Is meat really good? Will Tuttle isn’t talking about the taste of bacon when he poses this question. He’s operating in the realm of spiritual and philosophical justifications.
Tuttle, the author of The World Peace Diet, explores the ideas this Sunday as a guest of the Santa Fe Veg group. While that may sound like preaching to the choir, he says it's for a wider audience.
Tuttle's arrival marks a big moment for the local vegan movement, a moment which is preceded by growing interest in the group, the development of greater access to locally grown organic produce and the relatively recent openings of several exclusively vegan restaurants.
Veganism in New Mexico does present certain conflicts. How could anyone give up the cultural staple of huevos rancheros? More significantly, how is veganism accessible to the rural poor, whose lifestyle and culture revolve around animal agriculture?
According to Tuttle, it boils down to education, and Jim Cocoran, founder of Santa Fe Veg, agrees.
"There's a lot of myths and misconceptions around veganism," says Cocoran, who notes the group has been working to dispel them for the past four years.
In addition to hosting talks like this one, the group also educates through film screenings, cooking demonstrations and shopping tours to satisfy the interests of their 460-plus active members.
One myth he raises is the idea that vegans are weak, pale and unhealthy. However, prominent athletes like strongman Patrik Baboumian and ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek are just a few examples of fit vegans. The vegan diet eliminates cholesterol intake and provides simple carbohydrates to fuel active lifestyles, they say.
Another myth is that veganism is more expensive, but Tuttle claims that's simply false. "It is possible to have a vegan diet on $4 a day," he says. Dry goods, like rice and beans, provide more protein, fiber and carbohydrates than meat for the same price, and fruits and vegetables are, pound-for-pound, cheaper than meat. As organic, local agriculture increases, the cost of sustainable produce drops.
And in a broader context, meat is more expensive than plant-based foods, because the real cost of eating meat is externalized and ignored through the destruction of our environment and our empathy for life. Animal agriculture is further supported by huge government farm subsidies that fill the pockets of the ruling elite, he argues.
"Each American taxpayer pays $1,000 a year in subsidies to the meat and dairy industries," Tuttle tells SFR, adding, "Animal agriculture is a war on nature. Essentially we're raised in a society organized around raising animals for food. It's a herding culture."
What's a much bigger problem than a love of huevos rancheros, he says, is our lack of sympathy and love for animals in a social, spiritual and economic ailment.
"You can't put a price on destroyed forests," he says. "We are all expressions of one infinite life."
Tuttle began his life of plant-diet evangelism after living in an intentional community in Tennessee called the Farm, along with about 1,000 other vegetarians. He made the decision to become vegan, cutting out animal products like cheese and eggs, only after he moved to California and saw how industrial animal agriculture actually works.
"I find that going vegan is often more of a process," he says. He then practiced Zen Buddhism in Korea and explored Eastern thought, which further influenced his veganism. He taught college philosophy courses, making Peter Singer's 1975 book Animal Liberation required reading. Then he penned his own book in 2005 and has since worked on raising awareness about veganism, delivering up to 200 lectures per year and taking a starring role in the 2014 documentary Cowspiracy.
He's kind of a big deal in vegan culture, and it's not hard to see why. During a short interview, he spoke with pragmatic clarity, which dispels yet another myth about the overzealousness of vegans.
Tuttle makes it clear that his veganism comes from a position of love and empathy. And it's not going to necessarily change the game.
"Essentially what veganism is," he says, "is altruism."
6:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 22. Free.
Santa Fe Unity,
1212 Unity Way,