What goes into the choices that we make around food? Are they what we think they are? Do we really have a choice at all? Those are some of the questions I’m asking in this 3-part series about what it means to choose to eat – or not eat – meat, dairy, & eggs. Society-at-large is still largely unaccepting of the choice to be vegan, often based on a fundamental lack of knowledge about the effects of animal products on both the human body and the earth.
One of the most common ways people respond to vegan activism is to propose that everyone has the right to choose; if vegans want to choose the life of an ascetic outcast weakling that’s fine, but they’ve chosen to consume animal products. To each his own, and we should all be able to accept each other.
But have they really chosen to consume animal products? For most people the answer is no. Most people were raised consuming animal products and, except, perhaps, in the case of lactose intolerance, many a child has been made to eat/drink animal products even when they didn’t want to. It happened in my own family (I hated the taste of cow’s milk and I didn’t want to eat the meat from the lambs I’d bottle-fed and played with), and many other families besides mine. I’m not suggesting that no child enjoys animal products – many of them taste good, but that’s not the point. Children aren’t given information and a choice. They’re given a plate full of chicken nuggets and a glass of milk. And told it’s good for them, even though it’s not.
Those children become adults – you and me – who one day hear about this strange lifestyle called veganism, and we then have two options: turn away and ignore new information, content to rely on tradition, or engage and learn. If we opt to learn, then we have the building blocks of a true choice between veganism and carnism. So long as we are not aware of the consequences of our behaviors for the health & well-being of ourselves & our global family, the earth, and the other creatures on it – so long as we remain in the dark – we are not making a choice, but blindly fumbling along.
It reminds me of a scene from Labyrinth (yes, the awesome 1986 movie with David Bowie & Jennifer Connelly) – when Sarah first enters the Labyrinth on her quest for the castle at its center, she meets a worm who helps her find an invisible doorway. She goes through, and trots off to the left. The worm calls out after her “Hang on! … Don’t go that way! Never go that way!” Sarah thanks him, turns around, and leaves. The worm then lets the audience know that “if she’d’a kept on going down that way, she’d have gone straight to the castle.” She accepts his advice without question, when she would clearly have taken the path on the left had she but known. I know it’s totally naive, but I can’t help but think that, if people truly understood the consequences of eating meat, dairy, & eggs, most would choose veganism with little or no hesitation.
I think this generation has the same responsibility as every other: to progress, both scientifically and morally. Most vegans, myself included, are people who turned away from the truth for some period of time, understanding somewhere deep down that once we knew, we would have to change in order to be in keeping with our own moral standards and, eventually, we did. I think it’s safe to say most of us wish we had made the change sooner. Don’t be afraid to bear witness. It’s one of the most powerful things you can do to increase your knowledge, awareness, and connection with the rest of the world. Allow yourself to see the truth.
So, what are the actual consequences of our collective carnism? They are manifold! Such that they require a whole separate post. Part 3 coming soon.