Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lincoln, Thanksgiving, and the Costs of Abundance

This morning's Statesman reprints Lincoln's 1863 proclamation that established the Thanksgiving Holiday.
I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.
National perverseness and disobedience. Hard to imagine a serious politician (as opposed to a "nattering nabob" or pretentious pundit) uttering words like this today. And not just because of the difference in mid 19th and early 21st century rhetorics.

Lincoln understood and talked about tragedy, ambiguity, ambivalence in a way that today's politicians and our collective political expectations do not permit. If he spoke sometimes in nuanced periods, whose components required time to unfold and finally join, today we generally have the sound-bite.

In the library's photo collection are a bunch of mid-century photos of a thriving turkey industry. The photo here is from 1957 near the Capitol.

According to the Salem online history,
At one time, Oregon produced 30% of the West Coast supply of turkey. But, several years ago, the Oregon turkey industry--which, at its height, produced nearly 3 million birds annually--ceased to exist. This was due to a bankruptcy of Oregon's primary turkey processor, brought about in part by a recall of about 70,000 birds just before Thanksgiving. While this signaled the end of commercial turkey production in Oregon, a few small producers continue to produce birds for local markets and many Oregon customers.

Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, has just come out, and while reviewers have pointed out that both Michael Pollan and Peter Singer have said it before and in many ways said it better, Safran Foer's points remain: The large-scale, industrialized factory farming of animals for food is awful for the animals and awful for the environment, and in both indirect and direct ways often awful for humans. The online history doesn't specify the reason for the turkey recall, but it was almost certainly a consequence of industrial factory farming and processing.

Going totally vegetarian is not for everyone. I crave animal protein from time to time. My experiments in going totally vegetarian have left me cranky; I find I need meat once a week or twice a month. But it's undeniably true that Americans eat too much animal protein. As Pollan says: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

The loss of industries like local turkey farming and processing is real. At the same time, the production of animals for human consumption will become sustainable for the future only when done in the context of smaller farms whose entire life cycle of plants and animals is sustainable. If not reformed our current food supply chain will have tragic consequences on a much larger scale than it already has. Things that appear to be goods, like our current abundance, often harbor hidden adverse consequences.

This Thanksgiving, CT gives thanks for our current abundance, and hopes for "the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union."

1 comment:

  1. Shoulda done a little more research! Here's a 1993 article on the 1991 Norbest turkey recall.

    And here's an Oregon Dept of Agriculture release from a year ago on the turkey industry.

    (The two stories are not consistent on the year of the recall, one saying 1991, the other 1992.)