February 15, 2008

But everyone's doing it...

Here is a tale, taking place in the Twin Cities, demonstrating a social issue for which I am an advocate for change.

I walked into a coffee shop proclaiming its own eco-conciousness and its fair-trade, locally grown, tree-hugging atmosphere. I ask the waitress what I should get and she offers me a side salad. A side salad! Why is this a social/design issue, you ask? Because I am a vegan, and I'm so tired of salad.

There is an issue at hand in this and I'm sure other cities across our great nation. It is very difficult for a vegan to get a good meal in public. This makes it difficult for people to become and/or stay vegan, and keeps the meat market thriving. The meat market is the real problem, but the fact that so many people continue to support it prevents its solution.

The meat industry is responsible for so many atrocities to this world I can't even think about it without a rant running through my head. I won't get into the details, but if we as a society consumed less (or, in my dream world, no) animal products, the following things might happen:

-more people would have food worldwide (a vegan diet would feed almost twice as many people worldwide than one with 25% animal products)

-methane greenhouse gases, acid rain and the threat of global warming would be significantly reduced (cows raised for food are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions and 64% of ammonia which contributes to acid rain)

-and water would be in greater supply to those who need it (livestock farming takes up 8% of global human water use, and pollutes through manure waste as much per cow as 3-6 people)

*All statistics derived from Vegan Outreach - and

I could go into much more detail and a much longer list, not to mention the torturous treatment of the animals themselves raised for our palatable pastimes, but that is not my point in this blog. My point is to detail how this bleeding heart belief system of mine harms human society. So here I go on that.

First of all, a meat-centered diet is not a natural one, it is a socially designed one. We are bombarded all our lives with the notion that a meat-centered diet is the only way to go.
The people who tend to stray from that are the ones who stray from the beaten path on other facets of life, who have ad-blockers up and seem a little, well, different. We are taught to blend in and stay "normal" and the only way to make something, like a diet, seem "normal" is to design it, through advertisements, television shows, the meals restaurants offer, and the way people talk about it. If a man hears people talking about crazy granola-and-celery-stick-eating hippies being vegetarians, then his doctor tells him to do so for his health, he's going to have a hard time, because he doesn't want to be a freak, an outsider. However, if the restaurant he already likes offers some tasty vegan meals and tells him so, if he sees advertisements for vegan food or meat substitutes, and sees his favorite sitcom star eating a veggie burger, he might be a little more keen to the idea.

I've been a vegan in the Twin Cities for two years and I can only name a handful of restaurants who advertise their veg-friendly menus. There are a couple of mainstream places, like Pizza Luce, which provide quality fare for both meat-eaters and herbivores, Photobucketbut if you've ever been to someplace like The Hard Times Cafe or The Seward Cafe you'd know that while their... alternative atmosphere may cater well to those who are already onto things like alternative diets, they don't exactly draw a very diverse crowd or get the message beyond their own front doorsteps. I don't need to tell you how much we are influenced by the things we see, you've heard it enough from the anti-tobacco groups (who, incidentally, are using the exact same methods, and it's working for them.) Right now, the word vegetarian has a negative stigma, and anyone who watched baseball star Roger Clemens ask a Congressman "What's a vegan?" yesterday, can see that a plant-based diet is not exactly on the pulse of the nation. My spell checker keeps underlining the word vegan throughout this document and it makes me sad. Photobucket

An article by Peter Fricker in the "Globe and Mail Update"* describes these frustrations: "Last week, Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nation's Nobel Prize-winning scientific panel on climate change, asked the world to "please eat less meat... This is something that the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) was afraid to say earlier, but now we have said it."" Even an organization responsible for the protection of the environment - something even non animal lovers claim to care about in this Al-Gore-hybrid-car era - is afraid of the public's reaction to such a request. According to Fricker, people are more afraid of "the dreaded v-words: vegetarian and vegan." The social connotation of these words is powerful - I tell people I'm a vegan and they tell me I'm extreme or crazy or launch into mockery. The problem, however, is that our numbers are small and misunderstood. Once I "came out" (as vegan) to a group of new coworkers, and they all seemed nice enough. Then I heard that on a day I was gone, one woman had asserted that I was a liar, because "it's physically impossible to live without dairy and eggs." I don't know where she got her facts from, because I'm alive and well. But again, I'm off topic. My point is, this is a social problem, and although many of the worlds most celebrated minds have supported animal rights and meat-free diets, the world at large has still been designed to believe it's just not right.

*"Care about the environment? Eat less meat.

"Kindness and compassion towards all living beings is a mark of a civilized society. Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are all cut from the same defective fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves." - Cesar Chavez

"The beef industry has contributed to more American deaths than all the wars of this century, all natural disasters, and all automobile accidents combined. If beef is your idea of 'real food for real people,' you'd better live real close to a real good hospital." - Neal D. Barnard, M.D., President, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

"I have from an early age abjured the use of meat, and the time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men." Leonardo Da Vinci

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." Albert Einstein

"A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral." Leo Tolstoy

*all quotes from

Think about how often you eat. If everyone, every time they ate, was at the same time making a selfless, moral decision about that food, they might feel really good about themselves. That good feeling might be carried through to more selfless acts or compassion towards other creatures (maybe, their fellow man?) But that's my idealistic idea. I'm just trying to be the change I wish to see in the world. And every time I take a bite, I'm making a decision to continue my advocacy. And if it was easier and more socially acceptable in our modern world to maintain an animal and environmentally friendly diet, I think more people would be keen to be that change too.