The Vegetarian Choice - by John Fennel
People are vegetarians for all kinds of reasons. Some simply don't like the taste of meat. We wouldn't expect such a person to eschew leather; disliking the taste of meat requires little adjustment within one's belief system. As long as the choice of vegetarianism is left to taste, one may as well be choosing different flavors of jam.
If I claim that there is something right about not eating meat, then I am at least claiming that not eating meat is better than eating meat in certain situations. Once I start labeling one thing as better than another, I'd better account for the different labels: I can't say A is better than B and B is better than C without also believing that A is better than C; otherwise my thought process would leave something to be desired.
I recently found myself in a café in about three miles south of Moose Pass, Alaska. I had trouble seeing any tofu among the various buffalo and caribou burgers on the menu; however, I was happy to see that breakfast was served until 2 PM; I ordered an omelet with onions, peppers, and salsa. (Yes, I'm not as pure as I could be.) Somehow the cook turned the peppers into bacon. What to do? I ate it. What could I gain by returning the food? I would have wasted it. And what is my primary justification for, as I prefer to put it, not eating meat? Avoiding waste.
I'm sure there are lots of other good justifications for not eating meat: Health, reducing suffering, animal rights, etc. Some of these are operative for me on some level, but none of them influence my approach to life as much as reducing waste. Furthermore, modern American life is incredibly wasteful, and I realize that not eating meat is but a pitiful token to mitigate the waste my choices produce every day. All I can do is work to reduce the number of inconsistencies held together by the pride that is John Fennel.
Do I have all of the inconsistencies worked out in the relationship between my diet and my life? No. But vegetarianism has helped me to think about my diet and its relation to the life I lead. Most vegetarians have begun to ask questions about their diet, their life, and the world around them. For most vegetarians, meat is not something that just comes from the supermarket. And animals are just part of the mix in the problems with food production in the United Sates. There are labor exploitation issues, immigration issues, pesticide issues, soil erosion issues, world hunger issues, etc. I believe that not eating meat is part of the solution in mitigating many of these problems and walking a little softer on the earth, but it is only part of the solution.
So what do I do when I'm out at dinner with a bunch of red meat eating Republicans and they ask me why I order tofu? I just say I like the taste of tofu. There are so many more important issues I need to work on with them. I can't lose their ears because they find out I'm a vegetarian.
John Fennel, 33, has been a vegetarian since age 15. Currently, he is a law student in Philadelphia. When it comes to vegetarianism, John states, “I get irritated with the hang-ups over labels. It seems to me that people get lost in label fettishes and forget about why they are doing what they do. That's why I prefer to say I don't eat meat. With so many people swearing allegences to labels I feel much safer only defining myself by refering to what I'm not.” Contact John at firstname.lastname@example.org.