"There's plenty of room for all God's creatures — right next to the mashed potatoes" - T-shirt slogan


I own this t-shirt, bought for me as a gift in the unremarkable town of Sault Saint Marie, near the Canadian border in Northern Michigan. It tickled me that someone would wear such a thing, but I was also delighted with the sentiment - as an ex-vegetarian I see the funny side. I admit that it occasionally amuses me to poke at the sensibilities of some of the vegan tendency by wearing it around Davis. To put this into perspective, Davis is one of those university towns tending toward the righteous liberal, and a good number of those are the militant vegans.

Now I am not opposed to veganism. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that. I have vegan friends, we have many discussions about food, and generally we agree more than we disagree. There does, however, exist a small proportion of vegans who (as with so many splinter groups) are more inclined to get in one's face about their beliefs. These are the individuals who have button-holed me in various places to criticise my omnivorean choice of diet, which does include meat and its products.

Beware the Jabberwok

I used to work in the Produce department of our local Food Co-op. I enjoyed my job. I loved talking about food, hearing about new ways to prepare veggies, share my own recipes. Most of all, I loved answering people's questions about new items, or vegetables that were unknown to them. Most of these were positive experiences, from people eager to learn and extend their foodscape. I say most, because there were a few that went awry, for example, this one:

Customer: (on seeing collard greens for the first time) How do you cook this?
Me: I start by heating a wok and frying an onion in bacon grease...
Cu: (interrupting) I'm vegan!
Me: Well, you could substitute any oil or fat...
Cu: You didn't even think about your answer, did you?
Me: Well actually, yes, I did. You asked me how I cooked collards.
Cu: You never thought to check whether I could eat animal fats!
Me: You're right, I apologise. Now, you can fry the onion in olive oil.
Cu: You just assume that everyone eats meat!
Me: Actually, I don't. But you did ask me how I cooked them, and that was my response.
Cu: I don't like onions, either.
Me: Well, there are many ways of cooking collards, this is just my favourite!
Cu: I'm not sure I want to hear any more.
Me: So you don't want advice on how to cook collards?
Cu: (walking away) @*%$!#

I was never going to win this one. I remember coming back home, and telling Christine the story. She responded with laughter, and words to the effect of "fry an {allium of your choice} in the {oil or fat of your choice}". Wise; you can see why I married her.

God Forbid That Everyone Think Like Me

The problem as I see it is this: each of us makes decisions based on culture, upbringing, taste and personal beliefs. These decisions may be political, religious, ethical, moral; and if they work for us individually, so much the better. The problem arises when some militancy or (for the want of a better word, zealotry, maybe) fundamentalism creeps into that personal worldview. Suddenly, those who do not agree become enemies - that's when the individual goes to war with the world, gets up on the high horse and decides that "I'm right, the rest of you are wrong".

The Christian decides that atheists, Moslems and Jews are plain wrong, and preaches hatred. The Liberal attacks the Conservative, and vice versa. Radio talk show hosts go on the rampage with their rabid spew, engendering offensive defensiveness from the other side as a matter of course. Liberals vent at "gun nuts", the NRA attacks anyone who dares to suggest that there is good reason to limit access to firearms. PETA goes for the jugular of Mankind, animal rights activists blow up laboratories, right-to-lifers blow up abortion clinics. Counter-attack, lie, abuse the media. Common human decency, reasonable discourse and the Devil's Advocate fall by the wayside.

I admit that I occasionally tweak the noses of vegans and their ilk, but to be honest, it's generally good-natured, they give as good as they get and we can generally part on friendly terms. At the end of the day, there's room for all of us. God forbid that the world is ever populated with people who think just like me; I'd move to Mars.


Postscript

Following my posting this, I have been enjoying an interesting and challenging conversation with Oolong on the subject. He reminds me that veganism is not merely a dietary choice, but an ethical philosophy that includes animals in the 'do no harm' manner of living. There are clear parallels with slavery, he points out, and I admit that I have long been swayed by that in my choices of food, but not so far as to give up animal products. I salve my conscience by taking animal products (as far as possible) that have been treated more humanely, and I'm honest enough to recognise that this is still a poor way to go about life.

The slogan on the shirt does go a little further than it appears, however. Reading between the lines, it's talking about hunting, and I do know of people who decline to eat meat that they have not killed themselves, citing the more "sporting" nature of it. This opens another can of worms, and I regret that I have no appetite for dealing with that just now.