I don’t know whether I’ve said this before or said it recently, but I’m a vegan. (Insert your own joke here, my favorite being the one about how you only have to wait five minutes before a vegan will lay claim to his or her veganism, probably while giving you the hairy eyeball and a lecture about where that pulled pork sandwich came from.) I get that I embody the worst of the worst of the liberal mindset, uptight and self-righteous, all holier-than-thou with my almond milk and lentils. I won’t even eat a fucking egg.
But I didn’t take up this way of eating because I’m trying to save Wilbur or even because factory farming seems so, well, gross. It just feels like the right thing to do. A small, personal act of defiance and denial which has come to define certain aspects of my character that I find difficult to express in other ways. I don’t want to hurt things: the critters, the Earth, my own wretched body—though it’s true that I dole out my share of abuse to all three of these in other ways, and not just on occasion. Maybe this is why eating vegan seems to posit each meal as a sort of diffuse apology and helps me imagine I’m doing less harm to the world than is actually the case. It’s why a simple bowl of soup can feel like an act of both dissidence and love, like marching into Times Square with a handpainted sign, only alone and with kale.
I used to believe, in other words, that individual acts of stewardship meant something, that you could choose a battle without worrying how to win it, that though the decisions you make might be trivial, they could, given time, aggregate with the decisions of others to make a larger impact. The very smallness of an individual meal gave me hope, a dose of positivity, a sense that doing something is better than doing nothing and that inching toward goodness might not get me there but could at least act as balm to my self-flagellation.
It’s harder now. The air is ripe with pessimism, and the problems we face are so big, and so scary, that this small thing I’ve been doing feels quaint to the point of embarrassment. After all, if we’re going to hell in a handbasket of deplorables, what possible good can come of a single person’s effort to mitigate the damage? How can the issues that matter to me so deeply stand against this onslaught of bigotry and sexism, indecency and unkindness and screaming from all sides? How can it matter whether I eat a carrot or a drumstick when our new president-elect has just named Steve Bannon as his top adviser and is preparing to deregulate the banks, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and appoint Rudy Guiliani as secretary of state? I feel like I’m tossing pebbles uphill in an avalanche.
How do you choose your battles from the center of a battlefield?