I was Raised This Way
By Catherine Clyne
"Do they have veal n stuff there?" she asked.
I was dining in a French restaurant, a place where I would not normally
have chosen to eat. But since it was family, and we had
just driven to New York from Virginia, and the unanimous desire among
the ladies was for French food, I found myself there.
When I arrived they were enjoying appetizers and already discussing
where to eat the following night. Hoping to avoid the prospect of a
repeat situation, I recommended an Italian restaurant a few blocks
away. "It has the best pasta," I crowed, assuming that everyone
would be happy with some kind of pasta dish. "Do they have veal
n stuff?" one friend asked, her mouth full of pate.
Yes, they were sharing a plate of pate and another of escarole, snails.
It took some moments to sink in and I said something like, "Come
on! Veal comes from baby calves confined in boxes for their brief miserable
lives." They waved the words away, "I dont want to hear
I was brought up this way." My response resembled
something like: "Try understanding that when someone confines you
to a box and murders you for no reason." But it fell on deaf ears.
"I was raised this way," they repeated. Right, they were
raised on veal.
One of the hot-button issues when I meet fellow vegetarians is how
people deal with being vegetarian in a meat-eating world. In the year
its heartening to find Tofutti and rice milk in my local grocery
store, as well as organic produce and a section of vegetarian frozen
foods. More and more, finding vegan food outside of the cocoon of urban
vegetarian restaurants and health food stores is becoming less of an
issue. But as John Robbins pointed out over a decade ago, people cling
to the Great American Meat Religion. Its evident that they still
do, and no amount of soy-cheese pizza, vegan Doc Martens and recycled
toilet paper changes the fact that mainstream America is meat-eating.
Some avail themselves of the discomfort of being confronted with animal
carcasses by refusing to share a table with those who eat them. Others
choose differently. I figured out early on that discussing my ethical
views on living beings over the bodies of dead ones was a bad idea,
since it puts people on the defensive, raises the emotional thermometer
and closes minds. However, it was jarring, to say the least, being
a table with loved ones who were eating pate, the livers of forced-fed
birds, and talking about veal, the cruelest of foods. Some would accuse
them of being insensitive toward me, arguing that most people wouldnt
make anti-gay, racist or sexist remarks in front of those who would
be offended. But this wasnt about me.
"I was raised this way," they said. They werent raised
on veal, milk and manna from heaven any more than I was. Like most Americans,
they were raised to desire those things that they associate with luxury,
and, being in the capital of capitalism, they wanted a taste of the
The silver lining here is that by simply being who I am people are "getting"
it, if unwittingly. A few days before my French dining experience, my
family dined at another restaurant. The same friend who later asked
about veal perused the menu, contemplating ordering frogs legs.
But when the waiter refused to accommodate my simple request for a
half-portion of their only vegetarian entree, my friend quietly left
the table and spoke to the manager; and a vegan meal was served. Thank
heaven for small miracles.