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April 2004
Vegetarian Advocate: Vegetarians and Violence: The Anarchist Cookbook or the Moosewood Cookbook?

By Jack Rosenberger

A recent winter night. I’m driving our red Subaru station wagon and Zoe Levy Rosenberger is sitting in the back seat, strapped inside her car seat. Tonight’s musical selection is Fela Anikulapo Kuti singing “Zombie,” an incendiary song in which he berates and mocks Nigerian soldiers as unfeeling robots. Outside it’s cold but not uncomfortably so, and the evening sky is unusually dark. We’re racing to the train station to pick up Rani. As we glide down a steep street, Zoe notices the stars and announces, “I’m going to make three wishes.” Always curious about the thought processes of my grade-school daughter, I ask, “What are your three wishes?”

“I can’t tell you,” she says. “If I do, they won’t come true.” Zoe pauses for a moment, then says, “Oh, I can tell you.” She pauses for a moment. “I wish I could fly.” Another pause. “I wish Helen would visit.” Another pause. “I wish everyone in the world wouldn’t eat animals tomorrow.” Zoe re-considers what she’s just said, and then articulates the thought more precisely. “I mean I wish everyone in the world was a vegetarian.”

I steer our little red car into the nearest parking space at the train station. I’m glad Zoe shared her three wishes with me, but it’s a bittersweet moment. Zoe knows humans can’t fly like birds do, but lately sometimes she pretends she is a bird. She likes to run, arms flapping at her sides, and leap in our house and in our yard, fantasizing that she can fly. As for her second wish, Zoe calls Helen “my bestest friend.” Zoe and Helen have known each other for nearly all of their young lives, but Helen and her family temporarily moved to England about four months ago. However, they’re visiting New York in two weeks, and we’ve arranged for Helen to have a sleepover at our home. And as for everyone in the world being a vegetarian, well...that would be one of my three wishes, too.

A Vegetarian World
One of the most difficult aspects of being a vegetarian parent is that there is so much about the world that is contrary to my values of compassion, respect, and mutual acknowledgement and understanding—and beyond my control. I want to raise Zoe in a world of vegetarians, but it’s clear that outside the walls of our home, such a world does not exist.

As the theme for this issue of Satya is “Violence and Activism,” I’ve thought about what role violence can play in creating a vegetarian world. In short, what is a better roadmap for a vegetarian planet—the Anarchist Cookbook or the Moosewood Cookbook?

For me, Moosewood author Mollie Katzen wins this round. (Despite the fact that Mollie isn’t a vegetarian.) People can’t be persuaded by violence to eat only vegetarian food. The idea is almost comic: “Eat that veggie dog or I’ll be forced to shoot you!”

Nor can violence deter people from breeding, raising, and slaughtering farmed animals or selling their flesh and other body parts for profit. I understand how an activist can feel a sense of satisfaction and victory after firebombing a parking lot of meat-delivery trucks or vandalizing a fast food restaurant. However, in the long run, such actions are ineffective. First, the number of vegetarians who participate in such endeavors is too small and the number of non-vegetarian institutions, like factory farms and fast food joints, are too many. It’s an impossible task. Second, the American public frowns upon property destruction, activist-oriented or not. As a tool, violence is a public relations disaster for the vegetarian movement.

What to Do?
I think vegetarians need to be realistic about the world we live in. I used to believe that most people, if they only knew the facts, would embrace vegetarianism. However, most people, I’ve learned, simply don’t care. By the time a person reaches adulthood in this country, he or she has been exposed to the moral filth and sheer horror of factory farms and slaughterhouses. There is no mystery about the life of a turkey whose body is served on a platter on Thanksgiving Day. Yet, few people have the compassion, empathy, or internal strength to became vegetarians.

How can we increase the number of vegetarians in the world? I think we need to appeal to people’s sense of self-interest by promoting vegetarianism as the healthiest and best style of eating. One good idea is an advertising campaign whose tagline is something like “Be good to yourself. Eat Vegetarian.”



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