This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.
Chris and I just took a rushed break from blogging to order in some lunch. I was really craving some warm, spicy soup since I’m blogging my way through a pretty unpleasant cold, but it turns out a lot of Thai restaurants put shrimp in all their broths, so I’m settling for some vegetable dumplings. It could be a lot worse – when I spent a week in Korea this summer, I pretty much only ate rice, because various formats of fish kept sneaking into pretty much everything else.
Hunting for sneaky bits of animals in food is a hobby I’ve recently taken up since becoming vegetarian earlier this year. I was vegetarian for a few years around middle school, but I wasn’t super strict so I didn’t mind too much if something ended up soaking in chicken broth. Besides, my reason for the dietary restriction back then could be summed up as “animals are cute.” I wasn’t exactly a budding philosopher.
I stopped being vegetarian early in high school, partly because I was really bad at eating right (which is ridiculously easy to do as a vegetarian or even a vegan – I was just stupid and lazy and only ate peanut butter sandwiches), and partly because my reasoning had changed. I figured we wouldn’t have those pointy teeth if we weren’t meant to chew steaks with them.
Early in college, I became an atheist and came to the conclusion that we aren’t meant to do anything. But it’s taken a few years for my ethical practices to catch up to my philosphical beliefs. I’m sure this disconnect is something everyone can relate to. It’s easy to talk a good game about compassion and justice, but putting our values into action is just hard. I had definitely experienced some cognitive dissonance when the subject of animal welfare came up, but it wasn’t until someone on the street handed me a pamphlet about factory farming in my senior spring that I finally took the plunge and gave up meat again. It wasn’t as if I didn’t already know that what I was doing was wrong; it just took a lot of nudging for me to admit it and actually change.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to be a vegetarian when you’re surrounded by other vegetarians, which I think is a pretty common experience for atheists. I obviously haven’t done an actual sociological study of this or even found actual statistics on it (but please leave a comment if you do know of any research in this area!), but anecdotally, atheism is full of vegetarians. Two of the five Humanist Community at Harvard staffers are vegetarians, as was one of our Divinity School interns. Three of the six officers of the Harvard Community of Humanists, Atheists, and Agnostics (our undergraduate secular group) are also veggies. Last I checked, the NonProphet Status panelists included two vegetarians and a vegan. One of my favorite podcasts, Citizen Radio, is run by two vegan atheists.
Remember that stereotype about how atheists can’t possibly have any moral convictions?
You might not share my specific ethical convictions, which is okay. I guess. Well…we can fight it out later. But whatever your values are, try to live them out as best you can. We have to accept that we will never live up to our beliefs perfectly, but one of the best ways to create the kind of world we want to live in – and to clear up some nasty stereotypes along the way – is to bring our values and our actions into line little by little.
I’m doing it one vegetable dumpling at a time. What will you do?