Or the longer title: Exceptionalism, Racism, and Vegetarianism all tangled up in Charlotte’s Web. Do I miss being an English major or what?
Before I ever became a vegetarian, I (like many others) read Charlotte’s Web. In the book, for those who are not familiar, a pig runt named Wilbur is saved by a little girl named Fern, and a Spider named Charlotte. Fern saves Wilbur at birth, and Charlotte spins words in her web, which help Wilburn gain positive attention. For example, Charlotte spins “Some Pig” into her web, and everyone who reads it or hears about it believes that Wilbur must be SOME PIG! Through both Charlotte and Fern’s efforts, and the gullibility of people, Wilburn will never be eaten. Yay, happy ending!
Books, stories, and movies about pigs trying to not get eaten are common. Take Babe and Gordie for example. The strange thing is that while we humans like to watch movies about pigs being saved, we never ask ourselves the difficult questions. For example, what happened to Wilbur’s brothers and sisters? To his mother? If Wilburn were to die, would Fern ever forgive her Uncle and Father?
Perhaps the real question is, why does Fern care only for Wilburn, and not any other pig? Why is it acceptable to care about one creature to the exclusion of all others? And why don’t we ever ask ourselves these questions as we are reading the book?
Okay, you say, all of the previously mentioned pigs are fictional characters. But ponder this new question. Why is eating a dog a terrible, terrible thing, but eating a pig is not? Pigs are more intelligent than dogs and some scientists compare their abilities to three-year-old children. Of course we do not eat three-year-old children, they are our own species, but why is it acceptable to eat animals such pigs, but not dogs and cats? What makes an animal an exception?
To me, these questions bring back memories of my Dad telling me about the Marine Corps. He said that some of the most racist people he had ever met, he met while in the service. These people would profess to believing that all minorities were inferior… with the exception of Frank and Joe who were good fellow Marines. Somehow, these men could see examples that contradicted their beliefs, yet assume time and time again that these contradictions were exceptions to the rule. Wilbur, Babe and Gordie are also seen as exceptional characters. Wilbur is special to Fern, but no other pig is. As long as he is safe, who cares if everyone else gets eaten? Dogs and cats are exceptions to our rules that allow us to eat animals. Why? Perhaps for no other reason than we want them to be. Or perhaps because as small children, we each knew one dog or cat that meant the world to us. Because that one animal was exceptional, all other dogs and cats must be as well.
Not to say racism and eating bacon are equivalently horrible, but I think we can see some symmetry of though here. We assume what is convenient for us. A solitary example can be an exception to the norm, or illustrative of a larger truth. We look to the outside world to confirm what we already believe inside. It is very comfortable to live that way, and it becomes so ingrained in us, that it is hard to untangle want and desire from fact and observation. How else was Charlotte able to so easily manipulate the humans around her, with just a few well-chosen words, spun from silk?
Where would we be if all children asked why Wilbur was deserving of life but his family was not? Don’t you think that if children asked this question, they would also be more likely to ask why some children have different amounts of opportunity, safety, or food? Where will we go if we ourselves begin asking these questions, about the real reasons behind why we have what we have, and why we believe what we believe? Where will we go if we start looking for answers, even if we don’t think we will like those answers? I think breaking free of our own tangled webs will be difficult, but there is a wide open world out there. I bet it is beautiful.
This Week in Updates: Tons of Adventure
Grocery shopping went well this week, even though I’m preparing for a big work trip next week. I’m headed off to Alameda again for Critical Incident Stress Management training, or CISM for short. It looks like long days, and while I’m purchasing dinner, I’m packing and baking kitchen free food for breakfast and lunch. Instant oatmeal with peanut butter and flax seed for breakfast, followed by hard boiled eggs, a cream cheese and strawberry chard sandwich, and kumquats for lunch. Sounds pretty decent, doesn’t it? I recently discovered kumquats, and I love them! Think oranges that you can eat like grapes.
Work was busy, complete with much running back and forth between the APO and the station, delayed by traffic problems as seen below. No, playing chicken with a helicopter is not on my TODO list.
But what is on my TODO list you ask? A fantastic morale day involving archery dodge ball! My first morale day where I experienced actual morale caused by the day, and not just early Liberty.
The Recipe: Simple Tofu Mushroom Burgers
I am so excited about these. SO EXCITED! I’ve been wanting to make my own burgers for awhile, because store bought are so expensive and kind of hard on my stomach. However, recipes always included bread crumbs, which I think is the stupidest idea ever. Sometimes I want a burger on a bun! And why would I put bread in my burger, to put on top of more bread? Something about that is just wrong. Inspired by this recipe from Vegetarianabout.com, I decided to whip up my own version and see how it tasted. How does it taste? FREAKING AWESOME. Good for the budget, and no stomach ache afterwards.
Ingredients for six burgers:
One package extra firm tofu, crumbled
2 shallots or 1/2 an onion diced
1 cup chopped mushrooms
4 TBSPs soy sauce
2 TBSPs garlic powder
1/2 cup wheat bran or germ
1/2 cup flour
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil for frying
Mix all ingredients together and form into dense patties with your hands. Heat up the olive oil in a small pan with a top (this will help you conserve oil), and heat oil before frying each burger individually. Trust me, the hot oil is essential to the patties holding together. Cover while cooking. Place on a towel when done to drain off extra oil. Put on a burger bun or maybe some chard. Enjoy!