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The difference between the elk you kill up Gold Creek and eat throughout the winter and the ammonia-drenched beef product they've been selling in supermarkets and putting in kids' school lunches is like the difference between eggs that come from your neighbor's happy chickens and the stuff that shoots out of sad hens in cramped cells. When we eat sad animals, we inherit those feelings. Even if we were designed to eat meat, were we designed to manipulate the animals' genes, artificially inseminate them and reproduce them by the billions? Or are we just being dicks?
I know: "It can't be that bad," you're thinking. "We eat this shit every day, and we're fine, right? If this stuff were really harmful, the FDA would step in. The USDA would recall the beef. Or the EPA... The FBI?"
Somebody call the National Guard: They're trying to slowly poison us with donuts. We're all starring in a long, dull horror film, and nobody is going to come save us.
Don't forget that humans have a rich history of stupidity. In ancient Rome, they ran their drinking water through lead pipes. The people of Easter Island ruined their civilization because they cut down every tree without remembering to plant new ones. American colonists tried a horse for witchcraft and then hanged it in a town square. You know, as an example to the other horses.
Attack of the foodies
There was something grotesque and satisfying about the way we forced Michele Bachmann to choke down that phallic hot dog on a stick at the Iowa caucus to prove that she had what it took to be our president. And then we went ahead and turned on her anyway. This must be some sort of hipster granola backlash, a way of taking back hedonism for our generation, but what is it accomplishing, really?
We eat garbage and we're proud of it. People make elaborate sculptures of lunch meat to look like football stadiums for their Superbowl parties. There are television shows centered around watching grown men unhinge their jaws and try to take on the world's biggest hamburger. Someone writes a banal Facebook status update with the word "bacon" and in five minutes it has 37 likes. I hear this all the time: "I would be a vegetarian if not for bacon." That's so weird.
Bacon has long inconvenienced me by making its way into salads and sandwiches, but it's gotten worse. Now it's in desserts. Meanwhile, Dunkin' Donuts is about to unleash a pork donut. Jack in the Box now has a bacon-flavored milkshake that's not on the menu; it's this special viral campaign where only people in the know can get in on it. (Oddly enough, the bacon shake is meat free. The taste is arrived at chemically.)
Yet anyone who's spent any time with a pig will tell you that pigs are sensitive, intelligent animals who would just as soon not have all this extra attention.
Fruits and vegetables are totally metal
This is what I'd like to see: Everybody all at once stops buying industrialized animal products. Instead, we focus our energy on local agriculture. Over time, we replenish the soil and filter money down from the suits and into the hands of the people who will grow food and raise animals with respect and love. Meat production becomes a small-time operation, which will doubtless drive up the price, but then people will treat it as either a once-in-a-while delicacy or stop eating it all together. Sportsmen can still hunt if they want. We all get healthier and smarter and nicer. We use all the money and time we're saving on not being sick to learn how to love each other again and explore galaxies.
I'm not kidding.
My friend Dick is a great lover of meat. We fight about this constantly, and I'm talking door-slamming, crying, "Don't ever talk to me again" fighting. Not long ago, we had a relatively civil conversation in which Dick brought up a series of odd points that never would have occurred to me.
"If we stop raising cows for meat, what will happen to cows?" he said. "I mean, there are no wild cows."
I had to think about it for a second. "There will be far fewer cows," I said. "They're a domestic animal, like dogs and cats, so they'll still exist on small farms and ranches for scaled-down operations."
I told him my dream for the future, where we love our goats like children and men go off into the woods to bring home wild turkey for the family on holidays.
"You can't have everybody out hunting their meat," he said. "It'd be gone in an afternoon."
But surely, if people have to go out and kill their own dinner, most everyone wouldn't want to, right?
Dick wears colored nail polish and writes consumer news and video-game reviews for a living. He has a deep voice and broad shoulders, but he's still sort of an indoor guy.
"You wouldn't actually take up hunting just so you could still eat meat, would you?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. He didn't even stop to think about it.
That's when I realized there was a fundamental piece to this puzzle that I just wasn't getting. It's not that people are ignorant of the issues; it's that people really love eating meat. And that love dwells so deeply in our bones that it seems inseparable from being human.
Giving up meat can seem futile, at best symbolic. I've read that each vegetarian saves an average of 404 animals a year, which sounds like a lot, but, like, half of that number are shrimp and minnows. In the grand scheme of things, it's nothing. It feels like a lot of sacrifice for a dismal impact, so what's the point of depriving yourself? If everybody did it, that would be one thing; but not everybody is doing it. Why should I have to give up something that I love if everybody else gets to indulge?
Years of conditioning take over from there: You only live so long—might as well enjoy yourself while you're here! Go ahead, have some bacon. You deserve it, America!
People think that health food is boring, that not eating junk sucks all the fun out of life. But real, sustained fun is an art. I've lived a lot of my life in cycles of chemically induced comfort followed by embarrassment and hangovers. There were no short cuts to happiness; it was just a never-ending seesaw. I went searching for true connections with other humans on bar stools and the results were always the same: I felt closer to people at night, then farther away in the morning.
I don't doubt that you can find bliss in a ham sandwich, but food is a fleeting refuge. It's not enough just to want to be happy and good. It takes practice and wisdom to know what that is, and then, when the cultural currents run against you, it takes strength and courage to practice what you learn.
I've seen that look in people's eyes when I don't drink wine at dinner or eat birthday cake. They feel sorry for me. My friends think I've gone extreme, militant. That's one way of looking at it. Mostly, I just see myself becoming more and more the person that I've always wanted to be. Believe it or not, I'm still a hedonist. It feels really good to live this way.
If you want to change the world by changing the way you eat, it can't be done. But what you do still makes a difference. You can live your life on purpose, and it sets an example to the people around you that it's possible to live a happy life without pizza.
Fruits and vegetables buzz at a high frequency. I have this habit of eating red peppers in public like they're apples, and let me tell you, it drives women wild with desire. When I eat a grapefruit, they circle around me like they're prehistoric men and I'm the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
I'm writing to you from the bowels of Midwest suburbia, where everything is spread out, where there's no sense of community, where the only walking people do is from their front doors to their cars and from the parking lot to the big-box store, where practically no one hunts or fishes or grows their own food or shops at a farmers market or the Good Food Store. Virtue feels far away. If you've lived in Montana your whole life, you might not realize how untypical your community is. You might not realize how good you already have it, or could.
I get angry that industries take over the landscape with hypnotizing images that seduce and manipulate us. They feed us highly addictive food that makes us sick and then they profit from our diseases. Then they circle back around and make us feel like it's our fault. We eat this food of our own free will, right?
Maybe, but it's not really a fair fight. The evildoers have got us thinking that organic produce isn't real food. Don't let them do that! It's the realest. It's awesome to get riled up about stuff and occupy places, but eating politically can be so much more effective and metal. Why not start by occupying your body?
Your heart. Your mind.
Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that came up with chocolate bacon? C'mon. We're better than that. Let's do something cooler.