I recently visited a large chain store called Meijer, which is basically a clothing, small appliance, home decor, and household store with a super-deluxe grocery store inside it; a coffee shop, a pretzel shop, an optometrist, and the works. In America, these places crowd in donut formations around the areas where houses are, far away from old town centers where there is public transportation such as trains. In this chain store, I saw a decent cross-section of the average American. About 20 percent of them were so overweight, they could barely walk. Three people at various checkout lines were limping or stooped because of the tremendous loads of their own flesh being carried at the expense of their internal organs, spines, and knees. 20 percent were what would have been considered a normal weight in 1978 and the rest fell somewhere in between.
Walking through the grocery store, I am amazed at the staggering amount of food that exists at almost any random grocery store in my area. Most produce sections are full to overflowing with at least five kinds of lettuce, both premixed and full head, bananas, strawberries, apples, pears, broccoli, carrots, and a giant bulk section where you can buy nuts and dried fruit. That’s just Produce. When I go further, there are cans of almost every food you can imagine from adobo chiles from Mexico to packaged zwieback bread from Israel.
The Unbearable Fabulousness of the American Grocery Store
Most people don’t actually perceive the grocery store as fabulous and I know that. I would guesstimate that 99% of the American population takes the current array of grocery store goodies completely for granted. I know of no faster way to silence a room of people than to say something to the effect of “We have luxurious foods in our grocery stores that Aztec kings and Roman emperors never even dreamed of enjoying”.
People hate to be reminded of their unearned privilege, even if acknowledgment and appreciation of that privilege is the only thing that stands between them and baseline happiness.
There is a reason most people don’t want to contemplate how good they have it relative to others throughout history. Thinking about the cornucopia that is the average American grocery store would also force them to think of how it got this way and of how irrevocably it can and will end. The reason we can have such a posh array of foods can be summed up in one word: petroleum. Take away the trucks, planes, and cargo ships and suddenly, it isn’t so darn easy for Germans to fabricate a cheap chocolate bar with hazelnuts in it and ship it to the US. Chocolate, as it so happens, comes from a graceful little tree called Theobroma cacao that only grows in a narrow, equatorial band on our gorgeous, magnificent planet, usually only in sunny, humid places like Central America and West Africa. No gas = no ships = no cacao = no chocolate. There are all sorts of foods like this. Fragile, expensive, and impossible to transport without lots of cheap gas.
Food has become so cheap, we have entered the age of Peak Grocery Store, where grocery stores go to extraordinary lengths to outdo each other in ostentatious luxury. There’s a grocery store chain called Mariano’s in the Midwest (where I’m from and where I live) that features live piano players on a grand piano. It has a pub, coffee shop, salad bar, full sushi bar, and a pizza joint inside it along with the usual niceties like wine and olives. Mariano’s is one of many grocery stores just like it — Whole Foods, Jewel, the ironically-named Standard Market — except most of the other posh grocery stores don’t have a freaking piano.
"Babe, I just can't ever find a good selection of olives"
My husband — perhaps the one other person who understands how decadent grocery stores are because he grew up poor — has a running joke whenever we pass the olive bar at Whole Foods. The olive bar is a kiosk full of nothing but various types of olives that you can put in plastic containers to take home. Rodney and I like to say to each other, “You know, I just cannot seem to find a good selection of olives these days” as we pass the display of almost-obscene olive variety. It’s this sort of sarcasm that is lost on the other shoppers who wander the aisles with stupefied looks of despair on their faces, because they cannot find THE EXACT PRECIOUS FOOD that caters to their (or their child’s) every allergy, taste preference, and momentary whim.
Let me take a moment here to say I’m not vegan because I dislike the taste of meat, cheese, and eggs. I am not allergic to anything and I am not, nor have I ever been a picky eater. I always liked the taste of animal products. I have been vegan since July 26, 2010 because I love non-human animals. I don’t want them to suffer on my behalf and I certainly don’t want them to die or be raped so I can eat cheese.
I became vegetarian when I was sixteen in the year 1989, so I remember a time when tofu was still considered exotic and when soy milk could only be bought at the health food store. When I went vegan, there were far less choices to be had in stores as a vegan and one had to “make do” with the staggering variety of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables available in 2010.
True confessions: I was at Meijer in search of cheap veggie meats, which they of course had several varieties of for under $4.50 a package.
Of Emperors and Orgies
Now, imagine that my current diet had zero limitations and that I can walk into any grocery store, any fast food chain, or any roadside stand and buy and eat whatever I wanted for a few bucks. I may be named Steele, but I am not made of iron and I am highly confident I would be at least fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than I am now if I was not vegan. At 4’11”, that is a lot of weight to put on. Yes, I’m short. I just have a big personality and a lot of hair.
Given the bountiful choices available to vegans, it seems like the height of reckless addiction, spoiled-child entitlement, and ingratitude to eat the products of animal suffering when there is so much opportunity to choose otherwise. My diet may have limits, but I still eat better than most Roman emperors did and I spend very little money to do it, and that’s just what I eat at home that I’ve made for myself. If I travel to Chicago, the vegan food I can find there puts the feasts of Byzantium to shame, and all without a single animal going to the slaughterhouse as a price.
When I have a really bad day, I can’t just run to the nearest Arby’s and bury my sorrows in a cow cadaver sandwich and freedumb fries because I have chosen not to support that kind of cruelty in my life. In fact, I steer right clear of Burger King, Arby’s, McDonalds, and the like because I am not only in moral opposition to what they serve there, but I also am far away enough from the addictive power of that crap so that it now looks and smells disgusting to me. Any meat-eater who thinks they aren’t addicted to meat should try quitting for a month. Almost every single meat-eater who does this finds they go through classic withdrawal symptoms. Just saying. Anyway, being vegan has saved me from one of the direst consequences of living in our time, which is food addiction and subsequent malnutrition, disordered eating, disease, and obesity.
Like other animal rights vegans, I don’t eat for pleasure so much as I do it to stay alive to fight another day. I enjoy food, but the last thing it does is rule my life with its seductive power. I wish I could gift every vegan who struggles with food addiction with my detachment from food. My sense of smell is intact and I can enjoy delicious foods like the best of ‘em, however, there is a switch that goes off in my body when I am full that ends my desire to eat, no matter how fatty/salty/sugary the food is. I am the unicorn who makes cookies with absolutely no desire to eat the dough. I am the strange person who prefers raw broccoli to deep-fried potatoes. When I do eat deep fried potatoes, I easily limit myself to one serving and do not desire to eat a single bite more.
Nevertheless, I believe I would be much heavier if I could indulge in food on every corner like meat, dairy, and egg eaters can. Animal products also have the disadvantage of being more calorie-dense and full of proteins and hormones that roll out the welcome mat for obesity, cancer, and diabetes and other Deaths of a Thousand Cuts. If I ate them, I would suffer the same chronic illnesses as non-vegans which would further impede my ability to keep the weight off and diseases away.
I don’t envy those who try to diet in the age of Peak Cheap Food and Peak Grocery Store. For people who eat animals and their secretions, the entire landscape is an orgy of consumption tailored to their hard-wired evolutionary desires, so finding sufficient reason to avoid overdoing it is almost impossible, like a sex addict trying not to participate in a constant orgy. If the suffering and death of sentient beings aren’t enough to motivate a person to move with the spirit of compassion and not eat and use them, there is no reason at all to avoid stuffing their faces with every available deep-fried carcass sold for pennies on the dollar, except the health argument, which always seems like a sham until that very moment they lose their health and realize it was nearly everything they had.
I personally would still refrain from eating animals even if it sickened or killed me. Luckily, I live in a world where the opposite has occurred, and I can leg press 145 pounds and outrun almost any meat-eating person my age up a half dozen flights of stairs to prove my point.