Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quasi Vegan

When the rich young man approached Jesus about attaining righteousness, Jesus told him that, to be perfect, he must give away all his money and sell all his possessions and give away all the money thus acquired, as well.  The young man turned away, because he was very rich.  The moral lesson here is twofold, I think:  one, money is a detriment to one's spiritual well-being, and, two, absolutism in ethics can be a dead end.

I gave up any form of puritanism years ago.  Scars of my fundamentalist Baptist past, in part, as well as a recognition that purity is, at bottom, anti-life.  If I refused to travel on any highway that was in part constructed through the toil of underpaid, exploited, immoral, racist, or Fox-News-watching laborers, I would be spiritual dynamite, but stultified as a human being ... as a life form, even.  I would be removing myself not only from the corruption of the world, but from the world itself.

That said, I want to hurry to explain that my lack of puritanism is not the same thing as freewheeling moral relativism.  It comes close, I suppose, but even as a relativist I am imperfect.  My moral code derives from the great books, including the bible.  What can we do in a world where good and evil are as hopelessly intertwined as they are--and where the outcomes of our actions are undeterminable (our good deeds can be destructive, our selfish intentions can work miracles)?  Well, the advice of Jesus, Voltaire, and Tolstoy is remarkably similar--we do what we can, enough or not enough, and make it do, for now.

Barrington Moore Jr.'s remarkable (and dense) little book Moral Purity and Persecution in History supports the position that I have long held by intuition--that much of the evil of history derives from individuals' and groups' attempts to purify the world.

Even on a mundane level, like the way I eat, I can't quite make myself into a purist.  The movie Food Inc. radically affected the way I think about what I eat.  It is not a polemic against carnivores.   At the beginning of the movie we see Eric Schlosser ordering his favorite meal, a hamburger and french fries.   Later in the movie we meet a Virginia farmer who raises and butchers livestock in a manner he regards as humane, wholesome, and compassionate.  What the film decries is not any particular kind of food, but rather a system of food production that is unethical, exploitative, undemocratic, dangerous to the nation's health and liberty, and nearly monolithic.  But, even there, there are limits to what we can do.  Is there any direction I can possibly move that would not be complicit, to some degree, with the system?

Of course, I can do more than I do.  Being a vegan is doable--and personally it's an attractive option.  Veganism, as a concept, strikes me as a better way of living--economical, simple, ethical, healthful.  My best friend is a vegan, give or take a cookie and a chocolate bar from time to time.  Perhaps it's only weakness of will that keeps me from taking the pledge.  I like to think otherwise.  I am a person of unusual scruples, at times--feeling vague pangs of guilt for owning a pet, for instance, which approximates involuntary servitude, in my opinion.  (But then what would happen if we liberated every dog and cat?  How cruel and ineffectual would that be?)

I adopt a quasi vegan lifestyle.  That's a laugh line.  I do minimize my intake of meat, eggs, and dairy, but the pleasures--perhaps more a matter of habit than taste--of certain foods forbid me from taking the 100% plunge.  Pleasure is important to me.  It's a fundamental aspect of what I regard as valuable in life.  It is not all-important, but by my standards, it far far outweighs the importance of purity.  So I have a shortlist of exceptions to my "veganism."  You will note, no doubt, that they are huge exceptions.  You would be right in saying that the word "vegan" (even "quasi vegan") should not even breathed in the context of this list.  Still, by minimizing my consumption of meat, etc., I do some little good to the environment, while, according to my Epicurean principles, intensify the pleasure it affords me.

In my oddball sense of ethics, I count my sins the way a Weight Watcher counts his points.  Deprivation, within limits, is one way to sharpen the senses when one does, at last, indulge.  My dietary sins, of which I have not repented, include the following, which, to my mind, bestow blessings to compensate for whatever harms they cause:

  1. bacon cheddar cheeseburgers (especially the ones at Broad Street Cafe, 1116 Broad Street, Durham, and, in balance with its ambience at 3:00 a.m, the Clover Grill, 900 Bourbon Street, New Orleans)
  2. steak, bloody medium-rare
  3. pot roast
  4. brisket
  5. ice cream, especially vanilla (I know, the "banality of evil")
  6. eggs benedict
  7. and the poor man's version of eggs benedict:  sausage, egg, and cheese croissants (a multiplication of evils, compounded by the fact that I am particularly fond of Jimmy Dean's microwavable frozen sandwiches)
  8. chili slaw dogs
  9. chocolate-chip cookies
  10. brie

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...