In the strict scientific sense, we all feed on death — even vegetarians. — Mr. Spock, Star Trek
My friend Hanis has a tattoo of a pig on his left forearm — a simple outline and diagram of butcher’s cuts, each portion labeled from head to hock. For months now, Hanis has been nurturing two live porkers on a farm in East County. They are comfortable and cared for. He closely supervises their feeding — they get only the choicest slop and leftover mash from a local brewery. Hanis’s hogs have names: Happy Tummy 1 and Happy Tummy 2.
While Hanis (a chef) gets a gleam in his eye while thinking of how tasty his pigs will be, it seems an increasing number of my friends have gone vegetarian. I organize the growing number of herbivores I know into three categories: Live and Let Die, Holier Than Thou Hypocrites, and Militant Vegans.
Into the first cubbyhole, I place my favorite no-flesh-eating friends. Like a Cafeteria Catholic, the Live and Let Die folks pick and choose their own forbidden fruit. My sister Jane doesn’t like the taste of most animals, fish included; if pressed, she’ll admit she gets queasy thinking about where meat comes from, but she allows the occasional processed slice of turkey to find its way into her sandwiches. My friend Jessica is a full-on vegetarian, but, like a quietly confident Catholic, she doesn’t make a big deal of it. Low-maintenance at dinner parties, Jessica will eat what she can and is so polite she wouldn’t think of uttering a word of displeasure or disdain when her options are limited.
I should disclose here that I am an omnivore. All humans are omnivores by nature, but I am one who chooses to follow in the evolutionary footsteps of my ape cousins and Homo ancestors, such as erectus and neanderthalensis. I don’t fault a man for sinking his teeth into steak any more than I would hold a lion accountable for enjoying antelope for dinner. I see nothing wrong with cultures that consider dogs to be food — it is illogical to balk at the ingestion of one animal while eating another; some Easterners love cows the way Westerners love cats — a person from each faction would likely freak at the other’s cavalier consumption of the one’s cherished creature. I don’t feel an obligation to justify why I eat meat, nor do I expect practicing herbivores to explain why they don’t.
I know a few “pescatarians” — those who don’t ingest poultry or meat but have no problem feeding on the “fruits” of the sea. People who will eat fishies only fall into my first category if they don’t claim a “moral” reason for avoiding meat. I don’t mean “moral” as in concern for the treatment of animals before they’re killed and eaten (free-range chicken is as easy to find as unfarmed fish), I mean “moral” as in an elevated regard for the life of all Earth’s creatures. If a pescatarian tells me he believes eating animals is “wrong,” I imagine he rationalizes eating fish is not as wrong. I can only assume this is because it’s a bigger stretch for us humans to anthropomorphize, and therefore identify with, those slippery aliens. I wonder how these people would feel about eating vegetation if plants grew fast enough for us to perceive their movement or if they had eyes.
A minor pet peeve of mine is when a dinner companion, upon imparting the news of her vegetarianism as though declaring loyalty to a political party, then adds, “But it’s okay, you can eat what you want, I don’t mind.” Following such a statement, I can’t help but think, Why, thank you, how extremely gracious of you to allow me to select my own meal. I am certain your sainthood awaits. Of course, what I actually say is, “Okay, good.”
Like born-again Christians, Holier Than Thou Hypocrite veggies like to propagate their kind by preaching their newly adopted good word. It’s not enough for them to have made the decision to not eat meat — they will not be satisfied until you either join them or feel sufficiently guilty, and damned if you don’t. But as dedicated as these vegetarians claim to be, they are only as fastidious as is convenient for them.
One such acquaintance recently lectured me on the horrors of slaughterhouses. During her priggish monologue, she revealed that she owns two cats. As I took in her moral outrage, I wondered if she ever considered looking into where and how meat is acquired for cat food. I did.
With a little research, I discovered the laws for labeling pet food have more holes than a Wiffle ball. Not only do the scraps of meat come from the very slaughterhouses she condemns, the food is then tested on animals. In one article, I read that the manufacturer for hippie-endorsed brands including Nature’s Variety, Iams, and Newman’s Own Organics intentionally fed animals tainted food — dogs and cats that ended up dying from “painful” kidney failure. It went on: “Videotapes reveal the animals’ lives in barren metal cages; callous treatment; invasive experiments; and careless cruelty.” Cats are strictly carnivorous, and most of the vegetarians I know have one.
It’s not that I mind inconsistencies. We are all inconsistent on one point or another. It’s those who make a habit of haranguing others about their choices, those who are arrogant about their wholesomeness whom I find most annoying, especially when all that is required to expose some blatant hypocrisy is a quick Google search. Which leads me to the Militant Vegans.
I’ve only met a few of them. These are the people for whom life is a scavenger hunt. Innocuous vegans quietly go about their lives searching for soy milk, fake leather, and tofu. But like religious zealots, Militant Vegans are outraged by nonbelievers — and with so few fanatics, heretics abound.
Militant Vegans are a smug bunch, stomping through Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s with a sneer for anyone pondering the meat selection. They are disgusted with omnivores (only if human) and leather lovers and are not afraid — rather, compelled — to detail the reason for their scorn. Fortunately, such literal interpreters (think of the Bible’s “eye for an eye”) are so dedicated to their canon that they are unlikely to befriend us heathens.
David was a vegetarian for seven years. When I asked him why he resumed eating meat, he answered, “I went veggie because I thought it would be more healthful. But after seven years I couldn’t attribute any specific difference in my health or in the way I felt to having been vegetarian. Of course, one would have to be able to live two simultaneous lives to know for sure, but I like the taste of meat, so in the end I decided that the French have it right — all things in moderation.” Then he told me he can’t wait to “meet” Hanis’s Happy Tummies.