I am appalled by Wes Jackson’s assertion that avoiding McDonald’s makes no difference in the quest for sustainability [“Farmed Out,” interview by Fred Bahnson, October 2010].
Fast-food corporations obtain the flesh they serve from factory farms where animals are tortured and workers are nearly indentured to commit soul-deadening acts under dangerous conditions. Factory farms destroy local and global ecosystems. Most of the grain grown in the U.S. goes to feed animals that humans will slaughter. Thus, the human hankering for flesh is very much implicated in the problem of erosion that Jackson is trying to combat.
In order to participate in slaughter even from the safety of our seats in a restaurant or car, humans must objectify other sentient beings, pretending that a cow or a chicken is merely a “resource” that can be inconsequentially mined for its parts. In other words, we treat it as if it were less alive than we are. That’s close to Jackson’s description of how our culture views the ecosphere.
Jackson justifies eating at McDonald’s by suggesting that small choices don’t matter if we’re all participating in the larger system. But doesn’t every little bit count as we are on our way to solving systemic problems? Why not find a restaurant you can walk away from without blood on your hands? It might help, and it certainly won’t harm — as long as we don’t think that’s all we have to do.
Wes Jackson responds:
No one hates large confinement feedlots more than I do. I doubt that I eat a hamburger at McDonald’s even once a year. My family and I grow our own beef. Our cows are fed on grass. But am I “walking the talk”? No. My winter feed for the cow (hay) is cut, raked, and baled using fossil fuel for tractor and baler. Fossil fuels run my car and pickup truck. All of these “acceptable” actions cause violence and pain to other creatures. We are fighting in the Middle East to feed our oil addiction. Count the soldiers and civilians killed and wounded, plus our history of torturing our enemies. I support all of this by paying taxes. It’s all tied together. Getting a Prius keeps the price of fuel low for the SUV driver — and for energy subsidies that enable the feedlots. Violence is everywhere. As I see it, there is no life outside the system, even for vegetarians. As it stands, if we try to walk the talk, we will never get there. But if we have to walk the talk, we might. To take a line from Garrett Hardin, we’ll need “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” And that calls for regulation.
“Farmed Out” had me nodding my head with a sense of validation and connection: finally someone put my feelings into words with the science and experience to back them up. Despite the gravity of the information being conveyed, the interview was a comfort.
In the same issue Al Neipris’s essay “The Primitive Tongue of a Lesser Species” had me blinking watery eyes as I turned the page. As the author’s granddaughter stated, “The sun is like a lamp, Pappy.” And so is The Sun to this appreciative reader.
Elizabeth Tibbetts’s essay “The Best Part” [October 2010] reminded me of the time I horrified my friends by telling them that one of my family’s holiday traditions was to eat deer heart on Christmas Eve. They thought I was kidding until I provided them with the gory details.
My father and his father were both responsible hunters, never taking more than they could use and sharing the venison and hides with other hunters and their families. But the heart always belonged to the man who’d killed the deer. When that was my father, he waited until Christmas Eve to offer up to us what he considered the best part.
I was deeply moved by the anonymous Readers Write submission about a special-needs teacher’s day at work [“Slowing Down,” October 2010]. I long ago stopped being a Christian, but as I read about the peace she found cleaning her student’s soiled body, I thought of Jesus’s words: “That which you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.”
I am awed by Manuel Martinez’s story “The Stew” [October 2010]. I have been reading modern and canonical fiction for forty-plus years, and this story is among the best I’ve ever read. Its pleasures are as rich and unfathomable as the stew itself: full of the ingredients of hard work and love, imagination and tolerance, doubt and forgiveness. If this is not included in the 2011 Best American Short Stories, someone is not paying attention.
“The Stew,” by Manuel Martinez, was as tasty and memorable as its title dish. I thought the author was a woman until I turned back to the byline. I wondered how he got it all right: the emotional turmoil of being a wife with young children, the fights with one’s spouse, and how love overlooks so much.
I’m full of disappointment, disgust, and outrage at the violence, misogyny, and pornography of Manuel Martinez’s “The Stew.” I’ve been a subscriber for more than fifteen years, and this is the first time I’ve stopped reading in midsentence. It was too much. I refuse to invite that senseless violence into my home, mind, and heart. I have trusted your editorial judgment in the past. What happened?
Get rid of the misogyny. There’s enough violence against women in this world without making up stories about it.
Manuel Martinez responds:
I can see how Lelania Avila might find elements of my story “pornographic” since it does contain frank depictions of sex. The charge of misogyny, however, is somewhat perplexing. I assume she is referring to the ugly scene in which the couple fights. Neither spouse behaves well: the wife kicks and throws things; the husband restrains her. The husband’s actions do not condone violence against women any more than the wife’s actions condone violence against men. Perhaps Avila would have been less offended if the narrator had clearly condemned their behavior, but I avoided such editorializing for a reason. I wanted readers simply to feel the way in which emotions can spin out of control in a marriage, and I would like to think the story offers an honest depiction of that unpleasant situation.
I was moved by Dalia Shevin’s poem “In My Good Death” [October 2010]. I hope my afterlife is like that, and all my good dogs will come and knock me down and cover me with kisses. I have Shevin’s poem taped to my monitor and read it every morning. Thank you for publishing it so that all of us dog lovers can dream we’ll someday see them again.
“In My Good Death,” by Dalia Shevin, spoke to my heart. I am an officer in an animal-control kennel and have the profound responsibility of caring for thousands of animals each year. I’m sure Shevin wrote the poem with her family pets in mind, but I feel as if it were written for me too. Each animal that comes through our door has only a short time to find a home, and we do everything we can to make it happen. In the end sometimes a gentle voice and a quiet hand are all we have to give, and then they leave us.
Shevin has put into words my hope of seeing them again in a better place.
In July you printed a letter from Meredith Mason criticizing the Dog-Eared Page. Judging by the responses in the October 2010 Correspondence, you’d think she’d committed a crime. Holly Brookstein is “saddened” by Mason’s letter and implies that she’s some poor lost soul incapable of properly appreciating classic literature. Madlyn Springston wonders if “there would even be any thoughtful writers today if we didn’t read the work of those who came before us.”
Mason’s point was not that we shouldn’t be reading esteemed works from another age, only that we shouldn’t be reading them in The Sun. I couldn’t agree more. I find it impossible to believe The Sun can’t fill its pages every month with quality work by living writers. If I have a hankering to read William James or Aldous Huxley or C.S. Lewis, I can easily find their books in my local library.
I read with pleasure Nikolina Kulidžan’s essay “Across the River” [September 2010], about her return to the Bosnian city of Mostar, which she’d been forced to flee during the war in the early 1990s. I kept waiting for the story to turn ugly, but mercifully it never did. Though the devastation she describes is awful, there is also a sense of hope and recovery.
Writing in response to the May 2010 Readers Write on “Sugar” [Correspondence, September 2010], Eileen Dupar complains that the essays on eating disorders and sugar addiction are “the same material found in trashy women’s magazines.” Her remark is heartless. I have watched my sister struggle with sugar addiction and an eating disorder for more than forty years. My sister is an educated teacher and mother of two, and this addiction has consumed her life. Her craving is as intense and deadly as that of any alcoholic or drug addict. Like other addictive substances, sugar disrupts the balance of body chemicals and has profound physical and emotional consequences. The uneducated opinions of people such as Dupar allow society to deny the reality of food addictions. I pray every day for a solution to this life-threatening disease.
I sigh with exasperation when I read the letters in Correspondence complaining that The Sun is too dark and depressing. Only through struggle and conflict can triumph exist. The writing about the complexities and challenges of life is what compels me to read the magazine cover to cover every month. This is how we learn and grow. Our media is crammed with painted-on smiles. Please don’t airbrush The Sun’s content.