My prayers this morning go out to all those affected by the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy. I have a few Hokie alumni in my family (though far more who went to UVA), and I know a couple of folks still closely associated with the Blacksburg campus. I know that several of my readers are Hokies, and my thoughts and prayers are especially directed towards them.
It’s spring break (Pasadena City College has what must be America’s latest spring break), and I’m in our little study at home. I was in Virginia yesterday, if driving from the District to Dulles in a downpour can be considered being “in Virginia”. (We did find some great vegan Ethiopian food in a little strip mall in Ballston.) My wife and I spent the weekend in Washington attending the Art of Compassion gala to raise money for and celebrate the accomplishments of one of our very favorite charities, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
What I love about PCRM is that more than any other animal rights outfit, they adopt a holistic approach to personal and global transformation. PCRM is one of the leading organizations advocating vegan diets for all. Backed by a growing network of hundreds of doctors and nutritionists across the USA and Canada, PCRM is reaching out to millions through increasingly savvy media campaigns. (My wife and I are particularly pleased with — and particularly interested in supporting — PCRM’s brand-spankin’ new Spanish-language campaign.) PCRM also campaigns against the use of animals in medical research, and has played a leading role in developing alternatives. (PCRM helped create “Digital Frog” to help end school dissections; they’ve helped popularize TraumaMan to replace the use of live animals in emergency medical education.)
Most animal rights organizations — and Lord knows, they all do fabulous work — want to save animals. The folks who run PCRM, led by the remarkably energetic and charismatic Dr. Neal Barnard, want to do the same. But saving animals is about more than stopping a seal hunt, or shutting down a few fur farms or puppy mills. (All very worthy causes, mind.) PCRM’s point is that what is good for animals is also good for us and for our planet. A balanced vegan regimen requires far fewer natural resources to produce than a meat-and-dairy laden one. And the health benefits of veganism (or even its softer form, lacto-ovo vegetarianism) are sufficiently well-demonstrated as to be nigh on undeniable.
The world says: “Children need milk to build strong bones”. The world says “Beef is the best source of iron and protein, especially for women.” The world says “Without animal research, we can’t make necessary medical breakthroughs.” The world says “A vegetarian or vegan diet is too boring, too miserable, and too time-consuming for the average modern person.” And carefully, with painstakingly documented research, PCRM works to disprove all of these deeply-held myths. (PCRM helped expose the roots of the Vioxx tragedy: what had proved safe in animals turned out deadly for humans. Animal testing too often makes animals suffer and tells us nothing about what works for people.)
Sigh. This post is turning into an infomercial. That’s not what this blog is supposed to be about, and I apologize. This is how I feel after retreat weekends with my youth group, or after a men- against-rape training. I feel inspired and invigorated, and more than usually evangelical!
Last month, Stentor at Debitage put up this post: Moral Relativist Anti-Vegetarianism. Stentor,
a trained amateur philosopher, has pointed out more than once that I have an exasperating habit of making sweeping moral statements — and promptly disavowing the idea that I am actually proselytizing, claiming at times that “this is just me.” He’s right. The truth is that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle almost always is about making a universal moral claim. Stentor writes:
So what makes vegetarianism especially threatening whereas diversity in other parts of life evokes less hostility? One inescapable part of the picture — which unfortunately vegetarians spend a lot of time disclaiming in a usually futile effort to avoid the proselytizing charge — is that vegetarianism is a moral position. Aside from the small number of people who are vegetarians purely for health or henotheistic religious reasons, to become a vegetarian is to implicitly endorse a non-relativistic moral code*. Second, vegetarianism is threatening – becoming a vegetarian involves a significant change in a fairly fundamental part of one’s lifestyle. Third, vegetarianism is realistic. For all the joking about how life wouldn’t be worth living without bacon, vegetarianism is within reach of the majority of developed world adults. (It’s not without hardships for some, and I’m not endorsing a purely personal-lifestyle-change-based policy, but the fact remains that most North Americans could drastically reduce their meat consumption if they really put their minds to it.) Adding to the realism is the surface plausibility of the vegetarian position — it’s comparatively easy for even a committed omnivore to understand what makes vegetarians think they’re right. Bold emphasis is mine.
Stentor is frequently right, and here, he’s dead on. I realize that on this blog, I write about many things: diet, feminism, faith, exercise. As a progressive evangelical writing for a general audience, I’ve deliberately disavowed Christian proselytizing in this space. Do I wish more people would pursue a personal, transforming relationship with Christ? Yes. Do I believe that no one can be saved without consciously forming that relationship? No, I don’t. Do I wish more people — especially men — would embrace feminist principles of egalitarianism in every aspect of their public and private lives? Yes. Do I want every man (and woman) to stop using porn, to stop objectifying women, to stop the economic, sexual, and physical exploitation of their sisters? Yes.
So the question I’m wrestling with is this: does my veganism correlate more closely with my feminism or my Christianity? If it’s like my Christian faith, it’s a “personal choice” — one among many. I do believe that my Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, animist, and atheist friends will be saved (though how, exactly, is not something I can always articulate.) I do believe that I am called to follow Christ, but I also believe that others follow Him even as they call Him by other names. What would make the world a far better place isn’t necessarily everyone becoming Christian; what would make the world a far better place is if everyone actually lived out the principles of their faiths and creeds. But if every man and woman on this planet saw women as equally worthy of dignity and respect, as equally entitled to share in resources and in decision-making, as equally prepared to lead, as equally deserving of being seen as a whole person — then heck yes, the planet would be better off. Feminism is, in that sense, essential.
And I’m prepared to start arguing that vegetarianism (or better yet, veganism) has the power to bring about tremendous change. It will improve the health of the individual and of the planet, and it will exponentially reduce the unnecessary suffering of sentient, conscious creatures. So yes, I’m going to risk alienating still more readers with a more explicit commitment to veganism here on this blog.
In the end, I’m trying to follow ever more closely Forster’s maxim: “only connect.” What I wear matters. What I eat matters. Everything we do connects us to other living creatures. Every darned thing I do every day matters. And my brothers and sisters, the same does go for you too. Every dollar you spend is a vote. The food you buy, the clothes you wear, the words you speak: these impact the world. And I’m asking you to consider making the best possible choices in your public, private, educational, familial, sexual, and economic lives.
My commitment to full veganism is relatively recent (I’ve been a vegetarian for longer.) It’s been a slow evolution rather than an instant decision. Like most lasting conversions, it has come gradually rather than in a flash of light. But you’re gonna be hearing more on this blog about animal rights, veganism, and how they connect to faith and feminism.
More about my PCRM weekend below the fold. Continue reading