Friday, March 23, 2007


(News-Herald, March 22) I have to confess that I am happy to be at the top of the food chain.

The vegetarian world has become more complicated than it used to be. If you’re Of A Certain Age, you may think it’s pretty simple—vegetarians are people who don’t eat meat. Well, there are still vegetarians, but in recent generations some refinements of the movement have occurred.

There are varieties of vegetarianism. We’ve got lacto-vegetarians who won’t eat eggs, but will eat dairy products. There are ovo-vegetarians who will eat eggs, but won’t touch dairy products (PETA has some charming posters to accompany the slogan “Dairy is rape”). And there are lacto-ovo-vegetarians will eat both eggs and dairy.

None of these eat meat, though there seems to be some disagreement about what constitutes “meat.” Some vegetarians only include products of the mammal world, while others include any fishy type of creature.

But that’s just the start. For instance, we also have fruitarians, who eat only fruits, nuts and berries- essentially parts of the plant that can be harvested without actually damaging the plant (presumably that refers only to physical damage and not emotionally traumatizing the plant, though given some of what I’ve read on the subject, I may be jumping to an unwarranted conclusion).

At the top of the ethical food pyramid, we find the vegans. Vegans (pronounced VEE-guns) are not just about diet—their goal is to avoid all food, products, and activities that in any way exploit animals from actual meat to leather to cosmetics tested on fluffy bunnies.

On the one hand, I give the vegans credit for consistency. There is a troubling inconsistency in the person who doesn’t want to chop Bossie up for hamburger, but is happy to slice up Bossie’s skin to make a stylish purse. In some parts of the world, veganism is a reasonable extension of religious faith.

On the other hand, vegan websites contain lines like “veganism…is an integral component of a cruelty-free lifestyle.” And dandy quotes about empathy for animals.

And surfing vegan websites inevitably leads one back to PETA. I know many very nice, decent people who belong to PETA, and God bless them all. But the organization itself is a fine example (like the ACLU, the NRA, and the Two Mile County Park Rescue) of a group that has focused so narrowly for so long that it has lost some of its sense of reality.

So we have the spectacle of PETA throwing blood on fur coat wearers while vegan websites talk about developing empathy for fellow creatures. What exactly am I to make of people who can empathize with furry animals, but not actual humans.

Well, as I said, I am happy to occupy the top of the food chain. I like meat, and if you try to tell me that my children have no more value than a cow or a dog or a lobster, I have no trouble telling you that you’re wrong, and possibly a bit silly as well. There’s something disturbing about the level of species self-loathing that some activists express.

Like any group, vegans are not all wrong all the time. I have no doubt whatsoever that if we all had to watch where meat comes from or, worse yet, kill and butcher it ourselves, the number of vegans converts would multiply by a few zillion overnight. As with our inexpensive trinkets and cheap clothes, we are a little too happy to let someone else wade into the dirty work for us as long as we don’t have to see, hear or think about it.

That’s why I think animal rights folks are completely wrong to oppose hunting. I don’t hunt, but even I can see that hunting and killing your own meat creates respect for the animals that can never be gained by harvesting steaks in neat plastic wrappers.

As with many movements, it’s the most vocal fringes that get the attention. There are plenty of vegans and vegetarians living pleasantly meat-free lives among us without creating an enormous fuss. You can actually find one local group online at . As lifestyle choices go, it certainly beats playing heavy metal music in the back yard at midnight before making blood sacrifices to Baal.

The irony is that I know enough the horrific meat-packing industry and sympathize enough with furry beasts that I might inclined to become a little vegetarian-ish. But the knowledge that there are people out there working diligently, doggedly and obnoxiously to support the cause only makes me feel that I don’t need to bother, and I will feel better after I grill a nice steak.

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