It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth. -- Matthew 15:11
It's not easy being green. -- Kermit the Frog
This morning for breakfast I had toast and some stuff that looked pretty much like ham salad – but it didn't have any ham in it. Instead the “ham” was made up of the pulp from carrots, beets, apples, and sauerkraut. It didn't taste bad; in fact, after pretty much sticking to the vegan diet for the past year, I thought the concoction tasted pretty good. Notice the contingency of the phrase “after pretty much sticking to the vegan diet for the past year,” because I'm confident there was a time not too long ago when I would have turned my nose up at the fake ham salad. I must admit the dab of peanut butter I put with it certainly added something to the flavor. The amazing thing is, however, it did taste pretty good, even without the peanut butter, and that's because if you stick with eating a certain way for an extended period of time, your preference for particular tastes begin to adapt to whatever you are eating.
When my wife, Ruth, started this diet (I supposed I should use the word “lifestyle” because a “diet” is something you choose for the short term, but a “lifestyle” is something you're supposedly in for the long haul), I was not going to do it. At the time she told me she was changing to a “plant-based” diet, I was on a “gas station-based” diet – practically everything I ate was brown, round, and rolling on the grill at the Speedway. Gosh, I loved that food, and I still get my cravings for it, but I'm doing better about living day-to-day without it. It took an extra six months and a movie called Forks Over Knives to convince me to try to change over to a vegan diet, and just basically eat what Ruth did. I still cheat on the “lifestyle.” I don't have the willpower to overcome 50 years of programming in just a year or so to entirely forgo meat and cheese, but I often surprise myself on how well I do it. Ruth is a devotee, however, and can navigate a buffet like zealot. I'm not that strong; if we're at a party or some other social gathering, somehow, a tiny particle of beef or cheese finds its way onto my plate to hide beneath the broccoli.
So, the Big Question is, of course, “Why veganism?” Why bother? I often tell people I do it because Ruth does it (and there's a certain amount of truth to that since I wouldn't have started if she hadn't gone first). I like the answer “I do it because my wife wants me to” because it lets me off the hook from doing the explaining why a plant-based diet is a good idea and really worth the effort. You see, here's the rub: as a rhetorician, I understand when people ask questions because they are really more interested in making an argument rather than getting an answer. So, not always, of course, but often enough, I get people who ask me “Why do you bother with this diet when it's so much easier to eat like everybody else?” when they don't really want to know why I do it but are really just wanting to justify why they eat like everybody else. Honestly, I don't care why other people eat what they do. So, it's in those situations when I'd rather not bother with the argument at all that I just put it back on Ruth. So, I circumvent the argument; I say, “I do the vegan thing because meat and cheese makes my ears bleed.” And then they go, “What?” and then I say, “You know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah” and they give up wanting to argue with me because they figure I'm just another henpecked husband who does whatever his wife wants him to. (Again, there may be a certain amount of truth to that, but I'm not nearly as henpecked as I am unwilling to argue with people who have already made up their minds about something.)
Ruth, by the way, goes way beyond the vegan thing and actually tries to follow a sparse “plant-based” diet that also puts strict limits on sugar, salt, oil, and other evils of processed food. I'm not so much committed to that lifestyle because living without meat and dairy is hard enough, and it's taking me more than a year to wrap my brain around how to do the vegan thing while working in town without remembering to pack a lunch. Ruth would be happy to have you know that while a vegan diet is a healthier diet, it still doesn't mean it's a healthy diet if you are living off of french fries, doughnuts, and soda (which technically can be all vegan because you can get all of those things without meat, dairy, or eggs). Ruth's diet is about heart health, and eating that way really is a good way to help avoid heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and even cancer.
It's not that I have a death-wish, but the reason I'm not as good at avoiding “the other bad food” is because when I get too hungry my belly can get louder than my brain. If I'm hungry, my brain can yell its fool head off about cancer and diabetes, but it can't get louder than my belly singing “The Supper Song of Freedom.” (It's lyrics goes a little like this: Eat what you want, Eat what you want, you may die tomorrow of a heart attack, but you're suffering right now from hankering for something greasy. Don't fear the cancer; fear the hanker).
Some people choose to do the vegan thing for ethical reasons. They see the needless butchering of animals as an evil humans can live without. I have no argument with these people any more than I have arguments with the people who believe humans have a right to shoot anything that moves. I am not interested in arguing either way. It's not that I don't have an opinion on the morality of killing animals for particular reasons; it's that I don't think my opinion is necessarily better than anyone else's on this so I'm not interested in participating in an argument in which I can see validity on both sides of the aisle. If there's one seriously good idea I picked up from studying rhetoric, it's that it's really okay to stay uncommitted and agnostic when you're not persuaded by the evidence “for” or “against” something.
So why do I follow the vegan diet? Sometimes it's because I love my wife enough to want to support her in something that she believes so deeply in (Heaven knows there's enough ideas she believes in that I can't find myself supporting); sometimes it's because there's nothing else in the house to eat; and sometimes it's because I just want to see if I can please both my brain and my belly with stuff that isn't going to kill me somewhere do the road. Perhaps when I have expired, I can come back as a vegan zombie and while other zombies are craving brains, I can be moaning for “Grrrrains!”
Keep thinking rhetorically, and I'll be back next week.