On the evening of December 31st, 1993 I drove up to the drive-through window of the Burger King at Park and Getwell in Memphis and received the bag of two double cheeseburgers handed to me. This was to be my last ever taste of beef. I don’t remember where I ate them, but I probably pulled into a parking lot at the nearby University of Memphis campus and ate them in my car under the shadows of the mercury vapor streetlights.
The next night I bought a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken and took it home to my Granny’s house where I then lived to enjoy in front of the TV, it being meant as the last poultry I’d ever eat. In one of the first pieces I bit into I found clinging to the bone what looked like a 3 cm black tumor, so I threw it all into the garbage and knew I was doing the right thing by quitting meat.
My interest in vegetarianism began as a desire for physical purification, although it took me some time to transition into actually eating well (this is a relative term). Later I became more interested in the ethical implications of diet, and from late 1998 to mid-2000, I was vegan and a member of PeTA; the last 40 days or so of that time I ventured even further toward dietary and karmic purity by adopting a raw-food-only diet– which, for me, meant citrus, apples, pears, mushrooms, spinach salad, nuts, avocado, dried seaweed… anything that didn’t come from animal sources and wasn’t cooked.
What mainly influenced me to take such an extreme view of my diet were the two influential books, Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, and The Sunfood Diet by David Wolfe, which outlined a dietary system involving Natural Hygiene concepts: animal foods are prohibited, it being stated that meat is indigestible (it “rots in the gut”); the role of enzymes in uncooked foods and how they contribute to proper digestion; the chronic dehydration that results from eating mainly cooked food… there are many more tenets. So for more than a month around 60% of my diet was citrus, the rest being salads and various kinds of raw sandwiches (which did not include grain based bread, grains also being considered inappropriate for human consumption). Wolfe has a chart of his “Karmic Scale” of raw foods, which could only have been got from intuition and plain making it all up: things like lemons, limes, oranges, apples, pears, avocados all being positively karmically charged foods which elevate one’s consciousness, these being in descending order. Human breast milk, I think– it has been about 12 years since I’ve read the book– is neutral. Negative karma foods would be nuts, mushrooms… and blood. One is supposed to balance one’s diet not according to food “pyramids” or group, but by the karmic “energy” of the foods (sugar content?). Don’t eat too much citrus without a corresponding amount of “grounding” foods, and it’s implied one should probably always stay away from drinking blood, I suppose. But again, I could be getting some of this wrong since it’s been so long since I’ve read the book, but this is the gist.
(Slightly off the subject: while vegan I still drank soy milk, and I almost always bought it from Wal-Mart. At that time, Wal-Mart’s health food section was about 5′ wide on a single side of one row. My feeling was that buying it there was casting a vote, as it were, for dairy alternatives. Now, the “health food” section is large, though it sadly, like all processed food, mostly starch.)
I took bags of citrus and apples with me to work and rarely ate much else except for mixed nuts, and spent around $13 a day on organic fruit– the people I worked with, blue-collar black Memphians, thought I had lost my mind. I will say this: I did feel good. My vision was crystal clear and colors were vibrant. I had energy and I always felt clean. I took sublingual B complex supplements since it’s acknowledged certain B vitamins can only be gotten from animal sources. One very nice and interesting insight Wolfe makes is that if we were naturally carnivorous, then every time we walked on a forest path and see a chipmunk we would pounce on it and tear it’s guts out; I do think he’s right about this.
On the 40th day of only eating raw food, I woke up ravenous… for hours I tried to manage my hunger, but I had a mad, extreme craving for Memphis Pizza Cafe’s “Ultimate Cheese” pizza. That evening I broke down and got one, then brought it home and surely ate the entire thing. I had been vegan for so long that I had essentially gone more than a month with no fat at all… only the occasional avocado… so my body reached some kind of terminal point of deficiency. Wolfe to me now seemed to be a trust-fund kid for whom it was easy to obtain exotic and expensive South Pacific fruits, who had the resources to freely enjoy open nudity with others in tropical locations. PeTA can’t be taken seriously since clearly their priorities lie in finding public relations opportunities and raising funds– but with their obnoxious shock tactics they perennially alienate far more people than they convert. If they truly wanted converts they could appeal to reason and point to the virtues of eating less meat. It’s counter-productive, pointless and wrong to attempt to persuade most people they should eat none at all. If they could get half of Americans to cut their meat consumption by 50% then they would have a far, far greater impact on the state of animal exploitation than their current approach of convincing 0.1% of high-school kids to only eat french fries and Cokes for a few years.
In December 2003 my step-brother Phil introduced me to Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Weston Price, published in 1939. In retirement Price and his wife traveled the world only to sightsee, but were shocked to see that people of so-called “primitive” cultures universally had excellent teeth and dental arches– he was unable to find a single person in these societies with cavities or crowded teeth, though he did find plenty of people with food stuck in their teeth since no one in any of these societies ever brushed their teeth in any way. However, when anyone from these isolated groups had come into contact with what Price calls “foods of commerce” or “white foods”– food created and packaged by so-called advanced societies, skeletal malformation, crowded teeth, dental caries, tooth loss and disease were rampant. In at least one culture, toothaches were so severe that they had become the leading cause of suicide.
To Price, there isn’t Good or Badnutrition, there is only the face and expression of nutrition. None of the these cultures had what we in technologically advanced, educated times would call balanced diets. The people of an extremely isolated Swiss village he studied essentially ate only oats, beef, cheese and milk, whereas a South Pacific insular group ate mainly crab, coconut and fish; the diets of Eskimos was comprised almost 100% from animal sources, yet they too had no tooth decay or tooth loss (he did say their teeth were exceedingly worn down, but he found this was from carrying 50 kilo packs from their mouth by clenching leather straps in their teeth). He did find some places where the amount of non-animal food comprised as much as ~75% or so of the average diet, but nowhere did they once encounter any strictly vegetarian or vegan culture. Mainly, dental plaque is a sign of a compromised immune system, and the poor health, disease and bad teeth of Western contemporary culture was due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies– refined flour and sugar displace nutrients in the diet, but moreover, modern farming methods tax the soil so that food grown doesn’t have a strong vitamin and mineral content anyway; this problem persists, as it has been shown that even organic vegetables grown on small farming operations barely have any more food value than conventional. It’s a fascinating book and I’ve given many copies as gifts to friends and family.
I still believe the American diet is atrocious– Dr. Price only reinforced this. Regarding veganism, I’m not the only one who apostatized. Although I still believe– fervently– that most anyone would better off only eating small amounts of meat, and only doing so a few times per week, there are plenty of animal products we need almost daily (when I was vegan, I conversed with an older, distant relative about it. He said at one point, “Well… every time I go to Wild Oats [defunct health food supermarket chain], everybody who works there looks unhappy and SICK.” I could only agree with him.), though I do still think that in cases of acute or chronic Diseases of Affluence, some extended period of hard veganism may be very renewing. The ethical reasons for not eating animal products or using them in any way still completely stand, of course. It’s thought by many vegetarians and vegans that it is hypocritical to eat whatever you would not be willing to kill yourself, but I don’t believe this. Specialization of labor is perfectly normal, sensible and efficient, and there are many jobs I would never (ever) want to do, yet I would happily continue enjoying the product or service in question.
My body feels pleasure when eating animal products– like feta, honey, chicken– but I do feel empathy and sadness about where it all comes from. Anyone who doesn’t is a brute. It’s a simple unfortunate fact of life.