My little sister Sylvia, bless her heart, tossed religion at a pretty early age and embarked on a different passion: food. Not just any food, but the kind that just sits there growing, gawking at the sky and never taking a vacation—even venturing around the block.
At first it was only vegetarianism, a less extreme faith that prohibits consumption of anything with limbs and a beating heart, but allows animal-related foods like milk, eggs and cheese. Because I possessed an undying love for dead cows, pigs, lambs and poultry, I found myself unable to take Sylvia's strict food rules seriously. There were times when she expounded on exactly why she had forsaken meat, and though I never tired of eating burgers, I certainly appreciated the legitimate humanitarian considerations for abandoning carnivorous eating. There was no question: Edible animals are not born into happy lives.
For years, I was accosted by Sylvia's younger daughter at family parties. Even at age 5, Olga was already standing dutifully at the buffet table offering culinary guidance. "Bad food!" she would say as I hoisted another drumstick onto my plate, and there were times I even felt a vague pang of guilt running through me. Still, I and the rest of my extended family rejected the vegetarian way, literally porking-out on the creatures that had formerly been among the living. My take was always the same: That moderation should be the best advice for living—and eating.
Eventually, Sylvia's new religion was tossed for an even stricter one, and she became a dyed-in-the-wool (excuse the expression) Latter-day vegan—yes, all animal sourced foods are strictly taboo, and she survives on rice, seaweed and a variety of imitation meats, eggs and cheese made primarily from soy. Her weight has dropped precipitously over these years, and I have to wonder how anyone can survive on so little. (Actually, eating one's weight, each day, in vegan food, provides a surprising amount of nutrition.) Not to be overlooked is Sylvia's general good health. At age 74, she is doing pretty well. Occasionally, she has my brother and me over for lunch, and she often queries us about the meat substitutes, "Doesn't that taste just like real chicken?" Bro and I just roll our eyes.
Well, my wife, Carol, made one of my favorite soups today. Mulligatawny. Needless to say, like all her creations it was absolutely divine. While I have never personally seen them, I'm pretty sure she has more than one Michelin Star.
Although vegans would surely have never endorsed it, the Mulligatawny soup contained only a smattering of chicken—all humanely killed, which, Carol assured me, had been raised in a commodious five-star hotel, not those terribly crowded mega-coops where so many cluckers reside.
While I rarely get concerned about the animal ingredients of what I eat, I certainly have empathy for people who refuse the vast array of nutritionally rich animals on the basis of moral conscience. Like they, I abhor even the notion that any creature had to suffer because of my appetite. That vein of thought forced me to review the Mulligatawny soup. I am now convinced that the vegans are, indeed, morally superior.
What I found was shocking. It takes more than 200 of the tiny Mulligatawns to make one quart of the soup, and each of them must be clubbed into submission to "voluntarily" become an ingredient. If one listens carefully through a greatly amplified shotgun microphone, these little guys are screaming as the pot is brought to a boil. I cannot believe it; I have been a complicit party to their suffering, and I will never eat this savory dish again.
Unfortunately, this revelation will make it difficult for me to ever consume another meal—anything. Although Carol prints the required disclosure on every one of her serving dishes—"No creature was harmed in the preparation of this dish"—she is unaware of just how much pain she has caused. I now realize that even the string beans often suffer violent deaths.
Just being a mere vegan simply wouldn't solve the problem, for I now fully appreciate that all creatures—plant and animal—endure excruciating pain during their last moments. And so, I am making the ultimate commitment: Adopting the highest moral ground, I will longer be able to eat anything that is organic. No meat, poultry, fish, vegetables or Mulligatawns.
I will also no longer have to consider how I'll spend my old age; that's the price of trying to do the right thing; it's bon voyage for me.
The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and one mongrel dog. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org