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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Jungle

The Jungle
Upton Sinclair

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I spent the entire month of February as a vegetarian. I was asked several times my reasons for doing so, and found them hard to articulate. The best explanation that I could offer is that it was an exercise in empathy. Basically, it’s worked like this:
I’ve never been a real vegetarian. While I would prefer not to eat my cat, I’m certainly not an animal rights nut by anyone’s standards. Neither am I a health food nut, a Hindu, or any more environmentally responsible than the average NPR listener. Nonetheless, I’ve always known people that are real vegetarians, and generally fit into one of the aforementioned categories. And, historically, I’ve had a great deal of fun at the expense of those people. (Why they’ve chosen to remain my friends is a question beyond my capacity for reason.) I have not generally been what one would call “sensitive”. This mostly rested on the assumption that most people didn’t really have good reasons for their beliefs, and just acted on them because it seemed like a cool thing to do.
meat
Thus, the experiment in empathy. Last year, just to see what it felt like, I gave up being omnivorous for a month and only ate dead vegetables and non-meat animal products (I wasn’t quite radical enough to go vegan.) The idea was to gauge just how much of a sacrifice this really was for people — how much would it really cramp my lifestyle to be able to say that I was a vegetarian? The answer: it was fucking rough. It affected where I ate, with whom I ate, and how many options I had when I shopped and went out. When ordering pizza with friends, I had to be the annoying guy to say “I can’t eat that. I’m a vegetarian.” Restaurant menus which formerly had dozens of items available now had about three. Social patterns changed. People gave me the same sort of shit that I used to give my vegetarian friends.
And so, to remind myself that sometimes people do relinquish something significant for the sake of their ideals, I’ve repeated the experiment this year. It may or may not have the long-term effect of making me a more empathetic person, but it at least means that I give my vegetarian friends less shit than I used to.
In the midst of all this, I happened to read The Jungle. It wasn’t a calculated coincidence; it was just the next unread book on my shelf. Sinclair’s account of the packing houses of Chicago made it that much easier to stay away from meat for a month. I didn’t finish the book a rabid socialist, but it puts a nice historical shine onto anti-trust laws and the FDA. The story isn’t so interesting, really, although it does make me glad that I’ve been teaching English to immigrants for a couple of years. Looking for work in a country in which you can’t speak the language is a horrible thing to have to do.
New project: Transition away from factory-produced food to support local grocers peddling organic and local food. Compare price difference and resulting change in cooking and eating habits. Start April 1.

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