The Ethics of Eating

Kicking off the 2007 edition of Try Vegan Week with a lecture dinner in the McCormick Tribune Lounge of the Reynolds Club, the Vegan Society offered a friendly and delicious introduction to the “cruelty-free lifestyle.” Activist and founder Erik Marcus gave a genial and articulate but mostly self-promotional speech about his recent book, in which he argues the concept of the commodification of cruelty. Since neither stores nor consumers pay much attention to the methods or origin of animal products, Marcus argues, efficiency is maximized at the expense of the animals’ living conditions, creating an “ethical race to the bottom” that Marcus believes is a persuasive argument for veganism. It’s a tough sell — few non-vegans still believe that typical animal products are produced in anything other than factory conditions, while the continuing success of organic agriculture and farmers’ markets indicates that a growing number are uncomfortable with battery cages and the like. As the exiting crowd carrying empty plates showed, the main appeal was the free food, here a buffet of supremely palatable vegan dishes. Of course, that still served the event’s purpose. A major obstacle to trying veganism is the perception that there’s nothing to eat, or worse, that nothing tastes good. The empanadas and lasagna blew that assumption out of the water, even if seitan is still an acquired taste.