By Patrick Battuello, In Behalf of Animals, July 2011
"Be a 'vegan' who eats bacon," Ronnen says with a shrug as he sits in the sun-dappled dining room of his loft in downtown Los Angeles. He says with a shrug?
Meat for human consumption is a concocted taste, and who better to concoct than a classically trained chef? Since he [Tal Ronnen] does, and with great fanfare, he knows how good meat replacements are (the Gardein line is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing). And that’s what makes his comment so objectionable.
Rarely does one ascend to a status where one name suffices. Rarer, still, for a vegan chef (or any vegan for that matter). Feted by the likes of Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and Chrissie Hynde, Chef Tal (Ronnen) is there and was recently featured in an LA Times article on the flexitarian movement: "So many people tell me, 'I could be a vegan if it weren’t for bacon,' and I tell them, "Be a 'vegan' who eats bacon," Ronnen says with a shrug as he sits in the sun-dappled dining room of his loft in downtown Los Angeles. He says with a shrug?
Ronnen goes on to say, "Real militant vegans hate when I say that." And from the writer: "He’s part of a new breed of vegans and vegetarians who are taking the movement back from those militants brandishing bumper stickers that admonish us not to eat anything with a face." Sorry, but that is the message, at least for those who care about animals, and I do not consider myself a militant (in fact, I too have been questioned by the vegan police). Militant is obsessing over obscure food dyes (and chastising those who don’t), not taking umbrage at the suggestion of occasional bacon bites. Let Chef Tal marginalize sugar and wine production, but not the very foundation of animal suffering. The goal (at least for those pursuing animal liberation) should be to avoid the obvious, and nothing is more obvious than bacon. Maybe with Ronnen, though, a little context is in order.
In an interview with The Oregonian (9/7/10), Chef Tal said, "It's really great to work with people like Oprah and Ellen and show people that you can have satisfying vegetarian meals once or twice a week and have a really wonderful impact on your health and the environment." The LA Times article says that he "went vegan for humanitarian and health reasons." So, pig suffering is very likely not his priority. If the impetus is selfish (his health, mankind's environment), then indulging the meat craving every now and then probably isn't that big a deal. But to some of us, it is.
There is a clear difference between a vegan chef offering meat alongside mock meats (for texture and protein) at his restaurant and suggesting meat as an occasional guilty pleasure. The former is inclusive (mixed groups can dine together), which may lead to introduction and (hopefully) transition. The latter sends a decidedly other message. When perhaps the most famous vegan chef on the planet says "Be a 'vegan' who eats bacon," he is providing cause for people to continue (or revert to) omnivorism. Some say that vegans/activists must be practical in attempting to change sensibilities. Fine, I get that. But the ultimate message should be unequivocal and consistent: Meat, no matter the source, involves cruelty and suffering. That is either wrong or it is not. If it is, then even a little once in awhile is unacceptable. There has to be a line, Mr. Ronnen.
Finally, we should explore a fundamental question: What is bacon? To start, it is not simply thin sheets of pig fat (try eating that in the raw). Salted, cured, smoked, and pan-fried (and lots of foods taste better fried), the finished product bears little resemblance to the raw material. There is a reason that humans are the only omnivorous species (though many believe we are innate herbivores) who treats their meat in this manner. Meat for human consumption is a concocted taste, and who better to concoct than a classically trained chef? Since he does, and with great fanfare, he knows how good meat replacements are (the Gardein line is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing). And that’s what makes his comment so objectionable.