I live in a country and in an industry where veganism is about as culturally foreign as a little green man from Mars. In Norway there are not very many vegetarians, and even less vegans. In fact, having lived here for six years, I have met only two vegetarians in the normal course of my daily life (although I have probably rubbed shoulders with some in health food shops from time to time), and I haven't met a single vegan. Because of problems with language, finding a job has been difficult for me, and because I have three children, having a regular income here in one of the most expensive countries in the world has been essential. I was deeply grateful when I got a job working for an American chain restaurant, which I shall jokingly refer to as Thank Goodness It's Not Thursdays....you may have heard of it.
Since then I have been through many personal changes. I have opted for the vegan lifestyle, both for its health benefits and as a reaction against the cruel and unnatural way that animals are warehoused, slaughtered, and passed on through the production line of meat processing and dairy cultivation to end up on our tables all wrapped, packaged, and impersonal so that we don't have to see or face any of the realities of the bloody industry itself.
There is nothing I would like better than to break all ties with this industry, in which I am a participant as an employee. After all, our general manager boasted at the last shift meeting that last year, at the restaurant where I work, we sold 75 tons of assorted meat. I don't eat this meat, but I handle it and cut it all the time. Slowly but surely I have managed to get myself more to a prep area where I prepare salads and vegetables, but there's still no way I can avoid meat altogether, and certainly not dairy, as most of our sauces are based on processed mayo and sour cream (although I don 't taste them either, always getting another chef to test them for flavour for me).
Since I have worked in the restaurant, I have noticed that it goes through its own employees at almost the same speed as it depletes its stocks of ribs and steaks and burgers. Staff seem totally expendable and are only necessary as bodies in the kitchen. Financially we are dead weight to the company, causing endless headaches to them in the form of labour costs. If one leaves, another will take their place the following day without a hiccup. The idea of forming relationships within the job and caring for staff is much talked about in the company literature, but is rarely demonstrated in practice. In the time I have been at the job I became the first Union representative they ever had and uncovered many problems with pay and overtime, which cost the company a lot of money. It improved the working conditions to some extent, although it's a never-ending process to keep up with the management's strategies to get round Norwegian employment laws.
In the wider society I have noticed a very conservative attitude toward food and its production. In Norway, the farmers form a very powerful and protective political block, as do the fishermen. This is based on historical necessities where farming and fishing formed the backbone of the country's culture. Try to suggest today that the modern Scandinavian could probably manage quite well without whale-hunting and it's as if you're attacking the foundations of everything decent in civilization itself. Try proposing that organic food production is healthier than farming with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and one is met by either total disinterest or a world weary assurance that the whole thing is a racket because it's been "scientifically proven" that organic food is no better in any way than any other food. When I recently returned to England and visited a major supermarket chain, I was amazed by the range and variety of organic foods available, and it threw Norway's backward practices into stark contrast. I found it quite depressing.
This brings me to the subject of forgiveness, both for myself, as I try to evolve in my work to a situation where I will no longer have to spend my days surrounded by the sights and smells of dead animals, and for the society where I live, which I cannot change one iota by getting all frustrated and angry in the short term. I have found a shop that sells organic vegetables. Health food shops here are rather uniform and are subject to the Norwegian habit of conformity and monopoly--all selling the same products, generally speaking. But one or two of them do try something a bit different, and this one in particular specializes in fresh, organic vegetables--quite a miracle in the capital city of Oslo, which claims just two vegetarian restaurants and one of them is run by unpaid staff connected to the Krishna religion.
So I will move incrementally in the direction of my goals. I will buy organic when I can. My wife is Norwegian and we have salami in our fridge. I wont battle with her, but I'll feed my kids vegetarian food when I can. I will accept my situation today in the knowledge that I am working toward changing it tomorrow. I will accept my adoptive country, with all its faults, without getting my belly in an uproar about it. There are more than twice as many vegetarians in England as there are total citizens in Norway. Changing the habits of a country's lifetime takes patience. I forgive myself for my meat-eating past and meat-working present, and my country for its almost religious addiction to pølser (hot dogs). I will just do my own small bit to change myself and the little bit of world that immediately surrounds me. I'll cook the tastiest vegan food I can, so that my children feel the benefits on a daily basis.
I truly believe that the meat industry is "evil," but I also believe that evil rarely knows itself for what it is. So I can forgive it. I also believe it's better to do than to preach, so that 's another aspect of my forgiveness. I wont try to convert others, but if they like what I do, maybe that'll do some good in changing the world just a little.
For the present time, I am so glad to be a vegan, and even though I 'm a bit of an alien in the machine here, having climbed only recently from a spaceship from the planet Vega, I will commit my acts of sabotage quietly and with good humour and, hopefully, compassion.
e x t e s s a y -
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