But I feel like I have to. I hope that sharing my opinion about this does not lose me friends. I strive to be the happy vegan, but I feel like so many people I admire are speaking up, the least I can do is blog about why I don’t eat animal products.
I wish the hundreds of people who have told me they “can’t live without cheese” would read this, but I know they won’t. I know the people who read this are my treasured friends and family – who have never made fun of my choices, have always supported me in my ethical ping pong between veganism and vegetarianism, have shared recipes and restaurants that are vegan, have made concessions in eating out or eating in to support my veganism.
I have had people wave pork in my face, make the sound of the animal they are eating to get my goat (pardon the phrase), and told me I am unpatriotic for not eating animals. But never ever the people I love and like. So I am sorry for not staying silent, and this will not be a trend, because I don’t want to be defined by just one part of who I am, but I have to share my thoughts on this. And, as always, if you take the time to read this, I promise to listen to you or read something you have written about that is dear to your heart – without judgment, without affecting our friendship even if I very much disagree.
I have a degree in Philosophy. My senior year my thesis was a correlation between the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany and homophobia in the United States. I compared two schools of thought when it came to people in a society or group nearly unilaterally hating another group. One argument is that the particulars of a group lead to evil – i.e. Germans in the 1930s were prone to anti-Semitism in a way that another group of people wouldn’t be. And then there is the philosophy that I agree with, that of Hannah Arendt.
Hannah Arendt wrote of the “banality of evil” in relation to Eichmann, one of the architects of the systematic destruction of millions of lives. Her basic conclusion, which I will never do justice to the language of the book – she is a genious – is that any person is capable of unspeakable evil if put in the right situations. To protect our families, our social situations, or because someone tells us to do it, most of us are capable of horrible things. Eichmann was a man who respected authority and did his job – and in turn committed some of the worst acts in human history.
This idea has been born out in research and anecdotes. Put perfectly decent people in the right situations and they will do wretched things. Abu Gharib. Blue eye brown eye experiment. The Lucifer Effect.
Which brings me to Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. This is a great book. Both well-researched and heart-rendering. Foer puts together an ethical and emotional argument for not eating animals. The last part of the book is really hard to read because he talks about the extraordinary cruelty served up by factory farm workers – arbitrary, pointless cruelty that is not at all related to raising or slaughtering animals. And it reminds me of the good, or at least average person, doing horrible things because of the extraordinary situations they are put in. And I feel so stupidly, childishly, unabashedly sad for the animals. So sad that I feel compelled to write blog posts that will possibly make people feel awkward towards me. I can live without cheese because I can’t unthink the anguish of a cow as she sees her baby being dragged away just after being born. I skip the ham at family meals because I can’t unthink beautiful, intelligent animals reduced to painful stupors ever day of their short lives. I don’t laugh at the cow holding the eat more chicken sign because I can’t unthink the breaking of a chicken’s bones the first time they try to stand up because they have been engineered to exist only to be in pain for six weeks and then eaten. I don’t understand how the sum of human existence has led to a society that systematically tortures animals unnecessarily. And I can’t unthink what I have read and learned.
Foer has this phrase from his great grandmother who was a refugee in WWII – when asked why she wouldn’t eat pork offered to her by a Russian farmer, even though she was close to starving to death – “If nothing matters, there is nothing to save.”
I became a vegan because eating animal products is not sustainable for the environment. The one thing we can do as individuals to save the earth is eat lower on the food chain. But I became a vegan again because I have found that I cannot eat the products of unspeakable, unthinkable cruelty against sentient beings. I cannot live a perfect life – but I can do this.
Yesterday on Oprah, Michael Pollan, the founder of Chipotle, and vegan Alicia Silverstone talked about ethical eating. Oprah encouraged people to “lean in” to ethical eating… and I am encouraging everybody I love and like to do the same thing – lean in to veganism – to pick one of these things to lessen your impact on animal cruelty and environmental destruction, or to at least start thinking about it:
1. Give up dairy one day a week.
2. Give up meat one day a week.
3. Watch the Nightline piece on dairy farming cruelty to understand the sacrifice made by cows for milk and cheese and ice cream.
4. Sign up for organic fruits and vegetables delivered to your door to create some meals that are free of animals.
5. Buy an awesome vegan cookbook and find one favorite recipe that you make again and again.
6. Choose not to make fun of a vegan with the easy joke like “If we weren’t supposed to eat animals, why are they so tasty?” Every vegan you know has heard that joke one million times… and it makes them want to scream and reduces what is one of the things they most hold dear to a punchline for everybody around you.
7. Try a vegan restaurant. In KC, I recommend Cafe Seed.
8. Give money to Mercy for Animals.
9. Buy cookies from me in the national vegan bakesale in April.
10. Substitute one animal product in your life forever – like Veganaise instead of mayonaise – or almond milk instead of cow’s milk on your cereal or Better Than Sour Cream instead of sour cream.
11. Read Eating Animals. There is so much in the book that is troubling and inspiring. He writes about how changing what we eat changes how we interact with people and that sometimes how eating animals means food doesn’t taste as good – but it is worth the sacrifice to not eat animals. Both of those messages hit home to me. I have mourned the loss of connecting to my family and friends through food – you don’t know how much that matters in a life until it is gone. And I miss a lot of foods…. I love a lot of vegan foods (I am able to maintain a lot of extra body weight after all), but I am not an idiot, I know fried chicken tastes good. But some things are more important to me than fried chicken. And the ethical smackdown he gives to Pollan is worth the price of admission. I know Pollan has done a lot for ethical eating, but his dismissal of vegetarian and vegan lifestyles bugs the crap out of me.
12. Find out who some famous vegans are – like did you know Coretta Scott King was a vegan? She believed animal rights was a logical extension of her husband’s work. Who got da patriotic highground now, peoples? I would say that Coretta Scott King was a pretty darn good American. If you like your famous vegans more fluffy, how about Zoey Deschamel or Casey Affleck?
Ok, I’m done… my philosophy professors would not have been proud of this essay… it is overemotional, rambling, and a total mess. But it comes from the best place inside of me – the place I am most proud of… the place where I sacrifice as much as I can in the name of kindness. And I have put a lot in here because I am not going to write of veganism too much.
So to quote another famous vegan, for now, “that’ll do Pig.”
Oh!! I just thought of another thing you could do to lean into veganism… #13…watch Babe! Ok, really, I am done now.