TUMBY BAY - In a recent comment in PNG Attitude, Arthur Williams reported that at a Christmas lunch with his extended family he stood out as the only non-vegan.
Even the Christmas cake was vegan, apparently made with zucchini.
In his elegant way, he went on to suggest that veganism was an absurd postmodern trend, even though it had passed all the tests of a genuine philosophical belief under the British Equality Act.
I’ve been a vegetarian-cum-vegan for well over 40 years so I initially took umbrage at his comments, not so much because he suggested veganism is just another popular trend but because he suggested it was absurd.
I can trace the genesis of my vegetarianism to several sources but, as I suggest below, my conversion was a little more profound that I originally anticipated.
In the first instance Papua New Guinea had a lot to do with it.
I never had the luxury of being accompanied on my first patrols by an experienced officer so, on the second patrol I conducted, I took along a packet of frozen chops but left it a little too late to eat them.
The resulting pain in my gut closely followed by vomiting was in the legendary category. So bad was it that I allowed the medical orderly to give me a shot of penicillin.
Penicillin in those days was regarded as a panacea for everything. If two aspirins didn’t work a shot of penicillin was the next option.
Henceforth I was very wary of meat. On the remote patrol posts where I subsequently served, meat was pretty much an unobtainable luxury.
Apart from tin meat, which was universally lamentable, the only other source available was stringy village chook, wild game like pig, crocodile and maybe an unfortunate gouria pigeon that had accidentally fallen out of its tree.
Faced with these impossibilities I gradually fell back on a traditional Papua New Guinean vegetable diet. And got to like it.
In the second instance a book by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer had a lot to do with it.
The book was called ‘Animal Liberation’ and, among other things, it detailed the horrific cruelty involved in the industrial scale production of meat.
Singer posited vegetarianism as an ethical choice and after reading his argument I agreed with him.
In recent times, of course, and in the light of climate change, vegetarianism has gone beyond the ethical issues surrounding cruelty and embraced issues related to the very survival of humankind.
Large scale production of meat is a major contributor to the generation of greenhouse gases, particularly methane.
With respect to the profound nature of my decision to go vegetarian, and after some retrospection, I’m pretty sure it was also a catalyst for many other changes I made in my life.
When I left school I was a huge fan of the conservative Australian prime minister Robert Menzies. In line with his professed ideology I was also determined to become a millionaire by the time I was 30.
Silly as it sounds, I imagine a lot of young men at the time had the same sort of aspiration. Our mantra was conform, play the game and prosper.
Then along came my decision to turn vegetarian.
What that taught me was it wasn’t necessary to follow the herd. One could and should carefully consider ruling beliefs and, if they don’t pass muster, there is nothing wrong with looking to alternatives.
From blind conformity I passed on to becoming a dyed in the wool sceptic. My mantra became, question everything and decide for yourself.
The first big test for that new mantra was the Vietnam War. That I was arrested at a moratorium march while on leave from PNG stemmed directly from my change of attitude.
After that I developed my own view about materialism and chasing the mighty dollar.
As I’ve drifted into old age I’ve given up trying to justify many of my beliefs. When people ask me why I’m a vegetarian, I turn the question back on them - “Why do you think I’m a vegetarian?” I ask.
When they offer a response I just agree with them. It’s a lot easier than arguing the point.
Age and experience has taught me that trying to foist my ideas on other people is pretty pointless.
Intelligent people change with experience but many others will just follow the herd. That’s the sad reality for humanity and it will lead to our eventual demise as a species I suspect.
So I agree with Arthur that the postmodern world is crazy. We only differ, perhaps, in the specifics.