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Yes, Sarah Palin, I’m a vegetarian

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By Neal Schindler

I try to avoid quoting Sarah Palin in my posts. However, the recent scandalette concerning photos of Palin’s son using the family dog as a stepstool, and her subsequent response to the animal-rights backlash, produced a Palin rant so nutty that it actually hit on something real. First, an excerpt from said rant:

Aren’t you the same anti-beef screamers blogging hate from your comfy leather office chairs, wrapped in your fashionable leather belts above your kickin’ new leather pumps you bought because your celebrity idols (who sport fur and crocodile purses) grinned in a tabloid wearing the exact same Louboutins exiting sleek cowhide covered limo seats on their way to some liberal fundraiser shindig at some sushi bar that features poor dead smelly roe (that I used to strip from our Bristol Bay-caught fish, and in a Dillingham cannery I packed those castoff fish eggs for you while laughing with co-workers about the suckers paying absurdly high prices to party with the throw away parts of our wild seafood)? I believe you call those discarded funky eggs “caviar.”

 

I approach this logorrheic screed as a vegetarian and a person who doesn’t disagree with the basic principles of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, even if their tactics tend toward the shrill and shocking. I haven’t read the texts that make an informed modern herbivore, namely the writings of philosopher Peter Singer, Jonathan Safran Foer’s notorious “Eating Animals,” and so on. I experience not just guilt but a kind of gastrointestinal Weltschmerz when I think about my leather shoes or the fact that when I order Thai food I don’t always ask if the sauce includes fish paste. 

These are exceedingly first-world problems. But I think they also represent an inner tension experienced by many thoughtful individuals, and perhaps by Sarah Palin as well. That tension exists because we have philosophical ideals, some of which we may not admit to anyone but ourselves. Being human, we embody them to only a certain degree. I sometimes think my inevitable fate is to return to veganism, that much-derided way of eating and living that eliminates all animal products from one’s diet, person, and home. 

No leather shoes, no leather belts, no gelatin, no animal-tested products. It’s a contemporary asceticism based on the idea that hurting animals is no better, morally speaking, than hurting humans. The goal is to remove oneself as much as possible from the mechanisms of society that deliver pain, and often outright torture, to the supposedly lesser beings that most people think we’re entitled to eat and wear.

I’ve found ways to justify my wearing of leather and my don’t ask/don’t tell policy toward fish paste. Meat lasts the length of a meal, whereas a pair of leather shoes can last years. Vegan shoes are pricey and hard to find. Anyway, my feet are wide; many shoes don’t fit me right. Leather belts… well, they just look nicer than non-leather belts. And it’s important that my belt match my shoes.

Fish paste? It’s made of the parts of fish that would otherwise be thrown away. The fish were already slaughtered for filets and such; fish paste makes us garbage pigs who use what would otherwise would go unused. The problems for me are as follows: 1) Consuming fish paste supports fish paste as a product, and thus the use of fish for food; and 2) Deep down I feel like animals aren’t for food or clothing, at least for me, so using them as such feels unpleasant when I actually stop to think about it.

Really, though, ordering Thai food without fish paste isn’t enough. I should avoid supporting any business, however family owned and local it may be, that dares to use fish paste in the first place! Never mind that fish paste is a crucial part of Thai cooking and, by extension, Thai culture. My wannabe veganism should, in theory, be my highest principle, my Prime Directive — the simple concept that guides all of my behavior, not just most of it. 

As a Jew, I often encounter the prioritization of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws, such as the prohibition of pork and shellfish) over vegetarianism. If someone is Jewish and keeps kosher, it’s understood and accommodated. If someone is a Jew and is vegetarian, it may be seen as a lifestyle choice that inconveniences dinner-party hosts and restaurant kitchens and is really just glorified pickiness. 

That vegetarianism and veganism have been part of countless people’s spiritual paths doesn’t always register. Some of us who don’t pray or feel a strong connection to any articulable higher power find spiritual meaning in such things as yoga, meditation, art, and dietary choices. To me, that’s at least as legitimate as a millennia-old code that suggests eating meat and dairy together is untoward.

Sarah Palin didn’t know it, but she was hitting a nerve when she constructed her straw men, those “anti-beef screamers blogging hate from… comfy leather office chairs.” Palin has shot moose, and she’ll do it again. Her family eats for weeks. Isn’t that a better show of integrity than my ambivalent, neurotic vegetarianism?

 

Neal Schindler
Neal Schindler
A native of Detroit, Neal Schindler has lived in the Pacific Northwest since 2002. He has held staff positions at Seattle Weekly and The Seattle Times and was a freelance writer for Jew-ish.com from 2007 to 2011. Schindler was raised in a Reconstructionist Jewish congregation and is now a member of Spokane's Reform congregation, Emanu-El. He is the director of Spokane Area Jewish Family Services. His interests include movies, Scrabble, and indie rock. He lives with his wife, son, and two cats in West Central Spokane.

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