I wonder if vegans today are like the early abolitionists who maintained dedication even though they knew they’d likely never see a cultural shift in their lifetimes. I like to fantasize that, in the future, people will look back and think us barbarians for treating animals the way we do.
Do you think it could ever happen?
Not with reckless appetites like mine around: I love cheese. I love cheeseburgers. I love cheesecake. I love cheese omelets, and french toast, and have an idea to fry up a grilled cheese made out of french toast one of these days. Gouda or Havarti? Neither: camembert, of course.
But dairy’s not all. I love shrimp and salmon, too. I don’t love chicken, but I love chicken pot pie turned golden brown from butter. I like turkey on Thanksgiving, and I love gravy on my turkey. But I’d give up both of those if it meant hours around the table with can after can of cold lager, endless conversation, and a pile of spicy blue crabs.
Cows. Hens. Shrimp. Salmon. Chickens. Turkeys. Crabs. These are the beings whose flavor makes my transformation to an empathic diet seem difficult. Why do they have to taste so good? Alternatives to animal products are limited for me. I have a seriously wicked aversion to vegetables. My gag reflex has never been suppressed.
Other people can see broccoli, catch a whiff of its aroma, put a bit of it into their mouths, chew it, swallow it and go on to say, “I just don’t care for broccoli.” Not me. Broccoli does not enter my mouth. It never has. “But it’s good for you,” people say. I have to remind myself that they’re making dinner party small talk; they mean no harm.
Regardless of my adoration of cheese and my abhorrence of greens, my intention to eat with more compassion continues to grow. Thus, my new and developing practice of “Vegan Mondays”. I figure, if I can think about food from the right angle, I’ll be able to more frequently abstain from animal products. Here’s the mental game I’m using this week:
When I eye a wedge of Humboldt Fog in the market or ponder heading to Lares for a quesadilla, I ask myself in a really loving tone, “Would you be willing to forgo this pleasure if you knew that doing so would relieve the suffering of another being?” And then I answer, “Yes.”
And I pretend, having answered yes, that it matters. I say, “pretend,” because how can one person eating less cheese really relieve the suffering of other beings? How? It doesn’t matter how.
The idea that my actions are inconsequential because I am only one person . . . because it’s only one wedge of so-incredibly-tasty-good cheese . . . because I can’t imagine how anything will stop the billion dollar industries that produce food people crave. . . . Those ideas don’t work any more.
I’m ready to be more responsible about the fact that as a consumer, I am anything but powerless.
So maybe there is hope. The growing number of my friends who are vegetarian and vegan gives me hope. The Meatless Monday movement gives me hope. Maybe most of all, the flavor of the Tofurky Italian Sausage that I’m about to heat up for dinner gives me hope.
What gives you hope?
Update 4/12/2012: This week Nicholas Kristof published an Op-Ed in the NYTimes called “Is an Egg for Breakfast Worth This?”. It’s absolutely moving and I find my egg cravings have magically vanished. He mentions (far more intelligently than I have) the “arc of empathy” — yet another reason to hope (suspect?) that a cultural shift is occurring. Thank you, Mr. Kristof.