Joan Callamezzo: Good morning and welcome to Pawnee Today! I’m your host, Joan Callamezzo, and I’m here with special guest Geneva Langeland, visiting our town all the way from Ann Arbor, Michigan!
Geneva Langeland: Thanks, Joan! What an honor to be on the show. To be frank, I’m pretty nervous. I’ve never been on a talk show before. I guess I didn’t expect to leave my AirBnb this morning and suddenly find myself tugged off the sidewalk and into a television studio.
Joan: Yes. Well, after Councilman Dexhart failed to appear for his interview about this latest sex scandal—did you see those photos? Their hands are practically touching!—my producer was so lucky to find you walking by the studio. He just knew you’d have a story to tell. So, what’ll it be? A juicy confession? *waggles eyebrows suggestively*
Geneva: Not so juicy, really. I’ve just been hesitant to talk about it publicly. But I figure this is as good a time as any!
Anyway, last month, I wrote this blog post about money and socks and ethical dilemmas. It seems like I’m continually caught in this tricky conundrum about what it means to be a responsible consumer in the world. While I was writing that piece, I happened to be in the throes of a very similar dilemma about a different kind of responsible consumption.
Joan: “Responsible consumption,” huh?
Geneva: I went vegetarian almost six years ago. It started as a refusal to put my money into the meat industry and, once I lost the taste for burgers and sausages, it turned into a permanent habit.
Cutting out dairy and eggs has always seemed like a logical extension of my vegetarian rationale—namely, if I don’t agree with the practices and hazards of industrial agriculture, why am I giving them my money? But I’ve spent years driving that thought to the back of my mind, because being a vegetarian already felt edgy enough in many of my Midwestern circles. For a few months in my senior year of college, I stopped buying eggs and milk. But I still bought cheese. So much cheese. And then I graduated and moved back home for a year, and it was way easier to revert to a vegetarian version of my parents’ diet.
But I can’t stomach shoving my environmental and ethical concerns to the back of my mind anymore. I’ve become less and less comfortable eating animal products lately. So I’m withdrawing my money from the market. I’m taking eggs and dairy off the menu. I’m going vegan.
Joan: It sounds like somebody’s spent a little too much time with those hippies up in Ann Arbor. What’s next, a bio-diesel van and mandolin lessons? A fuchsia half-buzz hairdo and a sleeve of tattoos?
Geneva: *leaning forward excitedly* Actually, now that you mention it, I’ve been thinking of getting a tasteful little—never mind. *sits back in chair*
Joan: Vegan. So does this mean you hate farmers and freedom and puppies and the American Dream?
Geneva: What? No! Hate has nothing to do with it. I still think many farmers do good, important work, all things considered. The world will never stop wanting eggs and cheddar cheese and chocolate ice cream, and I hope there will always be local, small-scale, sustainable, compassionate producers to fill that need.
Joan: Why not support them, then?
Geneva: For a while, I thought I could. I’d go out of my way to buy pricey cage-free eggs from an Amish farm where the happy chickens get to ride around in little black buggies all day. But then I’d order an omelet and not give a thought to where the eggs came from. All those little, individual concessions piled up and started weighing on my conscience. I was tired of drawing convoluted lines in the ethical sand of my grocery shopping trips. So, in the end, I realized that animal products simply didn’t need to be on my list anymore.
Joan: But what about ice cream? What about cheese? WHAT ABOUT CHOCOLATE?
Geneva: Thank the good Lord in heaven, lots of dark chocolate is, by default, vegan. Many ice cream shops carry dairy-free sherbet. Now that vegan products and recipes are more mainstream, I can buy (or make) vegan cheeses, ice cream, sour cream, mayonnaise, chicken nuggets, ranch dressing, sausages, and way, way more. Dang, now I’m hungry.
Joan: So, you’ll never eat real cheese again. How does that make you feel?
Geneva: Welllll, I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Living with a conscious effort to support animal rights and eco-friendliness is very important to me. But so is the ability to sit at the table and share a meal with family and friends. I’m not an all-or-nothing kind of girl. When vegan food isn’t an option, I’m comfortable weighing my choices on a case-by-case basis. During my six years as a vegetarian, I shopped, cooked, and ordered meat-free. But if I was at someone else’s table and it wasn’t polite for me to work around the meat on my plate, I ate it.
Now, I think that paradigm is ratcheting forward a notch. I’ll shop, cook, and order vegan. But if my dietary choice is preventing me from being a good guest in someone’s home or enjoying a meal with my family, I’ll just eat vegetarian. My dad labeled this approach “veganarian.”
Joan: “Veganarian.” Okay, I like it.
Geneva: Me too!
Joan: Well, isn’t that nice? Thank you, Geneva, for giving us some food for thought! *winks at camera* And now, has modern art gone too far? On to Perd Hapley for a shocking exposé of the edgy new designs for the proposed sculpture garden in Ramsett Park.
Geneva Langeland (’13) survived graduate school with minimal blood loss, escaping with her ms in environmental policy and communication. She now works in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as the communications editor at Michigan Sea Grant. There, she gets to hang out with educators, researchers, and communicators who love the Great Lakes as much as she does.