Event: Should Meat Be Off the Menu?

That was the topic of Intelligence2’s debate, in conjunction with the Wheeler Centre, last Tuesday night.

Going in, I voted that meat should be on the menu, as although I think vegetarianism and veganism is great and I fully support those movements, I personally love the taste of (some, mainly chicken, fish and beef) meat and don’t think I could give it up. I still believe this, although I have recently made the switch from dairy to almond milk in a bid to become more ecotarian, which you can read a bit more about in this link I posted last week.

But I based my final vote for the night, which is a staple of Intelligence2 debates, on which team presented better arguments. That team was the affirmative, claiming that animals should be off the menu.

That team consisted of the author of Animal Liberation, Peter Singer, jet-setting former banker turned staunch animal rights activist Philip Wollen, and Veronica Ridge, food writer, whose argument about the myriad of non-meat-based dishes was the weakest, and was challenged by those in the audience who claimed that while the meals she listed may have been meat-free, they still used a lot of animal by-products like dairy.

However, she did make some good points about hypocrisy and the ways we treat certain animals. For example, why do we butcher pigs and cows but lavish affection on our domestic cats and dogs? The special needs dog-in-training in attendance hammered this point home.

Opening for the affirmative team was Singer, who started off rather weakly but listed the three main topics his team would take on: our health, the impact meat production has on the planet (Wollen followed this up with the fact that it takes 50,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. The irony that I’d had two beef-based meals the day before and the day of the debate was not lost on me.), and the ethical treatment of animals.

But if I thought Singer presented poorly right out of the gate, he had nothing on the dismal points of Fiona Chambers of the opposing team, who raises organic pigs on her Daylesford farm. It could probably be attributed to nerves, but most of what Chambers had to say seemed to get lost in translation. All I got was that human consumption of animal meat keeps their species alive and away from extinction, and that animals cannot be raised humanely for human consumption. Either she misread her notes, or her argument completely flies in the face of the work she does on her farm. Puzzling.

The second speaker for the opposing team wasn’t much better. Animal scientist Bruce McGregor talked about “natural loss” and the ecological impact not eating animals would have. There’s nothing “natural” about factory farming, and to answer McGregor’s question about what to do with all the surplus stock, that’s easy: stop using female cattle and poultry as baby-making machines and we wouldn’t have two billion animals killed per week, as Wollen told us.

Wollen went on to say that 10,000 species go into extinction every year because of humans, and we are facing the sixth mass extinction right now. (2012, anyone?) Wollen concluded his ominous but standing ovation-receiving speech with this:

“The axis of evil runs through our dining tables… [and] our weapons of mass destruction are our knives and forks.”

I don’t necessarily agree that this is always true, but I do think Wollen’s segment was responsible for the affirmative’s win on the night.

Almost retaining my vote for the opposing team, Good Chef, Bad Chef star Adrian Richardson said that meat consumption is all about choice: you can make the personal choice not to eat meat, or to eat meat that’s ethically produced. In his Melbourne restaurant, La Luna, he only serves organic meat, which is promising, but we all know that what it says on the packet isn’t always the case. For example, unless your “free range” eggs have a stamp of approval from a recognised animal welfare authority, “free range” could mean the hen gets 20cms to exist in as opposed to 20cms for it and four other hens in which to live. If people still buy cage eggs and factory farmed meat, there’ll always be a demand for it, making it harder for the regular supermarket shopper to discern and easier to justify the cheap cost of cage eggs versus the steeper cost of free range.

Annoyingly, though, Richardson appealed to the Aussie bogan (of which I don’t think there were many in attendance. Meat is the dietary staple of the bogan, didn’t you know?), opening by saying that not eating meat is un-Australian and that when we do, we’re closer to our savage ancestors. Or an AFL player (his words [paraphrased], not mine).

When the debate went to the floor, there was a (keeping with the animal theme) menagerie of viewpoints and arguments, but a few really resonated with me, whether I agree with them or not. A couple of people said those in the West have the luxury of eliminating meat from their diets and supplementing it with other forms of protein, while those in developing countries don’t. Following on, either someone from the affirmative team, someone from the audience, or both, said the 1.2 billion people who populate India don’t have a problem with a meat-free diet, so it shouldn’t be that hard for Australian population to adopt.

Richardson mentioned that he’s killed animals with his bare hands before. While hunting’s not for me, personally, I don’t have a problem with it in general, so long as the animal is killed swiftly and all of its viable by-products are consumed. Someone in the audience concluded that this is just another example of how we assert our dominance over animals because they can’t defend themselves or tell us how they feel. Interestingly, a boy no older than 13 in a private school uniform took to the mic and said choosing the kind of meat we feel comfortable consuming is all well and good, but animals don’t have a choice.  (The women behind me promptly dismissed the boy’s opinion because of his private school duds. Now, I’m not a fan of private school myself, but there are a few good eggs amongst the entitled and bratty ones. I support the kid.) As far as we know, they’re sentient beings who have feelings, self-interest and self-preservation instincts. Who are we to assert our superiority over them because we don’t understand them and we like the way they taste?

Related: Time’s “What Animals Think” Issue, August 16th 2010 Review.

Apocalypse Now: 2012 Come Early?  

“Who the Bloody Hell Are We?” The Sentimental Bloke at The Wheeler Centre.

Elsewhere: [Wheeler Centre] If You Missed Our Recent Debate…

[Wheeler Centre] From Chicken to Egg: A Journey From Vegan to Ecotarian.

[MamaMia] The Truth About the Eggs You Eat.

Event: The Catholic Church Is Not a Force For Good in the World.

I’ve always thought religion is bullshit, so when I saw a debate with the topic sentence “the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” as part of the Intelligence2 debate series, I bought a ticket with my friend Laura immediately.

Going in, we’d both had our minds made up that the Catholic Church certainly wasn’t a force for good in the world, as did 34% of our fellow debate-goers, a door poll reflected.

The affirmative side didn’t do much to sway anyone’s opinion, as lawyer Julian McMahon and Sister Libby Rogerson were pretty poor debaters.

McMahon spoke about how love is the driving force behind the Church and Jesus’ teachings, which has obviously been lost in a lot of hot-button religious topics such as gay rights, and instead we have the “language of The Simpson’s”. I’d say this was true even ten years ago, but the language of today is very much a cyber one, which is perhaps why the Church is losing influence and followers. (Albeit, speaker for the opposition, Anne Summers A.O., pointed out that followers of Catholicism have increased less than one percent in recent years.)

Sister Libby went on to talk about Catholics who volunteer and work in Indigenous communities and in prisons. I don’t know too much about how the Catholic Church has been more of a hindrance than a help in Indigenous Australia, but Laura was obviously upset by the Sister’s assertion, rolling her eyes and groaning. My beef with volunteering being a primarily religious domain is that yes, perhaps a lot of Catholics volunteer, but a lot of non-Catholics volunteer, too. For example, I’m agnostic and I used to volunteer at the RSPCA. As event facilitator Simon Longstaff said, quoting Thomas Aquinas, “Not even the pope has sovereignty over a well-informed conscience.” Amen to that.

In the face of criticism, Sister Libby said the Church is a “flawed, human institution” and makes mistakes just like anyone else. Where have we heard that before?

The affirmative’s only saving grace was Helen Coonan, who actually read from her notes instead of waffling on about dot points. She said there is no excusing the past injustices of the Church, but we need to focus on the present. Coonan spoke at length about the Occupy movement, using their non-hierarchy (un)structure and myriad of messages to undercut all anti-establishment movements. (SlutWalk comes to mind.) That’s the trouble with Occupy: those in opposition to it judge all movements by its measuring stick. But that’s another post for another time.

She spoke at length about wealth in the Catholic Church and using it as a metaphor for how the world should structure its monetary dealings. Hmm… To be honest, as well as Coonan spoke, her focus on economics kind of bored me.

To rebut this, Father Peter of the opposition said the Church favours the idea of “pray, pay, obey” and doesn’t give its followers a voice.

Still with the opposition—debating for the notion that the Catholic Church isn’t a force of good—consisting of Summers, the excommunicated Father Peter Kennedy and writer David Marr, they brought the house down with their poignant points.

Summers spoke about the women’s movement in relation to the Church which, when Summers and fellow Catholic school-educated feminists such as Germaine Greer were at school, consisted of either “being a nun or a mother of six”. She spoke about abortion, birth control and choosing whether and when to become a mother.

During the floor debate, one woman about my age tried to debunk Summers’ theory that women who subscribe to the teachings of the Church don’t make their own choices. The fact that her mother was born in the ’30s, has several (Catholic school?) degrees and NINE CHILDREN leads me to believe that she wasn’t making a choice to do these things so much as she was brainwashed to do them. As Marr said during his time, sex as a non-reproductive act is frowned upon by the Church.

Speaking of Marr, he was by far the best debater and is my new favourite person! He talked about sex as a sin and that followers of the Catholic Church are supposed to engage in “no sex at all, ever!” unless it’s between a married, heterosexual man and woman for the purpose of procreation. How boring!

He pointed out four main problems with the view the Catholic Church has of sex:

1. Celibacy as purity. And we all know how damaging that is to young sexuality, in particular.

2. Condoms being outlawed. When Marr asked the affirmative panel if they support the banning of condoms to stop the spread of disease, like HIV/AIDS in Africa, McMahon awkwardly and roundaboutly agreed with the Church’s position. He said that abstinence and sex only within marriage would stop the spread of disease in Africa, forgetting that in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo rape is rife and abstinence only sex education doesn’t work. His response was laden with racism and rape-apologist attitudes, in my opinion. For all his accomplishments, this debate illustrated that McMahon is severely out of touch with the realities of our world.

3. Homosexuals are bad, okay? I think we all know the Church’s stance on homosexuality, despite most Catholics, according to Marr, believing in granting the right of marriage to the gays.

4. Shame. That sex, being sexual and looking sexy is shame-worthy. I would argue that this attitude has permeated secular society, but that secular society also laughs in the face of point #1, and also prude-shames those who aren’t having sex, being sexual or looking sexy. You can’t win either way.

By the end of the debate, in which Coonan rebutted that “ordinary Catholics”—those who acknowledge and agree with most points from both sides of the argument, and who aren’t caricatures of fanatical militant Catholics—“need a voice”, which I certainly agree with, 57% of the audience was against the Catholic Church as a force for good in the world. Hope for atheism—or at least agnosticism, which is the philosophy I subscribe to—isn’t dead yet, which is more than I can say for the Catholic Church.

Related: Feminism Respects Women More Than Anything, Including the Catholic Church!

“Who The Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

The Underlying Message in Glee‘s “The First Time” Episode.

Elsewhere: [The Telegraph] Tiger Woods Says “I’m Only Human” After Mystery Crash.