This morning while I was out and about I smelled the aroma of bacon in the air and my first thought after the immediate Pavlovian salivation response was to wonder if somewhere nearby a vegan was fuming because of the aroma.
So, I wrote my observation and posted it to Facebook and waited for the responses—hoping my intention wouldn’t be misconstrued or that I wouldn’t offend any of my vegan and vegetarian friends. I truly was wondering if merely the odor of bacon in the air would trigger a negative response from people that choose to not eat meat for ethical reasons.
Fortunately, I have friends that are capable and willing to give me thoughtful and eloquent responses.
One friend, Laurel, said, “We don’t fume because bacon is eaten—we fume because animal agriculture is taking us all down. We don’t realize that we have fucked ourselves out of the privilege of eating other sentient beings. With that said, some fume. Some just have a moment of reflection and a reminder of what we give up in the name of saving a shred of anything beautiful here.”
That’s a powerful and passionate response that I respect. I’ve attempted to go full vegetarian—I’m at around 75% now—but there are still things I crave so I backslide: Eggs, half and half for my coffee, real butter, sushi, and bacon are my holdouts.
Another friend, Adrienne, tells me she would have similar holdouts if it were not for the cardiac benefits. “Nothing like a massive heart attack in someone you love to put things in perspective. I’m vegan. I love the smell of bacon. Don’t love killing and eating sensitive intelligent beings. Don’t love what animal fats do to human arteries. But yeah, it smells smoky and wonderful.”
My intention of writing this essay is to address the public narrative that vegans are extremists that don’t understand their carnivorous fellow humans and demonstrate that the vegan experience is more complex and their feelings are more nuanced.
Jeanie’s biological dad was a butcher by trade and she was raised with the belief that she hadn’t eaten a meal if meat wasn’t a part of it. Jeanie, and her husband Joel, currently reside in a small Midwestern town with limited dining options—but something happened a few years ago that prompted her to consider a plant-based lifestyle.
In August 2015, Jeanie’s father-in-law had a stroke.
“Joel’s dad was a fantastic guy, a larger than life personality, and loved by all. We watched him die and it tore me up. Plus, I work for a dialysis company and see really sick people every day.”
Watching Joel’s father die “really made me think about myself and my own health.” Jeanie felt like she owed her family more. “The thought of my kids watching me like that got me. If a stroke or cancer can be prevented I needed to do whatever I could to be healthy.”
So, she made the decision to be healthier, lose weight, and exercise more. Looking into healthy recipes, Jeanie learned about meatless Mondays, which led to the discovery of Forks over Knives—a 2011 documentary film that advocates a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet as a way to avoid or reverse several chronic diseases.
“The transition was easy for me,” Jeanie says. “I was repulsed by the thought of an animal dying for me. I don’t believe there’s a humane way to kill an animal—they feel pain and they feel fear.”
Jeanie has been vegan for nearly two years now and chose the lifestyle because of the environmental impact, health benefits, and because she cannot abide cruelty of any kind.
When the subject of the aroma of roasting flesh in the air comes up she says, “I hate to admit this, but yes, the smell of meat bothers me; frankly it smells like shit, literally it smells like feces to me. If you’re a non-smoker and the smell of smoke bothers you, it’s similar.”
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” ~Dr. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll probably recognize that quote as a line spoken by Anthony Hopkins portraying a serial killer with highbrow cannibalistic proclivities. Lecter is described as “a monster” and a “pure psychopath” who prepares gourmet meals from the flesh of his victims, so his inclusion in this essay may seem bizarre.
However, it isn’t strange at all when you read what my friend, Sean—a “hardcore” vegan—thinks about people that eat meat. Sean said he appreciated my reaching out to him but he just didn’t have the energy to speak deeply about how he feels on the subject of eating animals with people that say they like animals “but continue to perpetuate their murder for zero reason other than their personal pleasure.”
Sean has discussed the ethical reasons to not eat animals with his carnivorous friends so often he’s given up trying to convince them that they’re basically accomplices to murder when they eat animals slaughtered for food.
He admits that it’s painful for him, because there are many people he likes, and when he starts talking about it with them “it widens the gap I have between my meat eating friends to the point where it makes me question how I could continue those very friendships.”
Sean has made a conscious decision to be part of society and live among meat eaters when doing so breaks his heart every day.
If it seems extreme that Sean contemplates ending his friendships with people, based on what some consider a dietary habit, you have to realize that in Sean’s estimation meat eaters are “on the same ethical playing field as Jeffrey Dahmer.”
And he’s not the only person I’ve spoken to that feels this way.
Imagine looking at the majority of the human population and seeing a cannibalistic mob of Jeffrey Dahmer’s and Chianti swilling Hannibal Lecter’s leering back at you.
To be continued…
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