Singer, and even Kant. Once we are aware of our own moral indiscretions according to a newly adopted, and irrefutable understanding of what it means to be moral, the argument suddenly becomes personal. No longer are we thinking about the systematic flaws of the industrial farming industries, or the proverbial railroad of Singer, or the entire earth in the case of Beavan. No. Instead we are thinking of our own behaviors, contextualizing the argument in our own subjective lives that have no place in the moral rationale of these authors.

This is not say that our personal experiences have no place in determining the remedy for any given problem, indeed Beavan and Foer both allow for a realistic approach in the context of people’s real lives. But I would note that they do not err as we do, for it is not wrong to consider subjective realities in determining a course of action, but it would be an error to interject such realities into the moral rationale. Similar to Kant’s appeal to Reason, we must not allow our own passions to interfere with determining right or wrong.

The arguments made in the books mentioned are intended to encourage specific types of behavior, but their arguments are independent of those behaviors. The moral arguments are independent of whether or not we choose to act upon them. They are put forth as objective truths, and nothing more. We take the additional step to imply our own immorality and subsequent discomfort, and more importantly, it is we that disregard their irrefutable argument simply because it is inconvenient given our current behaviors. Discomfort with a moral argument is usually a sign of truth, and we ought to heed such feelings seriously.

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But really, honestly, here we are, students at a top-ranking public institution of higher learning in the richest nation in the world, and the only thing we have to say about the moral propositions of others is “it makes me feel guilty/uncomfortable/irritated.” We can do better.

Actually, we have to do better.

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Charity: How Little Is Too Little?

Charity comes naturally to some, and doesn’t concern others. When faced with an in-person and potentially life-saving situation, such as those mentioned in Peter Singer’s book “The Life You Can Save,” most people believe that they will do the universally right and moral thing and save a life at their own expense, whether that be physically, financially, or even to their own family. Fortunately, we aren’t faced with those situations regularly, or even at all over the course of our lives, so we instead put our efforts elsewhere, such and charitable organizations. According to Singer those that have excess have some sort of moral obligation to help those who are in need. But it must be voluntary or else your moral obligation is not fulfilled and you may still have to shoulder some of the blame.
Most religions around the world teach about the importance of charity. Charity, as commonly defined by a Christian church, is the pure love of Christ; it’s one of the most important aspects of becoming more like Christ. Churches have a few ways that people can contribute, the first being tithing. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) they have a common 10% rate for tithing, which is common for many churches. Members are welcome to give more if they want of course. That tithing goes towards running the churches many functions, one of which is Deseret Industries, which is like Goodwill, but it also includes basic necessities such as food and cleaning supplies. This also runs off of donations, but members will also donate things to other members, and non-members, that they may need. The biggest commitment asked by the Church is for its members to donate their time. Time to the Church and time to help others. What’s incredibly unique about Mormons is that their clergy is entirely unpaid, so all the money the Church takes in is used in service of others. It is an incredibly efficiently ran organization that helps countless people around the world, and it’s all voluntary.
What isn’t voluntary, however, is government takings, such as taxes and eminent domain. The U.S. spends about $35 Billion dollars on aid to foreign countries. That money comes from the tax payers and goes to poverty stricken countries, so by way of force we are all contributing to charitable causes and that should fulfill our moral obligation, right? Not quite. The aid we send doesn’t always end up in the neediest hands. Often times it’s acquired by a war lord and sold to the people at highly inflated rates, which just worsens the problem. The government also has this tricky little thing they call eminent domain. The Fifth Amendment “protects” the people from the government taking their private property, unless the government pays them and it will be for public use. But this public use doesn’t always benefit the needy and impoverished. According to Singer if your contribution to others is forced, then it doesn’t really count and therefore does not fulfill your moral obligation.
Your moral obligation is fulfilled by donated a large portion of your income to a private charity. Private organizations are the most efficient and most reliable, at least to him. The amount you donate should be significant enough put a dent in your standard of living. If you live in a large house and live an extravagant life style, then you clearly have enough money to give more to others. In his book he gives an eloquent example of a philanthropist that does more than anyone else has ever done, but yet it is still not enough for Singer. Bill Gates is among the wealthiest in the world. He and his wife founded the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation. Bill donated $29 Billion dollars, in one lump sum, to the foundation and dedicated his life to making the most efficient charity ever. That single donation was the largest philanthropic donation ever made, even compared to others’ life spans and accounting for inflation. The Gates’ have helped countless people and have done an unthinkable amount of good in the world, but they still live in a $150 Million dollar mansion and enjoy the finer things made available by their success. Singer scolds Bill for still not doing all that he can. Singer is so caught up in his extremely idealistic views that he cannot, or will not, be grateful for what Bill has done.
I would like to make the point that we do not have a moral obligation to carry on the “white man’s burden” of helping those less fortunate around the world. While I do believe that it is good and the right thing to do, I just don’t see it as a moral obligation. And giving a minimum amount of money to an organization that doesn’t necessarily spend it on the right things is even more disturbing to me. No one should carry blame for not donating. Nor should they carry blame for not giving their time or other resources. Jane Addams ultimately did more good for more people by maintaining her wealth and using it for others, than did Leo Tolstoy did by becoming a recluse and giving up all of his possessions.

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