Oh, You Eat Meat? Please, Feel Free To Berate Me.

I have been some version of vegan/vegetarian/pescatarian for the last six years. I do have personal beliefs and I don’t wish to push them on anyone. However, the number of times I have had unsolicited accusations, arguments, and insults related to my dietary choices far outweigh the number of times I’ve seen anyone go vegan-nazi on a meat eater. It’s completely unfair to claim the burden of silence rests on someone whose basic intentions (one would hope), is to decrease suffering.

I have known many militant vegans. Some of them are my best friends. I get just as annoyed as the meat eating population when they cast judgments on other people for their food choices. What Ms. Fagan has essentially done is cast her own judgments on people who choose a different lifestyle, and subsequently claim that if they don’t agree with her own, that they should just STFU about it.

She claims that posting pictures of produce on the internet is just another way for vegetarians to reinforce their elite morals on the rest of the population. How insensitive of someone to be excited about vegetables when so many people live in “food deserts”! Being excited about veggies represents way more entitlement than posting a picture of bacon-wrapped fried fois gras nuggets dipped in brie. Those are totally available at the 7-11 in East New York. God forbid someone be so blissfully ignorant of the horrors of the food crisis in the United States to post a picture of kale they got from their CSA (for what it’s worth — many CSAs accept food stamps). These statements are extreme and intended to be sarcastic, but this is the basic logic I’ve drawn from Ms. Fagan’s argument.

While food choices should be personal, the fact of the matter is that they aren’t. Just as we have been eating meat since we “were able to sharpen a stick and throw it at moving things,” we have also been using food for much, much more than mere nutrition for nearly as long. Food is something that brings us together, that gives us comfort. The idea of the bonding that comes from sharing a meal is age-old. This explains why, when someone’s dietary choices are threatened, such a visceral and emotional reaction can occur. There is a way to rise above that reaction, but it’s not automatic. It’s something that requires a modicum of time and thought. One must acknowledge the effect that socialization has on our attitudes towards food. Yes, people have been eating meat for a long time, but as an American, most every social, cultural, and media based cue since you’ve become cognitively aware tells you that meat is awesome. Maybe meat is awesome, but those ideas have been imprinted from a very early age in a similar way that something like gender roles are reinforced. It’s worth thinking about before you instinctually reply with the cliché “I could NEVER give up cheese.”

I don’t post videos of animal cruelty on my Facebook page. I don’t enjoy watching them. I’m not crazy about animal torture but what incenses me even more is the lack of transparency from the companies that make the food that people put into their bodies. The conditions around how 99% of animals are “processed” for mass consumption are downright disgusting. There is a severe disconnect between how our food is prepared and how we treat that same food once it arrives on our kitchen counter.

Remember Sinclair’s The Jungle and how everyone sh-t a brick when they saw the awful conditions that plagued factories? For some reason, people put their faith in “modern” technology, believing that whatever questionable methods are used to raise, slaughter, and otherwise process animal products must be “safe” because the government says so. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know exactly what goes into a lot of our food. We aren’t clear on the politics of the meat industry. I’m not saying this is a reason to eat meat or not. I’m just saying that not every person’s dietary choices spring from the desire to frolic with the cows and chickens and everyone lives happily ever after. It can also be about consumer empowerment, which I think is something that meat eaters would support if their brains didn’t start screaming SELF RIGHTEOUS ASSHOLE ad infinitum the minute they hear the words “I don’t eat meat.”

I do agree with Ms. Fagan that even being able to have “dietary choices” is inherently privileged. Many people in America (and the world) do not have that luxury. I understand that just having food — any food — is a struggle for many. But it’s completely invalid for a person like Ms. Fagan, who I’m assuming lives closer to the end of the spectrum of those who can afford healthy food, to say that because some people are not afforded the luxury of fresh, local produce, no one should so much as speak the word “kale.” Let’s not forget, steak is a luxury too. This argument is just looking for another way to show that people who choose to abstain from meat or animal products are somehow inherently self-righteous by the sole fact that they prefer vegetables to meat products.

My point is that the longer meat eaters cast widely generalized and unnecessarily vehement judgments on those who choose to be conscious of their eating habits, the longer we all have to endure these silly diatribes that only create cyclical moral arguments that no one will win. I would rather focus on how the food industry keeps everyone (poor and affluent alike) in the dark about what happens to the food they eat. But I’m still going to post pictures of vegan food on Instagram. And you will still post pictures of bacon-infused bourbon cocktails. And this is OK. TC mark

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