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Steiner Crushes Derrida: Or, Veganism for Boys

vegan tattoo croppedI gave up vegetarianism after seven years for a boy named Sam, who wasn’t even gay. But he was tall and slender and had white hair and a baby face and he wore boots and never cleaned his bathroom. We went to dinner, and I ordered shrimp.


Now I have returned to the fold and joined a more fundamentalist sect.


On nights I can’t sleep, I watch YouTube videos. One of my three dogs curls at my feet under my desk. The other two lay on beds behind me. Lately, I’ve been watching videos about laser tattoo removal. I do not feel the need to watch these videos during the day.

The tattoo on the inside of my right arm almost disappears if I put my arm palm-down on the desk. Only the stems of the “V” extend upward to remind me that I have the word “vegan” written on my body in black, vegan ink. The difficulty of hiding such a tattoo was — is — the point. The tattoo functions both as public announcement and self-reminder. It’s the adult counterpart to the Christian tattoos (the band of thorns around the upper arm or lower leg, the fish, the Bible verses) I wanted as a teenager.


On my list of evasive bullshit: companion species; co-evolution; eating well; dying well; aporia, apropos decisions and responsibilities; posthumanism.


I have lost two dogs, the first through no fault of my own. He collapsed one day, fell over while walking from my office to the laundry room. We rushed him to the vet who told us that a tumor we never knew about had ruptured. He died, on the surgical table, of internal bleeding, his upper lip folded under itself to reveal canines we had last seen when using a corn broom to shoo him away from a rain-soaked piece of birthday cake.

I lost my second dog several years later, when I lived alone. I returned home to find that she had coughed up blood again. There was no diagnosis. What was evident was only that she had blood in her lungs, that she was generally lethargic and sometimes wobbly and now always incontinent. But whether she was suffering – and what suffering even meant for her – I do not know.


steiner croppedHow to fight about yogurt with the one you love. Step 1: Assume regular grocery shopping responsibilities. Step 2: Believe that animals should not be harmed for reasons of pleasure, amusement, or convenience. Step 3: Become a vegan based on this principle. (The logic, you know, is crushing; all efforts at complication fall before it.)  Step 4: Observe that most people around you share your principle but violate it every time they sit down to eat or go shopping for clothes. Step 5: Refuse to buy any of the dairy products your partner still consumes.


Listen to Steiner train the disciples in how to take up the cross: “Let us say that the principle or rule in question is that we ought never to use animal products for the satisfactions of our desires, and say that I sincerely embrace this principle. Does this mean that every time I choose in accordance with the principle, I am doing something purely mechanical and unthinking, and that my choices are attended by good conscience? Hardly. What it means, particularly in the living contemporary context of a society in which vegans are widely dismissed as kooks and frequently derided for being self-righteous water-walkers, is that one faces constant anguish – not simply in the sense that one suffers the mockery of one’s fellow human beings, nor simply in the sense that one is acutely aware that the vast majority of other people are not following the principle and hence are perpetuating a regime of animal exploitation that arguably exceeds the magnitude of any human holocaust, but more importantly in the sense that uses of animals are so intimately interwoven into our cultural practices that pure veganism is a practical impossibility.”


“Do you regret it?” a friend asks me only several days after its acquisition.

The skin is starting to sting and peel, and I am impatient now to get back into the pool. “Of course not.”

But a text arrives later that afternoon telling me the tattoo is pretentious, and I say yes. And longing for water I think back on when the texter and I went swimming.

So hairy!”

“I stopped shaving after we broke up”

“I never took you to be an otter.”


Derrida’s critique of human exeptionalism is crushing. Yet Derrida does not preach veganism, or even the hypocrisy of vegetarianism. He turns every genuine ethical decision into a version of Abraham responding to God’s call to sacrifice Isaac. But honestly, fucker, it shouldn’t be that complicated. And God forbid we took the same attitude to all principles. (Thou shalt not rape. “I am against rape in my soul,” Derrida might say.) And God doesn’t exist. And defending Abraham or his God in any way is wrong, not only because a human life is almost lost, but also because a ram, caught in a thicket, loses his life instead.


stockton dogI now have a crush on a vegan otter.

He texts at 7:44 AM: “Vegan update to make up for the public mourning: morning routine is now an avocado banana kale almond milk smoothie. Good morning!”

The slide from mourning to morning makes me smile.

The public mourning in question concerns the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon. Although our leaders warn us against misanthropy, I wonder how many people mourning the many injuries and two deaths of people they didn’t know also sat down that night to dine on a corpse. I also wonder how many people died in car accidents yesterday. Or of curable diseases. Or in other tragedies. Those lives that don’t count as such or as much because they’re not human, or not American. Those lives that suffered a death that has the misfortune of being routine.

I wonder too if I am just being self-righteous.

I think good morning love as I scoop peanut butter into my oatmeal and watch my partner, Howard, take his breakfast up the stairs. Howard, who eats fish and eggs and cheese and drinks milk because being a vegan makes you “socially difficult,” although he readily acknowledges the “moral superiority” of my position.

Our basset hound, Milton, does his morning yoga on the kitchen floor and then turns to follow Howard.

The otter’s next text: “I also had a dream of us: I was stripping to an acoustic cover of Pour Some Sugar on Me for you and Howard. You liked it. He didn’t. And then I woke up thinking it was real.”

That would be real, I think, thinking too that being a vegan is much easier when affection ameliorates an anguish that despite my deepest devotion is not constant.


Will Stockton: Fisher of Men.

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