Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Suicidefood Book Report: Endgame

Suicidefoodism is not just for tobacco-stained hillbillies with paunchy overalls anymore. Now, even the most earnest earthies can claim the "food" animals are doing it all for us.

Take note:
[Smoked salmon] tastes so good. I return to the refrigerator, open it, pull out more salmon. It says… "Remember the bargain." I eat the food. Close the door. Try not to think about it.

I go back again. I remember the predator-prey bargain: If you consume the flesh of another, you take responsibility for the continuation of its community. I open the refrigerator. Eat more.

This time the salmon says something else to me: "I know you don’t like killing. If you help take out the dams that will help us survive. Then you can kill and eat all the salmon you'd like. We will even jump out of the water and right to where you are waiting. You won’t feel bad about killing us, because you have helped our community. We will gladly do this for you, if you will help us survive." (Emphasis added.)
This excerpt comes from Derrick Jensen's provocative Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization (Seven Stories Press, ISBN: 978-1583227305).

Of all the species of suicidefoodists, we find the pious, connected-to-Nature types the hardest to stomach. Their artisanal meats! Their eyewitness accounts of slaughter and butchery! The profound connections they imagine with the animals they carve up with reverent knives and forks! They have achieved a near-holy state that the mere vegan—with his perverse willingness to let the animals be—can never hope to understand. Once again enfolded within the embrace of life's fundamental forces, the "conscious eaters" are the true animal lovers.

For all of them, the message of the animals is never a straightforward, rational, commonsense one: "Don't kill me or my kind." No, it's always a message that allows the animal-carers-about to continue as before, making but a few concessions: buy your meat from this or that kind of supplier, support the removal of these or those dams, give thanks before you eat.

Why not tear down the dams, scrub the air clean, replant the forests and then—this gets tricky, so pay attention—not eat the fish, after all? To eat them on the grounds that you are only doing their bidding is pure solipsism. This "bargain" Jensen speaks of: who came up with that?

And this "community" the animals are said to hold in such regard? We say, how can there be a community with no individuals? "Kill me! Kill us all! Just spare our community!" In this conception, animals will sacrifice for a principle, thus showing themselves to be more sophisticated than most of us.

Regrettably, we possess the poisoned mind of the "civilized," but we can more easily imagine the gratitude of animals who have been spared our gory awe and left alone altogether. But for all of their honoring of animals, the neo-traditionals never seem to remember that animals have an interest in finding comfort and security. In using their healthy bodies. In being alive.

Addendum: Is anyone else reminded of those suicidal whales of yore?


Sarah said...

But Ben, Derrick is just living like our primitive ancestors. If only we just reversed to a time of yore, animal cruelty would be a thing of the past. Besides, if I respect the animal I am eating (like the Native Americans, of course), then I can feel good about eating them.

Sorry, couldn't resist the urge to repeat what I've heard so many times before.

That said, the End Game books frustrated me for more reasons than just his love of meat, though there's some good stuff in there as well.

Sbrrl said...

I've heard that comment too - but, as you know, it doesn't apply in today's world. With so many tasty nutritious, meat & dairy substitutes out there - soy, TVP, seitan, etc. - who needs to eat meat and dairy anymore? We are lucky enough to have choices that Native Americans of yore and other people didn't have.

Unknown said...

Ahh, yes. The Carnivore That Cares (tm). The animal lover who loves animals so much, they could never keep them off their plate.

I encountered an interesting variant on this theme recently. One of my classmates has a very strong desire to travel down the coast, and slaughter his own sheep for dinner. I could just imagine the inspirational soundtrack playing in his head as he reconnects with his roots, living off the land as his ancestors once did. He may have been born in the city, had everything handed to him on a silver plate, but now, at the mere cost of one sheep's life, he is a man.

Adamas said...

I was really surprised and delighted to see this entry today! I was just traveling through my library yesterday and encountered this book, picked it up and flipped through and randomly read that passage.

It's pretty pathetic peoplelike Jensen feel as though they can just appropriate Aboriginal philosophies because they are anti-civ. It's like part of the whole cultural imagination of a wildernessempty orfull of native savages to enlighten us--which is actually totally racist and naive.

On top of that, it plays into a contractual discourse. I've never heard of a salmon actually entering into such a contractwith a human. The anthropomorphism also erases the Otherness of the salmon. And further, this anthropomorphism could also be used with the whole master-slave relation ("Remember the bargain? You do all my work and I'll feed you... and then I'll sellyour childrenand rape you. This is the natural community after all!")

Bea Elliott said...

Yes... the ones who wish to "commune" with their heritage - And always accompanying them on the kill is the latest of technology to get the "job done".

It's so sickening - wanna go back to your primitive self? Get a rock and a stick already... Then we'll show you who's boss of the woods. Grrrrr!

S. Lopes said...

If you don't want to kill... then don't eat. Simple as that. If you can't respect a plant as a living being... don't eat. It's not murder. It's killing. There is a difference. You want to take yourself out of the circle? Good luck. Only problem - your "food" is fertilized with fossil fuels and animal shit. If you don't want to eat meat... fine. If you want to start a vegan militia and attack native people eating fish... so be it. Gather up all the people in NYC that have never touched dirt in their life, carry around hand sanitizer, and snack on guilt-free vegan butt-chunks all day. But whatever you do... don't listen to people who actually live off the land. Please don't. They are so far removed from the those brilliant moralists who don't kill to eat... well, they have someone else kill for them. Or clearcut land so they can have their monocrop. Bottomline - if you want to eat... kill it yourself. But I have more respect for people who kill an animal and eat it as opposed to a vegan-consumer who stays out of the way and judges moral from the sidelines. Now please return to your small-minded marketing scheme cult of veganism. Thank you.

PS- Just because you don't understand the bargain doesn't mean it ceases to exist.

Bea Elliott said...

Sparring about "plants" here on Suicide Food? You are so out of your league, and not even worth the time to refute... (yawn)

Fraser Orr said...

I think the point S. Lopes is making is that even if you choose not to eat animal products directly, you're still contributing to the mass murder of animal life. Example: Millions of trees are cut down around the world in order to grow (vegan-friendly) crops, trees that were the homes of countless numbers of animal life. The animals die, but since the dead bodies aren't visible in the supermarket, people can feel good about themselves in the incorrect belief that no animals were harmed in the creation of their lunch.

S. Lopes said...

Yes. Fraser Orr said it more coherently.

And, Bea, you're right: I am out of my league. This is the minors. Of course it's "not worth the time to refute" because you don't understand. Not to say that you aren't a well meaning person. I'm sure you are. But I can be against factory farming... still eat meat... AND sleep fine at night.

But I'll still give your the opportunity to educate me.

Bea Elliott said...

@Fraser Orr "even if you choose not to eat animal products directly, you're still contributing to the mass murder of animal life" - One still causes less harm by ingesting the plants directly. Fattening animals takes 6 times more plant food to yield the same amount of "protein".

And the critters killed in thrashers and harvesting machines?
It is unavoidable harm... It's not like we are deliberately breeding moles, rabbits, etc. to be mowed down.

BTW - Greenhouses and hydroponics would avoid all that too...

I think the thing is to cause as little "deliberate" harm as possible... That's not a bad goal, is it? :)

Donzelle said...

I admit that I haven't read this book myself, but somehow I don't think that Jensen is being completely sincere here. He's stating his rationalization for meat eating, but he states so baldly that I think he knows it's bullshit.

I perform a similar rationalization every time I eat eggs and dairy products. I know full well that baby chicks and cows die so that I can have them, but I tell myself that it's not that bad - at least I'm not eating meat!

Now, I know that this is bullshit, just like all rationalizations are bullshit. But I still keep believing the bullshit on some level because it makes life easier for me. I suspect that Jensen is thinking in a similar way: he knows intellectually that animals don't really have a "bargain" with humans to be used as food, but he'd rather keep eating tasty, tasty flesh than be fully honest with himself.

Anonymous said...


..not sure what kind of dairy farm or egg operation you've been to: but they don't die giving milk and eggs.

Bea Elliott said...

Anonymous... The dairy industry as standard practice removes day old calves from their mothers (lest they steal the milk intended for humans). These (male) babies are often sent directly to slaughter or are confined for a few months to be butchered for "rose veal". Cows are routinely "retired" at a fraction of their natural life span. "Milk" does indeed require death.
Eggs? Useless male chicks are macerated within days of birth... What else are they good for in an egg factory? The hens have about 2years of "productivity" - Then they too - by the billions - are sent to slaughter to become inferior bits of "chicken" in soups and pot pies. "Eggs" do indeed require death.
The simplist thing to avoid all this needless suffering is to opt for a compassionate, delicious and healthy vegan diet. Better for everyone - Yes?

Anonymous said...


I never said anything about the "dairy industry." I was responding to where Donzelle said he knows "full well that baby chicks and cows die" so he "can have them." I, understand, just the same that cows and chickens DO NOT die when gifting me milk and eggs. If you want to talk about the factories and all those horrors, then we are in agreement. The standard big time process is flawed, but does that make it immoral to eat dairy and meat? I don't know, that's between you and your connection. Should we make sex illegal because so many women are raped?

Bea Elliott said...

So... Just curious after the cow "gifts" you with her calves milk... And after the hen "gifts" you with her eggs - And neither is "productive" any longer - Do you intend to keep them as pets? Are they continually fed and cared for even after they are no longer "useful"? No matter on what scale - it is the premise of animal "use" that is flawed not "how" it's done...

Having consensual sex DOES NOT cause rape - So the question of making sex "illegal" is moot. Eating animal products DOES cause unnecessary harm. All beings value their lives equally - By what "right" do you control (end) an Other's life?

Anonymous said...

To answer your question: yes, a non-gifting animal is treated as any gifting animal.

The idea of consuming life-energy for you to stay alive is not based on individual consent. It's based on universal law. As we know, energy cannot be created nor destroyed - only transferred. Once you understand that law, the consumption of life becomes simpler. So why don't we just eat humans, one might ask. Well, diversity rules in nature. You need "other" life-energy to continue your life (although, air would suffice if it wasn't polluted). Just like the tree doesn't "consent" (in the way you mean it), a chicken doesn't "consent" that her eggs be eaten... but she understands.

That being said, factory farming is a gross violation of universal law.

Bea Elliott said...

Well of course we all "need" to consume energy in order to live... But you still haven't answered the original question which is why take sentient life? Clearly it's not "necessary"; For if it was, neither this blog or it's vegan readership would exist.

And still... Here's where you really back pedal: According to you we don't eat humans because we need "diversity"... Yet plant life is far more diverse from us and each other; Enough so that many thrive on this food exclusively. And here you're advocating consuming flesh, blood, tissue, muscle, organs, from a "food" that is most similar to us --- So which is it? Diversity or not?