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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   John Robbins | Q & A

John Robbins on Being a "Pure" Vegan
Questions asked by various audience members during
October 6, 1997, appearance in Boulder, Colorado

Q: Do you get frustrated?

Robbins: Yes, I do.

Q: How do you deal with it?

Robbins: Not always in the best ways, but ... how do I wish I dealt with it or how do I deal with it? I run a lot. I'm a runner and I work out and I process things through my body. I dance a lot. I meditate a lot. I try to understand the situation and myself within it in a deep enough way so that forgiveness can happen, both for myself and anyone else that's involved. I don't always get to that. Sometimes I just have to boil it off.


Q: What about the seafood industry?

Robbins: In an ethical sense, fish for the most part have not been factory farmed. They're killed, but their lives aren't these nightmares of suffering that we find in animal factories in the confinement feedlots and so forth. In that sense fish may be a more preferable thing ethically.   From an environmental point of view, the resource consumption that's involved in poultry and even more so in beef production, you don't see that there. We're not feeding grain that could go to hungry people to fish, although there is a trend, I must say, to cultivating fish farms. And then you have all the diseases that can happen in there, so they're using antibiotics. It's the same thing as the factory farms.

If you're going to eat fish, you'd better be careful of where it came from because fish literally breathe the water in which they swim and therefore come to concentrate in their tissues and particularly in their fat very high levels of whatever pollutants might be in that water, including pesticides and herbicides and radioactivity as a matter of fact. It's interesting, there was one study [in which] they looked at children born to mothers in the vicinity of lake Michigan. They analyzed the kids IQs and the mother's diets during their pregnancy and they found that children who were born to mothers who ate fish from Lake Michigan once a month during their pregnancy had substantially lower IQs than kids born to mothers who ate none during their pregnancy. Once a month during that time was enough to alter things for the worse.

We've treated our rivers, streams, and oceans like garbage dumps -- we just dump sewage in there.  We really have to put a stop to that. We've really got to clean up our environment, and if someone is motivated to do that because they like to eat fish, and want their fish to be clean, I see that person as an ally, not an enemy in the greater environmental struggle. That's part of that paradox.

Q: I've been a vegetarian for 28 years and I certainly agree with your stance ... and yet during this 28 years, I've killed various animals by my behavior, which is to drive a car at high speeds. I'm wondering that nobody ever seems to get into this part of the car's inherent problem.

Robbins: You know, India has a sacred cow. Instead, we have a sacred car.  Cars do a lot of damage. They burn up a tremendous amount of gasoline, and road building does a tremendous amount of damage, and yet we're part of this society. I'll tell you my answer, because I think this touches on part of a bigger question, and I want to deal with that. I don't try to be pure. I've given that up. I failed so miserably.

I try to be whole; I try to be alive; and I try to make a difference. I think it's like the bell curve. I don't mean that book. I mean the random distribution, just random numbers, of a population on a given issue. Let's picture a teeter-totter, and you've got a fulcrum and it turns on that. On top of that teeter- totter you've got the bell curve of humanity. Some people will say to have the most leverage, you've got to be as pure as you possibly can. "Go out here. Just live on fruit or just bread, and don't drive a car and don't wear clothes -- don't think anything but positive thoughts and just be as pure as you can possibly be, because that way your weight is furthest from the fulcrum and has the most impact." That's a point of view, but it's not mine right now. To me, if you're out there, the only people you can even relate to and have any rapport with are the people right next to you. Have you noticed people like that will often quibble and fight with each other about how this wasn't pure or that wasn't?

What I'm thinking about is that right in the middle we have this enormous conglomeration of people. If you're there -- if you're in that area somehow -- you're affecting a lot of people. You're part of something very chaotic, but something that's got a lot of juice in it.  What happens if everybody at a certain place in there moves a half step? That's going to do WAY more good than even a few communities of people out at the far end -- although there's a place for that, because it stretches the envelope. People will say, "Well, THAT's weird, but THIS isn't."

There's a place for all of this, but what I'm trying to say is for me I don't try to be as pure as I can be.  I don't have this more vegetarian-than-thou "I don't drive a car."  I DO drive a car. I know that it's damaging things. I do feel that, but by being PART of the culture we have a better shot I think of making that transformation. For a lot of us, that's where we are if we find ourselves in this room, we are part of this culture. We imbibe its assumptions and values -- so can we transform those? Can we work them through and then be part of the movement by which we find ecologically sustainable ways of transportation and ways of living that respect life?  So we don't kill lightly and we try not to kill at all?


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