Supporting or Opposing Oppression | Questioning Our Dietary Choices

My heart rate increased noticeably when a friend sent me a link entitled “Your Flesh Is So Nice” – sounds a bit sexy right? However, what was contained within incited far stronger emotion than would have taken shape through the fulfillment of the fantasies of my carnal subconscious.

I have been a vegan for around eighteen months; two years as some form of vegetarian. Yet time after time, authors like Shaun manage to excite and anger me at the industry’s oppression, and the insanity that initially triggered my decision to forego meat, dairy and eggs. The juxtaposition of what I had hoped to attain from the article and what was actually laid out in its text made me ask myself a question – could I be with a meat eater? Why does this one issue matter enough to me to disregard the majority of society from my pool of prospective partners?

Chickens - HeadStuff.org
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Before I answer that question I’ll let it sit with you, while I quantify the ramifications of my preference. Only 5% of the global population is vegetarian, so I guess that means that around 1 in 20 of you lovely people could potentially be that special someone. Not terrible prospects for me. But really and truly I’d want a vegan (I really am picky). That brings me down to 1 in 200 people who consume absolutely no animal products. Not so great, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that maybe, just maybe, someone who fulfills those requirements will read this article. Of course, I probably have other boxes to tick. It appears that in love, as in a Texas steakhouse, it’s slim pickings for this young man.

It appears that in love, as in a Texas steakhouse, it’s slim pickings for this young man.

Jokes aside, what makes this part of my life so important to me? I think most people in the West are quite aware of the reasoning behind vegetarianism/veganism; there’s some health benefits, the environment would be doing a tonne better if we cut down on our meat and dairy consumption, plant-based food is more efficient, workers in the industry are poorly treated, and last but not least, the animals.

Actually that last point is the one I want to write about. The animals. They whose deaths are so fundamental to the production of the foods with which we associate such sweet memories that we have to employ a new set of words to dissociate our meal from the no longer living, no longer breathing creature. The flesh of a pig; its muscle tissue, veins, blood, fat, skin and sinew – becomes “pork.” Adult cow flesh becomes “beef,” while the fatty pink flesh of a tortured, malnourished calf is “veal.” We don’t eat chickens – we eat “chicken,” even though in the KFC bucket we may find the wings, breasts and legs (not to mention skin, bones… Maybe some feathers and a fine dusting of poop too) of more than one bird.

Cows - HeadStuff.org
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The use of the singular as opposed to the plural (without an article) has an interesting semantic effect when we talk about animals. In simpler terms, ‘chickens’ are birds, whilst ‘chicken’ is food. The phrases “I like dog” and “I like dogs” would elicit completely different reactions, at least in places where we don’t commonly eat the flesh of dogs.

The animals. They whose deaths are so fundamental to the production of the foods with which we associate such sweet memories that we have to employ a new set of words to dissociate our meal from the no longer living, no longer breathing creature.

We know instinctively that there’s something wrong with the food we eat, so much so that when our dietary habits are questioned we find discussion difficult and uncomfortable. When I was growing up I seldom questioned how the meat got from the animal to my plate, and when I encountered the threat of a vegetarian I would laugh and make jokes. This was my cultural training in practice; a coping mechanism to avoid the issue. Vegans? What are they, crazy? No animal products? How dare someone have eating habits that challenge my own.

But that’s just it. Their eating habits did challenge mine. When I was 14 I went hunting while visiting my family in Oklahoma. I shot a very young turkey twice in the head and he didn’t die. I was a poor shot and I laughed at the stupidity of his friends for not moving away with any urgency. Aren’t humans so superior? The man who had brought me out for my first hunt ran over to the turkey and stabbed him through the skull to put him out of his misery. We then loaded the bird into the back of the pickup truck and drove to my uncle’s house where Dad and I plucked him, leaving a mess of blood and brains all over the floor of the garage.

Turkey - HeadStuff.org
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Even at this point, I felt no remorse for killing the bird – that’s the way life is, right? That’s the way it’s supposed to be. God put them there for us to eat. And so I laughed at my cousin when she screamed and ran into the house saying that she’d never eat turkey again. Just a stupid little sensitive girl. Couldn’t she see that there was absolutely nothing wrong here, nothing wrong with the pile of guts, and the feathers that floated in the air, and the naked goose-pimpled corpse of the once beautiful creature?

The use of the singular as opposed to the plural (without an article) has an interesting semantic effect when we talk about animals. In simpler terms, ‘chickens’ are birds, whilst ‘chicken’ is food.

I was going to make a hat out of the tail feathers, because I was a man and I could kill a young bird that can barely fly away. Anyway, we’d have him for Thanksgiving. That makes it alright, right? We’d have him for Thanksgiving.

He stayed in my uncle’s freezer for at least two years. Not enough meat to be worth defrosting. Maybe there was something wrong with that.

I continued to eat meat and laugh at vegetarians for the next six years. Even when I stopped eating meat for the environment, I still thought it was stupid to consider that killing animals was wrong – we just needed to do it in a way that was better for the planet. It was not until I watched the harrowing documentary Earthlings that I decided that maybe, just maybe, animals deserve a bit of moral consideration. And so, I became vegan two days later.

Earthlings poster - HeadStuff.org
Earthlings poster, image source

I was insufferable for at least the next week. I had to let everyone know that I was vegan. I had to let them know that that chicken sandwiches, those chips with mayo, that packet of Haribo – they were all evil. Maybe I was trying to make up for past transgressions. I now knew about the suffering that allowed my chicken dippers, pork chops, hamburgers, brie and scrambled eggs to get onto my plate, and it made my pointless turkey assassination seem like a drop in the ocean. I felt sick. I was fucking angry.

And I’m still angry. Not at you, unless you’re the CEO of Tyson Foods or some other corporate monstrosity. I’m angry at the industry that has spun a web of lies. Drink milk – it’s good for you, the cows are happy – you’ve got to milk them. You need meat to grow big and strong – vegans are skinny and have no energy. I hate being lied to.

Veganism is not a personal choice. In the developed world, the decision whether to consume animal products has overwhelmingly clear cut consequences. It is truly a question of right or wrong – to support oppression or to oppose it.

Special thanks to Claire O’Malley.

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