Ethical veganism. To the die-hard omnivore, these two words inspire serious smirkage or shakes of head in barely restrained resignation to yet another ‘new age’ idea whose profundity escapes mainly because there’s none. To an average meat-eater who doesn’t really care either way, it is a over-encroaching ideal that is not unlike, say, Christianity, for the very presence of a vegan brings forth tiny ripples of uncertainty and guilt even as one chomps down on a chicken wing.
“Ugh. Something died for you to live. I hope it was worth it,” may be the gist of a quizzically cocked eyebrow or an upturned lip.
Like it or not, veganism is becoming more common these days for a number of reasons: animal rights, pursuit of physical purity, trying to be ‘special’ in an increasingly jaded, and jading, world. Having lived here in the Northwest the last two years, I’ve met more than a handful of vegans who are actually very nice people. However, I don’t really know since we’ve never shared a meal together. I suspect none of us wish to offend, which is why we stay away from food, or any discussion of it. Needless to say, these are not people I know very well.
The truth is veganism unnerves me, just as any sort of extremism does. As purists – and I don’t have a fondness for purists, except maybe for the Apostrophe Brigade -which I lump together with fundamentalists, literalists, the French, I think these groups of people interpret things too strictly, allowing very little room for change despite an ever-changing world. Now vigilantes on a quest to reign in an errant apostrophe, trying to keep an ancient language going, I can get on board with. At the very least, they provide a degree of entertainment. However, when you take a lifestyle choice so far you actually kill another person – your own child, for example? Now that’s just silly.
I know this is one very extreme and remote case (or perhaps the third case in four years?) but bear with me.
As an experiment, let us consider the case for veganism from a very simplistic viewpoint, in that I’m a lay person who knows as much about veganism as, say, quantum physics. I’m interested in neither, and therefore would not be inclined to research very deeply into either subject (not voluntarily anyway – who has the time?). But if someone were to stop me on the street, vegan bible in hand, and asked me if I’ll consider switching over to the light side, i.e. a meat- and animal-product-free diet for the sake of those poor animals, I would very likely blink, swallow and perhaps elicit a girlish giggle. Here’s why:
1. What if 80% of the world turned vegan? Will all the former slaughterhouses and chicken and pig farms be turned into fields and fields of soy and corn and wheat and herbs and whatever else vegans like, grown organically from, I don’t know, human waste since vegans can’t use any animal bi-products? What will this mean for our environment? Will there be a surplus of chickens because of all the eggs they lay? Where will all the uneaten animals go? Will growing soy make more efficient use of land than rearing livestock? What will having more vegetation do to the health of the environment? I don’t know. Nobody knows.
2. What if all the slaughterhouses and animals-bred-for-consumption industry go bust? And hunting resumes as the the only way one can get meat? Will the work of vegans be considered done, and they can, once again, ‘regress’ to their omnivoric state because hunting (ironically) is more ‘ethical’ (prey having a fair chance of escape)? After all, omnivores other than human beings hunt (carnivores being excepted since they will die if they don’t eat what they’re born to eat). Bears, chickens, flies, pigs – if they can eat meat, why can’t humans (if we don’t breed but hunt)? Something does not compute here.
3. If most of the world cannot turn fully (or mostly) vegan, for the sake of balance, will the world be a better place if half of us ate meat, and half of us did not? If so, do vegans, in some perverse equilibrium, need meat-eaters?
4. Is turning vegan about living longer or saving animals? If we live forever and the animals all get saved, wouldn’t the world be overpopulated?
5. Whatever happened to good old vegetarianism?
As a Malaysian Chinese, I grew up among Muslims who don’t eat pork, vegetarian Hindus, Buddhists and Catholics who occasionally abstain from meat, and believers of the deity Kuan Yin who don’t eat beef, so meat-abstinence is not a foreign concept to me. However, never have I (nor my parents) ever been made to feel as though I’m living a life of sin when I enjoy a chicken drumstick or a beef rendang. And yet, when I am faced with someone who declares him or herself to be a vegan, I am a little unnerved because all of a sudden, here’s someone who may be offended if I brought a meatloaf to a potluck, or is judging me to be something of a serial killer or mass murderer because I made an egg salad. I can’t even eat or cook without feeling the weight of the animal kingdom on my shoulders. That takes ‘you are what you eat’ to a whole new level.
And this is why I say veganism is not unlike Christianity. The whole “something (or someone) died for you to live” message just introduces so much guilt that it does not inspire a lot of good feelings. It’s simply too judgmental.
I wrote a post a few months back about how Rae recoiled at the fact that ham was made from pig. Some of the comments were a little…pointed, to say the least. These days, she still doesn’t like ham, but is so far still enjoying pork in its original form. Do I think it’s wise to talk to her about the meat industry at this age? No. She is just not mentally developed enough to handle it. If she decides, one day, that she wants to become a vegetarian for religious reasons? Fine. If she decides that she will not eat meat or animal by-products because it’s cruel, I will remind her that she’s very lucky to be able to make that choice. Lots of people (say, people who can’t even afford to eat, much less eat vegan) don’t. And as such, what she must resist doing is to judge meat-eaters just because they choose not to believe that abstinence is NOT the only sign of humanity, and it is NOT the only solution to humanity’s salvation.
If that is all it takes, I’ll turn vegan this very minute.