Friday, May 09, 2008

Catching more flies with brown rice syrup.

I'm pro-choice. I'm also a vegetarian. In some ways, it feels like pro-lifers and vegetarians have philosophical overlap, and when either side takes that to its dystopic extreme, it seems to do more harm than good to their movement.

At first it might seem unfair to compare the two—though unfair to whom depends on which side you favor. But consider the tactics and imagery used.

Pro-life (anti-abortion activists, really) in its extreme uses blown-up photos of aborted fetuses and the shout the word of their wrathful god to picket abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood offices. Vegetarians—under the auspices of PETA or the Animal Liberation Front—protest with pictures of beakless chickens smothered in overcrowded coops and toss red paint on people wearing fur. Both are doing so in the name of saving lives or ending cruelty to living things. Neither are likely to convince many people to change their beliefs or actions except perhaps in the short term.

I'm the immature person who drives by a Planned Parenthood protest with my middle finger raised, but I haven't got much more respect for the off-putting tactics of PETA/ALF/et al. While I feel the need to respect all their beliefs, I disagree so deeply that it begins to offend me. I don't think it's right to guilt people into major life decisions, be it what god to follow, when to have a child, or what to eat for dinner.

My point here was less to compare and contrast vegetarians and pro-lifers and more to point out what I see as wrong with the vegetarian movement as the public sees it. Maybe it's because my entree into vegetarianism was the environmental aspects (e.g., raising a cow is an inefficient use of resources) and not because I hurt for the poor widdow animals, but I do think people are swayed by the latter too. Just not when people are confronting them about it.

I know a lot of foodies have been changing their meat-eating habits to avoid factory farming and opt for animals raised and slaughtered in more humane, sanitary conditions, and that those meats are more expensive leads some of them to expand their vegetarian repertoire. And, hey, while they're doing that, maybe they discover that there's a hell of a lot you can do without pork, chicken, fish, or beef. Radically changing one's diet is a difficult process and not one that's right for everyone, no matter how many Flash animations you develop featuring sad cows.

For me, vegetarianism is a challenge and an adventure. Sure, it's not adventurous in the sense that you get to eat offal and balut—though I do think people who do eat meat should own that fact and eat all the edible parts of an animal, which is what allows me to enjoy Anthony Bourdain—but in a puzzle sense. How can I make something delicious without using eggs, dairy, or meat?* How can I make it fresh and exciting? What can I learn to do better? What can I learn to make at home that I used to buy at the store (like fakin bacon—homemade tempeh bacon is rad)? Will my non-vegetarian friends think this is as good as I do and ask for the recipe?

That's how it ought to be done: careful personal consideration and a little helpful nudging from those of us on the other side. I'm not trying to convert, I just think that the more reasonable it seems, the more easily people can be won over by the facts. And even then, it's still a big personal decision.

* Note: I am lacto-ovo vegetarian still, but the vast majority of my home cooking is vegan for two reasons: (1) Kevin, (2) even if Kevin doesn't eat the stuff I bake, at least I know it won't be INSANELY unhealthy. Just SORT OF unhealthy, which is good enough for me when I end up eating the whole batch. Of dough. For dinner.

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