Desert Island Vegan


© Michelle Schaefer


My amazing little cousin, Leah, who is in her late teens and finding her way through vegetarianism, occasional veganism, and perhaps some moments she refuses to disclose to her fully vegan cousin (that’d be me), recently asked me a question I hadn’t heard in over 20 years. I suspect one of her friends asked her the question, and she wanted to know what I thought. The question in question was, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only eat rabbits, would you do it?

Her inquiry brought back a flood of awkward memories from a time in my life when questions like this one were fired at me in regular, unapologetic intervals. I’m so glad those days are behind me, but she reminded me they’re still alive and well in many circles. So, to answer the question of whether I’d eat a rabbit if I were stranded on a desert island with nothing else to eat, of course—but I consider these hypothetical/philosophical (I think ‘philosophical’ is stretching things a bit, but hey) mental masturbatory exercises to be ridiculous distractions designed to take the burden off of the person posing the question from looking at the real question, which is the one they refuse to ask themselves: “What are you willing to look at right now, in this real world, where you actually live?” And, more importantly, “What changes are you willing to make in this oh-so-NOT-hypothetical life you’re living?”

The ‘desert island’ question calls to my mind sanctimonious little a-holes (I’m petty) who think they’ve figured it all out. If the vegan answers, “Yes, I’d eat the rabbit,” she’s labeled a hypocrite and her world views are dismissed entirely. If she answers, “No, I would not eat the rabbit,” she’s labeled an idiot and her world views are dismissed entirely. It’s all a loud smokescreen (bordering on verbal abuse in some cases) to keep purportedly-inquisitive minds (note: not remotely inquisitive in actuality) from considering, even for a moment, that every bite of food they take says something about their attitude toward their own health, the health of the planet, the exploitation of humans forced to work in animal agriculture (i.e., mostly undocumented immigrants), and, of course, the animals themselves. Examining those issues is infinitely more difficult than taking a quick glance at a hypothetical, so I get why the latter gets more play. But still.

When Leah asked me the desert island question, my first reaction was to roll my eyes. This was a mistake. My first metered thought was that these types of questions are primarily found in the teenage/early-twenties crowd, where a whole messa stuff is going on in the brains of these burgeoning adults in general. That was also a mistake, because such inquiries are in fact not at all limited to teenagers and twenty-somethings. There is a learning curve to anything new, and part of learning is clumsily plodding through the early stages before equilibrium and balance are achieved. Some people never get there, but I applaud anyone at any age who approaches new topics with genuine curiosity. The truth is, though some questions fired at vegans are designed to catch the vegan in hypocrisy or ‘prove’ that veganism is dumb, many seemingly-silly questions really are asked in earnest. In fact, Sherry F Colb, author of Mind If I Order The Cheese Burger?, tells us that we vegans must treat all questions seriously. Even if the question strikes us as illogical, we must answer with logic.

Do vegans have oral sex? How can you be vegan but also pro-choice? Don’t animals eat other animals? …are just some of the questions I have heard in recent years. Some of these discussions are more interesting than others. I want to remind my fellow vegan activists, though, that turning the tables and asking your inquisitor more direct, immediate questions is a powerful tool. Saying something along the lines of, “Would I eat a rabbit on a desert island? OK. I’ll be happy to answer that, and I’ll answer it honestly. But first, let me ask you a couple questions. Are you willing to watch this video I have [pulled up on my phone right now] about what really happens on dairy farms? How about we watch Earthlings together and have a discussion about it afterward? How familiar are you with the effects that current animal agricultural practices have on our planet? Do you know how much water it takes to raise one cow for her meat?”

I mean, I’ve been vegetarian for 23 years with 10 of those years vegan. I’m 47 years old. I travel fairly regularly. And I have never ONCE been stranded on a desert island. The animals trapped, tortured, and killed really don’t give-af about what we would do IF we were stranded on a desert island. They care about what we’re going to do while they ARE stranded in factory-farm Hell. To me, that is a much more important question to ask, to consider, and to act upon.