A few years back, my friends Radharadhya and Kiriti and I had a discussion that could have been aptly titled, “Where Have All the Vegetarians Gone?”.
Back in our day, thoughtful, alternative, artsy, crunchy, hipster types were vegetarian. The uniform was easy to spot and usually consisted of one or more of the following–dreadlocks on white people, dyed black hair, messenger bag, thick black plastic glasses frames, chain wallet, tiny vintage t-shirts, canvas vans. These days, the dress is more or less the same but the diet has changed.
Beets and chard and broccolini are still there, but now served alongside free range chickens and organic local veal cutlets. Just as the straight edge kids grew up and now post what bar they are headed to on Facebook, the vegetarians too felt the social strain of a limited, plant based diet and “branched out” to more accessible fare. But of course, there has to be a hook.
And the new hook these days is eating locally. Somehow, killing animals for food is okay, as long as the animals have been raised nearby and have plenty of grass. People who read John Robbins Diet for a New America back in high school have now dumped that book at Goodwill to clear room on their bookshelves for the latest Michael Pollan hardback, shipped from Powells.com, as opposed to Amazon. Local is the new vegetarian. If you can personally butcher the meat yourself, hey, that’s proof that civilization is advancing!
This morning I read an editorial on the Huff Post by Victoria Moran that reminded me of this conversation I had with my friends years ago. Please check it out:
“Vegetarianism is good. And meat is like you are eating your own body. Because if you kill an animal, it is like killing yourself.”
The above is a quote from my 6 year old son. He asked me what I was writing about and when I told him I was posting abut vegetarianism, he asked me to add his thoughts. Gladly.
At first glance, Vm’s musings may seem naive, but I find them startlingly profound. “Because if you kill an animal, it is like killing yourself.” The empathy in this boy runs deep. He does not see the difference between eating human flesh and eating animal flesh. There is no hierarchy of bodily designation. Suffering is suffering, across the species. One entity’s suffering is wrapped up another entity’s suffering. Just how open are you to acknowledging that pain?
I could take credit for brainwashing my son into a vegetarian doctrine, but that isn’t the case. He didn’t know he was a vegetarian until he was three. He had no idea people ate meat until we were at the supermarket around Thanksgiving time and he saw people loading large, bulbous white plastic wrapped packages into their car. He asked me what that was and I had to tell him: dead turkey. To eat.
The look of shock on his face was devastating. Without any prompting, my children instinctually knew meat eating was, to be frank, a grotesque abomination. I told my kids that there were dead bodies of animals wrapped in packages in the store. That most of the people shopping here bought, cooked and ate those dead bodies. That how we eat is called vegetarianism and most people don’t eat that way.
Over the years I have tried to brainwash them to have courteous social skills so they can get along in a society where meat is the dominant culture. I never feared them wanting to taste or experiment with meat. Their humanity runs too deep for that.