The other day I was watching a cooking show, and the chef was brutally dissecting the most innocent of vegetables with the utmost speed, dexterity, and with the least sign of remorse. This got me to thinking how I am increasingly concerned about what I perceive to be a widespread and socially acceptable cruelty towards plants in general and vegetables in particular.
We all know that meat eaters are murders, so what bothers me the most are vegetarians. Yes, vegetarians are the most hypocritical. They are so concerned with the humane treatment of animals, but they couldn’t care less about the unspeakable things that people do on a daily basis to vegetables.
Animal rights activists complain about bullfighting and how bulls are bred and nourished for the sole purpose of being destroyed in modern coliseums of amusement for the masses. Meanwhile, to this very day our country sides are occupied by vegetable internment camps where we water and strengthen plants just to be put on trucks heading towards urban markets for their sale and slaughter.
Vegetarians and biologists may argue that plants, fruits, and vegetables are lesser life forms because they lack a central nervous system and motor sensory skills. But, I have known many people, a few of whom actually work in my office, who I have good reason to believe lack both a spine and a brain. Yet you don’t see me chopping them up and throwing them into boiling salted water or hot oil. With a sense of shame, though, I admit that even my hands are stained.
I have used my bare hands to shuck corn. I have peeled live garlic, placed it in a death vice, and crushed it into thousands of tiny oozing bits. I have dipped a perfectly beautiful and vibrant red tomato into scalding water, just to peel the skin from its robust body. I have taken basil and separated the leaf from its stem and placed it on top of that same depilated tomato. I have listened in earnest to people boasting about having roasted hundreds of peppers on an open fire in a single shameless autumn weekend ritual.
The cruelty can be seen everywhere: farmers and day laborers grabbing carrots by their hair line and yanking them out of their nests, the reproductive organs of all sorts of trees placed in juicers to be milked for breakfast nourishment or peeled with people’s bare hands and then eaten raw. I have even seen a man beat a tree with a stick so violently that the tree finally couldn’t take it any more and let all of its olives fall to the ground. I won’t even mention what they do to grapes, coffee beans, and tobacco leaves.
No, I don’t pretend to be innocent; I am just as bad as the rest. But my guilty conscience affects me so much that I weep like a child every time I take a knife to an onion.
I suppose life is about difficult moral decisions. Buddhists talk about causal-efficacy and reincarnation. Everything we do has a consequence, and every form of life along the wheel of reincarnation has the same value. Thus when faced with two conflicting evils, we often have to choose the lesser of the two evils and live with the consequences. I recall a Mongolian Tibetan Buddhist explaining to me the morality of eating meat and the value of life. If you have to eat meat, he argued, you should eat bigger animals. If all life has the same worth, you destroy fewer lives by eating bigger animals than by eating smaller ones and thus can hedge against more severe karmic repercussions. For example, you need to kill more fish than cows to feed a village. How many peas, how many carrots, how many bean sprouts must we slaughter to feed the masses when there are at least a hundred giant whales left in the ocean?
Yesterday, I was disgusted by the sight of my vegetarian neighbor walking his Saint Bernard dog with an environmentally-friendly shopping bag full of lentils and chick peas under his arm. Who are the tree-huggers trying to fool?
I dream of a day when all food will be synthetic and generated in a laboratory, and we can stop the cruelty to all living things, both plant and animal. Won’t that be a beautiful day? But as long as we live in world where plants, animals, and unborn fetuses are denied their inalienable voting rights, we will continue to be destined to live in this cruel world of moral turpitude.