Where's the Beef?
Where's the Beef?
An Essay by William Detjen
I’ve got beef with you, vegans. You with your copy-paste Facebook posts, your amateur nature photography, your overpriced recipes, your organic lifestyle, your tired, repetitive humor—you make me look bad. I blush to confess myself among your sorry ilk. I haven’t had a burger in years because the image of a cow’s curly eyelashes is imprinted in my head, yet here I am, stuffed to my eyeballs with all this beef.
I’ve got beef with the “great hypocrisy” you all go on about. Here’s a paradox—no matter what you do, you are contributing to animal suffering simply by existing. Maybe you only buy organic silken tofu from Whole Foods, but Whole Foods sure as hell carries meat and dairy. I don’t care if you buy all your produce from your local Farmer Whomever, you’d better believe he grabbed a double bacon cheeseburger milkshake combo on his drive home with your money. You might as well have ground the meat patties yourself, but instead you’re sitting there munching on your celery thinking you’re the next Buddha for it. “Vegan” is just an arbitrary line in the sand we draw to feel a little less shitty about ourselves. Hermit yourself and live a life of solemn penance if you aspire to proper veganism. I’ll get back to you with a full How to Vegan guide once I’ve mastered the skill of self-sustaining agriculture. I’m sure I can find a soy-manure substitute somewhere; anyone who’s tried a vegan sausage can attest its verisimilitude to shit (I once heard the smell compared to “dog food, but vomit, like, dog vomit”). Until then, I’ll keep my Kroger Plus membership like a proper savage.
While on the subject of my personal sins, I might as well confess that I buy chicken for my cat. I’m really, really sorry about that, really. I did try to read him Peter Singer, once, but I don’t think he found it especially enlightening because it put him right to sleep. I know it’s hypocritical but I’m trying to save a life here; if he ever ran out of wet food pouches, he might attempt a kitty-kitty suicide.
I’ve got beef with vegan dating practices. I once met a vegan girl who wrote in her dating profile that she didn’t shave for anyone, which is fine I guess. I’m not sure if it’s some kind of bad girl meta strategy or if all vegans are just delusional about the fluidity of long-established social norms, but I really have to question the wisdom of making yourself look both unsanitary and demanding before the first date. If we think of the animals for a moment (God, think of the animals!), birds preen themselves for waterproofing and smoother flight, and I imagine that they’d consider the idea of “optional grooming” with a tilted, skeptical countenance, which makes me wonder at how strange and unnatural we are even by trying to appear more natural.
Did you know that elephants have tear ducts, and pet parakeets often die of loneliness? They do-- this is some of the first stuff they teach you in vegan school. Then they whip out the footage of factory farms and strap you to The Chair with your eyes pried open to the horrors of big corporations. Not really, but it’s one of the first things I would do if I ever established a real vegan conversion school, among other practical methods of achieving world peace such as sterilizing the human race and enforcing a higher tax on beef. Imagine a utopia without meat! Goodbye, fast-food! While I admit that a world without McDonalds sounds appealing, I’m currently working on an English degree and would rather not limit my professional options.
I’ve got beef with vegans who think they’ve changed the world with what they stick in their mouths. You’ve changed your world, perhaps, but for the rest of us that’s not the whole world, and for all your big talk I really wish you had a better sense of perspective. That’s not to say that vegans should give up on activism altogether, but perhaps instead of the planet, be more content with influencing your local solar system of acquaintances by appearing less like a stuck-up asshole and more like a rational human being who doesn’t make devils out of people; it’s not anyone’s fault for following norms. No one cares if you’re right when you package your message with such lurid phrasing.
I’ve got beef with vegans who write recipe blogs. This is partially because I’m envious of their beautiful kitchens, but mostly because I hate their writing. When I click on a recipe, I don’t want to read ten pages about your fabulous dinner party and your perfect life and your perfect vegan children, nor do I want to read “even the meat-eaters couldn’t stop eating it!” in every single post as if it’s some kind of secret code to an underground vegan blogger society. I have to scroll through all this padding to finally reach the recipe I wanted at the end, for what? Canned black beans, but this time add agave nectar plus lime, serve cold with tortilla chips, and garnish with cilantro. This should be illegal. Maybe I’ve just got beef with recipe bloggers as a whole, but the vegan ones seem extra artificial. I think if I ever caught one slinking in the daylight and pulled back their perfect smiling flesh mask, I’d find myself deadlocked with a stoney Agent Smith.
I hate to be the person to tell you that the chain of suffering doesn’t end with animal products. Did you know that the Mexican avocado industry is terrorized by cartels who kidnap farmers and their family members for ransom? Those are blood avocados in your guac. Maybe you’ll think of that next time you’re at the store, or maybe not, but I’ll bet that the thought of being thoughtless with your food “like the rest of them” grates at your ego so badly, you’ve probably decided to commit to a new life journey of avocado activism, just to spite me. Still, there’s mass clothing made in China and banana farmers living horrible lives in Africa, and on it goes, so maybe the solution is for us all to kill ourselves instead.
I know it’s hard. It’s hard for me too, but if vegans are truth-seekers, then we must admit hard truths. Maybe instead of talking about how much more compassionate than other people we are, we should be compassionate and spread compassion. Maybe we shouldn’t tell omnivores they’re horrible monsters for their chicken nuggets, but we should remind them that before it was a sludge, it was alive. We should at least request a little prayer. Not to God, but to animals. Not to thank them for their unwilling sacrifice, but simply to recognize them. Ask to recognize that they lived, felt, and died, that the world’s a little fucked up, and that existing in it is a little traumatic for everyone. Maybe they’ll think about it as they chew. Maybe they’ll start to form some beef of their own.
But then, maybe not.
William Detjen has never had his name pronounced correctly on the first try. He is a senior creative writing student at GCSU in Milledgeville, Georgia, and he hopes to pursue essays, short fiction, and graphic novel illustration in the future. He lives happily with his cat, who eats chicken every day.