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Will we stop casual references to meat?

December 23, 2016

I often wonder when the day will come when people around me will stop making casual meat references. Of course, to their perception, there’s absolutely no reason why they should. To them, food is food, it’s not offensive.

Meat is their food, and therefore meat is their normal dialect. To be made to change that at this juncture would be as intrusive as suddenly needing to switch to neutral pronouns, or attach -san to everyone’s name.

Conservatism of language is important to acknowledge because it plagues social issues. Talking is everyday, as is eating. To be required to force a shoe horn into either one of them makes people angry because it makes them uncomfortable.

We are designed to take certain things for granted, rather than think them through carefully. If we could not, we would be unable to do normal things like walking down the stairs. See how people struggle when, for whatever reason, they have to relearn that skill.

When we come to understand something beyond conscious thought, the last thing we want is to be made to think about it again. This is where the concept of “overthinking” comes from. It basically means challenging what we are inclined, and in many cases culturally encouraged, to take for granted. In some cases, this is needed, and in other cases it may be a sign of mental unwellness.

I find it intriguing how it never occurs to omnivores that I, as a vegan, really hate it when they casually say they want to eat lobster, rabbit, this and that. I don’t see meat in my mind’s eye any more, I see animals. So when people say they want to eat that stuff, I see bloodthirstiness in their eyes, and it makes me feel queasy.

I don’t mind comparisons so much, in that they serve a purpose. A vegan can say: “This tastes quite a lot like cheese,” because otherwise our ability to communicate is inhibited.

It’s the times when nothing needs to be said that bother me. For example, the other day at an event, a friend said out of the blue: “I think they should put caviar out as a refreshment, next time.” If I didn’t no better, I’d say he was trying to wind me up.

But I do know better. I know all too well that he would not have considered for a second that I have sensitivities over the eggs of a fish. We generally don’t think of adult fish as having rights, let alone their eggs. Most of us liberals don’t think early human foetuses have rights, let alone fish foetuses.

What my friend was missing was the understanding that I object, wholesale, to our casual usage of animals, because it has far-reaching implications. How on earth was he to know that? It’s not how most people think. I could have explained it, but such a long explanation in response to a throwaway comment sure makes you look like a stereotypically crazy vegan.

So all that’s left to me is to wonder when it will naturally come to an end, and how. Perhaps it will peter out, as our understanding of food switches to plant alternatives, slowly and in such a way that our grandchildren think we’re weird for eating our way through vast stacks of body parts.

After all, the world does seem to be changing. Vegan is in our vernacular dictionary, and when it comes up in conversation, it’s rarely me – the sole vegan in most everyday situations – that brings it up.

Or perhaps there will be a political movement, brought forward by more strident but more courageous vegans than myself.

There’s a lot we can’t say in this day and age, for fear of being “offensive.” Lord knows, the last thing I want to do is contribute to that culture of privileged oversensitivity, but I think it’s interesting that vegans and vegetarians are not included.

It’s a minority viewpoint, oft derided, and viewed with a reverence similar to that of religion by its members. Its affect on lifestyle, and reliance on belief based in part on principals of emotional intuition rather than empirical evidence, moves it somewhat beyond the boundaries of pure political persuasion.

In other word, it’s a faith, of sorts; and in some places, a legally protected identity. Yet, unless you’re lucky enough to meet someone very sensitive, there’s no way you could ask someone not to casually mention meat, without them raising their eyebrows.

For a long time, vegetarians have stayed mute. I do not remember hearing one ever say “Please, if you can avoid always mentioning chicken and fish when you don’t absolutely have to, do.”

Consequently, I have no idea how anybody would respond to such a request. As likely as not, it would create a tidal wave of fury about how we stupid vegans always push our views onto other people, with nary a word about how the everyday world pushes its views onto us, in far more insidiously subtle ways.

I’d like to think that one day, the world will be ready to switch to plant-based communication to match their plant-based diet; but, they will have to know what to say first. We’re talking about people who don’t know the glory of seitan, and wouldn’t be caught dead asking for avocado. And I cannot imagine anyone saying they hope the buffet serves seaweed salad.

To wipe a carnist’s cultural references would be to wipe their language, and to wipe their language is to silence them. To silence them is to create resentment, us-and-them parlance, and a strong backlash that completely ignores the central points at stake, attempting to make veganism and anti-veganism about people when it is supposed to be about animals.

Both sets of people will consider themselves victims, and will dangerously think this justifies everything they do and say. This is the pattern of political difference all over the world, no matter what the issue, and it is as destructive as it is divisive.

Yet it is a trap that is easily fallen into, and only with care can we avoid it. Heavy handed dealings with opposite groups gives their criticisms apparent strength, as observers tend to focus on rhetoric and manner of presentation before they look at the issues themselves.

In this way, human moral feeling is inevitably about humans and not animals, whether it should be or not. Therefore, vegan harshness inadvertently provides carnists with a legitimate grievance they can use to dominate the conversation. It already happens, so we need hardly make it easier.

I think it will be the vegans who will begin to ask for casual meat references to be omitted from everyday conversation, but we will have to be careful how we do it; indirectly, politely and with an air of attempting to be logical, as opposed to Very Offended.


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