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July 4-10, 2007

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Silicon Veggie - Elisa Camahort

Silicon Veggie

Omnivores, Vegans And Their Dilemmas

By Elisa Camahort

I AM in a book club, and last month I chose The Omnivore's Dilemma by Berkeley author Michael Pollan. I'm sure the rest of the club members, nine nonvegans, inwardly groaned, expecting some vegetarian polemic. But I already knew the book wasn't a vegetarian's bible.

The Omnivore's Dilemma doesn't make a case for veganism. It describes, in some detail, the conditions at factory farms, the environmental impact of our dietary choices and the act of animal slaughter—both at a farm and via hunting. But it also describes veganism, in particular, as a sort of unsustainable fantasy diet. At the end of the book, the author is clearly still eating meat and, at best, nudges readers toward seeking products from local, nonfactory farms.

So, hey all you omnivores—you won! The book merely provides kind and gentle encouragement to eat mindfully, with gratitude to the animals (as if they care!). It even, to this vegan's mind, endorses the concept and practice of eating animals.

So, why wasn't our book-club conversation livelier? We had a short discussion about what habits we might change due to the book, but we certainly didn't get into a debate about our diets.

Perhaps I, as the lone vegan, shied away from judging the author's contentions, because I felt that would be, by extension, judging my friends. Perhaps my friends shied away from a more substantive discussion because they were aware that it was basically me against the meat-eating world. No ganging up on the poor lone vegan and making her hear about how it's natural to love meat and too hard to give up.

As the one who chose the book I was supposed to lead this discussion. But when it came right down to it, I didn't push us all to dig into the huge ethical questions raised (and not at all resolved) by the book. I let everyone off the hook, including myself.

It made me wonder: Can vegans and nonvegans discuss eating animal products honestly and thoroughly?

I don't see it as a religious argument at all. To me the arguments for veganism are based on facts and logic, not faith. But the conclusions to be drawn from examining our dietary choices are conclusions about our individual ethic, and that's a touchy subject, even for good friends. Do you dive into debate at any opportunity? Do you simply lead by example? What's your solution?

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