Didn’t You Roast a Pig?

It has now been about five weeks since I announced that I am now an ethical vegan (someone who does not eat anything derived from an animal for ethical reasons) and explained the reasons for that decision. Since then, many friends and family members have asked me a lot of questions. I’m going to address some of them here:

Didn’t You Roast a Pig?

Yes, I did. Multiple times. About ten years ago, I purchased a wooden box that can be used to roast a whole pig of up to 100 lbs. I have used it on several occasions for large parties. The last time that I used it was about six years ago.

This last pig roast was after I had begun to question the morality of meat eating. While many people find the concept of roasting a whole pig repulsive, my view was different. Personally, I did not see the difference between roasting a whole pig and buying BBQ takeout. Others see it as far worse. I think that is because they are uncomfortable to think about the source of their meat. I thought that it was important for meat-eaters to acknowledge that meat comes from animals, not from plastic-wrapped packages at the grocery.

I think that was an important step for me. By confronting that reality, I was better able to consider the suffering that was involved in my food choices. Incidentally, that last pig roast was a fund raiser hosted by Hartford Area Humanists. I also scheduled another event for that group just a few weeks later. The topic was “Should Humanists Be Vegetarian?”.

Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Lots of places. Mostly Stop & Shop.

It is actually quite easy to get all of the protein that you need from plants. I am careful to include whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds into my diet each day. The main thing that vegans must worry about is Vitaimin B-12, and I take a supplement for that everyday.

Didn’t You Do This Once Before?

I think that the hidden implicit meaning behind this question is that some are understandablly skeptical of whether this is a permanent change and not just a passing fad.

Yes, I did adopt a vegan diet once before – almost eight years ago. That lasted less than a month. However, even in that failure, I believed in the rightness of that lifestyle. In many ways, I have been transitioning to my current diet since that time by reducing meat and other animal products. Eventually becoming vegan remained a goal.

This time around, I learned from my previous attempt. Last time, I went “cold turkey”. This time, I took about two months to make the transition. I learned to prepare new dishes to find new foods and dishes to replace those that were being reduced and eliminated. I gave my body (and the bacteria in my gut) time to adjust to the change. (See discussion below regarding my “system”)

I’ve also put more thought into the reasons for being vegan. Last time around, I was more motivated by health considerations, and ethics were a secondary consideration. This time, the choice was entirely motivated by ethics and concern for the environment. Every day, I think every day about the reasons for this choice, and that fortifies me to remain vegan. Each week has been easier.

I frequently find myself in situations where there are few or no good food options. When that happens, I remind myself that a little hunger or inconvenience is inconsequential compared to the suffering that is reduced by my choices. And, with more experience, I am getting better at handling those situations all the time.

Do You Still Eat Gluten?

I get asked this a lot at restaurants. Yes, I eat gluten. Lots of it. My system handles it just fine. Seitan is a great high-protein meat substitute, and is made almost entirely from gluten..

Speaking of Your System . . . . ?

Yes, I am eating much more fiber. Lots of beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. I’ve noticed that we’ve been going through toilet paper more quickly, and I have had some bloating. But, as my system has adjusted to the new diet, that is now greatly reduced and things are very nearly back to normal.

Well, I am going to keep eating meat, eggs, and dairy.

No, this is not a question. It is an assertion that I hear quite frequently. Sometimes it is offered almost as an apology. Other times, it is expressed as a defiant declaration.

This is a touchy subject for ethical vegans and the people in their lives who do not follow their example. Ethical vegans believe that it is immoral to eat meat or animal products. GIven our stance, those who continue to eat meat, etc., accurately conclude that we believe that their choices are immoral. This is the source of the tension between vegans and carnists. They perceive us to be moralizng – and I can’t disagree with them. Our beliefs implicitly condemn their choices.

Except, for me, it is not that simple. I refuse to judge other people on account of their food choices. We live in a culture that has bombarded us with messages that eating meat is natural, normal, and necessary. And, as I have learned, breaking that habit is not easy. It took me many years to do it – long after I concluded that my prior way of eating was wrong. So, I understand the choices that others make, and I do not think that they are bad people for continuing to eat meat and other animal products.

So, I continue to buy and prepare meat and animal products for family and friends who come to our home. I also prepare vegan dishes that they can try and may enjoy. I do not bring up the reasons for my veganism unless directly asked to do so, and I have made a firm rule: I never discuss the reasons for my diet at the table.

But, I do think that it is important for vegans to make others aware of their choices and the reasons that they have made them. That’s the reason for writing this blog article. My exposure to those who had thought longer and more deeply about the ethics of their diet were very influential to my decision. Even before I became vegan, those influences caused me to greatly reduce my consumption of meat and animal products for about a decade. Less is better. If everyone simply reduced their consumption, there would be less suffering and less harm to the environment. If I encourage a few people to be more mindful of their food choices and to eat less meat and animal products, that is worth the effort.

But, nobody has to apologize or justify their food choices to me. Who am I to judge, anyway? I once roasted a whole pig!


Time for a Fair Wage Certification

Thousands of protesters gathered yesterday at Wal-Marts throughout the country.  They targeted our largest retailer on the busiest shopping day of the year to make a point: there are not enough hours in the week for many Americans to earn a living wage at the low wages paid by many companies.  Wal-mart earned about $17 billion in profits last year, yet the average Wal-Mart employee requires about $2,000/year in public assistance.  Taxpayers subsidize Wal-Mart’s payroll, because they are not paying workers a living wage.

Yes, the minimum wage needs to be raised.  But, that is going to take time in the current political climate.  In the meantime, consumers should support businesses that pay their employees decent wages.  Companies like Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Quicktrip have won recognition by paying higher than industry averages.  They have proven that paying a living wage can be a profitable strategy, because there is less turnover and better performance when employees are paid and treated well. 

Wages will rise when more businesses realize that paying a living wage is good for business. And, more businesses will get that message when consumers spend their money at stores and restaurants that that treat their employees fairly.  We have Fair Trade certifications for coffee and chocolate. Why not a “Fair Wage” certification for businesses?  The cost of a drive-through lunch wouldn’t be that much higher if the folks who prepared were paid a few bucks an hour more than a typical McDonald’s employee.  In Connecticut, the Wal-Mart protesters focused on a store in Avon because, according to one of the organizers, “this is a fairly wealthy area of the state, surrounded by wealthy towns, and these are a lot of people that have financial choice to shop somewhere else.”   

Many consumers do have a financial choice on where we shop  It would be a great help if we had better information so that we could meaningfully exercise that choice.  Fair Wage Certification would help consumers separate the Costcos from the Wal-Marts.  



The Ethicist and the Weather

While I truly miss Randy Cohen’s “The Ethicist” columns in the NYT Sunday Magazine, I do enjoy reading Chuck Klosterman’s contributions.  I chuckled at the advice he gave to a concerned Hawaiian who was concerned that his wishes for good weather were harmful to local farmers. Pointing out that the writer’s desires have no impact on the weather, Klosterman advised, “What happens solely inside your mind is not cause for ethical alarm.”

By contrast, our conduct can and does have an impact on climate – and the ethical implications are profound.

Ethics and Weddings

I was contacted yesterday afternoon by a local television reporter about La Renaissance, a local banquet hall that is facing foreclosure but has allegedly continued to take deposits from its customers.  Some of these customers have weddings scheduled to take place after the hall is scheduled to be sold at auction.  The auction was supposed to take place a few weeks ago but was postponed due to the blizzard.  

Was it unfair for a banquet hall facing foreclosure to continue to accept deposits from customers?  I was interviewed on camera [here’s a link to the story] and was asked that question.  I am shown saying that it is unfair and deceptive for a business to take deposits from unknowing customers on the eve of foreclosure and that this conduct violates consumer protection laws.  That was a fair representation of my answer to the question, but I did have more to say on the subject than depicted.

As someone who started a small business, I understand the pressures that businesses can face.  The only chance that a struggling business has to survive is to get more customers and to bring in more money.  An ethical business should be concerned with multiple constituencies.  Yes, its customers are important, perhaps even paramount.  But, businesses should also be concerned about employees who depend upon a paycheck. Many of those employees have families, and a business should be concerned about them as well.  A struggling banquet hall probably has creditors that are owed money, and these creditors likely include other small businesses such as food vendors, cleaning companies, and landscapers.  Those companies also have employees with families.  So, there is nothing unethical about a small business struggling to keep things afloat.

But, there comes a point when a rational business owner must acknowledge that the situation is not salvageable.  There is something seriously wrong with continuing to take deposits from customers when there is no reasonable hope that a business can deliver what has been promised.   The situation with La Renaissance is particularly sad, because some of these customers are young couples planning their weddings.  I do not know the details of these transactions, but I fear that the outcome will not be good.