[Daan Strebe 3rd place]
"Clarence, don't you dare leave the table without finishing your steak!"
I seethe silently. Then,
"Mother, we discussed this before I came home. It was our last phone call, remember?"
"I didn't think you were serious. What sort of nonsense is that, not eating meat? Eat your steak!"
"That steak was expensive, and I didn't slave over it just to have you snub my cooking! Whatever has come over you, Clarence? You leave for college, and the first thing we know you're too good for your family, too good for your childhood, too good to live a normal life. You should have stayed in Montana! I have half a mind to pull you out of college!"
"You can't. I'm an adult now. I do as I like."
"Not as long as we pay for it! Orville, you tell him!"
My father might even be enjoying this. He sits back and passes gas, leisurely and with great flatulence. I'm so glad I didn't bring Noelle home with me. Thousands of years of civilization, entirely lost on my family. Father speaks. "Now Mama, you'll burst a blood vessel if you live your life demanding that people feel the way you want them to feel. The boy doesn't want the steak. No point in making him eat it."
I'm surprised. Father never would have got upset, of course, but I expected him to take mother's side.
"Orville, for Pete's sake, that steak cost eight dollars!"
Gently, he continues. "Sugar-britches, whether he eats it or not, you're not going to get your eight dollars back. It's gone either way. Why does it matter whether it goes inside him or inside the dog? The boy isn't starving."
Mother starts crying. I'm trying not to feel bad.
Father grunts and settles himself further. "Son, why don't you tell us what this is all about, hm? Why can't you eat your steak?"
"I'm a vegetarian, Father."
"Fair enough. Why are you a vegetarian?"
"Because, Father, we evolved as vegetarians. It's healthier for us. And it's wrong to kill other animals."
I regret my latter words immediately. Father is simple, but he's not stupid. "Wrong? Is it wrong when the wolf brings down the sheep? Is it wrong for you to kill a fish? An insect? An amoeba? Is it wrong for your body to kill and digest the worms and microbes that try to infest it? Where do you draw the line?"
He's nit-picking. "Father, do you have any idea how the agri-industry treats those animals? The conditions are appalling! They're crowded together in unsanitary pens, forced to wallow in their own excrement, treated brutally, and slaughtered without respect for their lives and feelings! It just isn't bovane."
Father considers a long moment. "Boy, unlike you, I was raised around animals. I can see how what you're saying might make sense if it were dogs we were talking about. Or cats. At the very least, dogs and cats get bored. Why Ol' Blue, I know he's got feelings; he's sharper than a razor. You put a dog in a pen and leave him there, he's going to live a bored, unhappy life. But that isn't the kind of animal we're talking about. Trust me, boy, the creature that gave you that steak lives a vacant life even in the wild, mostly just eating and mating. In the pens they're content to be hypnotized with television. Whatever feelings they have aren't being consciously experienced."
So much rationalization. It nauseates me. "We don't know that. You can't say just because they don't experience life as we do, they're not conscious."
"And you can't say that just because they experience life differently than we do, they are conscious."
I glower. "I don't want to talk about this any more. Some of us care about these things, you know." I should have known he wasn't really on my side.
Simple, Philistine parents. Simple, Philistine Montana. I can't wait to get back to school. Oh, I know, Cow State at Northridge is no philosophical mecca in its suburban setting. It has a very good African Studies department, though, where I feel I can finally make a difference to mankine in places like South Africa, where the colonial Herefords and Gurnseys have been oppressing native Wildebeest for centuries. Anyway, it's better than home, where Father belches and chews his cud in public and Mother fries up huge slabs of human for dinner as if it were zucchini. At least my friends at CSUN are all vegetarian, and none of them eat with their hooves on the table.