Texas made me do it.
My friends from Texas will roll their eyes and sigh when they read my musings on how Texas convinced me that we Americans eat too much meat, ask too much of environment, and care too little about the toll our standard of living takes on our fellow creatures. They will say to me, "You're not really being fair to Texas! Don't be so hard on us. There are actually some really great things about Texas...when you lived in San Angelo, that wasn't thereal Texas."
It's no secret that Texas was not my cup of tea. At all. But the truth is, as disparaging as I can be towards the state whose only claim to fame as I see it is that it does everything BIG (and no, although most men will not believe me, bigger is not automatically better--think kidney stones and Dolly Parton), Texas led me to veganism. I cannot say the path was direct or that there exists a one-to-one correlation between living and Texas and becoming vegan (Frankly, I imagine very few people find that with each passing day in the Alamo that there meat consumption drops precipitously--I would guess quite the opposite, in fact.). Maybe my becoming vegan was not so much due to my living in Texas as it was my having very little to do last summer except read blogs and peruse recipes. Or maybe it had more to do with the fact that my college chaplain's continual extolling the merits of eating local and knowing the source of our food had finally, several years later, registered. Or maybe I simply had the time--no, took the time--to think, really think, about why I put which foods into my body in the first place.
Whatever the reason I began seriously to contemplate veganism, I remain convicted that Texas at least prompted me to reflect on my practices as a consumer to a degree I never had before. Did I eat simply for my own nutrition and health? For the best interest of my wallet? What about the health of the planet? The well-being of fellow human beings, who become crop-poor in order to pay for American's vast meat consumption? The fate of the animals?
I find it strange that I have not yet written about becoming vegan. Why I become vegan, how I become vegan, what it is like living as a vegan now. I tend to write about reflective moments, significant spiritual events, full of soul and depth, those things in life which leave me wistful and restless, not quite satisfied, searching...and my veganism satisfies all of these criteria. Perhaps the reason I do not write about it is similar to why I do not much speak about it. I am not sure that others want to know, want to hear, want to read. Too often memoirs recounting "why I am the way that I am" or "what it is like to be x minority in a hostile world" read as self-pitying, self-indulgent, and sanctimonious (Elizabeth Gilbert never did win me over with her recountings of the multiple transformations she experienced in Italy, India, and Indonesia. I always thought that she had not really transformed much at all, that after each of her countless "revelations" she still expended most of her energy reveling in her victimhood). I worry that my words on veganism may ring this way.
To avoid (hopefully) coming across as the stereotypical crazy, misunderstood, angry-at-everyone-except-for-the-animals vegan that seem all to prevalent in the American imagination (although I have yet to meet one of these vegans in real life--hell, I had yet even to meet a vegan until about month ago since I do live in the Deep South and all) I more often than not make a sort of a joke out of my veganism. "Texas made me do it," I'll say wryly when the realization that I am vegan surfaces, with a slight, albeit conflicted smile. People return my smile but their eyes betray confusion. They do not say anything more, though, and neither do I. Texas somehow bears the weight of my assertion. Once again, Texas is the all-too-convenient scapegoat.
I cannot end this post with Texas, however. After all, when would I ever want to allow Texas to have the final word? Sometimes, even in spite of being an Episcopalian, I do succumb to the desire to become just a little bit preachy. Yet I prefer to preach with images more than prescriptions and prohibitions, with fragmented ruminations rather than clear conclusions.
If I were to preach about veganism, I would describe how I picture the faces of the slaughterhouse workers after a long day of work, how their eyes are tired and numb and almost unable to bear pain after rhythmically locating the appropriate and soon-to-be-stabbed non-human animal blood vessels hundreds of time each day. I would talk about the thousands of tons of extra American corn that remain each year in storage and the hundreds of grain farmers who nonetheless continue to find themselves trapped within cycles of indebtedness because of government subsidies and artificially low food prices. I would think back to the sound of the squealing pigs awaiting but forcefully resisting slaughter that I heard on the documentary Earthlings. I would speak of the many patients I encountered this summer on the cardiac unit awaiting bypass surgeries and stints and catheters, procedures and interventions that, in many cases, were required by the patients' nutrient-poor, animal-product-laden diets. And I would remember how the Bosc pears I once loved did not taste so sweet once I realized that most poverty-stricken households would never be able to afford to eat a diet full of such pears and other fruits and vegetables, that they could feed their bodies far more cheaply with boxed instant macaroni and cheese and soda.
I would also mention how deliciously fudgy vegan peanut butter cookies taste and how crisp and refreshing Asian kale slaw is. I would recount my first experience with shopping for wool- and leather-free furniture, how it was hard but not impossible, and how I ended up with a natural plant fiber rug that has a cheerful geometric design and has received many complements. I perhaps would speak of some medical studies which correlate plant-based diets with decreased risk of developing cancer and chronic illnesses such as heart disease.
But I would for sure conjure up an image of a humble bag of dried beans and a handful of hungry people, an image filled with the promise of a less-taxed earth, animals free from the grips of slavery and suffering induced by human hands, a satiated, healthy population of creatures. An image of a future as open-ended and hopeful as Texas is wide.