We're a society of junkies. Ninety-nine percent of us are hooked on something bad. Something really bad. It's something so addictive, and so dangerous, that only three other things in life come close: tobacco, cocaine and Jerry Springer. What's worse, we're addicting our kids too.
That "something", of course, is meat and the other animal products we humans consume so voraciously. People just can't help themselves.
Now, I know what you're thinking. Sure, meat seems to have an unnatural hold on many folks. But isn't it a bit much to call it an "addiction"? Isn't it more of a "habit," or maybe just an unfortunate routine people have gotten themselves into? Isn't it an awfully big stretch to compare the addictive nature of meat-eating to human vices like cigarettes and drugs? And how could it ever rise to the level of Jerry Springer?! Is this perhaps just one more instance when the brain of a certain vegetarian columnist has succumbed to the effects of global warming?
Well, it is true that I've been out in the sun a lot lately. But I still think I'm right about this addiction thing. Let's take a look at some of the common behaviors we associate with addiction and see how meat-eating stacks up:
1. "I've got to have my fix! NOW!"—The vast, vast majority of people in our society eat meat, usually accompanied by significant quantities of other animal products, 2–3 times a day, every day of their lives. Need any more be said?
2. "I'm a little uncomfortable when I'm out of touch..."—People who are addicted get very uneasy about the prospect of being in a situation where they won't have access to the source of their addiction. I know this can happen with meat. I regularly taunt meat-eaters with the threat of dinner at the mythical "Tofu Palace" (shame on me!). And I'm always prepared for the peeked look I get when I suggest a restaurant with the word "green" or "natural" or "harvest" in the name. ("Gee [nervous laugh], will they have meat there?")
Consider, if you will, my experience last year when I was with a group of people planning a weekend in the mountains. The subject turned to food, and since several of us were vegetarian we offered to make vegetarian chili for Saturday night's dinner. Looking around the room I noticed some pretty uncomfortable looks on people's faces. Finally someone said, "We can make our own chili, thanks."
People turning down a free meal? People offering to cook when someone else will do it for them? There has to be some kind of powerful reason for behavior like that! Could it be addiction?
3. "…but I don't have a problem. I could give it up any time!"—Denial, of course, is the hallmark of addiction. How often do we vegetarians hear, "I've really cut back on red meat," or "I could be a vegetarian, but my husband…," or "You know, I eat very little meat." Every day, huh? (And isn't it funny that we usually hear this right after the person in question has ordered a cheeseburger?)
Now, how often do we hear "I've done it. I've given up meat completely and forever!"? Once in a month of leap years?
Does there seem to be a gap between the way people subjectively view themselves and their behavior? Is this addiction?
I'm not sure what causes this addiction to meat. I know it has cultural and "force of habit" elements, but I suspect there's a large physical component as well. Maybe while meat is clogging up people's arteries with its fat and cholesterol it's also sending out miniature secret agents to our brains with subliminal messages ("Eat me again! Soon!").
However this works, the addictive properties of meat sure make the job of promoting vegetarianism a lot more difficult. Last March I spent some time plugging the advantages of a meatless diet as part of the annual "Meat-Out Day" celebration. The message—try giving up meat for a day and see how you like it—is pretty straightforward, and no vegetarian thinks that it's asking much of meat-eaters to forego the stuff for only three out of the thousand meals they eat in a year. But the reactions that people have to this proposal are usually negative, and often not subtle at all. (Getting angry when confronted? Sounds like addition to me!)
There was one young man I spoke with (bleached-blond spiked hair, baggy shorts, tattoos, piercings, skateboard under one arm—your basic all-American kid) who seemed particularly resistant to the vegetarian message. Every time I would point out another reason not to eat meat he would get more upset. Finally, normal conversation became impossible, and I asked him what was so darned special about meat. He had turned red by this time, and he was literally bouncing up and down with nervous energy as he tried to think of something to say. "It's dope!" he finally blurted out. Then he shouted it again for emphasis: "Meat is dope, man!"
You know, I couldn't have agreed with him more.