There’s a funny thing about knowledge: once you learn, it’s almost impossible to unlearn. It’s why a good education is one of the world’s most precious – and arguably, undervalued – resources. It’s why I signed on the dotted line for close to $30,000 in student loans, yet even with my self-admitted penchant for cynicism can’t quite bring myself to fully regret it. And it’s why I think the role of teacher – be it as a parent, friend or legally-licensed educator – is one of the most important responsibilities we can bestow on ourselves and one another.
And yet. And yet, here I sit, armed with a sort of knowledge that I didn’t possess just hours before, simultaneously thankful that I stumbled upon it and wishing I could immediately erase it forever.
I just finished watching Vegucated, a “feature-length documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks.” I thought it would be sort of funny, lighthearted even. Watch the big ol’ meathead (literally) try to force down some tofurkey. Maybe he loses some weight, drops a few cholesterol points. I’ve seen Food, Inc., I know the drill. Big deal.
Except, it sort of was a big deal. A capital B-I-G BIG deal. Car accident kind of big, where you want so desperately to look away but just can’t bring yourself to do it.
And the biggest deal? Most of this information wasn’t exactly new. I knew that despite the best intentions (and euphemisms) of the food industry, poultry = chicken, beef = cow and pork = pig.
I knew that some level of pain, fear, cruelty and mistreatment was probably involved in transforming the pigs, cows and chickens into pork, beef and poultry. I even distantly remember seeing some terribly disturbing undercover slash real-life slaughterhouse footage back in high school and swearing off meat – until lunchtime, that is.
Food, Inc. taught me that American meat and animal byproduct consumption has soared since the standardization of grocery stores, freezer trucks and the like. We burn forests, we plant crops and we generally wreak havoc on the Earth in an effort to keep up – and that by participating as a consumer, I no longer can exempt myself from that “we.”
I guess I sort of knew – or at least could have guessed – that buzzwords like “organic” and “humanely raised” and “free range” were little more than pretty ribbons tied around ugly truths in a half-hearted (yet surprisingly effective) attempt to disguise them. As a copywriter, I’ve probably proofed similar claims without a second thought.
So if I already knew, why was it so hard to hear? I’m not sure there’s a good answer to that other than history is long and the human memory is short.
When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll likely reach for the eggs/milk/turkey sausage with only a brief twinge of guilt. But if it makes any sort of difference, I feel like I shouldn’t. I feel like it should matter more than a few minutes after the fact. I feel like it should bother me that I “rescue” dogs with the same body and mind that knowingly contributes to the cruel and inhumane slaughter of countless animals each year.
And truthfully, it does. But I also feel like somewhere, in the most rational/cynical/truthful corner of my mind, I could just as easily forget – or at least sufficiently bury beneath the relentless ebb and flow that is modern life.
Now excuse me while I step down from my borrowed soapbox. Because “vegan” is not my cause. Aside from a somewhat brief brush with vegetarianism, it’s never remotely been close to my cause. As I sit here with a freezer full of chicken nuggets, turkey sausage and wild game, I’m still not quite sure it’ll ever be my cause – and not just because I recently discovered Applegate’s gluten-free chicken nuggets and they are so. damn. good.
So what does it all mean? It means that today, I learned something that I wish I could just as easily unlearn. That some part of me wishes I could relearn my old “truths” and forget this whole documentary watching experience ever happened.
Or maybe, more than anything, I wish I could unlearn the old truths and relearn the new truths – in this case, how to be vegan – in one fell swoop.
Of course, it’s never that easy. As Gloria Steinem so astutely observed, that’s why it’s called a problem.