Letter: An omnivore’s perspective

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Gentle Ones: [In response to recent letters published in Mountain Xpress,] I’m getting rather tired of these self-righteous vegans who, like extremists of every stripe, think their way is the only way for everybody! I’m not going into the differing a priori between me and them about death, but I will speak about individual differences.

Being an omnivore means that you may eat many kinds of food, not that you must eat a certain percentage of meat to qualify. And yes, teeth are an indicator of your diet because not all humans have the same kind of teeth. Are your incisors big and long, all your teeth about the same length and squared off at the ends? You have horse teeth — good for eating grain like other hoofed animals: sheep, goats, cattle, deer, etc. Vegetarianism would be easy for you.

But perhaps you are like me and have small incisors and even smaller lateral incisors, plus pointed canines, pointed first premolars and pointed second premolars. One of my most memorable eating experiences was being at a beach picnic where grilled steaks were served, but nobody had brought any utensils. Biting into my handheld steak was highly pleasurable, and my lovely pointed canines helped a lot in making that bite!

However, DNA has now added another item to consider. I had my DNA tested for genetic differences connected to dietary issues and found that I am lacking the gene that converts beta carotene (in vegetables) to vitamin A. I must, therefore, get my vitamin A from animal sources. I have been told that I would do very poorly as a vegetarian.

For ecological reasons, I limit the amount of flesh that I eat, but I do eat at least one bite every day, usually canned fish or chicken, and I try to eat more pork and less beef, but bison has been touted as especially good for my genetic makeup. So you vegans go right ahead and feel superior if you must, but you will not win me over.

— AA Lloyd
Asheville

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10 thoughts on “Letter: An omnivore’s perspective

  1. Jeremy

    Humans may have at one point needed to eat other beings to survive, but luckily, we have become advanced enough that we can live healthily without harming other species.

    • cecil bothwell

      I take exception to the idea that “we can live healthily without harming other species.” That isn’t a view that can reasonably be held by anyone who has ever planted a garden, and certainly not by anyone with even passing familiarity with agriculture. If you put a shovel in the ground you immediately kill a myriad of creatures, but it goes well beyond that of course. When we clear land for farming we wipe out whole ecosystems. Farm machinery, necessary to growing food at scale, murders all manner of birds and rodents. Our food distribution system, without which we couldn’t populate cities, embodies a wide range of death delivering technologies. There is a reasonable argument to be made that an omnivore who primarily consumes local food has a lower impact on the environment and animal life than a vegan who regularly dines on California produce. I’m all for lowering our environmental footprint, but it is clear that we are descended from omnivorous hominids. Making fewer people seems the likeliest way to substantially reduce our impact on the rest of the living world.

      • Ahimsa

        You are absolutely on point to bring up the affect agriculture and population have on insects and other wildlife. In fact, this is the exact point I used myself to validate how “flawed” veganism was before I went out on a limb and tried it myself. However, I came to learn that for me, eating plant based foods is not about dealing in absolutes. Rather, it is about doing the best I reasonably can with what is available to me.

        It bears mention that even small, local vegetable farmers shoot deer, trap and kill groundhogs, opossums and raccoons, as well as apply organic or inorganic chemicals to intentionally reduce insect pressure. In this country, we are all a part of a deeply entrenched agricultural cycle. One where giant corporations like Sysco and Monsanto are the financial winners. The only thing most of us can do in this current day and time is try our best to make as many sustainable decisions as possible… which, to me, is eating plant based whole foods as I often as I can. Of course, this is not possible for everyone all of the time. It is a privilege to be able to eat what I want, when I want- a privilege I do not take lightly.

        I just wanted to say that I completely understand your perspective because I’ve been there myself. But I urge you to not throw in the towel just because the system is flawed. After all, I still drive around a gas consuming vehicle and have accidentally taken out some small animals during my commute… but I cannot conceivably get to and fro in my rural location without making this compromise. Like most of us, I’m just waking up and doing the best I can, everyday. I hope that more and more of us can hold on to a positive mindset. It is a difficult day and age to stay positive, but the more we act with compassion and the best interests of others (animals & all beings included!) in mind, the easier (I would like to believe) it becomes.

  2. Ahimsa

    You spend a good portion of this letter explaining that you feel vegans act as if they are superior… yet your tone throughout is quite condescending as you explain how being an omnivore is obviously what was meant for your body. It’s an interesting tone to use given what you are writing about specifically.
    I personally don’t give two hoots what you eat, and find it quite entertaining that as a vegan I am constantly lumped into this category of someone claiming moral superiority over all other diets and ramming my opinion down everyone’s throats… when it is often actually happening the other way around. See above letter referencing a stale commentary about tooth shape for proof. Sheer numbers would make this quite obvious to most, after all- vegans make up only a small fraction of the population. Unquestionably outnumbered, vegans have many restaurant experiences, holidays and food oriented get togethers involve somebody taking issue with, or at the very least something to say (often how tasty bacon is, or a comparably trolling jab) about their personal food choices.

    But I digress… the point I would like to make is that my only real beef is with the “ethical meat” movement. I think that calling slaughter ethical, sacred and humane is a farce. It should simply be called slaughter- leaving the moral qualifiers well away from an act that takes a sentient living being and turns it into a product. That’s it. It’s rather simple. I cannot stop anyone from eating the diet of their choice, and I have never tried to. However, I can take a moment to point out how absurd it is to call something ethical that quite clearly is not.

    • SpareChange

      Your thoughtful, balanced and nuanced comment is such a relief from what usually passes for commentary from many on multiple sides of this issue (including the letter writer). Case in point: The “protest” last night at Farm Burger downtown, where members of Direct Action Everywhere jumped on top of tables and screamed at the employees and patrons. (There is a brief video of the event circulating on local social media, but I don’t think Mountain Xpress would allow for linking it. It can be seen on Asheville Foodie Community’s Facebook page). According to the original poster of the video, who was simply trying to enjoy her meal, things got uglier after her video ends.

      Thus, while I agree with the literal point that trying to alter the reality of killing an animal for food with ridiculous notions of praying over it or releasing its spirit is just an exercise in self-delusional alt-speak, I also continue to urge reasonable vegans to just as actively and adamantly speak and act against those from their own ranks who regularly harass and sometimes threaten violence against those who are not in lock step with their beliefs.

      I eat meat. I find most of the vegan arguments regarding health, the environment, and ethics to be overly selective and simplistic, and many of the responses to it from omnivores to be dismissive and not very thoughtful. But one thing I will assert is that treating one’s preferred diet as a political ideology (an “-ism”) is making far too much of a life-style choice, and it then becomes the basis for the silliness that played out last evening at a local restaurant, and fuels some of the more facile commentary too often seen in these pages.

      • SpareChange

        Correction: The video I saw was one from a prior protest and not the one that was planned yesterday. My apologies for getting that wrong.

        • Ahimsa

          First off, thank you for the kind words! It is refreshing to have calm, respectful dialogue about such an historically loaded issue. I’m also glad you brought up the actions of the person who made a scene in Farm Burger some time ago. Personally, I do not believe that actions of that sort tend to create space for open dialogue- what I perceive to be an effective agent of change.

          What I can truly speak to about how it feels to live as a vegan is my personal experience. I have seen a drastic change in my health since the initial foray into “just one month of a vegan diet” now going on two years. I feel more energetic, have surprisingly lost weight and feel more compassionate and aligned with my personal ethics. I did not anticipate that change, and only became more deeply rooted in this diet when I learned more about the meat and dairy industries. A horrifying road to go down and investigate, to say the least.

          Sometimes what I learn (or a snide comment about my dietary choice/lifestyle) has made me want to scream at others… but I’m quite certain that would not help anyone better understand my perspective.

          Instead, I would (and do) say, try it out for just thirty days and see how you feel. Eating more plant based whole food is not just plain good for you, it can also make you feel healthier and more energetic than you would ever anticipate. Or don’t. I respect where you are in your journey and would never want to pressure someone into trying something they don’t want to do. But if any part of you is just a little curious, I’d like to vouch for the efficacy of this way of eating as something that just may change your life in beautifully unexpected and positive ways.

          That was all a very round about way of me saying that I respect the sort of activism that encourages dialogue and don’t share that feeling with aggressive or threatening tactics. Generally, this is my opinion across all spectrum of topics, not just specifically pertaining to veganism. I know that many people don’t agree with me that dialogue is able to achieve the same goals of direct action. However, it is my hope that thoughtful conversations can pave the way to a future that drops the extremist vegan stigma to the background. The more we talk about compassion and focus on the positives of our perspective, the easier (I believe) this will become.

      • Jeremy

        The protest you are talking about happened about three years ago, not last night. I’m happy to try and find a link for you. I’m not sure if you saw the dialogue on the woman’s Facebook post, but she was very dishonest. Several DxE Asheville members entered the restaurant and spoke out against the violence that Farm Burger perpetuates. The woman (who I will not name), screamed at the protesters and got in their space after the video cut out and threatened to use a weapon she was carrying against them. None of the protesters engaged with her or made and physical contact.

  3. think critically

    The study “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States”(from Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University ) found that “greenhouse gas emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase.” Surprisingly, they noted, “Final delivery from producer to retailer contributes only 4 percent” of the life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions.

    Accordingly, they suggest that consumers modify their diets by eating foods that require less energy to produce in the first place. Eating an all-local diet, they found, saves the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 fewer miles each year, while eating a vegetarian diet one day per week is equivalent to driving 1,160 fewer miles per year. Quite simply, this is because feeding food to animals and then eating the animals is an extremely inefficient use of resources. More than half the grain grown in America is fed to animals who, like humans, expend most of the calories consumed living their lives.

  4. think critically

    My comment above about the environmental impact of what we eat probably seems out of context, so I would like to note that it was directed at Mr. Bothwell’s comment: “There is a reasonable argument to be made that an omnivore who primarily consumes local food has a lower impact on the environment and animal life than a vegan who regularly dines on California produce. ” Maybe so, but this study seems to indicate otherwise. I think local foods are often over-hyped as a feel-good way to justify eating animals. Yes, of course, there are multiple reasons to buy local and keep dollars in our own community, but we need to sometimes take a closer look at things.
    Mr. Bothwell, I totally agree, “Making fewer people seems the likeliest way to substantially reduce our impact on the rest of the living world.” And going solar, biking instead of driving, voting for politicians who support green initiatives, etc. are all very important. But we don’t have to choose one over the other, we can do multiple things at the same time. Most of those reading this are lucky enough to eat three meals a day, and why not do it with as little impact as possible?

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