The Uncomprehending Reaction
IN ALL MY years as a vegetarian, the thing that surprises me the most is the surprise that the fact of my vegetarianism elicits.
Some try to make as little of it as possible, thereby creating an invisible tension. Others blink their eyes and feign interest. Then there are those who assume it’s the subject I feel like talking about, whatever the occasion. Oh yes, of course if I’m out drinking with friends and celebrating life and kicking up my heels… of course I want to get into a heavy conversation that I could probably write a ten-volume series of books about, and still have some steam left over.
Then there are those who take it as an outright provocation. It’s necessary to break this category into two subcategories: the passive aggressive who works out his anger at different philosophies and sets of ethics with weak humour, and the chap who I shall heretofore refer to as “John Wayne”.
But what John Wayne is really scared of isn’t radical activism, it’s ideas, because ideas can slowly take root, and before you know it, everything has changed.
Look at anti-porn campaigner Patricia Bartlett, a moral puritan who, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was widely reported cataloguing the degeneration of our Christian values: incredibly sinful activities like couples living together prior to marriage, and TV showing the odd tit, or using the odd bit of “bad language”. Despite Bartlett’s wide dissemination in the media, and a lot of tut-tutting from sympathetic moral guardians, our sexual mores continues to get wilder and our definition of what required keeping from impressionable eyes much looser. If Bartlett was alive today, she would know that she’d lost the battle. Heck, even I’m sometimes shocked at what they show on television these days.
But the point is, things change, and that nothing is more inevitable. The “free love” revolution of the hippy generation of the ‘60s may have failed in the way that that generation originally envisaged (creating, for instance, a stage for the horribly exploitational porn industry), but the ideas did seep through to normal society, and we’re now not nearly as hung up about sex and what God’s wrath might unleash upon us if we use our naughty bits outside of wedlock.
I believe that the idea of vegetarianism will inevitably seep into mainstream society; in fact, my contention is that it’s already happening, just more slowly than I’d like.
Of course, there are those who are offended at the idea of vegetarianism precisely because they see it as some high-and-mighty, politically correct strand of moral puritanism, and not, like me, an idea who’s time has come. They see humans as superior beings simply because of our intellectual capacities, and take it as their right to exploit all the earth’s resources. These are people who have taken their hedonism to selfish heights.
Personally, I relish the sensual world, and there’s more than a little bit of the hedonist in me, too. While a dedicated meat-eater would contend that you couldn’t be fully connected to the sensual world without chowing down on a rare steak now and again, my answer would go something like this: 1) Have you ever stopped to think about what that steak is, exactly? That it’s degenerating tissue from a cadaver that’s been brutally murdered for your culinary thrill? 2) Try eating a slow-cooked red pepper or tomato sometime, one that has been lavished with just the right herbs and dressings, and tell me that isn’t more sensual, more enlivening, and more of a taste riot than a piece of dead meat.
Vegetarianism is a fantastically simple idea, and to my mind, there are no flaws in this idea. Avoiding meat makes sense, for the human body, for the ethical core, and for the planet we live on. And there’s one other devastating truth about vegetarianism: If everyone did it – or even a substantial proportion of the world’s bipedal inhabitants did it – the world would be a better place.
While there’s little contention in the science and statistics about meat eating being devastating for the ecosystem we share with animals and plants, for the time being, culinary hedonism has created a mental block to simply getting the fact that this simple, painless procedure could really, really make a difference. GARY STEEL