A Plate of Resistance: Vegetarianism as a Response to World Violence
By Helene Defossez; translated from the French by Katie Chabriere: illustrated by Marc Defossez; New York: Lantern Books, 2014
Reviewed by Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
A Plate of Resistance is a very welcome addition to the rapidly growing number of books on vegetarianism and veganism.
The book is relatively slim – only 141 pages, including a foreword, preface, bibliography, notes, and a list of background resources – and it does not aim to present a comprehensive coverage of all aspects of vegetarianism. What it does provide is a passionate, carefully argued, very readable case for why people should break through the present myopia and apathy, recognize the realities behind the production and consumption of meat and other animal products, and shift toward humane, healthy, compassionate, environmentally sustainable vegetarian diets.
The author speaks with the moral passion of the biblical prophets. She urges readers to join her in following the “emotions of the heart,” expressing an “impatience toward apathy,” rebelling “against all forms of injustice,” and recognizing and expressing the “importance of cooperation, solidarity, and caring for each other.” She expresses incomprehension and deep frustration at the inability or unwillingness of most people to recognize the irrationalities of raising and consuming animals.
Helping the book stand out compared to many other books that are centered on facts and statistics is that it is very personal and human, argued with great sensitivity and compassion. The author tells how her longtime vegetarian journey began at eight years of age, when she saw a rabbit beheaded, and was reinforced a few years later when “I saw a fish pulled from the water struggling for oxygen and twisting its body in a last desperate effort to live, … and when I saw the fisherman finishing the poor creature off by whacking it violently against the trunk of a tree.” Her childhood compassion grew into a lifelong philosophy and activism centered on efforts to increase awareness of the need to reduce abuses of animals.
Defossez skillfully combats rationalizations that meat eating is natural, traditional, and consistent with reason. In addition to presenting basic arguments for vegetarianism based on health and compassion, she also stresses that providing a decent world for future generations depends on a shift away from animal-based diets and agriculture, since the raising of animals for slaughter on factory farms is a major contributor to climate change, deforestation, the wasteful use of land, grain, and water, and other environmental problems.
The book’s title and subtitle have deep meaning in today’s world. When one has vegan food on one’s plate it is indeed “a plate of resistance,” resistance to a system that is taken for granted by most people but is abusive to billions of farmed animals, harmful to human health, and devastating to the environment. The book’s argument that vegetarianism is a “response to world violence” is very relevant today as military experts warn that climate change, increased greatly by animal-based agriculture, can multiply violence, as many millions of desperate hungry, thirsty refugees flee from severe droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods.
A Plate of Resistance has the potential of inspiring veg activists to become more active and non-vegetarians who feel somewhat guilty about their diets to give up eating meat and other animal products. I highly recommend it.