Picky Eaters, Ctd

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I think there is a large missing piece to the argument that veganism is just an extension of the neurosis of picky-eating. When I went vegan (nearly 2 years ago), I was afraid that my options would be limited and I would be eating the same things over and over again. But my fear was really just an extension of the “vegans only eat salad” argument that some ignorant omnivores use. Since I cut out all animal products, I have discovered a number of delicious plant-based foods that I never would have otherwise. I had never tried beets before I went vegan, and now I love them. Same with eggplant. And rainbow chard. And wild greens like sorrel or stinging nettles. Not to mention the myriad uses of tofu! The point is - once you embrace your veganism, you realize that it can be a vessel to try all kinds of new things. In my experience, it is the hard-line meat-eaters who have a limited palate – not the vegans. How creative can you get with a steak anyway?

I flirt with vegetarianism from time to time, and my experience mimics this reader's. But then I enjoy cooking and experimenting with new dishes. Another reader adds:

I'm afraid you've lost me a bit when you say, "Moral arguments are more compelling the less you like what you are giving up."  Isn't it the other way around? Someone who struggles to make a moral choice in resisting a strong temptation seems to me much more likely to be acting genuinely from an ethical perspective, since if he weren't, he would give in to the temptation.  Someone who doesn't have the temptation might well be making the choice for that reason and dressing it up in moral clothing.

I should admit I have a selfish reason for making this argument: I've been a vegan for just over two years, and I would gladly eat dairy in some form every day if I could, all other things being equal.  But I reached the point where I couldn't overlook the fact that essentially dairy means impregnating animals solely to get them to give birth to children so they will produce milk--and then drinking the milk ourselves, taking the children away from their mothers, and either selling them to be killed almost immediately (as veal) or raising them to take their mothers' place as dairy cows.  Our human consumption of cows' milk is a bizarre and frequently inhumane practice, and despite my taste for and enjoyment of milk and cheese, I couldn't stomach it any longer.  How does that make my moral reasoning less compelling, rather than more so?

Perhaps "compelling" was the wrong word. My basic point was it takes less willpower to give up something you already don't like. You need a nudge rather than a shove in the right direction. Several vegetarian friends have told me that they have never liked red meat – even as children. Cutting other meat out of their diets was therefore less difficult. These vegetarians often have moral reasons for opposing meat consumption, but this moral grounding is typically less developed and stated less forcefully than it is by formerly meat-loving vegetarians or vegans.

It's important to keep in mind that vices do not tempt us all equally. When vegans or vegetarians tell me that their lifestyle is easy to maintain, I often wonder if they are projecting their own inherent dietary preferences onto me or if their moral fiber is simply stronger than mine. The ethical and environmental case against meat consumption appears solid to me, but I've been unable to stick with vegetarianism and have instead attempted to cut down on, rather than cut out, meat-eating.