Sunday, April 18, 2010

Veganism Around The World

My son went to his best friend's house to play yesterday. His mother is one of the sweetest women I know, and we are so lucky to have them in our lives. They are from South America, as are a lot of our friends. I initially hesitated telling her about the vegan-thing; even for me as a vegan I tend to think of it as a white American elitist thing. There are a lot of reasons for this; the industrialization of our food sources, the privilege we have of being able to chose what we eat, the vast amount of food ever available in America.  Knowing that Dylan's friend and family are from a very small town, I doubted they had come across veganism and wasn't exactly sure how it would translate.

The first time he went on a sleep over there, I packed about 6 vegan Zbars in his backpack (yes, he and his friend ate them all)! I explained to her that we didn't eat meat, milk, or eggs. I initially used the allergy excuse, but as time went on and we became closer, my true reasons have come out. I've explained that we don't like the idea of how the animals are treated when raised for food. I can not tell you how supportive she's been, how open and accepting she and her husband are. We've talked about the differences between the food here and from her home. She's explained how in South America, meat is a huge part of their diet, how it is considered a privilege and sign of wealth to be able to raise animals for meat. And I have shared with her my view that if everyone were to milk their own cow and slaughter their own chickens, I would have much less an issue with using animals for food (don't get me wrong, I still think eating the dead is disgusting, but I wouldn't care so much if other people did). She always had the most delicious fruit for us, and pasta is usually what we have for dinner. Side note: when dining at others homes, if they are not so open to trying to cook a vegan dish, pasta and veggies burgers are always a welcomed suggestion!

I have another friend who is also from South America. My daughter came home from school one day with quite a story; she said this friend had taken one of the chickens who had died (ugh, yes another classroom was raising baby chicks in a glass box; more on that in another post) and eaten it. What the %^@%#?!??!?
Of course, I told her that he must have been teasing them. As I had interviewed this friend for a paper I was doing at one time, I know he is from a very large, extremely poor family. While he has a good job here, most of his money is sent home to help his brothers and sisters. In any case, I laughingly told him the story Kayla had come home with the evening before. He said "Yes, of course I did! Why would anyone let food go to waste? Now I don't have to buy dinner, and I can send more money home." I was more than  a little shocked, and asked is he was concerned about disease. His response? I don't remember it exactly word for word, but it was that he had eaten much worse when growing up hungry and that he was not worried about disease - the chick had died because it was being raised in a classroom and not outdoors. He said he had raised hundreds of chickens, and that was the stupidest thing he'd ever seen. That, we could definitely agree on! In a way I am happy this went down the way it did; this  was so much more a lesson for the kids that just 'raising' the chicks was (in an OMG kind of way)!

I've also talked to my grandfather about veganism. When we first went vegan, he acted as though I was crazy; I even thought he was angry with me. As soon as I pointed out that there is a huge Jewish following, he relaxed about it : ) He's also gone from calling us Veg-ins to Vaag-ans. He is a holocaust survivor, and has written an autobiography. I was recently re-reading it, for the first time since going vegan, and was amazed to finally understand why my Grandfather disapproved of veganism. It was not about the shunning of meat, but what it represents. For me, it represents cruelty, but for him freedom and riches. A few quotes from his autobiography:

"Germany in 1923 was a country in turmoil. Inflation was rampant and unless you buy food as soon as you got paid, one hour later there was nothing you could buy for that money anymore" ~ "As a refuge in Shanghai, I had to depend of "UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association). The K-Rations we received were heaven sent." ~ "After 10 years of living on soups and/or non-nourishing food, the chow on the ship was fit for a king (at least for us) and it seemed impossible that so much food was available anywhere
and how much was wasted." ~ (After arriving to America) "I learned fast to distiguish between a hamburger and a steak" ~  "Foster's and other Fast Food places were interesting; I soon learned what a hot dog was all about. After all, the money I have received had to last for a while and a hot dog or a hamburger and a coke were cheap".

It really struck a cord with me. For the fist 25 years of his life, he had to survive by eating what he could get; there was no choice, no shunning of any food. Just appreciation, and satiety. So for him to overcome all he did, to survive, to give his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren all we have is an amazing example of what fearlessness and determination can do. For his family to appear ungrateful for this opportunity must be more than upsetting for him. It must be incomprehensible at first glance.

In all three of these stories, it makes me think about the reason that people sometimes react negatively to veganism. Depending on the persons background and perspective, it can seem a ridiculous thing to do. I've also used it as a good way to show my kids that money and industrialization are not always a good thing; that even when we have things easily and readily at our hands, we must still use our common sense to decide weather participating in something is actually good or not. And these have all been excellent examples to show  my children how people outside of our country live, and their connections with animals as food.

Just some food for thought.


1 comment:

  1. Great post!
    What is the name of your grandfathers' book?
    I would love to read it,