Note from Josh: Shane is becoming one of my favorite writers. If you didn’t catch it, please check out his post Life After Depression after this one.
Vegan is a goofy word. It sounds like a magical food cult where root vegetables are worshipped beneath a full moon. All hail the carrot goddess.
By definition vegans must not eat animals or anything derived from them, including eggs and dairy. Some vegans also boycott honey because they believe it’s a form of insect slavery. A fundamentalist vegan will not wear leather or other animal hides, furs, or silk harvested from non-unionized moth larvae.
Even before vegetarianism went mainstream, vegans dined on the extrasolar fringe, frightening their parents half to death. If vegetarians were believed to be in grave danger of anemia, radical weight loss, decreased immunity, or reading Karl Marx, vegans were bona fide nut jobs in need of a C.I.A. takedown.
Then vegan found its way into every day conversation and became less scary sounding. Sort of like Yoga, a ritualized stretching practice that for a while troubled some Christians because, oh, I forgot why—until they began opening “Christian” Yoga studios. I have no idea what that means so let’s stick to the topic of eating.
Most of us belong to a food cult whether we admit it or not. Whatever eating system we enter into seduces us with promises, both curative (arthritis, cancer) and preventative (death). Vegetarians and vegans sometimes link themselves to New Age thoughts (e.g., when you eat a slaughtered animal you literally ingest its suffering). Seriously, Deepak Chopra got in on that one when he tied it to quantum physics. A young vegetarian I knew told me that water collected near Nagasaki, Japan “remembers” the violence of the bomb. Arcane beliefs from the ancient world are also alluring to some who choose a plant-based diet because old practices must work, right? They are old! Or alternative. Whatever.
Everyone’s a food preacher now. A foodist as I like to say. TV chefs insist that one must eat everything in order to be truly happy (Anthony Bourdain might include cocaine on his list, technically not a food) but then they admit to having Type 2 diabetes like Paula Deen, or they just get fat like Mario Batali, whose swollen red face looks frighteningly incendiary. Dr. Oz publishes books on every particle that goes through his colon. Sandra Bullock tells us that she only eats button-size portions of roasted chicken and herbed fish accompanied by a wheat grass smoothie, which even I will tell you is one disgusting beverage unless it’s 98% bananas, pineapple, strawberries and a generous squirt of Reddi-Wip.
Simply put, it’s impossible to eat anything free of meta data these days.
When I was growing up my family ate animals, but vegetables were also served in equal proportion. Fresh fruit was a staple. Personally I never loved meat all that much—it always made me a tad queasy, so flesh was easy to quit. Once at a summer barbeque my sister asphyxiated on a fat piece of steak and turned blue. My father performed the Heimlich, and saved her life. After that shocking incident I forever lost my appetite for slabs of grilled cow, and to this day I don’t find anything sexy about a man who is king of his Coleman unless he can braise veggie kabobs without losing the cherry tomatoes through the grill.
Eating vegan or semi-vegan (I put myself in the latter category) really just means that plants dominate our meals. Of course without plants humans would literally have no food of any kind. If plants exited the food chain, both carnivorous and herbaceous animals would disappear, and we would have no choice other than to eat each other’s faces, leaving the remnants for the roaches.
Honestly I do worry about our current food system—industrialized, scaled up to an almost incomprehensible state with next to zero planning or understanding of how it can be maintained over hundreds and thousands of years. Doritos and Coke? An unwise strategy for long-term survival.
Eating a plant-based diet supplies me with good physical health—my doctor marvels at my consistently superior cholesterol levels. My food choices also give me an itsy if not tenuous sense that I can make the world a better place. It’s magical thinking, I know, but at least I don’t believe that if I curse at my leaky plumbing the tap water will hold a grudge.
About the author
You can visit Shane at his blog The Passionate Gardener