Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
As a new father who (ages ago) did a short stint as a press secretary, I’m already thinking ahead to the questions my son will throw at me. Yes, I know 8-month-old Isaac can’t even say “Dad” yet, but these questions are coming, and I’m sure they’re going to be way tougher than the ones reporters usually lob at Washington politicians. (OK, in the current age of media obsequiousness, that’s not saying much.)
So I’m planning for answers — and, as any press secretary knows, that requires thinking about what evokes the queries in the first place.
The toy pistol question, for instance — Isaac will see a friend with a cap gun and ask why he can’t have one. (Answer: Devices that kill people shouldn’t be the basis for playthings.) The tackle-football question — he’ll ask me why I don’t want him to play. (Answer: because football can cause long-term brain damage.) The existential questions about God and life and death — ugh, I don’t want to even begin thinking about those.
But before any of these inquiries are but a twinkle in Isaac’s eye, I know I’m going to face an interrogation about vegetarianism. At some point soon, he’ll ask why our family doesn’t eat this stuff called “meat” that’s everywhere.
I have my substantive answers already lined up, so I’m not worried about what I’ll tell him. (We don’t eat meat because it’s unhealthy, environmentally irresponsible, expensive and inhumane.) With this question, I’m more concerned about the prompting. Why is he almost certainly going to ask at such an early age?
I think I know the answer — and it’s not the ad campaigns that make meat seem like a rational choice (“Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner”), a healthy alternative food (“Pork: The Other White Meat”) or a compassionate cuisine decision (Chik-fil-A’s billboards, which show a cow begging you to spare his life by choosing chicken). No, Isaac’s going to have questions because of the grocery — more specifically, because of the vegetarian aisle that subliminally glorifies meat-eating.
I realize that sounds like an oxymoron, but the next time you go shopping, imagine what a kid gleans from veggie burgers, veggie bacon, veggie sausage patties, veggie hot dogs, Tofurky and all the other similar fare that defines a modern plant-based diet. While none of it contains meat, it’s all marketed as emulating meat. In advertising terms, that’s the “unique selling proposition” — to give you the epicurean benefits of meat without any of meat’s downsides.
Obviously, this isn’t some conspiracy whereby powerful meat companies are deliberately trying to bring vegetarians into the megachurch of flesh eaters. If anything, it’s the opposite: It’s the vegetarian industry selling itself to meat eaters by suggesting that its products aren’t actually all that different from meat. The problem is how that message, like so many others in American culture, reinforces the wrongheaded notion that our diet should be fundamentally based on meat.
For those who have chosen to be vegetarians, this message is merely annoying. But for those like Isaac who are being raised as vegetarians, the message is downright subversive. It teaches them that as tasty as vegetarian food may be, it can never compete with the “real thing.”
That message will undoubtedly inform Isaac’s early curiosity — and maybe his questions won’t be such a bad thing. Maybe they’ll motivate me to spend more time in the supermarket’s raw produce section, and maybe my ensuing discussion with Isaac will help him better understand why our family has made this culinary choice.
However, that doesn’t mean the subtle propaganda won’t ultimately win out, thus adding another carnivore to a destructively meat-centric society.
David Sirota is a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and the best-selling author of the books "Hostile Takeover," "The Uprising" and "Back to Our Future." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com. More David Sirota.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)