Sipho Hlongwane
Sipho Hlongwane

Vegetarians cause me grief

As I type this, it’s late Saturday afternoon, and my hands are shaking deliriously, my eyes have shrunk to the back of my head, my gums have gone all mushy, my teeth are falling out, my bones are like butter and I’m pretty sure the dull thudding sound in my ears isn’t normal.

I had a vegetarian meal for lunch. It wasn’t by choice. As I battle with what is undoubtedly the onslaught of kwashiorkor, I have a question. How do you vegetablists live with yourselves?

In a world filled with all manner of meat cuts, from bratwürst to tender sirloin steaks, how can you enter into a restaurant, take a long, hard look at the menu and then order the tofu option? I don’t get vegetablism at all. Firstly, vegetables are gross. Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Juju Malema, cabbage, all utterly, utterly awful. I myself can only really enjoy a salad if the slatternly taste of the lettuce and tomato has been subdued by olives, feta cheese and a generous helping of dressing. I’m not being childish, here. Well, not entirely. If you would only strip away the pompous trappings of vegetablism, you’d agree that as far as the palate is concerned, you’re holding the muddy end of the stick.

Now consider a good porterhouse steak, done just how I like it. Tender, with a thin slice of pink in the middle. It’s a treat for the eyes, a delight to the nose and a sky-high trip for the taste buds. It’s like taking your tongue for a full body massage, only submerged in mint sauce. Heaven, pure heaven.

There’s the other type of vegetarians. The really pale, thin ones. Vegans. The fanatics. I like to think of them as the provisional wing of vegetablism. I’ve had the odd run-in with these vegan people. My reaction is always the same. Shame, man. All that malnutrition can’t be fun. And their reaction to that is always the same. They faint, but only after losing too much energy, trying to swing a punch at me. Tsk. Really man, shame.

Of late, vegetablism isn’t just about the ridiculous diet and halitosis any more. It’s become a fashion statement, something hip young things do. Apparently we should quit the pork sausages because the glaciers are shrinking and everyone in the Solomon Islands is going to drown and the globe is warming. How they came to this conclusion is somewhat beyond me, but apparently has something to do with cow farts, the ozone layer and methane. The thrust of their argument is that it’s not actually the greedy warmongers at General Motors that are causing the polar bears to drown, but the flatulence of Daisy and Betsy in the shed. I think. So, to stop the livestock from farting all the ozone away, we should stop eating meat, because mince meat is why Farmer Brown keeps cattle.

Vegetarianism is now eco-bling, taking its rightful place alongside the Toyota Prius, solar panels on the roof and streaming George Monbiot speeches live off the internet. It’s so very 21st century. Even more than making you like the kind of person who’d have no idea who Henry Kissinger is, it affords the grass-eater a measure of moral superiority. Green bragging rights, something to thump your malnourished chest about around the brassier at the next environmental protest outside yet another G20 conference.

My philosophy is quite simple. Live and let live — in the case of vegans, live and let die. I do me and you do you. I may find your dietary habits odd and perhaps quite insane, but if that’s what you want to eat, then bon appetit. Trouble is, the reciprocal is never true. Vegetarians cause me so much grief. They’re the biggest source of under-the-skin, itchy irritation in my life, more than taxi drivers, traffic cops and government workers. As soon as they see meat on my plate, they’re at my heels, yapping away like a pack of excitable terriers. I know some of my friends, who are avowed vegetablists, will cause me even more grief after reading this. Why can’t you vegetarians let me do my carnivorous, Neanderthal thing in peace? Why must I always be forced to listen to anti-meat sermons every time I munch on a chicken and mayo sandwich? Why the pressing need to instil a sense of guilt in me for having the temerity to order the something meaty pizza?

If your issue is with the exploitation of animals, consider what will happen should all 6 billion of us decide to stop eating meat. You really think Mildred the Cow is going to spend the rest of her days listlessly chewing the cud, wondering why the farmers have stopped pulling at her teats. All the livestock are going to be slaughtered. And you know how post-modern man (excuse me, post-modern person) is — we like to avoid unpleasantness as much as possible. We’ll get the militia to do something about the cattle, preferably far away where we won’t have to face the consequences of our choice. What’s the cheapest way to kill a cow? I’m sure you’ve seen No Country For Old Men. Remember that shooting pen, gas thing that Javier Bardem kills the traffic cop with? Yep. Whether we choose to eat meat or not, the cow’s going to wind up dead. It’d be a shame to let those fillets go to waste.

Look, I’m not some M-16 wielding, tobacco-chewing, eco-hating redneck. I try to keep an open mind. Perhaps I too will one day forsake the art of the butcher for shrubbery, live in a tree, wear hemp and change my name to Ganja Moonbeam. Right now though, I’m far too poor for that sort of nonsense. A man’s got a living to make. When I’m as rich and fat as Al Bore, I’ll consider eco-vegetablism. Maybe. For now, meat is how I choose to live. So I’m asking you vegetablists very nicely, on behalf of all people who have not forsaken the culinary ways of their forebears. Leave. Us. Alone.

  • Matt

    @ Nathan
    What is especially troubling is your assertion that the Society works undemocratically and that our “board of Directors” as you so melodramatically placed in inverted commas, is perusing goals other than those that we publicly espouse, that being plainly and simply: vegan outreach and advocacy in South Africa.

    The SA Vegan Society is currently in the process of registering as a Section 21 company and as such has no paying members, and collects no donations on behalf of the society. Since the Society is currently not registered and receives no public funding, the board of directors does not need to be elected by members at an AGM anymore than you and your friends need to hold a ballot to decide who will be Saturday evening’s designated driver.

    The board of directors of the Vegan Society works tirelessly and effectively for vegans in South Africa with no pay and quite often at personal expense to ourselves. The running of our website, printing material , hosting events and liaising with retailers are a few examples of the work done by the society and its board for South African vegans.

  • Jackyl

    @’Nathan’ … wow, you’ve discovered a giant scandal by exposing the cultish Vegan Society for what it really is! Oh wait, no … you just posted a link to our ONLINE bios. Thanks for the free promotion!

    Stop insulting us because you have some kind of weird, creepy issue with Aragorn – we’ve all got different personal beliefs but as a society all we really care about is promoting veganism, not defending ourselves against the likes of you.

  • Nathan

    Ok – let me attempt one last time to answer some of your society members comments with more concentration, I am inbetween many things and my time in SA is running out.

    Clean air – the aggressive tone was unfortunatley set by Aragorn in his very first post – and I quote the words ‘utterly ignorant’. Now I am certain that after those hostile words the vegan cause won many of your fellow South African over.

    Keep personal belief systems (in terms of beliefs in ‘responsible’ illicit substances, anarchism even mainstream religious)beliefs out of the quota of vegamism if you are representing veganim on a natinal level)

    Now I want to really use the Vegan Society in the UK as an example – and perhaps becuase they have been established for so long – they have truly mastered the art of public communication. I am trying to point out the obvious flaws that you bring into your advocacy efforts (no matter how well intended they might be).

    Matt – I want to commend you in your last post – now THAT IS HOW A VEGAN REPERESENTATIVE SHOULD BE COMMUNICATIING PUBLICALLY. In my opinion – full marks to you. However your first post is confusing to me.Pity that the sarcsitc tone that Aragorn chooses to adopt – as well as Jacky – are simply not befitting of a national organisation.

    Aragorn – if you are using the title Director – then is not possible for you not to be representing your SA Society. Surely now.

  • Nathan

    I ran out of space. I use the term ‘cult’ loosly by the way. Becareful of some of the pitfalls that you might be creating for yourself.

    Aragorn if you are truly interested in the adovocacy of ‘responsible’ use of substances – I would like to formally invite you to look up some of the work undertaken by us at Pfizer UK. My apologies for my sarcastic tone at some points – as soon as I pick it up in coversation I have a terrible habbit of continuing in that fashion. Matt – should like you have a sensible head on you…. keep it up in SA, and your efforts will bear fruit. Now as fun as all this has been – I will not be corresponding anytime again soon. One week in SA – then off to some of the remote spots of Algeria were we are busy investigating infectious diseases. Sipho – I have read your other articles… you have a lot of talent, keep it up !

  • http://www.crimethinc.co.za Aragorn23

    ‘Nathan’, I had to laugh when you mentioned Pfizer. You’re promoting a giant pharmaceutical corporation with a dismal human rights record (and that conducts extensive animal model research) as ‘responsible’ in *any* way? I’d prefer to look at the great work of independent organisations like http://www.maps.org (although even they are still stuck in the animal model to an extent), if it’s all the same to you 😉

    I must admit that I find more value in the ideas of Dr Steve Best than those of the spineless pro-capitalist liberals who undertake most vegan advocacy work. In other words, I don’t think consumer lobbying is all that is needed (although I certainly do some of this): I think radical – perhaps revolutionary – political change is required. If this clashes with what you think are the politics of the UK Vegan Society or the IVU, who cares?

    I don’t apologise for my views and continue to find your approach incredibly arrogant. What on earth gives you the right to start lecturing me on how I should behave in public based on what you erroneously assume to be my mandate?

    If you’d like to know what approaches I take with regards to vegan advocacy / AR, here are some articles I’ve written.

    http://transitionza.ning.com/profiles/blogs/want-to-really-make-a

    http://thomaspainescorner.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/the-politics-of-liberation

    http://www.southafrica.co.za/2010/02/25/it-aint-easy-being-green/

  • http://www.crimethinc.co.za Aragorn23

    PS: If anyone would like to know how the SA Vegan Society *really* promotes veganism, subscribe to our newsletter by visiting our site :-)

  • Nathan

    Do you advocate illegal activity? If that is the case, should all of us vegans start throwing in ‘magic muti’ ‘responsibly’ into our veggie mix? If you are advocating illegial activity (which you are), then you should be calling yourselves the Vegan Militia, or whatever the appropriate term is, so as not to mislead the public. Sounds to me like you activity is as close to cult as what one can get — throw in a charasmatic leader, adocate ‘responsible’ use of illict drugs. Mmmm ?

    Pfizer has an excellent reputation – it is wasnt for us the lastest development in ARV meds would be non-exitant and your country would be suffering even more dire consequences.

    If it quacks like a duck, and waddles like a duck… then chances are its a….

  • Nathan

    Forgot to say – althought Pfizer does use animal experimentation – it is always when there are no viable alternatives, and we comply with all rigorous ethical considerations. If you have issues with Pfizer (despite the excellent work we do) – then I refer you to Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the work that they advocate (nowhere does illicit responsible (rather recreational use in your context) manifist). If LSD or cannabis cured OCD – then surely you would be cured by now?

  • Nathan

    Pfizer complies with all ethical standards, and only uses animals in studies if there is no viable alternatives.

  • http://www.crimethinc.co.za Aragorn23

    *sigh*

    1: PCRM supports the work of Dr Ray Greek, who challenges the predictive nature of the animal model of research from a philosophy of science perspective. They would not regard *any* animal testing as viable.

    2: ARV PR or not (and there’s more to this issue than you imply), here’s some information on Pfizer’s incredibly patchy human rights record: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Pfizer – be sure to check out their actual animal testing policies, as well as the article on how they sponsored toxic drug tests on foster children 😉

    3: The SA Vegan Society is a legitimate, above-ground organisation that works within the parameters of the law. Outside of my commitments to the Society I am, among other things, one of the members of the Institute of Critical Animal Studies (http://www.criticalanimalstudies.org), which promotes direct action, open rescues and similar, and has a sensible, nuanced view on the more radical actions of the ALF and similar.

    However, using my academic interest in such currents as a basis to discredit me (or, bizarrely, to reiterate your exceedingly odd claim that I’m a cult leader!) is about as pathetic as discrediting people like Chris Hani or Desmond Tutu for their role in historical justice struggles in our own coutry simply because these struggles included – necessarily – some strategies / tactics construed as illegal at the time.

    4: Read before shaming yourself further! http://www.maps.org/sys/w3pb.pl?mode=search&c_pkey=22868

  • Nathan

    Perhaps to add… I briefly scanned your link to the site regarding the company I am contracted into – and the claims you make regarding testing on forster childen, I fail to see…. however, it was a quick glance. Furthermore, I have doubts regarding the legitamacy of the site you mention. I am involved in the trials with Maraviroc (ARV med) and I can assure you that we comply to all ethical standards – this I will verify with Dr van der Ryst (who was involved in developing this revolutionary treatment that has not yet been released in your country).