I'm late with my Powell's blog today! Okay, I'm not actually late, but I wrote this whole thing called "Portland: Why Aren't You Vegan?" and it came out really wrong. Here's a snippet:
More specifically: bike riding, canvas bag shopping, water bottle sipping, book reading, farmer's market being, sustainable, shade grown, local, fair trading, Morrissey listening, recycled footwearing, why aren't you vegan? Especially those of you with the Baby Bjorn. Those fabric diapers don't cancel out that free range chicken salad. Don't you want your children's children to have one of those awesome earths that we had when we were growing up?
But my god, that is offensive. And yet, while I have the ear of Portland, I would like to speak about it. Problem is, it's really hard to talk about stuff without coming across as a judgmental asshole. Like when you try to get your parents not to shop at Walmart, or vote for McCain, or be anti-semitic or whatever — it's touchy and delicate. But here I go.
I remember when I first understood the concept of vegetarianism, even if I didn't know the word. I grew up in the projects in Brooklyn. Single mom, brother and sister and me, plus our cats. Obviously we were lower class; although our apartment was spacious, middle-class people weren't exact moving to the projects for the open floor plans and oversized windows. Our dinners consisted mostly of Hamburger Helper, frozen pizza, and take out. One night my mom brought home the ultimate in luxury: a bucket full of fried chicken. I can still kind of taste it, all salty and greasy and comforting. Which makes me think our tastebuds hold on to memory much longer than our brains do.
Well, I got down to the end of my chicken thigh and exposed the bone. There was something gristly on it and that gristle set off a lightbulb in my head. I made the connection: bone = animal. Animal = cat. I realized that this chicken we were eating is the same as that chicken we saw at the petting zoo. And the horrors kept funneling in: hamburgers were cows, bacon was pigs. I didn't go vegan right then and there, I don't even think I was finished with second grade. But it did spark something in me.
I had a few failed attempts at vegetarianism over the years, but it finally clicked with me in high school and yes, fine, it was the Smiths' Meat is Murder. Nothing subtle about that. It's death for no reason and death for no reason is murder. I know a lot of us tried vegetarianism in high school. In fact, some people think that their two week stint with a veggie burger justifies their meat eating for the rest of their lives. But it stuck for me, I think simply because I kept my eyes and, sob, my heart open and remembered that initial spark. I just couldn't shake the feeling that eating a pig would be no different from eating a dog. Taking a life is pretty serious stuff and you better have a goddam good reason.
It's something like 20 years later and veganism in America is incredibly different in 2009. For one, if the lives of animals don't interest you, we have solid environmentalist reasons for promoting veganism. I like to joke that the end of the world is the best thing that ever happened to animal rights. But the sad truth is, we're eating ourselves into oblivion. There is no such thing as sustainable meat. The methane alone would destroy the environment, free range grass fed or not. And if everyone hunted their own meat, the animals would be gone before you could say "carrying capacity." But 20 years ago people wouldn't have even pretended to care about a cow. All the happy meat stuff at least shows that we do care, and if we do, let's cut through the bullshit. There is no vegan's dilemma! Stuff we'd need to work out, sure. Dilemma, no. And if you don't care, well, then I have a "People Eating Tasty Animals" beer hat I'd like to sell you.
Speaking of which, you don't have to be a PETA supporter to be vegan! So before you get scared that you will be forced to to lie naked in the street in shrink wrap, here are a couple of pretty awesome organizations where you can learn more.
Once you've looked into the eyes of one of these rescued animals, you'll never want to eat a lambchop again.
Compassion Over Killing
They do lots of good stuff, like getting companies and restaurants to go vegan or have more vegan options.
In Defense Of Animals
They have a Portland chapter and do lots of work for all kinds of animals. If dogs and cats ain't your thing, they work to get elephants out of circuses, and stuff like that.
And before the usuals comment, let me beat them to the punch.