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September 2000
Editorial: 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 don’t want to hear about it…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 2000, it’s 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. It’s 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 at 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 wouldn’t make anti-gay, racist or sexist remarks in front of those who would be offended. But this wasn’t about me.

"I was raised this way," they said. They weren’t 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 good life—literally.

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 frog’s legs. But when the waiter refused to accommodate my simple request for a cheese-less 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.

Catherine Clyne


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