I went to a dinner party last night. Maybe a dozen people. All very nice. I knew about half of them previously. I was the only vegan. And the hostess, a friend of a friend more than a friend, and a lovely person, went out of her way to make, in addition to chicken, a wonderful vegan Moroccan Stew (from the “New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant” cookbook) as well as some vegan couscous.
And as I sat around the table listening to everyone talk, including three guests born in Europe but living in LA for more than a decade, and watching them enjoying themselves and the chicken, ice cream, cake, etc., I had a thought: What the world has in common is meat.
You can be from just about any part of the world, speak just about any language, and what you instantly share with pretty much any other human being you might encounter in a social, business or random setting is that you both enjoy eating animals. It’s so unquestioned, so unremarked upon as to be remarkable, but only to someone who doesn’t do it. Otherwise, it doesn’t even crack the plane of thought. It’s assumed. Why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t?
Longtime vegans are thinking: duh, you’re just noticing this now? Well, yeah. I’m 15 months in, and while being vegan doesn’t feel new anymore, there are still new things that strike me about it. And this hit me right between the eyes (though not as hard of a shot between the eyes as one from a bolt gun designed to stun me so someone could cut me up with a chainsaw).
It barely even came up that I don’t do this thing that’s so normal to do.
As I passed the chicken without taking a piece someone asked, “Oh, are you vegetarian?” I just said yes, without saying, “No, I’m vegan.” Because people don’t want to hear it. They’re having a good time. And their good time is being supported by the back office, where, 50, 100, 500 miles away, animals are being mistreated and tortured to facilitate this pleasant interaction.
And I started thinking, at a meal like this, where I was enjoying some very good vegan food made by my very thoughtful carny host, could I really have a good time? Could it really be a pleasant experience for me? And the answer was: not like it used to be. Without a doubt, it took some of the fun of a dinner party away. A type of social interaction that I’ve enjoyed for decades felt a little off, like there was an elephant in the dining room (the elephant being a chicken). But much like the talking frog, it was an elephant-chicken that only I could see.
I guess I’m a coward for not saying, “No, I’m vegan” and possibly precipitating a conversation of unknown duration on the topic. But they were being nice by accommodating me, right? To talk about certain things at their meat party is impolite, unpleasant. In the nearly half a hundred years I’ve walked this planet, I don’t think I’ve come across a subject that people don’t want to talk about as much as this one. Meat facilitates easy conversation, veganism kills it, because there’s nothing that can ruin a meat-facilitated conversation like discussion of the meat itself.
And then it hit me: if strangers are going to get together and eat animals — strangers of different backgrounds, different viewpoints, different political parties, different religions — at least let it be an out-in-the-open source of unity, an acknowledged bit of common ground. Maybe it could end the troubles in the Middle East and around the world. You’re a Muslim, you’re a Christian and you’re a Jew, but we all eat meat. Let’s build on this thing we all share and love so much! You’re a leftist Democrat and your father-in-law’s a right-wing Republican but you both love some barbecue spare ribs. Instead of ignoring that you’re eating an animal that was tortured to provide you with a few minutes of pleasure, embrace it! We have our differences, sure, but we both don’t want to think about the source of our food or the pain that it felt or the immorality of our actions, and that’s a huge thing that we share!
Once meat-eaters begin this conversation can world peace (for humans) be that far off?