It’s been an interesting — dare I say, enlightening??? — few weeks.
On August 20th I sent a newsletter to my subscribers in which I stated that I’d been eating eggs. Seems this confession rubbed some the wrong way. I was scheduled to speak at last weekend’s Veg Food Fest here in Toronto, on a panel for plant-based athletes. Then, days before the event, I received a phone call from the panel moderator. He wanted to know if true that I’ve been eating eggs, meaning that some people are in fact reading these newsletters! Yay!
But also, boo, because after confirming this fact the invitation to speak was rescinded. You see, despite being organized by the Toronto Vegetarian Association (TVA) — and despite the panel being specifically geared to “plant-based” athletes — the Veg Food Fest is strictly about all things vegan. And eggs ain’t vegan, kids.
(You’d think that my not being an athlete would be the excluding factor…)
I was bummed out by this turn of events. Some online coaching clients from Ottawa had made the trek to the festival; I was hoping they’d get to see me in action, but alas the universe had different plans in store. We met up at Union Station instead, shared a cup of coffee and discussed the strange politics of food.
I stopped eating animal products because I care about the welfare of animals, the environment, and I oppose the awfulness that is modern industrial agriculture. It was an easy transition. In the decade or so since I made this decision, I’ve slipped up a couple of times. The first was three years ago at my bachelor party. A dear friend — a supremely talented chef who has worked in some of the Toronto’s finest restaurants — prepared some chicken and beef tacos for the occasion. He took the time to source the meat from a local farm that practices “humane” slaughter, and I acquiesced in the face of this well-meaning gesture. I had a couple, along with the jackfruit offerings. I immediately felt bad about this decision and haven’t touched meat since.
(Side note: a month later this same friend and his wife catered our wedding, providing a 100% plant-based menu for our guests)
And now we have Egggate.
My decision to again eat eggs was influenced by a few factors. One, I always liked eggs. Two, at the time I didn’t see anything ethically wrong with eating eggs from small farms where the chickens roamed free. These weren’t the $3 cartons you get from the corner store! And three, back in July my hair began to fall out in clumps, leaving large bald patches on my scalp and face. It was slightly irrational, but my first thought was “it’s because of my diet!”. After shaving my head, I bought a carton of cage-free organic eggs, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately lead to getting the boot from this speaking gig.
A week later my doctor cleared me of any nutritional deficiencies. It turns out I have an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata. Those eggs were purchased in vain! But I kept eating them over the summer, paying little thought to what I was doing or why. I became lazy and complacent with my thinking and my values, which in itself is a shameful crime.
That phone call from the TVA provided a much needed slap in the face. It made me reconsider my stance on the ethics of eating eggs — as did the conversation I had with another speaker who was also kicked off the panel for different reasons — and I’m proud to say my diet is back to being as close to animal-free as possible. No meat. No dairy. Ditto for fish and eggs. Physically I feel no different, but my conscience feels clear and congruent with my values.
I was always reluctant to align myself with Team Vegan, preferring the plant-based tag instead. The way I see it, the term “plant-based” is vague by intention. It’s a less politically-charged descriptor that sets one firmly apart from Big V Vegans — those who live by a strict code that defines their every action. I too live by a code, but mine is less rigid and fully inclusive. Eating animal products doesn’t make you an asshole, just as being Vegan doesn’t make you awesome. It’s a great start, but I’ve met several Vegans who are insufferable blowhards with no sense of self outside of their group, just as I’ve met many meat-eaters who are wonderful, caring people.
The most impressive people are those who’ve taken the time to examine their actions and the impact they have on the world. This is a constant process, by the way. If you’ve done some soul-searching and realized that eating animals isn’t for you, fantastic! Welcome to the fold. But please don’t rest on your laurels. Being a good citizen of the world requires more than slapping a V sticker on your laptop. It involves being inclusive and accepting and leading by example.
According to the great Otto Dix, the role of the artist isn’t to improve or convert, but to simply bear witness. This is, essentially, my credo. Every day I do my best to reduce the ungodly amount of suffering that goes on in this world. Some days that “best” is more inspiring than others. But I’m always trying.
That’s all anyone can do anyway.