“Wild animals, with true natures and pure talents. Wild animals with scientific-sounding Latin names that mean something about our DNA. Wild animals each with his own strengths and weaknesses due to his or her species.”
-Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably my favorite Wes Anderson film; its humor, whimsy and perfectly cast group of voice actors comprise
one of the most clever, heartfelt movies I’ve ever watched. Though it’s a PG-rated, animated film based off of a children’s book, the quote above has always stuck with me. In spite of himself, Mr. Fox is sly, wily and clever simply because he’s a wild animal. As a wild animal, it’s in his nature to hunt, sneak and steal in the same way it’s in rabbits’ nature to run, burrow and hop. It’s the same concept as the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog that Ryan Gosling so aptly retells in the movie Drive. The scorpion stung and therefore, killed his friend the frog simply because its his nature. Foxes, scorpions, leopards and their unchanging spots – How many adages are there in the English language that convey the message that animals act upon instinct, and animals behave the way they do because its just in their nature?
I bring this up because it reminds me of a particularly personal struggle I’ve faced for about six years. When I was a junior in college, I read a glossy pamphlet no larger than an index card that was handed to me by some grassroots, unshowered yuppie on a street corner. In summary, the literature touted the health, environmental and most obviously, animal welfare benefits to a vegetarian diet. Being not swayed, but fascinated by these arguments, I spontaneously decided to experiment with vegetarianism for a week.
I didn’t research the subject any further nor was I particularly compelled to stop eating meat for the rest of my life. I love meat. I always have. I love barbecue. I love burgers. I grew up frequenting a steak house my uncle was an accountant for during my formative years and was never unnerved by the hanging ducks and reeking fish that welcomed (and stared at) me when I’d regularly accompany my mother to the Chinese Super Market. I had no intention of removing meat from my diet for longer than seven days, and even doubted that I could abstain from it for that long.
However, the first week went by remarkably quickly. It was actually pretty easy – so easy that one week turned into a month, and eventually two years. I rarely craved or missed meat and never had trouble finding menu items at all of my favorite dining establishments. In fact, as a college student, being vegetarian was an ideal situation for practical reasons alone. Being less expensive than most omnivorous fare, saving those extra dollars for beer money was a welcome perk. And as someone who is notoriously unskilled in the kitchen, subsisting on primitive meals like cereal and grilled cheese was a pretty easy existence. Without holding any particular moral convictions against eating meat, living without it was surprisingly very doable.
I admit, every now and then I’d cheat during those two years – I’d crave the weirdest things. I’d rarely want a burger or chicken nuggets like I expected, but usually culinary oddities like sushi, lox and bagels or New England clam chowder – things that didn’t really have vegetarian equivalents in genre or texture. I was never that strict about whether my food was cooked in chicken stock or alongside other meat either – I just generally didn’t eat meat, and I was fine with it.
I didn’t eat a lot of vegetables either. People often ask if I lost weight during that extended dietary experiment, and in all honesty, I probably gained a few pounds – there is a surprising amount of food that contains no meat, but also next to no vegetables or anything of nutritious value – pizza, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, cake, pasta, ice cream and candy to name a few. Whatever the reason, I considered myself 98% vegetarian with very few qualms or slip-ups.
After those two years, I slowly started incorporating meat back into my diet. I could have stayed loyal to it if I only cared about my own well being, but eating is rarely a solo endeavor. The real reason I regressed was because it confused the hell out of my peers, and most importantly, my family. Watching my sweet mother toil and stress about what I could and couldn’t eat was painful and unnecessary, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. So when I visited my folks, I would just politely eat whatever they prepared for me. Then after I graduated, I took a job that required me to travel and I subsisted on fast food and take-out almost every day, making it harder to survive solely on french fries and fruit and yogurt parfaits.
I’ve gone back and forth with these meat-free experiments ever since – my sister acutally finds it quite funny, and it is. For me personally, being a conscious eater and citizen of the world is much more about dramatically lessening my consumption of meat rather than eliminating it all together. If everyone only ate meat every other day, or perhaps even once a day – I truly think the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, that level of societal change will never happen in our life time and Americans are getting unhealthier, fatter and greedier every day – so I’ve been internally faced with the dilemma of being against The Problem with no hopes of lasting impact or being part of The Problem because it’s a hopeless cause and meat is well, delicious.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer has been on my reading list for years; I loved reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything Is Illuminated and have always found Foer’s wit, humor and style of writing very enjoyable. So now, nearly 4 years after it was published, I sat down and read the damn book.
This particular book struck quite a chord with me; rather than merely sharing statistics, facts and data about why we should or should not eat animals – the author looked upon the subject matter very thoughtfully and very personally. He too went back and forth between different dietary choices in his young adult years and never made a concrete decision on the matter. Motivated by the birth of his first child and having legitimate parental concern for what was best for his son’s health, Foer dove into multi-year research project to learn about how our food is produced, uncovering the ramifications of continuing to consume animal products at the current rate. Though this was a non-fiction book that was beautifully researched and meticulously edited, Foer truly made this work a story, which is probably why I identified with it so closely.
He discusses the culture, history, tradition and meaning of food and the social and emotional implications of sharing meals with friends and family members. Furthermore, he takes a philosophical approach on many issues that make readers second guess their beliefs. If Americans love their cats and dogs so much and give millions of dollars to the pet industry, why don’t we ever think twice about eating other animals? The thought of torturing said dogs and cats or eating them is abhorrent because they’re our pets. NFL quarterback Michael Vick even served time for his dog fighting escapades – but pigs and chickens can be pets too, and just because they just happen to be delicious, it’s okay that we eat them, and we don’t seem to mind that their treatment and slaughter is unsanitary, violent and sometimes sadistic beyond belief.
I think it’s important to note that this book is less about whether it’s wrong for humans to eat animals. After all, animals eat animals. If you really think about it, some animals technically eat humans. This book is more about unveiling atrocious factory farming practices – how this irresponsible system is destroying our planet, diminishing our health and not to mention, not only killing our animals – but making them suffer. Humans have engineered them into unnatural genetic mutations that produce optimal meat and lay the most eggs with limited amounts of space, light and feed. We rarely consider the terrible working conditions of employees in the slaughter house or the amount of pollution factory farming produces – quite literally, animal shit that gets sprayed into the air we breathe and the water we drink. It’s pretty gruesome stuff, but it’s the machine that is capitalism, which is why it depresses me when I think about it.
I think that’s the hardest part for us humans to grasp – we don’t think about it. We don’t think about how the animals we eat are raised, transported or slaughtered. We also don’t think about how deformed and disgusting they are in the current system; some chickens and turkeys can’t even walk because they’re so grossly overfed. Most factory farmed animals can’t even reproduce naturally anymore, which is probably the most sobering contradiction to evolution there is. Humans have literally altered some species to the point where they can no longer continue existing without our help. It’s like playing God in the Jurassic Park model – we have such control over other living creatures, yet act so indifferent towards their welfare.
My hope for the world is a sea change in how we control our intake of animal products. For example, Foer profiles several responsible, sustainable farmers who love their land, love their work and absolutely love their animals – even if they are raised for slaughter. Unfortunately, these heroes are the Davids to the Goliaths that are factory farming corporations, and unlike the Biblical tale, these underdogs are losing the battles. Being humane stewards of the earth is a principal almost all religious and political belief systems agree on, and the way our country raises animals is contradictory to all of the progress we’ve made. Factory farming is no longer about feeding the world; it’s about making money (and making people obese, asthmatic and allergic to things), and I’m having a hard time reconciling not necessarily my beliefs, but what I know is wrong with the food I love to eat.
Sure, it was easy being a vegetarian the first time around, but I’m not a college student anymore. I’m an adult and I live in a city with a flourishing food culture, and I love food. I love trying new restaurants. I love going out to eat with my friends. And *sigh* I still love meat.
I’m sure you’re wondering why my obsession with Fantastic Mr. Fox has transformed into an unexpected diatribe about my personal dietary dilemmas and the horrors of the factory farming system. Perhaps, it’s because I can’t quite determine whether humans are really that different from wild animals. Is it really our nature to tamper with nature? Is it natural to pump ourselves with man-made chemicals and hormones? And is it really in our nature to torture other living things that clearly have the capacity for intelligence, emotion and creating social hierarchies? We’re supposed to be intelligent and civilized, walking upright, speaking language and twiddling our ever-dexterous opposable thumbs. So if we are such evolved creatures, how can we consciously keep consuming animal products so thoughtlessly and irresponsibly? Or at least how can I after reading 350 some-odd pages of compelling truths about eating animals?
I’ve never been a radical – liberal yes, but never extremist. Sometimes, I associate PETA more with terrorism than activism in the same way I group pro-lifers who bomb abortion clinics in a similar bucket. What I’m saying is – I will probably never completely stop eating meat. I highly doubt that I could ever go vegan. My mom would probably very easily talk me into eating her unapologetically greasy Asian stir-fry, and I couldn’t imagine Thanksgiving without watching the Cowboys with my dad followed by a wonderful tryptophan-induced nap. But I can tell you, I will always know in the back of my mind how disgusting my food really is and I can tell you that I’ve never had a harder time separating the source from the end product than I do now. For now, I’m going to focus on eating meat much less – perhaps, never preparing meat for myself or for others.
I don’t want to label myself as a vegetarian because I’m obviously going to be a terrible one. Again. But I do want to be a conscious, informed and socially responsible omnivore (or pescatarian or lacto-ovo what have you) – and I can only hope that one day my eating habits can influence the behaviors of others, or even the world, and lead to less guilt and regret.
I hope everyone enjoyed their much-needed and well-deserved long weekend because I know I certainly did. I paid a long overdue visit to my underwhelming suburban hometown, ate too much turkey and spent some (but not enough) quality time with friends and family. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, no holiday is devoid of at least some stress or frustration – so I listed a series of pros and cons summarizing my holiday. Cons aside, ultimately, it was wonderful.
Naps – The greatest thing about visiting my suburban hometown and staying with my easygoing old parents is the over abundance of free time. To put it simply, there were just multiple occasions where I had nothing to do. There were no errands to run, no work to attend to and only a few friends to visit. When nothing on TV or my bookshelf looked particularly stimulating, I’d simply just take a nap. As a gainfully employed member of the workforce, I rarely have time to sleep just for the hell of it. I napped at least once a day over Thanksgiving break and it was fantastic (on Thursday it was obviously tryptophan-induced). And yes, that’s my bedroom where I spent a good portion of my formative years. My mother so kindly collected every mismatched pillow and stuffed animal in the house when making my bed and preparing my room for me.
Football – Last week, I watched that new Bradley Cooper/Jennifer Lawrence movie, Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the movie, I loved the cast and I loved the humor – ultimately, an excellent, excellent film. However, an ongoing plot point in the movie involved superstitious behavior affecting the final outcomes of Philadelphia Eagles football games. Since I watched that film, EVERY single one of my teams lost on Thanksgiving and the days following. The Cowboys lost. The Longhorns lost. The Packers lost. But Oklahoma and Texas A&M won. Fucking Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro compromised the fate of my football allegiances and I’m borderline hysterical. Hopefully, my Fantasy Team wins this week as our league heads into playoffs. Believe it or not, I’m counting on the Eagles’ wide receiver to clench this week’s win for me. According to Silver Linings Playbook, “DeSean Jackson is the man.” Therefore, DeSean Jackson better show up tonight and break this awful losing streak that almost ruined the holiday for me and my family.
Megabus – I decided to test the Megabus waters for the very first time. Thanksgiving traffic in Central Texas is a nightmare so I thought the holiday warranted an opportune time to try this alternative mode of transportation. The fact that I didn’t have to drive and sit through 5 hours of stop-and-go traffic was a godsend. For $40 round-trip, my friend and I watched 2 discs of the Friday Night Lights TV series, ate snacks and napped multiple times. It even had a reasonably clean bathroom. I don’t mind long commutes – traffic and distance are factors far beyond my control. However, if I have to spend 5 hours in traffic, I’d much rather multitask, watch movies, read or sleep than be alert, focused and bored the entire time.
Megabus – In spite of the pros I just detailed, this mode of transport definitely has some room for improvement. Operationally, Megabus left something to be desired. Long lines, poor communication and logistics just led to a frustrating experience on top of a commute that was already abnormally long. Luggage could have been unloaded more efficiently. The check-in process could have been expedited. There were just a lot of easy fixes to what I considered very trivial problems. I can’t judge Megabus fairly from this one journey, especially because I chose the busiest weekend of the year to try it out. If we’re evaluating cost vs. reward, it’s ultimately still a great service with a few understandable, but fixable glitches.
Family – I’m fortunate that I live close enough to my family where I can always return home for the holidays or any other occasion that warrants a short, weekend visit. I don’t have to deal with expensive holiday travel or taking precious time off, and for the most part, I can see my parents, sister and big extended family with little to no hassle. I’m blessed with a big, loud, loving family, and as my generation grows older, my family continues expanding and becoming closer knit as my cousins marry and have children. Though I’m on the fence about reproducing (the expense, the responsibility and the stress are not things I look forward to), the kids are always my favorite relatives to visit because they grow up and significantly change every time I see them. It pains me that my personal favorite cousin/nephew, Nicholas, will soon approach the age where it’s uncool to give hugs and hang out with his elders, so I’m cherishing these last few years where he still looks up to me and genuinely enjoys spending time with me. Thankfully, Baby Benjamin has quite a while before he starts rejecting my affections. Ha.
Holiday weight – This is a no brainer, but I ate my weight during our family’s Thanksgiving feast and I ate my feelings during all of those miserable football games I mentioned above. A lot of people ask if my family conducts a traditional Thanksgiving, and we do. We don’t cook rice or potstickers or duck though many Asian families do, but every year my parents fry up a batch of eggrolls to snack on while people prepare food in the kitchen or watch the afternoon football games in the living room. As you can see, these delicious morsels are swimming in delicious grease. I’m lucky I didn’t pop any buttons off my jeans or you know, have a heart attack. Good thing New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner.
Independence Day is all about freedom and heroism and standing up for just causes, rights and beliefs. If you don’t believe me, watch Independence Day starring Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith this weekend and I dare you not to agree that defending America from alien annihilation is the epitome of patriotism.
For today’s edition of my weekly wrap-up, I think it’s only appropriate to recognize a few inspirational individuals who made a big impact this week. Heroes in their own beautiful, individual ways.
- Commercially speaking, The Amazing Spiderman was the obvious superhero of the week. Andrew Garfield did an exceptional job of portraying young, confused, but responsible Peter Parker in the reboot of the epic Marvel series. Not only did he capture the intelligence and quick wit of Spiderman, but his convincing empathy, kindness and love for Aunt May and Gwen Stacy stole my heart and I want to watch it again. Also, I desperately want to date him.
- Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean are heroes in an intangible way, but no less powerful. Both of their “coming out” monologues were so beautifully written and communicated that hopefully a number of ignorant eyes were opened this week. Cooper matter-of-factly shared how his personal life was private for the sake of good journalism, but openly shares that he’s a gay, happy and proud reporter and individual. I particularly love Ocean’s liner notes for his upcoming album (pictured above) describing being in love for the first time. It’s so honest and universally identifiable – I hope we soon realize that love isn’t defined by gender any more than it was defined by race a few decades ago.
I spent the rest of my holiday eating barbecue, drinking beer and celebrating with friends. Nothing extreme or out of the ordinary. I just hope you all had a safe holiday and wish you an even better weekend.
- Last Friday, The Hood Internet blew in from Chicago and blew the roof off of their intimate, $6 show at Beauty Ballroom. These mash-up masterminds have been longtime favorites and SXSW veterans and I’m glad I finally got to see them spin in my own backyard. And in case you didn’t know, Chi don’t dance – All they do is juke, all they do is juke.
- First episode of new HBO series The Newsroom was incredible. I wonder if the show hits close to home since working with media is the basis of my career, but I think the average viewer would still enjoy the clever dialogue, fast pace and subject matter of the show. High marks.
- Thanks to Alamo Drafthouse and the Austin Film Festival, ATX was one of the lucky cities that hosted Fever Year, a beautiful documentary about Andrew Bird and a year of relentless touring. Andrew Bird has always been one of my favorite artists for his creativity and talent, but after watching Fever Year, I have a new found respect for his tireless work ethic and dedication to making music. I love how he performs with an orchestra of machines, mastering the art of looping pedals and pairing the live recorded loops with buttery violin and iconic whistling.
- I’m super excited about this upcoming Fleetwood Mac Tribute album. MGMT, Best Coast and The New Pornographers are among the impressive list of contributing artists; a few tracks have been released, but my absolute favorite so far is this Lykke Li cover of Silver Springs, one of the most beautiful and painfully heartfelt songs ever written. I’ve loved this song for years and Lykke Li definitely did justice to the legendary Stevie Nicks – not an easy feat.
- I braved the 107 degree heat to see Ben Kweller’s free performance at Blues on the Green. I’ve loved his music since high school so seeing him perform Wasted and Ready and Commerce,TX incited all sorts of pleasant nostalgia, but his recently released “Go Fly A Kite” has some pretty great songs on it as well.
Happy Friday, y’all. Have an awesome weekend.
Ladies and gentlemen, summer is finally in full swing and I’m vigilantly taking advantage of the sunny weather, blockbuster films and beers by the pool – all excellent signifiers of quite possibly, my favorite season.
The past month or so has been a whirlwind, so this week, it seemed appropriate to categorize some recent activities and life updates into little digestible buckets.
- Books – I’ve made an executive decision to exclusively read Classic literature this month rather than the easy, lazy prototypical beach reads. I reasoned that if I spent my summer delving into Fifty Shades of Gray, the rabbit hole of poorly written, yet fun and salacious material would never end and I would never achieve my long-term goal of reading (or re-reading) novels that I should have read (or paid more attention to) in high school. I started with The Great Gatsby since I love F. Scott Fitzgerald and was inspired by the lavish trailer for the upcoming film. I adore the jazz age – the luxury, the fashion, the chain-smoking – I can’t wait to see DiCaprio smolder and exhibit Gatsby’s immaculate swagger and interact with the adorable and appropriately cast Carey Mulligan to breathe life into one of my favorite works of fiction.
- Movies – I can’t wait for summer blockbusters – Spiderman Reloaded, The Dark Knight, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – I can’t wait for the action and the soundtracks and loaded theaters. But I finally watched the long-awaited Moonrise Kingdom starring a slew of my favorite actors (Norton, Murray, Schwartzman). Wes Anderson never fails to amaze me with his understated humor, beautiful cinematography and clever scripts. The prepubescent main characters (Sam and Suzy) were also delightfully cute, funny and talented. Do yourself a favor and watch.
- Music – I attended my first “Blues on the Green” of the year. For you non-Austinites, Blues on the Green is a free weekly summer concert series that takes place in Zilker Park, which is conveniently walking distance from my house. This week, Rhett Miller from the Old 97’s performed to a vast audience of adults, kids and dogs.
The Twilight Zone photos were captured at the Feed Me concert at ND 501 Studios, a sweaty, intimate venue where the dubstep and electronic dance music subculture came alive. For a tiny venue, ND certainly didn’t skip on production.