I became a vegetarian at the age of 4- basically, the moment I discovered what meat was. It’s a decision that is sacred to me. I don’t preach the lifestyle, but I do try to live cruelty free to the best of my ability. I don’t stand outside of zoos protesting- but I refuse to set foot inside of one. I don’t throw red paint on people wearing fur coats- but you sure as heck won’t see me wearing bunnies. I’m a firm believer that we must “be the change we want to see in the world” (distorted Ghandi quote- oh, the irony) and this is what I aim for. I know that this lifestyle brings me joy and vibrant health, and I know that everyone around me can see this. If they have questions, I’ll happily answer. I stay educated on issues of animal welfare and plant based health- it’s my passion, and I’m glad to share. But I also know that if one isn’t ready, this message can easily be distorted, and can do more harm than good.
There’s this person in my life- let’s call him… Garfield (it just happened to be on the tv as I was typing this.) Garfield is a lifelong meat eater. This has never gotten in the way of our friendship- I ate my food, he ate his. Often, he’d eat my food and enjoy it, but would make comments like, “if only this had bacon…” and that didn’t bother me. I’m used to it- meat eaters tend to feel meals are incomplete without animal products. I know I’m not missing out- I’m perfectly satisfied, so I just go on my merry way.
One day, Garfield discovered he had high blood pressure- dangerously high. His doctor wanted to put him on blood pressure medicine, but he had a hunch that he could lower it by going veg. He decided to give it a try for a month. He asked me all sorts of questions and I was happy to oblige. I gave him recipes, even a few cooking classes, taught him a few tricks I had learned over the years. And what do you know? Not only did his blood pressure drop substantially, but he felt like a new… er, cat. He lost weight, gained hair on his head, and his energy levels improved dramatically.
Suddenly, this was more than a month-long challenge. Garfield was hooked! He wanted to shout it from the rooftops- this was the way to be! He started sharing his story with anyone who’d listen- literally anyone. And always made sure to give me credit. It’s all thanks to Jenny! She showed me the way!
As happy as I was for him, I couldn’t help but be a bit bothered by his approach. While I do believe in the health benefits of a meatless lifestyle, I am in it first and foremost for ethical reasons. Ginny Messina wrote an article called “How the health argument fails veganism” and in it she makes an excellent point- people who go meatless to avoid animal cruelty are more likely to stick to the diet than those who are in it for their health. That’s because, while meatless diets can indeed improve health, they’re not the only path. There are ways to enjoy good health while still eating (moderate amounts of) meat. But there is no other way to avoid animal cruelty. Ethical veg/ns are in the diet for the long haul- they may start out eating junky faux meat products, but in time they realize that they feel best on whole foods and reframe their diet to make it work. They’re determined to make it work. Health veg/ns, ironically, tend to either base their diets around these faux meats, convinced that as long as they’re not eating the real thing, they’re doing their bodies a favor, or follow the strict and irrational guidelines of diet gurus who have no clue about real nutrition. When the health veg/ns diet fails, it’s taken as proof that veg/nism doesn’t work.
Garfield started off on the right track- he was eating lots of vegetables and legumes, lots of fruits and some grains. Then he started to let the fake meats creep in. Then came cheese- lots of it. And Flaming Hot Cheetos? Totally meatless! Why not?
I knew what was coming.
“Why do you care if Garfield eats meat?” Asked a mutual friend one day.
Wha-wha-what? Who said I cared?
“He’s afraid people are going to tell you he’s eating meat now.”
Oy. First he’s crediting me with his decision to go meatless, now he’s making me out to be some dictator who will lock him up the second I smell beef on his breath. Suddenly I’m being seen how I’d always feared I would- as preachy and militant.
My cause had been co-opted, my message distorted. This thing held sacred, this passion that burned quietly inside of me, had been turned inside out, like a peaceful protest gone violent because of one bad apple.
This isn’t the only time this has happened. I had an anorexic friend in high school who took on veg/nism as a means to cover up her eating disorder. Like Garfield, she was incredibly vocal about it. Maybe the most outspoken of us are trying to convince ourselves, not others. I’m not sure. But I’m happy with my lifestyle. I feel a great sense of joy in knowing I am not harming animals, that I am treading lightly on the environment, and that I am filling my body with live foods, foods that flood my body with nutrients and make me feel my absolute best.
My cause has been co-opted, but it has not been compromised. No one can take away from me the lives I have saved in choosing this lifestyle. I am awake. I am aware. I am at peace.
I’m doing my part. That’s all any of us can do.