If you step back and consider it with some distance, most of what we do is pretty weird. Before I leave the house, I rub a white stick over my body so I’ll smell like a fruit I’ve never eaten. If I bring my lunch to work, I pack it in a Tupperware because it would be weird to pull out a Ziploc bag full of rice and tofu and eat it with my hands. Occasionally, I crave little sugar discs dipped in the discharge of an animal that looks like it’s always apologizing for what you’re doing to it.
Everything is a little weird. Now that it’s been a while since I ate meat, it’s looking a little weird too. I’ve tried explaining my old meat eating to my cat–she’s very reasonable and a great conversationalist–and that made me realize there was something wrong with it. It is difficult to look my cat in her big kitty eyes and say “I know you’re an animal, but I won’t eat you. I only eat from a specific list of other animals, and I promise you’ll never be on it, because the thought of ever hurting a cat makes me sad and right now everyone kind of agrees on that.” I’d have to say that right to her little kitty face, a face that I’ve seen tear into any meat she could find like it owed her money except I know it didn’t because my cat is not a participant in the capitalist Thunderdome.
Eating meat is kind of weird because it’s largely guided by arbitrary lines of what people find both cute and what they think they could keep in their home. That’s my theory for why baby cows are still eaten. They’re cute as fuck but nobody can see themselves walking a fully-grown cow around their apartment complex and bovine litter boxes sound a little intense.
The longer I go without eating it, the easier it is to not want to eat meat. It seems like a habit that’s guided by some weird stuff. I still miss the taste and linger over the smell like a cartoon character over a pie in a windowsill, but that’s where it ends. If I really think about eating meat, like actually the practicalities of chewing it and making it part of me, I feel a little gross.
Something important I’ve realized recently is that quitting meat wasn’t actually that hard. Sure, I’m probably among the more annoying people to invite to dinner, and I’m pretty sure hearing me talk about some meat replacements sounds a little like Stockholm syndrome, but I’m happy now. And I don’t have those weird meat dreams anymore.
This has all made me think: what other seemingly essential parts of my day could be easily replaced or cut out entirely? So much of what we do starts to feel totally arbitrary once you remove the inherent importance lent to it by social convention.
Why are there slightly different dishes for eating soup and for drinking water? Both of these things have the same consistency, require the same dexterity, and have the same potential to spill all over your table right after you cleaned it and just break your spirit. I know there’s not much to be gained from targeting our strange fixation on drinking from slightly narrower vessels, but the only reason I can think of for a distinction between what we eat from and what we drink from is that somebody wanted a distinction. Another reason is that somebody a long time ago thought it was icky, but we’ve gotten better at washing stuff by now. It could be that some cups have handles and are easier to hold, but… couldn’t we just make lighter bowls with handles?
Why can’t I tell people in the grocery store what I really want to say? Social tact keeps us from getting a lot of really important stuff done. For example, the next time I hear one of those little packs of shoppers say something off about me or look at me like I’m some kind of slug-beast instead of a tired-looking teacher with other shit going on, I’d really like to have it in me to talk to them.
And I’d like that talk to mostly entail me walking up to them–while they’re taking up the entire area next to the tomatoes–and just kind of wriggle my way into their group like a dog trying to get into the pile around the food bowl. In this gratuitous fantasy, I’d say something like “Hi,” which is anticlimactic, but I’m polite. Then I’d, I don’t know, set myself on fire while shrieking “is this what you wanted!” because I’d heard one of them say something mean–but kind of accurate–about my hair looking sweaty. Or, I don’t know, maybe I’d just say “fuck off” and then wait for my turn to get a tomato.
What if I just didn’t buy shit anymore? Not like food or rent or drugs for Moira, those are things I can’t avoid paying for because the only way to survive is to take part in a system that requires money for participation. So this one might be the hardest idea to sell to myself because capitalism is so deeply entrenched in our lives that we even use phrases like “hardest to sell to myself.” It wasn’t that hard to break out of something that had been habitual and seemingly just a normal facet of my life every day, but not eating something because it makes you feel bad already has this built-in reason for stopping.Buying shit feels good, even a little addictive. The parallels between the arguments for recreational drug use and buying more socks than you need are alarming. You don’t need it, but you want it. Having and using it might feel nice–warm, soft socks are unequaled in the joy they bring me. They might hurt you; I’ve fallen down the stairs at least 3 times because my freshly laundered socks were too slippery to safely conduct me down an incline. It’s not hurting anybody else–except maybe my students when they get a flash of one of my flamboyantly-colored ankles. I could stop buying my colorful comfy socks, but I don’t want to, and that’s the most insidious argument keeping people from busting out of this unnecessary thing we do. I want my damn socks, and there’s no way to get them except buying them or buying the way to make them.
How much of what we do is totally pointless and only done because it feels like another part of the life we need to have? How much of everything is guided by expectations rather than necessity? Probably a lot, or maybe I’m just pissed that some people took up so much room near the tomatoes and made me stretch for them like two weeks ago.