I had never heard of Laura Fraser and her book The Italian Affair until I saw it mentioned on a blog. In this excerpt, she describes how she became a vegetarian because she was a poor college student and wanted to be political enough to fit in with her radical friends – then later haphazardly added some patchy concern for her health, animal welfare, and the environment to the mix.
She admits that her philosophy always had some holes in it. You can tell it’s a story about choosing not to continue being vegetarian by the structure of the piece, as she debunks each concern in almost the same breath as she expresses it, leaving no room for anyone to decide differently.
Besides, as soon as you start spending your time fretting about the arguments that crowd the inner pens of animal rights philosophy–Do Fish Think?–then you know you’re experiencing a real protein deficiency.
…the problem really isn’t meat, but too much meat–over-grazing, over-fishing, and over-consumption. If Americans just ate less meat–like driving cars less often–the problem could be alleviated without giving up meat entirely. That approach has worked for centuries, and continues to work in Europe.
In the end, though, she went back to the Onmivore Universe not because she had thought through her convictions and come to a different conclusion, but because “meat is good.” She helpfully points out that most vegetarians live in “America and England, places tourists do not visit for the food. You don’t find vegetarians in France, and rarely in Italy. Enough said.”
At that point I felt I’d had my intelligence mildly insulted. To Fraser, I wouldn’t be vegetarian if I lived someplace where there was food worth eating, and I spend too much of my time tied up in mental knots about choices that really don’t matter.
Unfortunately, I kept reading.
As a vegetarian, not only had I denied myself something I truly enjoyed, I had been anti-social. How many times had I made a hostess uncomfortable by refusing the main course at a dinner party, lamely saying I’d “eat around it?” How often did my vegetarianism cause other people to go to extra trouble to make something special for me to eat, and why did it never occur to me that was selfish? How about the time, in a small town in Italy, when the chef presented me with a plate of very special local sausage, since I was the American guest–and I refused it, to the mortification of my Italian friends? Or when a then-boyfriend, standing in the meat section of the grocery store, forlornly told a friend, ‘If only I had a girlfriend who ate meat.’ If eating is a socially conscious act, you have to be conscious of the society of your fellow homo sapiens along with the animals. And we humans, as it happens, are omnivores.
Am I reading this wrong: we should not make choices that fit with our moral and ethical frameworks if they will cause mild inconvenience to others?
Funny, it sounds to me like she just needs better manners and a boyfriend who isn’t a jerk.
Alternately, I apologize sincerely to all of you whom I’ve been oppressing with my selfishness for the last 15 years.