A confession: I am vegan.
Some of you may know this, having followed me on my journey to conversion, but I do my best not to throw this fact into people’s faces, particularly ones I have recently met. After all, the stereotypes of the Dreaded Vegan were one of the reasons it took me so long to make the plunge (that and I couldn’t imagine a life without frozen yogurt and traditional baked goods… which seems ridiculous to me in retrospect, as there is no shortage of divine vegan sweets in my current diet). I simply didn’t want to get grouped with the crazy types spoofed on “Portlandia” - the image of the self-righteous, super-pale, hippie-dippie vegan still, unfortunately, pervades our modern society’s consciousness and is a massive hinderance to the diet becoming widely accepted any time soon.
That fact is simply heartbreaking, because as I’ve discovered on my short little journey of living off of plants alone, we, as a global community, and as a species, simply cannot afford to continue our modern eating patterns.
I recently read a book that I know you won’t read unless you’re already vegan. That’s the problem with posts like these; I’m only going to be preaching to the choir. I get that. Anyone who learns that I’m vegan quickly puts up a protective barrier, defending their right (or their proclaimed “need,” which is just plain ignorant) to eat meat before I even utter another word. The concept of NOT eating meat strikes a very personal, emotional chord in us - which I think is immensely indicative of its very importance as a topic we desperately need to confront.
The book I read was “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, who eloquently describes the complexities involved in eating - it’s a social act, a personal act, a traditional act, a communal act, a historical act, a ethically challenging act, and an environmental act. Whatever we choose to put in our mouths resonates with meaning, whether we’re connecting ourselves to our ancestors, trying to stave off global warming, or digging ourselves further into a grave formed by obesity.
Whether or not humans were “meant” to eat animals (as my Christian parents argued over dinners of meatloaf while turning their noses up in disgust at the prospect of vegetarianism - one of the many reasons I could not go all-veg until leaving home), eating animals at this point in time is not the same as it was even 100 years ago. With the advent of factory farms, the entire concept of “food” was transformed into something so horrifying most of us can’t bear to face it (when I have offered to lend the book “Eating Animals” to a couple of friends, they have all vigorously shaken their heads and backed away, saying “No, no, I better not…”). We can’t bear to face the truth precisely because we understand that it will force us to change our ways, which would be inconvenient.
We humans like the taste of meat. But do we also like the taste of animal suffering, environmental destruction, economic turmoil, human labor violations, and looming viral epidemics? A piece of steak is no longer simply just a piece of a steak - it is a vote, a choice, and a statement. If you choose to ignore the facts, then you are voting in favor of all of the aforementioned by omission.
“Eating Animals” is probably the most intelligent, well-thought out consideration of the modern food system in America I have yet read. Foer (the brilliant author of the fictional novels “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”) gives careful consideration to all sides of the To Eat Meat Or Not To Eat Meat argument, and lays out the facts while writing in an engaging and impassioned style.
I am wary of venturing into the preachy mode, as I know how easy it is to begin to sound like a self-righteous asshole. But read the book, and you’ll understand as I do why these issues are too important to stay silent about. Or don’t read the book, and don’t think about what you eat. That’s your choice - but is it the right one?