Category Archives: Philosophy

It’s Sort of Food-Related.

I frequently come in contact with people who have some problem or another with the use of government assistance programs for food (i.e. SNAP/EBT or WIC). I think that some people are simply generally uncomfortable with the fact that some of their tax dollars are used to feed other people. I think that other individuals take issue with the ways in which EBT benefits are used; some folks seem to have an idea that because they pay taxes, they have the right to be feel indignant when they witness the purchase of “inappropriate” food with an EBT card.

I believe it is important to understand that every situation is different. Some people never struggle financially, but most people do, and no two financial battles are alike. A person may choose to go hungry rather than ask for help. That is his or her prerogative. This does not mean that someone who is unashamed to request assistance when he or she needs it is weaker, lazier, or inferior in any way.  It means that different people have different life experiences.

Do people abuse the system? Always. This doesn’t mean that the system should be shut down; it means that the system should be improved.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post: “frivolous” food purchases. Take, for example, a big, gaudy, somewhat-expensive birthday cake. A person can order a $50 cake at the grocery store for her daughter’s birthday, and buy it with her EBT card. Some people would find this outrageous. I would like those people to take a moment to consider just how little they know about this hypothetical cake purchaser. Perhaps she works full time, and still doesn’t make enough to feed herself and her daughter. Maybe she’s a single mom – unwed, divorced, or widowed – or maybe she’s married to a deadbeat who drinks away her earnings. Or maybe she’s married to a fantastic person who also works full time, but thanks to student loans or being laid off from a better job or a sub-prime mortgage, ends aren’t quite meeting. Perhaps she and her family have decided that they will subsist on beans and rice for a week in order to make room in the budget for a birthday cake. Perhaps it is worth it to give themselves, for just one day, a little relief from the stress of not having enough to get by.

Or maybe the whole family lives on potato chips and expensive prepackaged foods, has 200 channels and iPhones, drives a car that’s less than 5 years old, and receives so much extra on their EBT card each month that they decided to buy the cake just for the hell of it. I’m pretty sure these things happen.

What I’m really trying to say here is that, while you might think you know what is happening when you’re standing behind this person in line at the checkout, you don’t. I don’t know, either. So for you or I to pass negative judgment on someone else for purchasing something we don’t approve of with government funds is highly inappropriate, because it’s none of our beeswax. If you think that it is your beeswax because you’re a taxpayer, then write a letter to your congressman. Tell him that you want control over what is done with your tax dollars and see what he says.

I think that if we take issue with the system, we must address the system via the people who construct and maintain it. Taking out frustrations on citizens who simply use what is offered them in their time of need is ugly and petty and misguided. To make assumptions about who someone is or what their life is like based on 5 minutes of indirect interaction is ludicrous in any other situation, so we must realize that it is also ludicrous here. Such a realization makes it easier to let go, be more thoughtful, and return the mind to where it belongs – one’s own business.


Answers to “Why are you vegetarian?” and Other Common Questions.

I am frequently asked why I am vegetarian. Often, the question has a follow-up, such as, “Do you just not like meat?” or “Do you think there’s something wrong with eating meat (almost always in a defensive tone)?” or, a personal favorite of mine, “Oh, I could never be vegetarian. I like meat too much.” I thought it would be good to answer some common questions and address a few of my own concerns. Just to clarify, I have encountered every single one of these questions and comments multiple times. They are in no way intended to stereotype the meat-eating population, but they are based in extensive personal experience. That said, let’s start at the very beginning.

Here is why I am vegetarian:

1. Because I just don’t like meat.

When I was a teenager, I began to feel like there was something off about eating meat. I gradually and almost unconsciously stopped eating red meat, nearly altogether, mostly because it was bloody when it wasn’t fully cooked and gray when it was – what is pleasant about that? Then it became harder to eat chicken. I still enjoyed the flavor of chicken, but it had become increasingly difficult for me to consume it without thinking about its deadness, and hence, its former state of being a living creature. This was upsetting to me. I would cut out veins, connective tissue, and any other evidence of my meat’s previous form, and leave them on the plate. Eventually I decided to stop eating meat altogether.

2. Because I think there’s something wrong with eating meat.

Have no fear, I’m not judging you. Here’s how I see it: my conscience prevents me from eating meat. It does not prevent me from having a cocktail. So I don’t eat meat, but I sometimes have a cocktail. Now. Say your conscience doesn’t prevent you from eating meat, but it does prevent you from having a cocktail. No matter how much we might like to, you cannot make my conscience keep me from having a dirty martini, and I cannot make yours stop you from having a cheeseburger. This philosophy could actually be applied to any number of issues, but I will stick with the current one. To summarize: I feel like it’s wrong to eat meat. I can’t make you feel like it’s wrong to eat meat, so I can’t make you stop, so I won’t try. This doesn’t mean I have to think it’s OK, it just means I have to accept that you get to decide what’s right for you, and you must do the same for me.  Live and let live.

People love to ask me, “What if you were on a desert island and there were no vegetables, only wild animals? Would you starve?”  I also frequently hear the statement, “Well, I just think it’s a natural human instinct to hunt and eat animals.”

 Here is what I think about these things:

 1. Would you rather starve than eat meat?

Of course I would eat meat to survive. By the same token, I take no issue with the consumption of meat in societies or situations where meat is a necessity for survival. I do not, however, believe, nor can you convince me, that meat is a survival necessity in American society. The quantity of flesh we consume in this country is shameful.

 2. It’s human instinct to hunt and consume flesh.

Show me a person who personally hunts and cleans every piece of meat he or she consumes, and I’ll show you a person who has my respect. Unfortunately, most of the people making this argument are buying a large percentage of their flesh at the supermarket, already packaged in Styrofoam and cellophane, which makes them sort of hypocritical. Not cool.

In addition, I don’t have this instinct, this drive to hunt, this need to tear apart the flesh of another creature with my sharp, omnivore teeth. I have met a lot of other people who also lack this instinct. Many like to joke that this places vegetarians lower on the food chain, but humans don’t need to hunt other animals in order to maintain the position of dominant species. Therefore, if meat is unnecessary for sustenance, those who continue to hunt or consume meat are, in the broad scheme of things, wasting their time. I like to think that maybe vegetarianism is evidence of being more highly evolved, or that there’s a “vegetarian gene.” But that’s probably just me experiencing common human arrogance.

A couple of additional thoughts in closing:

1. Factory farming is bad.

I firmly believe that even people who eat meat, love to eat meat and will always eat meat should avoid meat produced by factory farming. No one can argue for the moral uprightness of mass production of animals. If nothing else, we should be demanding that we are provided with safer, cleaner, better-quality meat. Even if that means we have to hunt it ourselves.  No, especially if we have to hunt it ourselves.

2.  Vegetarianism is often much more than a dietary choice.

People love to poke fun at vegetarians. We are the butt of joke after joke. Perhaps you think it’s funny that I eat rabbit food. Alright, but I think it’s rude to make disparaging comments about my moral beliefs. I’m not saying that vegetarians can’t handle a little ribbing. Just understand that it’s likely that the vegetarian you’re mocking has heard your joke at least two dozen times already and it’s feeling a little old. Generally speaking, a moral vegetarian is much more serious about his diet than a meat eater is about hers. Don’t start that conversation unless you want it to be serious. And be prepared, because we read up on this stuff.

In Answer to the Frequent Question, “Why a vegetarian restaurant?”

“”We would all be glad to eat more vegetables and less beef, birds and fish if vegetarian meals were sumptuous, seductive, artful, et cetera.  And if vegetarian chefs understood that cooking vegetables requires at least as much artistry as roasting a chicken.  Then there would be less need for factory farming, growth hormones, and all the other desperate measures that agribusiness uses to boost the production of animal flesh and lower its price…There are, after all, splendid vegetarian cuisines in Japan and China, and several in India alone.  Why can’t we do as well?”  – Jeffrey Steingarten in It Must’ve Been Something I Ate