A Brief Personal Knowledge of Food

When I was six years old, my favourite film was… Actually, it was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, launching a lifelong love affair with kitsch culture and Tim Burton, but that’s completely irrelevant, here. Second in line, though, was the original Doctor Doolittle film, the one that’s actually based on the books, and starring Rex Harrison. I don’t remember if this was the first I’d ever learned that meat came from animals, but I remember I had vowed to become a vegetarian “when I grow up”, because of reasons, including: I was six and my parents ultimately decided what I ate, I was six and I didn’t really grasp the concept of using book-smarts to best my parents in an argument, and I was six and a lot of things seem like a great idea when you’re six (in this case, I’m referring to “caving in to the parental units”, something I had abandoned by the time I was eleven).

When I was twelve, I made my first rebellious stand for vegetarianism, mainly because I had watched my half-sister Ruby, who had always been overweight for various reasons (including a thyroid condition complicated by adolescent-onset depression, plus her mother had severe chronic depression and tended to self-medicate with food, and so Ruby naturally picked up the habit) balloon from a fairly small (for her) 300lbs to double that in the course of a year. It was a corpulentaphobic, and ultimately problematic, reason for doing it, but I tried. Because I still had to eat the school lunches and what my parents cooked, I resorted to picked out the meat of things that were served to me. I lasted maybe three weeks before I started getting loopy from iron deficiency, and gave up when my step-mother’s period started up and she had her customary blue steak, which she tended to have at that time of the month because she, like a lot of post-menarchic and pre-menopausal women (and some trans men not on HRT), goes mildly anaemic when menstruating, except in her case, it’s a little more than mild, but not enough to medicate with pills; the smell of charred meat was a tipping point in my brain and the rest of my body that basically told me I needed what I wasn’t getting from an almost-vegetarian diet. At that point, I resolved that I probably couldn’t go completely vegetarian for any significant amount of time.

The idea that I couldn’t go strict vegetarian became apparent in other ways, all related to health concerns that simply kept cropping up: I was borderline anaemic, and to get the iron and protein I needed, meat was simply more efficient in many ways, like how smaller portions of meat necessary to get the same amounts in vegetarian substitutes (though not as filling as the veg*n-friendly alternatives, 2oz of red meat has the same iron as in 8oz of brown rice or 6oz of spinach by weight; in an emergency situation, that 2oz proves far more efficient to keep one going than what would otherwise be supplemented by constantly eating or stopping to eat, in comparison). I also developed symptoms that led me to conclude that I have a soy allergy (which, in my case, while this allergy is relatively mild in symptoms, it’s proved immensely important to eliminate from my life in terms of managing the rest of my allergies). These two things, especially, make living completely vegetarian, much less vegan, practically impossible, especially on my budget1.

While I applaud those who choose to live vegetarian or vegan as a point of ethics, I also have, in recent years, developed some serious issues with those who make any serious plea that the entire world eat the ways they do:

Ableism

This is at the top of my list, because it’s both the most pervasive and the most overlooked from others who have developed issues with the notion of a vegan world. Anyone who has lived on a vegetarian or vegan (henceforth “veg*n”) diet for more than a few moths does so for one simple fact: Their bodies are able to.

Unfortunately, many veg*ns are all-too-willing to throw people with food allergies, deficiencies, including various types of anaemia under the bus in the name of “living ethically”. It’s practically impossible to find veg*n proteins, especially anything pre-packaged, that does not contain some combination of soy and/or nuts and/or wheat. Now, most people have no issue eating those things, hell, I can eat two of the three I just listed, but may the gods help you if you’re trying earnestly to live strictly veg*n and have an allergy to any of them.

Furthermore, while your basic anaemia is fairly easy to manage on even a strict vegan diet, it’s apparently very hard for the 1 in 500 people of African ancestry living with sickle-cell anaemia (that’s a number roughly on-par with Lynn Conway’s estimate of TS/TG prevalence), due to the way the body processes iron coming from relatively soft muscle fibres verses iron that the body has to break down tough cellulose to even get to.

It’s also been recently theorised that Pythagoras’ aversion to beans in his school and his own life, may have perhaps been a result of hemolytic anemia, which can be onset from consuming fava beans (which was, coincidentally, a bean he seemed especially averse to).

The sickle cell difficulties with veg*nism, though, brings me to:

Racism

Pretty much no-one without even the tiniest amount of African ancestry on both sides has sickle-cell anaemia. If the “dream” is “for the world to go vegan”, that’s clearly a world that will ultimately eradicate a lot of black people! And when you consider that it’s a recessive gene and it needs to be present on both sides of one’s biological family line to inherit it, and even then it’s still a crap shoot, it’s awfully hard to determine who will and will not pass it on. The only way to guarantee that “the world” can “go vegan” and stay that way is to eliminate anyone who has and may potentially pass on health issues that make a strict veg*n diet of any sort difficult. Sorry, Black people, seems you’re not a part of the “dream” that a lot of veg*ns have.

Classism

It’s possible to avoid a lot of the issues with a veg*n diet and dietary restrictions due to allergies but only if one can afford it. Can’t have soy? Well, there’s seitan and Quorn (a patented food product made from mushrooms) and nuts as your sources of protein, but the latter two can get incredibly expensive, and seitain only costs a little bit more than tofu (on average), but that’s if you can find it in a form that isn’t processed or packaged with soy (which is in so much packaged foods that there are even meat and dairy products that I can’t have due to soy content). Allergic to tree nuts? Well, tough titties, it’s apparently in almost everything veg*n.

Then there’s the fact that, in the under-developed parts of the world (and I specify this for a reason), it’s been studied that children on solid foods who get even a few tablespoons, maybe two ounces by volume, tops, of meat per week (that’s far less than most Americans eat in a day, or even a single meal!) tend to have higher cognitive developmental rates from children who do not get that, because it turns out that growing bodies are especially in need of fats and cholesterol for brain development, which you get far more easily and efficiently (and in some parts of the world: least-expensively) from eating meat. Now, I specify “the under-developed parts of the world” because these problems are largely non-existent amongst Western veg*n families for the simple fact that Western veg*n families have far easier access to veg*n-friendly options to get their children those needed nutrients (and yes, I know there are exceptions of Western dumbasses thinking they can feed their kids a strict veg*n diet without reading up on childhood nutritional needs nor how to meet that in a veg*n diet, but they’re so rare they become national headlines when it happens).

…now let’s move on to the issues that tend to be far more of a concern for spiritual people with animistic beliefs:

Plant Sentience

The science behind plant sentience is growing. They can communicate with others of their own species, and there is growing data to suggest that some species even recognise members of their own species that are related to them, directly. While true that plants lack what is currently under the definitions of brains, neurons, and central nervous systems, so do scallops, which are inarguable animals and banned from any good veg*n’s diet (and when confronted with this information, that bivalves lack neurology and thus any “pain and suffering” perception that relies on a definable neurology, usually the ban on eating bivalves is justified on environmental grounds). They communicate kinship, and a desire to live and to thrive — the most basic definition of sentient life.

It’s a sentience altogether alien to us, as complex mammals, sure, but as any spiritual person, especially with animist beliefs and a tendency to see and/or feel spirits everywhere: just because a sentience is not fully understood does not make it invalid.

It’s easy to read the desires to live and thrive of animals, even a worm wrigggles in an attempt to get away from the bird. We, as a species, are only just beginning to brush off the dust from the bookcover of plant sentience. I have no doubt that even further strides to opening that book will be made in my lifetime — the sine might not even come close to getting cracked in this lifetime, but any steps closer will prove necessary in supporting the notion that the world is filled with spirits.

Now add Ethics

When considering plant sentience, even as a theoretical idea that may or may not hold water (which would betray a lack of reading, but it’s not the point here), one thing soon comes to light: the only parts of the plant which are freely given, and typically most-beneficial to the plant to be eaten are the fruits and nuts. Ergo, the fruitarian diet is, by leaps and bounds, the most ethical dietary lifestyle. That said, very few people have proved an ability to thrive on a fruitarian diet, and all have been adults. Even leading veg*n nutritionists advise against raising children strictly fruitarian because of risk of B12 deficiencies (which can be avoided with B12-fortified nutmilks and cereals in a less-restrictive veg*n diet), but I’m sure there’s someone out there who thinks that it’s cos those veg*n nutritionists are getting their pockets lined by the heavily-subsudised and multi-billion dollar soy industry. (As an aside: I’m always curious why so many veg*ns are quick to accuse non-veg*ns of “being duped by the meat [and dairy] industry!” when the fact of the matter is, soy is BIG BUSINESS, heavily subsidised about as much as corn and it’s evil high-fructose syrups, if not more, and is in nearly everything that comes in a tin or a box, unlike meat and dairy….)

The next best thing, all things described above considered, even consulting divination, is that a spiritually-minded semi-vegetarian diet, as close as possible to the diets of the BCE Mediterranean to one’s budget and tastes, is what’s best.

Pleasure

As a Hedonist, Pleasure is the greatest good, and the ultimate ethical determination of whether or not to take an action. As one starting this journey from the Cyrenaic school, I’m the only one who can know what is most pleasurable to myself, and the sensual/bodily pleasures are to be considered before ascetic pleasures of the mind; the body will feed the mind and the soul as it needs to. Now, I’m unusual from what is most-known of the Cyrenaic school in that I consider the gods and spirits far more than fragmented knowledge surviving of the Cyrenaics suggests they may have. I please myself by pleasing Eros and those nearest to Him (and vice-versa): Nyx, Psykhe, Hedone, the Erotes, the Khairetes….

My knowledge of these gods and others has led me to the belief that literally everything has a spirit of some sort. It’s impossible to eat without harming or outright taking a life and sending some spirit or another upset. We can make this upset more pleasurable an experience by simply asking before we eat:

Ask the carrot to let its spirit bless you with the nutrients you need from it.

Ask the apple to forgive if, if you cannot spread its seeds after feasting on its meat.

Ask the chicken to flutter onto the barge and take its place among the asphodel on the other bank.

Ask the gods of the agriculture to the meal with you, because without Them, you’d probably starve.


1: In case you were curious and haven’t checked in with me on FaceBook in a while, I’m still, at the time I write this, only getting $16/month in food stamps, which NOBODY can live on. My disability cheque, while getting the annual cost-of-living increase, still totals only $680/month, and Etsy is currently only averaging me about $250/month, so after rent, bills, cat expenses, bus pass, medications not covered by Medicare, and any money that has to go back into my shop (Etsy fees, parts, bubble mailers, printer ink), I did the maths, I have exactly $94 *for the entire month*. My DreamHost bill is currently behind because my cat needed his FeLV vaccine done right. I can’t afford to *finally* make my own ding-danged name legal in March when I’m finally eligible again, and to add insult to injury, I can’t afford to eat much more than rice and beans and pastas, at home (if you’re watching on Instagram, yeah, I eat a lot of pizza-by-the-slice, cos I have friends, and it’s cheap). If you value this blog, please contribute to my Patreon fund

About Ruadhán McElroy

Ruadhán has been a traditional Hellenic polytheist for about a decade, and has also maintained devotions to Eros and Apollon most of that time; his status as a devotee of Nyx is more recent. He also paints, makes music, makes jewellery, and writes novels set in the Mod Revival (UK) and Swampie (Oz) subcultures of the 1980s. He also gets a lot of odd little experiences that he jokes will forever render him an insufferable Goth.

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