Monday, October 20, 2003

Vegan Sangha Which

I've been thinking about -isms today. About subscribing to a body of belief; signing on, as it were, to a club that allows one to announce I am a(n) .... -ist. Complete with lapel pin, handshake, password, lawn ornament. I've always hankered for this sort of belonging. Me: the eternal outsider looking in, the poor little match girl. I do say to people, "I am a vegan," when the issue of what I will or won't eat arises, but I'm not even sure I am a dyed-in-the-synthetic-fleece "vegan."

Over ten years ago I decided not to eat animals as "a gesture of peace." This was the phrase I used in articulating the decision to myself. There may have been a vaguely Buddhist context or impetus. After that, I felt uneasy about wearing leather shoes, and about the bits of leather on my winter coat. Hypocritical.

Two or three years ago I learned that the factory farming methods that produce eggs and milk are as cruel as the ones that result in slaughter, so, to be consistent, finally, in my "gesture of peace," I eliminated these things, along with leather, wool and silk from items I eat and use.

For awhile I because obsessed with the micro-ingredient aspect of veganism: incredible numbers of chemicals used in food are animal-derived. The forest vanished; so, in fact did the trees -- I was down there with the chloroplasts and the xylem and phloem. I still buy vegetable-based bars of soap, but could never get used to vegan toothpaste, laundry soap or shampoo. And can't break my peppermint life-saver addiction. And, on rare occasion, I use non-dairy coffee creamer (which, of course, is chock full of dairy material) in coffee. So of course there's guilt. And rationalization. Maybe I'm a "reform vegan," not an orthodox one, etc etc.

There's a great line from the Simpsons -- a greenpeace type guy one-ups Lisa's vegetarianism by saying something like "I am a sixth degree vegan. I only eat things that don't cast a shadow."

Plus being a "vegan" seems like having a religion that's focused on food and animal rights. Culinary and political. It seems like one's metaphysics should involve something grander, and the respect for animals and the dietary observances should be corrollary. Or something. "I am a Vegan" feels like the center's in the wrong place. If I'm going to embrace an -ism, it should be the right one.

So I'm probably not technically a vegan. So what am I?

I was baptised Christian (Groveland Congregational Church, 1960, Reverand Donald Tatro !) and am a registered Democrat. Do those count ? I am a card carrying member of the AAA, a useful organization indeed, and our new cards just arrived today ! I used to think that I might want to take refuge in Buddha Dharma and Sangha, but never did.

I'm thinking of HNF, the card carrying schizophrenic I knew years ago, crazy but not un-insightful, and very smart. He looked at a policeman once and commented: The only thing that's holding that man's personality together is his uniform.

Some mornings, in the clinic, when I put on my white coat and stand outside of the door of the first patient of the day, it feels like he was talking about me.

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