The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - LEAH McLAREN

I have been forced to make a re­luc­tant con­ces­sion this year: I’ve largely given up eat­ing meat.

Swear­ing off the flesh is less an at­tempt to make a ‘good’ choice than a con­scious re­jec­tion of the power of col­lec­tive delu­sion

It’s Jan­uary and as usual every­one is on some id­iot regime. We’re all go­ing dry and get­ting re­hy­drated, rest­ing our colons and man­i­fest­ing our best in­ten­tions. We’re up­ping the an­tiox­i­dants and down­ing pro­bi­otics, med­i­tat­ing, mas­ti­cat­ing and en­gag­ing in em­pa­thetic me­di­a­tion.

The par­ents I know are pledg­ing that this year they will stop snap­ping at their chil­dren (snap­ping is the new yelling, which was the new spank­ing, didn’t you know) and my sin­gle friends are swear­ing off sex with ran­dom strangers on­line (they meet the strangers on­line; the sex hap­pens in per­son). Hon­est work­ing Joes ev­ery­where are re­lin­quish­ing plea­sures small and large and sub­mit­ting to thrice-weekly ses­sions of self-flag­el­la­tion at the near­est CrossFit gym.

Are we all en­gag­ing these ab­ne­ga­tions in the hope that it might make us, well, bet­ter? Nah, not re­ally. Peo­ple might think their self-im­prove­ment regimes are an at­tempt to im­prove the self, but this – I have come to dis­cover af­ter en­gag­ing in a count­less num­ber of them my­self – is just an il­lu­sion. We deny our­selves plea­sure only be­cause we are hope­lessly, pa­thet­i­cally ad­dicted to it. Self-im­prove­ment is at­trac­tive pre­cisely be­cause it can­cels out overindul­gences past and en­ti­tles us to overindul­gences fu­ture. That is, if you con­sider glut­tony, promis­cu­ity and the pur­suit of wild obliv­ion a form of filthy overindul­gence. I don’t, but that’s just be­cause I have the soul of an un­re­formable sybarite.

I might look like the lost cast mem­ber of the new CBC show Workin’ Moms, hoof­ing it down the street with my BabyZen stroller and my flat white, but don’t be fooled. On the in­side I’m like an overfed goose, liver bulging, eyes agog, dream­ily drown­ing at the bot­tom of a bot­tle of vin­tage cham­pagne. Most of the time, I deny my­self noth­ing.

But this year I have been forced to make a re­luc­tant con­ces­sion, a life-change you might call it, and here it is: I’ve stopped eat­ing meat. Not all the time (it’s not a re­li­gion peo­ple, it’s a life­style choice) but al­most all the time, with fish be­ing the only ex­cep­tion.

It’s not that I care in any deep emo­tional way about my health or the en­vi­ron­ment or the feel­ings of an­i­mals. I’ve never cried about dol­phins or lamented the plight of baby seals. It’s not that I’m try­ing to econ­o­mize or lo­cal­ize or en­er­gize my best self through the won­ders of a plant­based diet.

It’s just that I be­gan to find it im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore the truth. I might feel noth­ing about these things, but that is no longer an ex­cuse for do­ing noth­ing. Eat­ing meat is un­nec­es­sary. And if you re­ally think about it log­i­cally – if you force your­self past the dan­ger­ous process of men­tal ab­strac­tion most car­ni­vores rely on to keep on swal­low­ing our ham baguettes – it’s just flat-out wrong.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but fac­tory farm­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, is un­healthy in ev­ery way. Un­healthy for the an­i­mals, un­healthy for those who eat the an­i­mals, un­healthy for the planet, and un­healthy for the prof­its of small-scale farm­ers. The one up­side of fac­tory farm­ing is that it pro­vides mis­er­able jobs for low-wage work­ers in Brazil­ian slaugh­ter­houses – and no one ever bought a KFC Bar­gain Bucket be­cause of that.

Obliv­i­ous meat con­sump­tion is some­thing I’ve thought­lessly par­tic­i­pated in my en­tire life. Last year, post-Brexit, post-Trump, I be­gan to feel strangely un­com­fort­able about it. What is the con­nec­tion, you ask? I wasn’t en­tirely sure. All I knew was that I fi­nally looked down at my Christ­mas plate of bloody rare roast beef and thought: Right. That’s enough of that.

I’m not telling you this in or­der to make you feel bad about your own meat con­sump­tion (or to make my ve­gan friends feel smug – let’s face it, they al­ready are), it’s all just to say it feels good to make a de­ci­sion, al­beit a small and per­sonal one, based not on self-serv­ing emo­tion but the in­con­tro­vert­ible truth.

In Jan­uarys past, I’ve based my so-called self-im­prove­ments on bad science and mag­i­cal think­ing to ex­actly zero last­ing ef­fect. My swear­ing off the flesh is less an at­tempt to make a “good” choice than a con­scious re­jec­tion of the power of col­lec­tive delu­sion – in this case, the will­ful blind­ness it re­quired to go on thought­lessly eat­ing meat.

In the era of post-truth pol­i­tics we must all make a pro­found de­ci­sion: Are you go­ing to go with your gut? Let your vague in­cli­na­tions and anx­i­eties, as ce­mented and re­in­forced by the silo-think­ing of so­cial me­dia, guide you? Or are you go­ing to search out the facts and act on them?

By re­lin­quish­ing my burger, I am mak­ing a con­ces­sion to the truth. Not the truth as I feel it (be­cause eat­ing the burger is what I’d very much like to do and I have a thou­sand plau­si­ble-yet­bi­ased ar­gu­ments for why it might ac­tu­ally be fine) but the truth as I know it to be – from the care­ful study of ex­pert au­thor­i­ties and fact-checked news sources. Prov­able facts: the uni­corns of our time.

If last year was the year of un­set­tling seis­mic events, then per­haps this will be the year of small changes. In the face of mas­sive un­cer­tainty we can, at the very least, fo­cus on the lit­tle things. We can shift our bod­ies and our­selves in­cre­men­tally in the right di­rec­tion – not by go­ing on tem­po­rary, up-end­ing id­iot regimes but by mak­ing small and last­ing changes. If last year was the year of how we felt, let’s make this the year of what we ac­tu­ally know.


Pigs gather in a sty in Spain in Oc­to­ber, 2015. Fac­tory farm­ing is un­healthy for those who eat the an­i­mals, for the planet and for the prof­its of small-scale farm­ers.

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