I begin this post with two anecdotes.
1. Earlier this week, my superior at work drove me to the post office. As we settled into the car to leave, I made a simple, nondescript comment about the weather. I said, “It’s so sunny! Today would be a great day for ice cream,” and he agreed. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and in an earlier time in my life, I would have loved to eat ice cream under the mid-afternoon sun.
When we returned from the post office and parked the car in front of our work (which is across the street from an infamous Chicago ice cream parlor), he exclaimed, “You know what? I’m gonna treat you to ice cream!” My heart sank. I couldn’t say no—he was offering me free dessert, for goodness sake. But I couldn’t eat the ice cream, either. I could tell him I was vegan—but who really wants to hear that? I was just being nice when I offered up my comment about the weather. I was just being a personable, relatable human being.
We entered the ice cream parlor, and I searched the menu frantically for non-dairy options. After a few minutes, I found “ITALIAN ICE” in the smallest letters on the menu. My boss asked me, “What do you think you’re gonna get?” and I answered, “Oh, I think I’m just in the mood for Italian Ice today.” Just in the mood? WHAT? But I’m vegan! Tell him the truth, Rachel! TELL HIM THE TRUTH!
“Italian ice?” my boss asked, slightly confused. “Well, we shouldn’t go here, then. Let’s go to the Italian ice place up the street instead.”
And so we did. And I got the most delicious coconut and raspberry Italian ice I’ve ever eaten.
And I was happy.
2. The other day, my co-intern and I took a trip on our lunch break to Crisp, a Korean barbecue restaurant. I wasn’t very hungry, so I ordered a bowl of chilled vegetables. We sat next to two guys who were the photographers of a photo shoot we had been working at that day. The guy sitting next to me, after finishing what he could of his barbecue chicken wings, pushed his basket towards me and asked, “Hey, do either of you want a wing?”
I responded, “No, thank you!” and turned back to my veggies. He insisted. “Really, have one!” he said. “They’re really good, and I’m not going to finish them all.”
I smiled sheepishly and shook my head. “Sorry,” I replied. “I don’t eat chicken. I’m vegan.” He raised his eyebrows apologetically, pulled the basket away, and turned back to his friend across the table. I smiled again, sighed a little, and turned back to my bowl of chilled vegetables.
And I was not unhappy.
Thank you to everyone who has read and shared my previous blog post, Why I’m Vegan. I have received a ton of responses—both angry and thankful, confused and enlightened, encouraging and disheartening—and I appreciate every single one.
What’s most interesting to me is that all of your comments, whether supportive or not, have only inspired me to become more invested in my cause as a vegan. Many of you have come out with some killer arguments against me. (Yes, pun intended, and I’m not sorry about it.) But no matter how difficult your questions have been to answer, even knowing that I can answer them in some way gives me hope.
These past few days have been intellectually, morally, psychologically, spiritually, and emotionally challenging and stimulating, and I am so thankful for your interest in furthering the discussion. Besides continuing the conversation, I am writing this blog post in order to address some aspects of my previous post with which a few of you had issues.
Some of you were really, truly offended by my words, and I apologize. Veganism is like a faith. I believe what I believe. My goal was to enlighten and inspire, to show people a glimpse of my food faith and all of its possibilities. But to some of you, I alienated and mocked you with my post, so please forgive me.
However, I named my post “Why I’m Vegan” for a reason. I didn’t name it “Why You Should Be Vegan,” or “I’m Better Because I’m Vegan.” The post contained thoughts and ideas of what I believe. I certainly can’t make you believe in something you don’t want to … I mean, this ain’t 16th century England under the rule of King Henry VIII, am I right!?!
(Sorry. I’ve been watching too many episodes of The Tudors lately. Let’s continue.)
You see, when I wrote my first post, I was angry. I was pissed off, and passionate, and fueled by the rage of injustice. I was trying to give a voice to a group that has never had a voice, that can never have a voice. I was trying to show compassion and morality for a cause that I believe affects each and every one of us.
But instead, I wrote a blog post for me. I wrote a blog post for vegans and vegetarians and people who already understand my point of view. I wrote it for people who need to read, for their own sanity, that there are other people in this world who are angry. I didn’t mean to write it that way. I didn’t really even want to. But I did. And so I think that’s why a lot of you felt alienated and mocked.
I didn’t write that post for you, but I’m trying my best to write this post for you. To write unforgivingly and selflessly. To write for an audience that isn’t comprised only of upper-middle class, privileged college students like me. An audience that sees past the finger-pointing and the soap-box preaching. An audience with morality and passion … just maybe not in the same wavelength as mine. And that’s okay. We’re all different.
We’re all so different that I was shocked by the broad spectrum of responses to my last post. Some of you sympathized with my vegan efforts, but couldn’t relate because you didn’t have the means (financially or otherwise) to commit to the diet yourselves. Some of you applauded me for my efforts but demanded that I do more against factory farming, either to be a vegan activist or to support humane and ethical family farming instead. Some of you felt hurt and that I was belittling you for eating meat even after learning the truth about the meat industry. And some of you shook your heads, rolled your eyes, and tried to lay out a systematic, logical plan of arguments that would reduce me to shameful ignorance and force me to sweep my veganism under the rug.
(Try all you want, but that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.)
We all have such different opinions, but here’s the thing: most of us, no matter our differences, are talking about it. Most of us understand that something’s gotta change. The food industry, as it rises in profits and global scale, is causing our decline. And it’s not just the meat industry, either—it’s everything. Factory farmed foods. Processed foods. Imported foods. Genetically modified foods. Unfair trade foods. Foods with pesticides. Food created in laboratories. Food that isn’t even farmed at all.
Sixty to 80 percent of the American population is overweight or obese. Our population is dying from heart disease and cancer. Our children are getting asthma and allergies to foods that weren’t a problem 50 years ago. Our life expectancy is shrinking. We believe ourselves to be the pinnacle of evolution, but look at us. If you think the human race will go extinct because of our own devices, you’re probably right. But I don’t think it will be because of a nuclear holocaust or whatever science fiction movies tend to throw out into the world these days. No. We’re inducing the human race’s slow and painful death with every bite of food we eat.
For so much of human existence, food represented nourishment, necessity, and life. Farmers were the breadwinners of the world—they produced food to keep the human race alive. Now, farmers produce food to keep their profits high. With so few internalized costs, food corporations and big business have earned trillions of dollars in profits by producing cheap, processed, and unnatural foods. But if these food giants had to internalize all of the externalized costs (global warming and health issues, primarily), they would be sitting in poo lagoons of debt. So instead, we pay farmers to sell us food that kills us, food that is essentially poison, and we’ve become addicted to what the food industry tells us we should eat. We are infants, and we are watching, with trusting and naive eyes, these corporations feed us spoonful after spoonful of deceit and lies.
The sad thing is, most of us know this. We just don’t do anything about it. After reading my last post, some of you were angry with me, and you said something along the lines of, “You’re making me feel bad about eating meat, but I don’t want to stop eating it. So are you saying that every time I eat meat, you want me to feel bad about it?” I mean, not really … but if you feel so bad about it—if you know what you are eating is intrinsically against your conscience—then why are you doing it?
Americans, in general, have an unhealthy relationship with food. We use it for emotional pleasure. To make us happy. We eat to fulfill our wants … but most of the time, we ignore our needs. The majority of the American population is overweight or obese, and most of us are malnourished. It’s an awful irony—the malnourished obese person. Eating too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the good. We forget that food is physical fuel, not emotional or psychological fuel. We are addicted to the instant gratification of taste—taste that is almost always unnaturally and chemically created for us by food corporations.
Some of us are uneducated or have no means of buying fresh, healthy foods to support our diets. A lot of Americans live this way, and so I don’t blame them for eating the way they do. But some of us are educated, and we have the money to buy healthy foods, and we live close to a supermarket that sells healthy foods. But we choose to ignore it. We don’t give a shit about “organic,” and we don’t give a shit about the preservatives all up in our McDonald’s Happy Meal, and we don’t give a shit about where our meat comes from and how it was produced. It’s easy not to give a shit. It’s easy to say in the moment that I don’t give a shit about what I put into my body because it tastes good and it makes me “happy.” But are you happy about our obesity rates in America? Will you give a shit when you’re lying in your hospital bed in cardiac arrest? Seriously, though, are you happy?
I’ll be honest—I didn’t always give a shit about all the foods I eat. Sometimes I still don’t give a shit. Sometimes I don’t buy organic produce because non-organic is a dollar or two cheaper per pound, and sometimes I eat half a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (because, for God’s sake, I just need some sugary, processed crap in my system so that I can feel horrible about myself for an hour). But I will always, always give a shit about the meat that I eat or don’t eat. I will always give a shit about eating something that had a face. Something that wagged its tail. Something that smiled with its eyes. I do not like calling animals beef, poultry, pork, and veal. I like calling them cows, chickens, pigs, and calves. I like knowing animals were alive before I decide to eat them or not. Animals, to me, are not “things.”
I remember the first time I realized that meat came from a live animal. I was maybe 8 or 9 years old, and I didn’t even know that something like veganism existed. I was eating chicken fingers (probably at some shitty restaurant like Friendly’s, God bless my family), and I bit down on a tendon. It was chewy and slimy and repulsive. Oh, shit—except I’m positive my 9-year-old mind did not say the word “shit”—I’m eating muscle. I’m eating something like me.
Of course, eating animals isn’t the same as eating people … or is it? Cannibalism is natural in the animal kingdom. In factories, pigs will often gnaw on the ulcers and open wounds of other pigs, oftentimes eating open their eye sockets and chewing on bloody tail stubs. (Don’t worry, factory farmers routinely cut off pigs’ tails, ears, and teeth—without anesthesia—so that pigs won’t get too destructive amongst each other. How gracious of them!) A lot of you used the animal kingdom as an argument for eating meat; i.e., because some species of animals eat other species of animals in the biological animal kingdom, humans are justified in eating some species of animals as well. But some species of animals eat their own species. So are people justified in eating people?
Of course not. Society tells us that’s not okay. Duh. So why don’t we have the same reaction to eating animals? Why doesn’t society tell us that eating animals is not okay? And what about eating plants? Plants are living things. We have to kill them to eat things like potatoes and carrots and spinach and rice and a lot of things that I depend upon as vegan for my nutrition. Because animals eat plants, am I justified in eating plants, too? Even though plants are living things?
I don’t know. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around. As vegan, I look at it this way: Not only am I a human, but I am an animal. And so I do not eat other animals. However, I am not a plant. And so I eat plants. Animals provide me with protein, but plants provide me with protein, vitamins, nutrients, and healthy fats. Plants are nourishing.
But I have to kill them. I could eat parts of plants that do not require killing the plant (e.g. fruit and nuts). And I could survive. But I don’t choose to live this way. And I don’t know why. It seems a little hypocritical, doesn’t it? Whether plants experience pain is unclear, but it is clear that plants respond and react. Do plants fear? Do plants suffer? I don’t know. I don’t think science has gotten that far yet. But science has gotten far enough to tell me that most animals and humans share a central nervous system. Most of us have brains and hearts. I don’t want to eat something that has a heart, especially if it means subjecting them to a miserable, painful life and a slow and gruesome death. I don’t want to eat animals, and I don’t need to.
So where do I go from here? Where do you go from here? No matter how much I talk at you, some of you are thinking, “I will never be vegan. I like to eat meat, and I won’t give it up.” Okay. I get it. I mean, I don’t really get it, but I get it. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. If you want to eat meat, and you understand the consequences, then … you do you, I guess. Hell, my family eats meat. My boyfriend eats meat. Ninety percent of my friends eat meat. It’s in our culture. It’s in our blood. Some of us have eaten meat for 20, 30, 40, 50 years of our lives, and we don’t know how to live without it.
Okay. I get that. But please do me a favor. Please be conscious of the food you put into your mouth. Our bodies are the only things we have in this world that are intrinsically ours. If you don’t feel the moral pressure to make kind choices for animals’ bodies, at least make kind choices for your own. Please eat ethically-slaughtered, pasture-raised meat if you can. Please do your research. Educate yourself about factory farming. Websites like Eat Wild and Eat Well Guide connect you with local farmers who produce meat safely and humanely. Will it be more expensive? Yes. Will it take more effort? Of course. But if you like meat and if you respect your body, please spend a little more. It will be worth it. (Pasture-raised meat always does better than factory-farmed meat in taste tests. There’s a reason!)
And if you’re feeling adventurous and up for a challenge, try being vegetarian or vegan for a week. Or make one day a week your “vegan” day. Go out to eat at a vegan/vegetarian restaurant. Keep an open mind. I promise you, it’s not as hard as it seems. Becoming vegan has taught me so much about my relationship with food. Food can taste good, but it can also be nutritious and beneficial. Since becoming vegan and cutting dairy and eggs out of my diet, I rarely get sick. My acne has cleared up significantly. My food never feels like a brick in my stomach (we’ve all been there). I feel prouder about my food choices. Personally, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for my body, and I can’t wait to challenge myself further regarding unprocessed foods and organic and non-GMO foods.
I included the two anecdotes at the beginning of this post because I wanted to show all of you a little glimpse into the life of a vegan. These interactions occur on almost a daily basis. Now that most of my friends and family know that I’m vegan, I experience these interactions much less, but whenever I meet new people, my veganism eventually comes up. How could it not? Our lives are centered around food. Food sustains life—not just physically, but socially as well.
Even though I felt angry in my last post, being vegan does not make me angry all the time. It’s actually the opposite—I am so happy being vegan. I feel lighter, physically and spiritually. I feel in control of my body and my choices. No matter how minuscule my individual choices may be in the grand scheme of things, I feel like I’m making a difference. Every social interaction I have about my veganism strengthens my values. Every time I tell someone I’m vegan, I plant the seed (yes, pun intended) of possibility in people’s minds. I am living proof that being vegan is not hard. If anything, it’s one of the easiest choices I’ve ever made in my life.
But I want you all to know that even though I am vegan, being vegan does not define me. I’m just a girl who eats what she does because she wants to. My goal as a vegan is to educate and inspire people to be more conscious about what they eat, no matter what they eat. I don’t intend to judge you. And in no way do I want you to feel unnecessarily uncomfortable about what you’re eating. But if you do feel uncomfortable … why not consider changing it?
I have, and I am happy. You can be happy, too. I promise.
Please feel free to comment on this post, message me on Facebook, send me a Tweet, text me, or call me. Ask me questions, challenge my beliefs, get me riled up. Let’s keep talking.