3 Favorite Foods Essay Contest

• Would you accuse a shark of being unethical?

• It’s nutritious/delicious.

• It’s a free country.

• Would you accuse a Venus’ flytrap of being unethical?

Pointy teeth or tasty dinners are noteworthy, but they aren’t arguments about ethics. And lions or sharks can’t be unethical because they can’t reason that an action might be more or less ethical. (Same goes for plants.) But we can.

Some critics insisted that even contemplating a life without meat was an indulgent luxury, a silly game for a wealthy first-worlder. I found this puzzling — as if the poor feast nightly on roast suckling pig and only the 1 percent eat boiled tubers. Over all, rich nations eat much more meat than poor ones, and raising animals for food takes more agricultural resources than raising crops. In any case, a vast number of the world’s ethical vegetarians live in India. Caviar is a luxury. Ethical discussion is not.

The judges considered 29 semifinalists, and though their votes barely overlapped, they were unanimous in seeing the contest as a cultural indicator.

Several noted the widespread agreement that factory farming, which accounts for 99 percent of the meat eaten in America, is not ethical. “Lurking beneath these submissions,” Jonathan Safran Foer said, “is a shared dissatisfaction with our current system of meat production, a shared anger.”

Peter Singer placed that anger in the context of “a seismic shift of opinion about meat in the past decade.” He added, “The tragedy is that factory farming survives despite the widespread agreement that whether we are primarily concerned about animal welfare, our environment or our health, it is ethically indefensible.”

Mark Bittman suggested that just five years ago that critique would have seemed radical: “Yet 20 or at most 50 years from now, those of us still alive will express incredulity at the way we once treated animals destined to become ‘food.’ ”

Andrew Light observed: “Though there were major disagreements among the approaches that most people took, everyone — committed omnivores, guilty omnivores and charitable vegetarians — agreed that food choices are moral choices.” A hopeful thing, he said, because “if we can’t all at least agree that there is a moral issue at stake then there’s very little chance we’ll be able to discuss our differences on these issues.”

Michael Pollan noted how many essays emphasized the role animals play in making a farm sustainable. “This argument gains authority when it is rooted in the practical realities of farming” — rather than academic theorizing — “which it was in several of our entries, and these to me were the most compelling,” he pointed out. “That said, simply stimulating people to think through their eating choices has a value, since our thoughtlessness in these matters has such a high cost.”

I agree, and that’s what amazed me about the boatloads of essays: people’s willingness — eagerness — to stop their busy lives and wrestle with the ethical implications of what is otherwise so easy to ignore. (By the way, my personal favorite got zero votes from the judges­. It was a single paragraph that basically said: like it or not, when we render this planet uninhabitable, we’re going to have to move to another, and the only thing that’s going to make anyone let animals into the spaceship is the chance to eat them. Hey, it’s novel.)

A great many readers prefaced their essays with the confession that they had never before given any thought to these matters, and that they were grateful for the invitation to do so. I am grateful that they accepted that invitation.

Whatever you think about meat — whether you are a rabid carnivore on a Cro-Magnon diet or a dyed-in-the-wool vegan who wouldn’t hurt a fly — we’ve all got a lot on our plates, ethically speaking. So read, enjoy, digest and discuss.

Reader Responses

The contest is sexist and racist

The panel [of judges] consists of all white men. . . . And so the cycle of prejudice continues in which white male elite perspectives dominate the production of social facts. LORI GRUEN, A. BREEZE HARPER, CAROL J. ADAMS

The contest is harmless

This is a panel of five, for heaven’s sake, for a meaningless contest. How diverse can it be? Why should anyone care how diverse it is? ETHICSALARMS.COM

The contest is pro-meat propaganda

Do ethical vegetarians . . . pose such a “threat” to the meat and dairy industries that The Times Magazine must now invite its millions of readers to shout them down? . . . We find it disturbing that the magazine would organize such a one-sided contest, and moreover that Ariel Kaminer should introduce it with such frivolity.JOINT LETTER FROM 59 ACADEMICS AND OTHERS

The contest is antimeat propaganda

“Tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat.” What a premise. So the premise is obviously that it’s not ethical to eat meat. And the contest is, “O.K., Neanderthal, tell us why it is so that we can beat you up and tear you to shreds and make a joke out of you!” RUSH LIMBAUGH

The contest is anti-pig-ist

I don’t get why the contest graphics failed to include a pig. Pork is a more popular meat than goat, lamb or veal. Lobster, fish and squid are not meats. Since there was no pig shown in the graphics, it made me feel people who eat pork were not welcomed to participate. BLASMAIC, WASHINGTON, ON THE 6TH FLOOR BLOG

The contest is elitist

It would never occur to us, or most farmers and ranchers we know, to dictate to others what they should or shouldn’t eat. . . . If it is in that spirit the great thinkers of the effete salons of Manhattan have devised this contest, we would be curious how it would play in The Times’s etiquette column. “ELITES DABBLE IN ETHICS OF MEAT,” CAPITAL PRESS

The contest is a conspiracy.

I find it both ironic and highly unethical that The New York Times would use a contest . . . to garner e-mail addresses that they can then distribute to political candidates. Having a Big Brother in New York City with so much impenetrable concrete between his feet and the soil that feeds him, frankly, makes me nervous. D. A. QUINTON

Continue reading the main story

Tsssss! I can hear the screaming of the crisp steam, as my mother lifts the top off a gargantuan pot full of one of my favorite foods. My favorite holiday food tradition is when my family prepares Turkey Tamales for Thanksgiving. My grandfather Arturo created the recipe because he wanted to combine the Mexican tradition of preparing tamales for special occasions and the American tradition of eating turkey at Thanksgiving. First my family and I visit our local Farmers' Market where we buy all of the fresh ingredients we need. Next, we prepare our multi-step recipe using a cornucopia of different ingredients. Lastly, we celebrate Thanksgiving by eating over delicious creations that everyone will enjoy!

        When we visit the Farmers' Market that my mother has shopped at for over forty years. My mother and grandmother share stores about the hilarious things my grandfather would do on visits there. We buy all of the freshest, greatest, vegetables straight from the farm like spinach, kale, chayote, bell peppers, garlic, tomatillos, green onion, celery and cilantro. Since we make our tamales in such large quantities to share with the rest of the family, we try to find the fattest turkey available! This will turn out great! Our new tradition is to make a non-meat, vegetables version using wild rice, garbanzo beans, lentils, and carrots in addition to making the turkey tamales. The traditions continue to grow.

        The success of the tamales rests with the quality of the vegetable base sauce. The sauce is used for making the masa, preparing the meat/or vegetable filling and the cream sauce on top. The sauce ingredients are: 2 heads of garlic, 1 bunch of kale, 4 chayote, 1 bunch cilantro, 4 bell peppers, 3 lbs tomatillos, 2 bunches green onion, 1 whole celery, 2 bags spinach. Wash and clean all the vegetables and place them except the spinach in a pot with water. Cook until tender. Place cooked vegetables in blender with the uncooked spinach and thin with the hot liquid. Return to pot and cook about 1 hour, season with salt to taste. Boil the turkey then shred. Use prepared vegetable sauce to simmer the meat for 30 mins. To prepare the masa, combine five, 5 lb bags of dry masa with 3 large tubs of Smart Balance Sprea. NOT LARD! Add the vegetable sauce until moist about 4-6 cups. Now spread about 3 tablespoon of masa evenly on moistened cornhusks. Place filling  (meat or vegetable) in center, then wrap both sides over each other and fold the bottom up to seal. Stock in pot and stem 1-1/2 hr.

        It's Thanksgiving day! By the time I am awake and out of my bed, the meat-filled bundles are steaming in the pot. Tssss! I help my mother lift the top off the enormous pot, and the steam and delicious aroma fill the air. The unique smell quickly reminds me of past family gatherings and of the one we will go to today.

        Finally! The moment I have been waiting for! As I unwrap the corn husk, the warm, green masa topped with a viscous vegetable cream sauce, which my mother just finished by adding sour cream to the vegetable base sauce, tastes like nothing I have tasted any where else but home. I Buen provecho!

Congratulations to our school finalists:
Bria Booker, MacGregor Elementary
Victoria Lopez, Rodriguez Elementary
Juliette Cedillo, Briscoe Elementary
Avery Robinson, Whittier Elementary
AJ Guerrero, DeZavala Elementary
Taylor East, Harbach-Ripley Elementary

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