Sunday, April 10, 2011


About halfway through my freshman fall, I became a vegetarian. I sat down one day with a group of friends at Homeplate (one of the dining areas on campus that, thanks to a series of complex and unnavigable renovations has recently been transformed into some sort of hidden Narnia behind Food Court), my plate heavy with roast beef and mashed potatoes, like those of so many other people around me. I began to cut into the first piece, a deep, red liquid spilling out over the white ceramic.

"What is that?" I asked my friend sitting next to me.
"...blood?" he said.

In that moment, I realized that I was eating an animal. Not Animals, captial-A, abstraction, but a specific animal, an individual, a living creature - just like me. I quietly finished my mashed potatoes.

And that's what I've been doing ever since - quietly finishing my mashed potatoes. I was never an outspoken vegetarian; when people asked me about my choice, I skirted the question; I wasn't sure why, I just knew how I felt. But recently, I've decided to become more outspoken about not eating meat. I realized that every time I got a meal with someone, I was witnessing them making a choice about food - we were participating in a ritualistic cultural act together; we were each other's audiences, both of our meals and our conversations.

"Can we go to FoCo for dinner tonight?" my friend asked.
"Why?" I countered. "Do they have anything good?"
"They have tuna!"
Much in the manner of someone who throws red paint on people wearing fur, I responded "Do you know how many dolphins died to make that tuna possible?"
Needless to say, we went to FoCo, and she got the tuna.

Yet I remained undeterred - I wanted people to be informed about their food choices; I wanted them to know what I knew about factory farms, about animal cruelty, about sustainable agriculture. A fresh can of paint in my hand, I persisted.

"Hey, how are you? I haven't seen you in ages!" I had run into an acquaintance in FoCo.
"I'm good, I'm good... just about to order a chicken sandwich..." he said inconsequentially.
I thought for a moment. "Can I tell you something about your chicken?"
"Er... I guess?"
"Seriously, tell me if you don't want to know. I don't have to tell you." And I meant it - I didn't want to ruin his dinner without his permission.
"No, go ahead."
I grinned. "Your chicken is 11% feces-infected water!" I stated proudly.
"It's what?"
And I told him about USDA regulations, and how in fact it's encouraged to contaminate chickens like that during slaughter, and on and on until I could tell I had gotten my point across. I apologized for spoiling his chicken sandwich and wished him a good dinner.
A few minutes later, I was sitting down with my friends; I heard someone call my name.
"Alexis!" I turned. "I got a veggie burger!"

Chicken Sandwich Boy had gotten a veggie burger. I had convinced someone, even for just one meal, to choose not to eat meat. The feeling still sticks with me - I felt that if I could make one change like that, I could make a thousand changes like that. If I made a thousand changes, that might add up to one big change, like a factory farm going out of business. Even if it only mattered to Chicken Sandwich Boy and me, I made a difference.

And it struck me that that difference couldn't have happened anywhere - at Dartmouth, people are willing to listen. Even if the vast majority of my friends currently and will continue to eat meat, they're still interested in other perspectives, other approaches to what seems like an almost intuitive thing. In talking to my friends about vegetarianism, I've come to realize a new dimension to my friendships at Dartmouth: classrooms are a wonderful forum for sharing ideas, but so are dining halls, dorm rooms, and the Green. I can't say with certainty that this pervasive intellectual curiosity - the need-to-know-why - is particular to Dartmouth; the only certainty that I have is that at Dartmouth, that curiosity is met with encouragement, with eager ears, open arms, and a critical eye. Dear Old Dartmouthians not only genuinely care about each other; we are sincerely interested in each other's ideas, passions, and pipe dreams. Which is why I can eat a veggie sandwich while my best friend sits across the table eating a tuna steak, and we can still have an amazing conversation.


  1. I don't want to judge your general argument for being a vegetarian as bad from two interactions you've had, but the arguments you provided in those interactions are inconsistent with each other and (I think) not that good of ones in general.

    In the first interaction it seems your goal is to remind your friend that she is making an ethical decision in her choice of dinner. I'm all for this as most carnivores forget about this decision and, even if one decides its one they want to make, it is still a choice one should be conscious of and comfortable with. But by only mentioning dolphin death and not tuna death this ethical decision gets reduced to a decision about whether or not to kill the "cooler" animals. Maybe your goal was to exploit the prestige of the dolphin to remind your friend that she is about to kill an animal whose death she is not yet desensitized to and then leverage that into an instilled consciousness (in her) of the murder she is endorsing in general, but from what you have written there is no reason to think that was your aim.

    In the second interaction, your argument seems to be that horrible, vile things are done to chicken to make it as delicious and cheap as it is. Fair enough. But your argument is not exclusive to chicken or even to meat: the industry of mass-produced food is troublesome but all pervasive. Eliminating meat from your diet is not equivalent to eliminating its hold over your food and representing it as such to chicken boy seems irresponsible. Moreover, the fact you cited attacks viscerally, not intelligently. It does not point to the real problems of food production, i.e. lack of nutrients for the consumer, animals eating not what they are supposed to be eating, things feed on hormones and kept alive on drugs, "naturally added" flavor, etc. If I wanted to convince someone eating a Snickers was a bad idea telling them there are bugs in it seems to miss the real point. And, if what measures the worth of an argument is if it succeeds, I would say that if someone stops eating Snickers because there are bugs in it, then they are more likely to start eating Snickers again than if they had a structural complaint with the means of production they were supporting (ignore the reference). Again, I don't really know what you said to this dude but you have represented yourself here as not having presented what I would think of as a good argument.

    This is not so say your are wrong in your decision to be a vegetarian: its just a dietary preference. But if what backs up your conviction is mostly a feeling, it is egotistical both to think that feeling exists in others and to think that you can stir it up in them by saying the things that stir it up in you. And if you have good, lucid arguments for being a vegetarian, why aren't you presenting them here? This post's goal seems to be to emphasize the curiosity and criticalness of Dartmouthians, but what would prove that is your critical account of food production and chicken-boy asking real questions about it, not being grossed out about "11% feces-infected water" (which, by the way, is a deliberately misleading stat: how infected is this water with feces? if its .1% then my chicken is about .01% feces which is not all the gross since your hands probably have that much feces on them (or whatever)). You compare yourself to the paint throwers of PETA and I guess what I am saying is that no one has ever accused them of having the type of curious, critical conversations where commitments are analyzed and change is made by giving someone new morals.

    I don't mean to criticize you or your beliefs, but I do think they are poorly represented here. Moreover your point that Dartmouthians are curious and critical lacks all evidence beyond pervasive assertion. All the best!

  2. I appreciate you devoting so much time to posting this response, anonymous. However, I can hardly see the point -- obviously I'm a vegetarian for many, many more reasons than I cited in this short blog post. Obviously, because these were real interactions and real examples that I used, I couldn't include my full argument in each one. I'm not going to spend my time addressing your points one by one for two reasons: first, your comment is extremely self-interested (as in, you're more interested in showing off your points than considering mine), and second, I think you're already pretty convinced that I'm wrong. Being a vegetarian is a very large part of my life and an important choice that I made -- as an intelligent, educated college student, I made that choice based on a wealth of information and a lot of patient thought.

    I don't know if you're interested in showing off your critical reading skills or your ability to dissect arguments, but I assure you that this is not the forum. If you have any questions about Dartmouth, please feel free to ask me, whether via comment or email.

  3. Just wanted to say thats the last you will hear from me. Sorry for diverting attention from whatever you want to do here.

  4. Since this isn't the forum for dissecting your argument, I will spare you. Needless to say, as a proud vegetarian myself, I have to say that your argument, Alexis, is far less than compelling. What does this even teach us about Dartmouth?

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