« For some years now, a heated controversy has flared up among scientists. Can plants think? Are they intelligent?…this threatens to blur the boundary between plants and animals…The distinction between plant and animal, is, after all, arbitrary and depends on the way an organism feeds itself…the only other big difference is in the amount of time it takes to process information and translate it into action. »
(The Hidden Life of Trees, Chapter 14, Peter Wohlleben)
At the end of February, I began reading « The Hidden Life of Trees » by Peter Wohlleben. It’s basically the science of trees in language for hippies. It’s dry, but interesting. I’m getting through it. Reading Chapter 14 earlier this week made me think about my journey as a vegan.
In September of 2017 I became vegan. In the beginning, I did it for selfish reasons, for my own health and aesthetics. My turn to veganism had little to do with the treatment of animals. But as you immerse yourself in the culture, it is impossible to be blind to the information and evidence of how shamefully poorly most factory farming in North American (and elsewhere) treats animals. Thus, soon my veganism had two very equal motivations: my personal welfare and the welfare of those poor animals. However, just two years and two months later, in November of 2019, I actually came to loathe the word « vegan » and did no longer wanted to be associated with this group of people at all. I still eat a predominantly plant-based diet for the same two reasons. I practice full veganism at work. My home remains vegan except for wild-caught fish and a donation, once, of some wild-caught venison from a hunter. However, I am no longer « a vegan » and I actually think veganism is ridiculous.
The seeds of doubt began almost immediately. I went to a vegan social mixer for Hallowe’en in 2017. One vegan gentleman I spoke with there told me he hated most vegetables and mostly ate cereal, rice, etc. I was dumbfounded. What an absurd and unhealthy diet. I chose veganism specifically so I would eat more vegetables. Much more. He would not be the last stupid vegan I would meet. I went on a date with a fellow teacher and vegan who also told me, « You know how it is, most days, you come home, you pour yourself a bowl of cereal for dinner. » No, dude, I don’t know how that is. We need to make smart, responsible choices in life, for the animals, and for ourselves. And so the disillusionment continued to grow.
In March of 2018, I was promoting a book I’d written, which brought me to New Brunswick. I had events at Chapters in Fredericton, Chapters in Moncton, and as a guest speaker at a very cool soirée of about a dozen avid cyclists, also in Moncton. I also visited friends while there. One of the friends was a lovely older woman named Lonny. We had a plan to have coffee at her house where I would deliver her a book, as well. When I arrived, Lonny had actually prepared an entire dinner (and thought I was spending the night). She had made mashed potatoes with beef gravy, chicken, and boiled broccoli. Without any forethought about what to do in a situation like this, I immediately knew in my heart that there was no way I was going to refuse her wonderful gesture or start asking if there was butter in the mashed potatoes or ask for only broccoli or explain why or anything of the sort. I knew there were only two words acceptable to be said in this situation: « Thank you. » So I ate the meal and was thankful to Lonny for it. I knew that this would forever be my policy. You eat what someone serves you with gratitude. Politeness, respect and appreciation are more important than my politics in a situation like this. Refusing the meal isn’t going to un-buy the chicken and butter, after all. Someone’s welcoming home is not fair territory as my own political platform. Period.
In the Summer of 2018, I flew to Spain for my first time and embarked on the Camino de Santiago. I walked over 800 kilometers in 27 days. You stop in tiny little villages and your choices for food are very limited. Veganism is simply not practical in this situation. Furthermore, to seek out a vegan restaurant or vegan meal option isolates you from the community you are there to connect with, so it is antithetical to the pilgrimage. And, finally, you don’t travel to another country to do the same thing you do at home. You go there to do things their way, have new experiences, and that includes the food. Even an extensive traveler such as myself, travelling about 13 weeks of the year, if vegan at home, is still 75% vegan. Sometimes you need to look at the bigger, overall picture. Most vegans are way too militant and inflexible for me to respect their judgment. Even at 75% vegan, my carbon footprint is still highly commendable.
In the Spring of 2019, I learned that octopi are not factory farmed thus, in my opinion, completely ethical to eat. So I started eating it, on occasion. Giving much thought and having many conversations with friends and family, I concluded that this applied to all meat (and fish). If the animal lives its normal, full life in its natural environment, then is killed as needed food, and is respected, given thanks for, all its parts used and not wasted, I am okay with that, too. That didn’t lead to me eating any more meat since wild-caught meat is, understandably for health reasons, illegal for sale. But my ethics were continuing to evolve.
In June of 2019, my niece came to visit me before she set off to start a journalism program in British Columbia, all the way on the other side of the country. We did many fun things like going to the Pride Parade. Another thing we did was stroll through Kensington Market. The militant vegans were demonstrating in front of a locally-owned, non-chain little burger business with their photos of mistreated animals, their signs, all standing in a self-righteous, smug chain. I thought, « Aren’t you attacking a little low on the totem pole, you bullies? » Even if they successfully dissuade all customers from entering this business, what good does that do? There is literally a taco shop and burger joint next door. You dumb-dumbs, go lobby the government and change factory farming policy. Don’t antagonize and sabotage an honestly-run local business. That’s someone’s livelihood. They are not the enemy. The policy that allows the horrific factory farming practices to exist is the problem. The government is the problem. I can’t imagine what these vegan protesters hope to accomplish by putting someone out of business.
In the Fall of 2019, I began preparing for a 2-week solo hiking/camping trip in the wilderness. I would need to carry everything I would need to survive on my back, including my food. The weights of everything was extremely important. And what is the most nutrient-dense, lightweight and economical food to carry? Meat. Individually-wrapped pepperoni packages that did not need to be refrigerated are the holy grail of thru-hiking trips (though, oddly, in the extensive research I did, nobody mentioned this). So here was another exception to the vigilance of vegan rule. As well, at this time, quite conveniently, Ocean’s put a new product on the market: 90g packets (as opposed to cans) of wild and responsibly caught tuna. Again, perfect for the efficient food-packing necessary for a long thru-hike camping trip. Although the pepperoni consumption would cease after the trip, I ethically had no problem eating this kind of fish and continued to eat it after the trip.
And what about bivalvia? I learned from a colleague, around this same time that vegans are okay with eating clams, oysters, cockles, mussels, scallops, etc. because they have no brain, don’t have feelings and can’t feel pain? Are they sure about that? Isn’t it about how we treat /obtain these living organisms that is what’s important? I’m starting to become very confused here, vegans!
The last straw for me happened during a little weekend trip to Montréal in November of 2019. Plastered everywhere were stickers that said « Meat is murder. » Mentally, I snapped. No, actually, it isn’t. It’s called the food chain, for crying out loud. Yes it is horrifyingly wrong to mistreat animals, to separate them from their children, to confine them, to deprive them of a happy life, a long life, a natural life. But eating them at the end of their life is not only fine, it’s what needs to happen in a healthy food chain. Also, vegans, where do you think the fertilizer comes from to plant your gardens? It’s animal poop, you know. You can’t escape that we are part of the food chain. Yes, do your utmost to make sure that the food chain is not exploitative and abusive to animals, but MEAT IS NOT MURDER. This is such a ridiculous statement and was my final cue to exit stage left from the ignorant vegan microcosm.
Do you know that there is such a thing called « fruitarianism? » Fruitarians take veganism to another idiotic level. Generally speaking, fruitarians will eat only what falls (or would fall) naturally from a plant. In other words, plant foods that can be harvested without killing or harming the plant. These foods consist primarily of fruits, nuts, and seeds. According to author Adam Gollner, some fruitarians eat only fruit that has actually fallen of its own accord. Good luck getting all the calories you need, never mind all the nutrition you need, Fruitarians! What do these people do, live in an orchard?
Again, my diet remains predominantly « vegan » because it is healthier for me and for animals in this society for it to be so. But to be inflexible and militant about veganism is impractical and unsustainable. I believe the current verbiage for what I advocate here is called being a « flexitarian? » Who cares what the current title, trend or « club » is. Just make thought-out, considerate choices, in your diet, and always. Be open to new learning. Always. I began a vegan journey, took what I thought was smart and good out of it, then continued to evolve as a global citizen. Okay. Enough. Time for lunch.