I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. ........... Helen Keller
I have a Hope rock sitting beside my computer. It’s a rock, and it has the word Hope carved into one side in both English and Chinese. That’s it. I paid seven bucks for a rock, a gray one. I bought it in Chinatown in San Francisco when I was on vacation with my family. I bought it because it called to me, because I would like to believe, that, yes, there is Hope, always, and because sometimes I need a reminder of that. I heard someone say to his friend as I was passing in the hallway, “I’ve given up on the idea of world peace. I don’t think we will ever all live together in a world where everyone gets along, where we’re friends and we think of each other and put each others’ needs right up there with our own.” I wanted to stop myself mid-stride, plant my hands on my hips and give this young man a talking to the likes of which he would never forget. Sadly, though, a tiny part of me agreed with him. I thought of my Hope rock. I thought maybe it was a waste of seven bucks.
It’s interesting to me that when I write an essay, as I recently did, on breasts, I get more reads than when I write an essay on world hunger or compassion or global warming. We as readers, it would seem, would rather enjoy a nice piece on big bazoongas than one which suggests ways we might contribute to ending poverty or fostering health and well-being in our children. We don’t want to read about boys and girls around the world, let alone boys and girls who may be dying from starvation, but—oh, yeah, baby!!--bring on those button-popping blouses! I find that strange, and disturbing.
People ask me sometimes why I am vegan. I tell them first the simple answer, the one to which I think they can most relate. I tell them that seventy percent of Americans die of some type of chronic disease, the majority of which can be prevented through following a plant-based diet. Maybe they have first-hand experience with diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Maybe they have a relative or friend on insulin or blood pressure medicine. Very likely, they know multiple people with multiple chronic disease issues. I tell them that I don’t care how long I live, but that I want to be able to participate in my life, to participate to the fullest. I tell them for me life is a matter of quality over quantity. I tell them that I don’t want to end my life with a tackle box full of prescription meds. I tell them that maybe a vegan diet won’t cure all, but it will cure some. And for me, that is enough. “Oh,” they say. “I see.” I don’t always believe they do.
What I really want to tell them is that by going vegan I feel that I am doing my little bit in the war against world hunger. I want to tell them that using grain for meat production is such an inefficient way to feed people. I want to educate a bit on CAFO’s, concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms), and on egg and dairy farming practices. I want to tell these questioners of mine that we have plenty of food, that we could feed so many of us if we just used the grains we give to animals-- animals that normally in nature just eat grass and such anyway--to feed people instead. I want to tell them that death by starvation doesn’t have to happen, that maybe we could consider plant-based eating a viable way to end world hunger. I want to tell them that they are contributing to so many deaths by snarfing down that cheeseburger and frying up that bacon. I want to tell them. I want to, but they wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t care because the majority of them couldn’t relate. Most of them have never been hungry, have never gone without even a single meal. Most likely they would ponder the enormity of an issue like world hunger and shrug their shoulders in a what-could-I-do-about-it-anyway-I-am-only-one kind of way. So, no, I don’t tell them this. I don’t tell them the starving children thing.
I look at my Hope rock and think maybe, maybe there is Hope and I just don’t see it. Maybe readers care more than I think. Maybe they just don’t have the necessary information to make informed choices. We have been fed such crap (pun very much intended) by organizations we believe are set up to protect us, but really exist to protect and promote their own best interests. We have been taught that our bodies NEED milk and meat and eggs and cheese. We have been taught that these things are good for us. Menopausal women down glasses and glasses of two percent and skim in the hopes of maintaining good bone health, and yet, studies have shown that countries which consume milk have higher rates of osteoporosis than countries that do not. In addition, that milk that we are encouraged to “Got” contributes to allergies and asthma and mucus formation and bloating and gas. We are the only species that drinks the milk of another and the only that drinks milk past infancy. And what about meat? Where, if not from meat, would we get our protein? To borrow a line from a nurse friend of mine, I have seen more individuals in hospital beds due to complications related to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than from protein deficiency. I have seen more individuals die from one of these complications than from failing to eat a sufficient amount of chicken or beef or shrimp. Individuals on the standard American diet, anyway, generally get twice as much protein as they need. And all foods, as it turns out, save for oils, contain some amount of protein. I think we’re good on protein. Education, indeed, is an excellent tool, but it’s always a good idea to do a bit of fact checking. I remember the day a high school teacher told me that not everything I read in a book is true. Blasphemy, I thought!! But, in the end, it was true.
What if all the world went vegan for a day?
Would we all turn pale and sickly? Would we suffer protein deficiency en masse? What would we eat? Would the hospitals be filled? Would we wither and die?
Let’s pretend for a minute that we all did go vegan for a day. What then? What would that look like? How would we feel? I have been vegetarian for seven years, vegan for the past four. I felt great when I made the switch from a meat-eating diet to one that dropped the chicken, beef, and fish. I felt good. But when I made the decision to go vegan, to drop the eggs and dairy, I cannot explain to you the changes that occurred. I felt wonderful, not just good. My skin was clearer. My hair was healthier. I rarely got sick. I felt, for lack of a better term, cleaner. I had energy enough for everyone in my family. I am middle-aged, for Pete’s sake, and I feel better than I did when I was thirty. One friend who has known me forever but only recently discovered my plant-based ways said to me one day, “I never would have guessed that you’re vegan. You’re so, so…..” “So, what?,” I asked. “Healthy?” “No,” she said, “so colorful.” I had never been called colorful before. It was sort of nice. I felt proud to break her “pale and frail” stereotype of us vegans.
I once told my militant lacto-ovo niece very matter-of-factly that I could never go vegetarian, that I could never give up meat. I think now that I could never go back. I could never go back to my carnivorous ways for more reasons than would first appear. Sure, following a plant-based diet is the kind thing to do as far as the animals are concerned. And, yes, vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancers than do their meat-eating counterparts (and, hey, vegans have even lower rates of all these than do their lacto-ovo cousins), but by leaving out meat, I feel that I am doing my tiny part to help end world hunger. I can no longer continue to eat knowing that I am taking from others, that I am contributing to death, both in animals and in children. I can no longer put dead things into my body in the name of celebrating or socializing or simply satisfying an urge. I can’t in good conscience sit down to a nice grilled Angus, or even a barbecued chicken breast, knowing that somewhere in the world, because I feel entitled to more resources, perhaps, someone will go without. I just can’t do that. I think of my words to my niece, and I think of my current diet, and I think that maybe, maybe I do have Hope.