Posted June 1, 2007, 12:45 am

On Plants

During the last few days I spent in Chico, betwixt final exams and the official start of summer, I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner with some friends of mine. Facing a menu that generously accommodated vegetarian and vegan preferences, and with our little dinner party split 50/50 vegetarian/omnivore, it was unavoidable that the topic of diets arose.

A parallel was drawn between the impetus placed on an individual to defend and explain their vegetarianism/veganism when outed, and that felt by someone coming out as being gay or bisexual. Obviously there some significant differences between these two situations. For example, it’s rare to hear of anti-vegan hate crimes, and churches don’t preach of the sin that is a meal without meat. However, both situations involve an individual identifying with a group that is outside the norm. This identification implies disparities in tastes, practices, and values.

“Are they going to preach to me?” “Are they going to try to change my values?” “Gosh they’re different.” “Gosh I hope they don’t challenge my values.”

I’ve been a vegetarian for over a year, specifically I’ve been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 14 months. I remember the day I started, senior year of high school. The animal rights club had organized an entire day with a heavy focus on the cruelty of factory farming. I remember watching a video about the conditions in which pigs were slaughtered and processed, I remember it was very graphic. Some students were disgusted and left, some students were amused by the way the animals struggled and violently kicked as they were slaughtered. In all honesty, seeing the suffering of meat didn’t do much for me. I wasn’t horrified, I didn’t feel vindicated, I wasn’t grossed out, and I didn’t feel moved to take radical action.

But I did stop eating meat that day. It was high school after all, and you can’t be a real punx rocker unless you stick it to the man in some way. The principal reason behind my going vegetarian was to challenge norms. “This is how it’s commonly done, so let’s try something contrary.” Around the same time I found myself smitten by Whitman and Wordsworth, and this lead me tumbling down through the Romantics, Emerson, Thoreau, Leopold, stewardship, Gary Snyder, sustainability, Sharman Apt Russell, environmental ethics, and eventually to where I sit now, at the temporary bottom of a reasoned hole.

Today, the reasons why I don’t eat meat still have as little to do with animal rights as they ever have. I’m much more concerned with conservation of energy and the depletion of sources/over-filling of sinks on this our finite planet. A basic rule of thumb (brought to us by thermodynamics) is that transduction of energy from one form of matter to another (sunlight>grass, or grass>cow, or cow>human) about 90% of the original energy is consumed in the process of finding/eating/digesting/metabolizing/growing/reproducing. In practical terms, this means that a serving of beef cost roughly ten times as much to produce as an equivalent portion of tofu, or asparagus, or tomatoes, or corn, or anything else that grows in sunlight. This cost can be measured in calories, the fuel required to transport and process corn for feedlots, the amount of water consumed, or waste produced, or in the petroleum required to produce synthetic nitrates used to grow the soy/corn/etc. Not to mention the health benefits; so I won’t mention them.

I’ve often given the example “well, if I went out in to the woods and caught a rabbit, or shot a deer, yeah I’d be fine eating it.” But I probably wouldn’t. Let me be the conservative eater, privileged omnivore I am.

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