Listen up, “socially conscious” meat-eaters. I know you guys are trying your best to find common ground with the vegans. I can look past all the sneering and animosity every time we order food that isn’t on the menu. You secretly respect us. Some of you even want to be us. Or at least, your desire to be a conscious eater makes you long for a clean and consistent moral framework, like ours. I get it.
Hell, I (almost) sympathize. I’ve read Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, and I’ll let you in on a secret: Our version of Food Rules could fit on a single Post-It. Written in Sharpie. “Don’t eat anything from an animal.” There’s a beautiful simplicity to that.
So whenever I read something like, “I [used to] find vegans irritating,” all I hear is someone with deep reservations about eating dead animals, and they’re not being entirely honest with themselves about it. Or they’re experiencing the painful dissonance of trying to resolve “I’m a conscious eater” with “I want to eat animals.”
That’s why we’re irritating. There are too few of us to really have any impact over your day-to-day lives, and most of us stick to our own ghettos anyway. While “hell is other people” is practically a Facebook quotes cliché at this point, it fits. If hell is the torment that people reflect back at each other, then we’re your hell. Not because of what we do, but because of what you’re reminded of when you think about us.
7x7’s Tara Duggan admits that she couldn’t face a severed pig’s head staring back at her and her kids, not even from the safe distance of a stock pot. These moments of deep, unexplainable discomfort reveal what we truly believe, before those beliefs get papered over with rationalizations and artificial choices designed to get us through the day. Before those rationalizations get codified into “Food Rules” or flow charts about what to eat.
Should I eat beef? Well, maybe, if the cow comes from this producer, raised in this way, treated in that manner, processed by these people, sold in this store, and even after all that, you have to trust that the label isn’t lying. (No wonder even conscious eaters give up and dive into the “occasional carnitas taco from a truck.”) But what are all these contortions in service to? Not the animals, and only questionably the environment. Really what they serve are the taste buds, and nostalgia. You don’t want to miss food you might miss, even though catching a glimpse of those pig’s teeth poking out from an expressive face is telling you otherwise.
Ms. Duggan explains that “although both veganism and the whole-animal, extreme meat-eating trend inhabit the fringes of the American dietary spectrum, they share a common political goal—one of using food resources wisely and with a conscience,” but she’s answering the wrong question. Yes, some of us are vegan for strictly environmental reasons. But as a whole, vegans aren’t just using “food resources” more wisely. We’re ending the idea that an animal is a “resource.”
“Resources” are used, plundered, bought and sold, exploited. Where you see resources consumed in a slightly more sustainable fashion (though still in a fashion that will not and cannot feed 6 billion people), we see torture, abuse, and slavery. And while I’ll welcome any attempt to reduce both the quantity of animal suffering and the environmental footprint of the food system, let’s be clear. As long as this “resources” mentality persists among meat-eaters, we’re still talking past each other.