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The International Writers Magazine: Lifestyle Ethics

Cereal Ethics
Eric D. Lehman

On the first night of my "Meatless Meals" cooking class, the casually dressed chef told us that she was vegan for health reasons. She gave us reams of information and began using the nightly recipes to convince us of the feasibility and healthiness of the vegan lifestyle. I am a meat-eater, but was interested in eating healthier food, and most of the class was in a similar situation.
Moreover, most of her reasoning gelled with my own philosophy: anti-fast food, anti-corporate farming, anti-big business cuisine. She seemed to have a solid ethical base for her beliefs, and while I wasn’t about to stop eating meat, I accepted her logic and her support as a completely valid and enriching life choice.

I went to the second class eager to learn more, but I began to notice problems. When asked a question like, "could we use real butter in this dish?" she answered, like a skipping record, "Well, I wouldn’t use real butter," and then proceed to explain why butter was "evil." No one in the class was vegan, and the questioner simply wanted to know her options. But for the chef, there were no options. We found out quickly that she would accept no compromise with the weak-willed vegetarians. They still supported the evil meat industry, because "if you drink milk you support the veal industry, because dairy cows are bred so we can have veal." While there may be a grain of truth to that, the overall impression she began to give the class was one of a crusader, rather than a teacher.

She really lost the class on the fourth night. Hoping to demonstrate the troubles that assail vegans from all sides, she told us "I had ethical problems with giving my dog meat." She fed the dog tofu and kibble, without the bits. On walks, she told us, the dog was pulling away from her and searching through the trash bins, looking for bones. The "holistic, vegan doctor" who she took the increasingly skinny dog to, said with apparently a lot more broadmindedness: "Maybe he’s trying to tell you something." As she told us this story, I wondered if she knew how awful it made her sound. But no. This was just one of the problems that the intrepid vegan had to deal with: feeding a mostly carnivorous dog meat products.

I began to wonder how she arrived at her decisions. Although I admired the life-path she had chosen, I questioned whether she saw it as a "choice" at all. Her entire supporting argument was based on challenging "accepted" societal ethics. But instead of championing the right to make those choices, she promptly imposed her choice on others, in this case a domesticated dog who depended on her for food.

Perhaps I was expecting too much. After all, who among us is consistent with our principles? Not feeding her dog meat after first doing so for many years may actually have been unethical from her own perspective, and certainly was from the point of view of the horrified class. However, it was not beliefs that caused the problem here, but having to compromise to live with other beings who do not share those values. When her newsletter informed us that the poor dog had died unexpectedly, I began to suspect that she was not "ethical," per se, but rather a zealot, who adhered to a strict set of rules. In other words, it was not her moral principles that were problematic, but rather her tolerance.
If ethics is indeed about making choices, then the choices others make must also be allowable. When someone has no choice, like the chef’s dog, then it is up to us to be even more understanding. We must be both strong and consistent in our ethics, and tolerant of the beliefs and opinions of others. It is a fine line to walk and sometimes seems to be contradictory. Nevertheless, those of us who try to convince others of a different way of life must be better, stronger, and more tolerant. Or we will become the thing we fear, and convince no one of anything except our tyranny.
© Erid D Lehman November 2007

Eric has just got married and we wish him well in this new life adventure

The Other Adams Family
Eric D. Lehman
On a bright August morning, my girlfriend and I drove into downtown Quincy, Massachusetts, searching for the Adams National Historic Site. Where was this house? The map displayed the icon in the center of the downtown, and we circled the blocks, confused...

The Joy of Audiobooks
Eric D Lehman
I always hated the idea of audiobooks. I’m afraid that as a younger man I was a bit of a purist, loving the feel of the pages and the musty smell of the paper. But one summer, having little to do and little money, I began to explore my local library a bit, and found their enormous "audio" section, taking up a whole room.

Dream Surgery
Eric D Lehman
Subhash began regaling Andy with plans for the trip that he and I would take when we’re thirty. "We’re leaving the wives in Sydney or Melbourne and renting an old Army Jeep, and just going, heading into the outback, Midnight Oil blasting on the stereo, seeing Ayer’s Rock, the desert, maybe going all the way to the wilds of the west coast."

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