Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 145
Dr. Gregory F. Tague on his book, The Vegan Evolution: Transforming Diets and Agriculture
Karina Inkster: You're listening to The No-Bullsh!t Vegan Podcast, episode 145. Dr Gregory F. Tague is on the show to discuss his book, The Vegan Evolution: Transforming Diets and Agriculture. We talk about how and why veganism needs to be the wave of the future for human and planetary health, educating young members of our society, and why anatomically modern humans are not born hunters and eaters of meat.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina your go-to, no-BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Thanks so much for joining me today. You might know that I've written five traditionally published books, but did you know that I've also written a few full-length eBooks? Of those, my pride and joy is an ebook called Sprouted Gains. It shows you how to enjoy ridiculously delicious plant-based foods while making sure you nail your fitness and physique goals. The best part is you don't have to cut carbs, chug three protein shakes a day, avoid your favourite foods, or spend six hours meal prepping every Sunday. It contains food prep basics, supplements to consider, the low down on calories and macros, and much more. Head to sproutedgains.com to check it out.
My guest today is scholar, author, and editor, Dr. Gregory F. Tague. He was a professor in the departments of literature writing and publishing, and interdisciplinary studies, and founder and senior developer of the Evolutionary Studies Collaborative at St. Francis College, New York. He was also the founder and organizer of a number of Darwin-inspired Moral Sense Colloquia, and other multidisciplinary events. His books include The Vegan Evolution: Transforming Diets and Agriculture, which was published in 2022 and which we're going to discuss today, An Ape Ethic and the Question of Personhood, Art and Adaptability - Consciousness and Cognitive Culture, Evolution and Human Culture, and Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness. In book series or journals, Tague's published work in evolutionary studies spans disciplines across literature, material culture, and visual art, moral philosophy, science and paleo-anthropology.
Broadly speaking, his current interests are in environmental and animal ethics. Professor Tague has also written or edited nine other academic books or literary anthologies, including Character and Consciousness, Origins of English Dramatic Modernism, and Puzzles of Faith and Patterns of Doubt. He is the founding editor of the Peer Review Journal of the Association for the Study of Ethical Behavior and Evolutionary Biology in Literature, which is now a website, and the general editor of the Bibliotekos literary site, and Literary Veganism, and online journal. Professor Tague's favorite vegan meal is stir fry or tacos, and I wonder if those two could be combined in some fashion. Enjoy our discussion. Hi, Gregory. Nice to speak with you today. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Thank you for having me.
Karina Inkster: I'm looking forward to the bulk of our conversation, which is most likely going to be about your book, which I just finished reading about 10 minutes ago, so I was kind of last-minuting it, but I did make some notes and it was amazing. So, I'd love to talk about that. But, before we get into that, can you share a little bit about your background? So, how you came to veganism? I'll leave it pretty open for you, but the veganism piece would be great to learn about, and then also how you came to academics, and how that trajectory has looked for you.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Okay, great. Thank you, Karina. I'll answer the second part of the question first and then-
Karina Inkster: Sure.
Dr. Gregory Tague: ... the other part. So, I have a Ph.D. in literary studies, and as a good professor in literary studies, that's what I did. But, because I was interested in the notion of character, and character from a philosophical perspective, that's how I got started, and at some point, because I was interested in what makes a character, I started looking into brain science and neurobiology, and then eventually, of course, that led me to the evolution of the brain, and then that led me to evolutionary studies. So, I did a couple of books dealing with all of that, and the evolution of human culture, and then that led me to great apes, and from the great apes, especially studying their diet, I didn't know it at the time, but that's what led me into this veganism book.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's been a nice journey, and as far as our own path to veganism, and for those listening, you don't just wake up one day and say, "I'm going to be a vegan." If that happens, it might be because you are following some kind of celebrity. Okay, maybe it might be because it's a fad in your group, okay. But, I think people like us, and we consider ourselves ethical vegans, and we could talk about that if you'd like. It's been kind of a long and slow process, and my wife, Fredericka, who is credited in the book several times, is really the one who took the lead in terms of nutrition and what to eat and how much to eat and when to eat because if you don't know what you're doing, you're not getting the proper nutrition and things like that.
Karina Inkster: Well, kudos to her, and also kudos to her for connecting us, by the way. So, shout out to Fredericka.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, yes.
Karina Inkster: Very cool. Well, that's an interesting trajectory because a lot of folks have what you just mentioned, so they're following a celebrity or something, or they watch a documentary, or they see a video on YouTube, and that spurs something to say, "Oh, maybe I should think about my food decisions." But, this trajectory sounds very kind of long-term, not an overnight, "Oh, I should change my ways." It's just kind of like an educational piece that probably took a while, I would assume.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It did take a while, and we thought that we were being very good people by... Well, when we first met, we've been married about 27 years, it'll be 28 years, we didn't eat beef or pork, and we just ate basically chicken and Turkey, and we ate dairy. At some point, we cut down the amount of that quite a bit, but the point is we thought we were being good people because we were eating only chickens or only eating chickens, but that's ridiculous. I mean, chickens are social animals, they have their own lives. So, at some point, we said, "This is crazy. We just have to stop eating meat, and especially dairy." The dairy industry, as you probably know, and the listeners probably knows, it's cruel.
Karina Inkster: Well, it takes a lot of folks a while to realize. I mean, it took me five years of being vegetarian before I realized that the meat and the dairy and the egg industries are all one and the same. They are morally indistinguishable from each other. But, depending on the time, depending on access to resources, not everyone makes that connection automatically, I think.
Dr. Gregory Hague: Right. Well, that's true because that's what happened with us. I think a lot of it, I talk about this a little in the book, and listeners should know that I'm neither a biologist, I'm not a psychologist, but I get into elements of those, and let's face it, I mean, the corporate agricultural business has done quite well in convincing people what to eat. I mean, think about those... I don't know if they still have them, those milk advertisements, "Got milk?" Then they would have celebrities drinking milk with a milk mustache, and it's like, "Oh, that's cool. Yeah,” or whatever, to get protein. You need eggs to have protein. Well, you don't need eggs to have protein. Mountain gorillas, have you ever seen the Silverback Mountain Gorilla? I mean, come on.
Karina Inkster: Those things are beasts.
Dr. Gregory Tague: That guy doesn't eat eggs. He doesn't eat meat.
Karina Inkster: That's a good point. Was there a catalyst of some kind for you and your wife to make that decision about veganism?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Well, if there was, we've forgotten it. I mean, it's been a slow process, and I should say this, our daughter, we don't tell her what to do, and she took it upon herself to become vegan. So, she has been vegan as long as we have. We're not exactly sure what the date is when that happened because it was a gradual process, but she is also vegan.
Karina Inkster: That's awesome.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It is awesome because that's an important part of the book. I do spend a lot of time in the book talking about awareness, education, cognitive bias, cognitive dissonance, things like that, and I think the key here for a vegan culture, is how I term it in the book, or a vegan economy, although that probably has some people very nervous, would be education, and I spend some time, I think, in the introduction of the book, talking about a study that was done by three people out in California, and I found this very interesting.
Most of these studies by professional psychologists and things like that who teach at universities, they used the students. So you might recall these guys that studied four very large classes and I think they're all philosophy professors, and they were teaching ethics. So they took two large groups over here, and those two groups, they spent a class talking about charitable giving, and then they took two large groups over here, and those two groups saw a video about animal agriculture. I think they had to read some kind of short article about animal ethics, and they had a discussion about that. That was one class.
But, what happened was the professors, as you probably know from reading the book, followed about, they looked at thousands of meal ticket receipts in the school cafeteria, for about 500 students or something like that, over a period of seven weeks. I may have some of these details wrong, but I have it in the book. Amazingly, 7% of the students who talked about animal ethics, not the ones who talked about charitable giving, stopped eating meat. That's amazing. Young people - this is I think the key here - when we talk about a vegan culture, especially in terms of health, human health, the environmental concerns, I get into all this in the book, is educating young people, and it's possible.
There was another study that was done with infants, and I can't remember exactly how they conducted the study, but the results were that a group of infants -well, I don't even know infants - it might have been toddlers or something like that I figured the age group - but they would be more interested in saving a group of pigs or piglets rather than a human being. When they did the same study on adults, of course, the adults were like, "Well, who cares about the pigs?"
Karina Inkster: Interesting. Well, part of that, I would assume, is... I don't necessarily know if indoctrination is the right word, but what we learn about the value of different species and what they mean to us over time, versus what an infant or a toddler might think. You make the point in the theme of education that children generally are not told where meat comes from. We call it something other than it is; we call it beef, not cow, for example. So, that was an interesting theme in the book, is educating young people when it comes to not just ethics, but also the actual food production, and how food gets onto your plate, what's involved, how does it affect the environment. These are not things that are generally taught in schools at this point, but they should be.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes. So, that's where some of the cognitive dissonance comes in, and it's good that you used that word indoctrination because I'm very careful in the book in trying to point out to readers that this does not involve indoctrination. As we did with our daughter, we'll just tell you.
Karina Inkster: You mean, veganism doesn't involve indoctrination.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It shouldn't.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It shouldn't. I mean, it's just a matter of, "Here are the facts and you decide what you want to do." But, that's where some of the confirmation bias comes in. I talk about that a little because we know... I borrow some of the confirmation bias literature from politics because we know... I'm laughing, I'm in the United States, and you're in Canada. We know that no matter how many facts you present to someone, it almost makes it worse.
Karina Inkster: In a lot of cases it does.
Dr. Gregory Tague: So, let people decide for themselves. Studies have indicated that in America... I think the study was in America, I cited it somewhere in the book, I can't obviously remember every detail I read. 300 books and articles to put The Vegan Evolution together. But, there was some study that indicated Americans, I think it was just Americans, do believe that there is climate change. I think people are starting to wake up to that now, that it's humanly caused, and it's creating destruction, but they seem to think that the US government should be the one to take control. I don't know what to make of that.
Karina Inkster: That's an interesting one. So, versus actions that we can take as individuals. I mean, we are probably on the same page that all of these things need to happen and more, but it kind of takes away the, "Doing something for yourself," aspect of it.
Dr. Gregory Tague: If it's okay, I'd like to take that point and talk a little about some elements of the book. When I talk about vegan culture because the title of the book is The Vegan Evolution.
Karina Inkster: It's not Darwinian evolution we're talking about here.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Well, I do have some of that in there.
Karina Inkster: Yes.
Dr. Gregory Tague: But, really it's about cultural evolution, because we are evolving more culturally than we are biologically, and cultural evolution can happen pretty quickly. But, we could talk about that later. What I wanted to say now, getting back to the education component, and how individuals factor into a vegan culture, is that this is not something that should come top-down. So, I don't think we should expect the federal, the state, or even a local government to do anything. It's got to happen through individuals, and perhaps individuals working together in a community.
So, for instance, there are many communities that have green gardens. One of my former colleagues, Sintia Molina, at St. Francis College, studies this. Interestingly, it's mostly women. The men don't seem to want to have anything to do with it. I spent some time in the book suggesting that maybe in schools there could be schoolyard gardens. I know for a fact, because when I was working on the book, well, a little after, I was still working on it, but it came about during the pandemic, so we weren't really meeting in person. But, I did an informal survey of the students, and I said, "How many of you, in either middle school or high school, were involved in schoolyard gardens?" A number of the students raised their hands. This is in Brooklyn or New York City, some of the students were from Brooklyn or Queens or the Bronx, and then I said, "Well, how many of you were able to take some of those food products home and eat them?" None.
Karina Inkster: Nobody.
Dr. Gregory Tague: No. But, think about this, and I talk a little about it in the book. The book is not a blueprint for policymakers, but imagine what could happen if there were just a tiny little area in a schoolyard where it wasn't blacktop, and you grow some vegetables there. You have a kitchen in the school, undoubtedly. You could have a class that teaches the students how to make vegan products. Some of these things are very easy to make, and if you want to tie that in with some kind of formal education component, fine. But, that could have a huge influence.
This is not a minor point, because we know that the now Mayor Adams of New York City, I do mention him in the book, but he was still a borough president, technically. I mean, he's a vegan, supposedly. But, it's important because he has been a vegan for health reasons, and it turned his life around, and he's trying to get the New York City school system, because he's in charge of it. That's the way it's set up in New York City; to introduce some vegan meals, and this could have a dramatic impact on child obesity, type 2 diabetes. Eric Adams had type 2 diabetes, and he turned it around by changing his diet to mostly plant-based. It could also sensitize the students to environmental, and of course, animal ethics. So, that's, I think, where individuals and communities could make an impact.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. One of my friends here in Powell River runs the Food Literacy Program for the school district, and what you just described is exactly what is happening.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It is.
Karina Inkster: So, school gardens, growing food, but then also having a plan for what happens with that produce. So, they have a knife skills class, they have a kitchen where they're teaching kids how to cook the foods that they've just grown, how to make salads out of the greens they have, and it makes a huge impact. But, not all of our school districts even have this program in the first place, it's seen as kind of an outlier. But, I've seen these kids, and there's adults who volunteer for the program, they're getting involved, it's pretty amazing. Even just learning about where food comes from and how it's grown, and it makes them a little more connected to eating their veggies, and it's great.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, yes. I mean, the fresh stuff is great. When we were in New York, the tomatoes up there were terrible, and we like tomatoes. Now that we're in North Carolina, the tomatoes down here are great.
Karina Inkster: Nice.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah. So, when I was a kid... I won't reveal my age, but when I was a kid, my father worked for the Department of Sanitation. There were four kids at home, and my mother and my father. Vegetables came out of a can.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Dr. Gregory Tague: I never, as a kid, never had fresh... I'm not blaming my parents, it's just that, well, that's the way it was. When we were kids, I'll never forget, once in a while we would have something... This goes back to the point you were making earlier, but it's still on that kind of educational component. My mother, once in a while, would serve us something called tongue, and we ate it and we had it with ketchup, and it was like, "Oh, this is really good." Then my brother and I, and we were kids, we didn't know, but then maybe a couple of years later, my brother and I, to our chagrin, were in a supermarket, and we realized that that thing that we were eating, that's called tongue, is actually a cow's tongue. That put it into that.
Karina Inkster: That's the whole, "Where does our food come from?" and people generally not telling kids the real truth. Totally. I think that a lot of these things are pretty connected, though. I mean, a lot of the themes in the book relate to each other. Like this education piece about food specifically also relates to health, which then also relates to climate change and the environment, and they're all kind of connected, right? So, one of the points that I see in the book is there really are no boundaries. I think there's a line here, "There's no boundaries between health/illness, and sustainability/climate ruin, only choices about which side of the equation one desires." I don't think a lot of folks really see the connection yet. I mean, as you mentioned, I think most people are on the same page now, that climate change is a thing, and they also understand that, yeah, probably eating more plants is good for my health, but I'm not sure a lot of folks see the connection, and how those things don't really have that many boundaries between them. Is that something that you could speak to?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Well, how do we make them see that? I guess, that's part of the question. Because, going back to the schoolyard thing, so what you were describing, that's taking place in your community, is great. I don't know that anything like that was taking place in New York City, as I indicated, from my very informal survey. The students, they had a garden and that was it. Okay, so there's lettuce and then that's it. But, if they can start making the connections, and obviously adults have to help them make those connections. It can't come through documentaries and things like that. Kids are not watching documentaries, they're not watching the news, they're not reading the newspaper. It has to come through either their home environment, their peers, somehow it has to trickle down to them, to make those kinds of connections.
Karina Inkster: Well, how does it get to the adult population in the first place? Because I don't think it's there yet.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Unfortunately, you're right, I don't know that it is. The vegan culture, a lot of it has to do with culture. I spend, as you know, and there are some hard parts in the book, I'll admit, I spend a lot of time talking about great apes and their diets. I spend a lot of time talking about early Hominins, such as Australopiths, Paranthropus, those species, Neanderthals. There is an ecology of food. There is a cultural ecology of food. The reason adults, and we can come back to those elements later perhaps, but just getting to the adults, most people have Thanksgiving, Christmas... I was raised Roman Catholic, I'm not a Roman Catholic now. I'm Christian, so I apologize to listeners who might have different faiths, but I can at least talk about from the Christian perspective.
Thanksgiving, which is not a Christian holiday of course, but Christmas, Easter, and all those holidays were scented around eating some kind of dead animal, whether it's a Turkey or a ham or a Turkey or ham or lamb. I'll never forget Easter. Every Easter, what we had was leg of lamb. It's like, "Okay, what is that?" Well, it's a lamb's leg. That's part of the culture. It won't be too difficult for us to substitute those things. We could still have those holidays, and celebrate those cultural traditions, but why, as adults, do we have to have meat? For the reasons we're talking about, it may of course depend on the individual and the amount that's taken and all that other stuff, but the health reasons and the environmental costs.
Some people may not know, and I don't have these statistics at my fingertips, but they're not difficult to find, and I do mention them in the book, the amount of Amazonian rainforest that is being depleted for just two reasons, land for cattle that will end up becoming beef, and the data show that the demand from meat is increasing. The other part is that deforestation is happening to grow a lot of soy products. But, guess where the soy products’s going to-
Karina Inkster: Yeah, most of them are getting fed to animals, not humans.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, yes. The animals that are slaughtered and then shipped who knows where. So, I don't know how to get the word out, honestly. But maybe before we finish this discussion, we could talk a little about the journal, Literary Veganism. Because I do talk in the book here and there, because I think this is the way to do it, the arts, the visual arts, the musical arts, the written arts, those could be ways of getting the word out to the adult population, at least sensitizing them. Because I know I say somewhere in the book, "My purpose is not to convince you, dear reader, to become vegan." I mean, maybe that could happen. "But, the purpose is to enlighten you so that maybe you could persuade someone else."
Karina Inkster: Well, I'd love to talk about that in terms of the journal as well, so we'll get to that for sure. But, I've got two things on my brain right now based on what you just mentioned. One is about the deforestation, and the other one is early Hominins. So, deforestation-wise, just a really interesting stat that I found in the book, which was about rewilding. So, can you just define for our listeners what rewilding is? And then I'll share this stat that I found.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, yes. Now, different people might give different definitions, of course. But, if land is left alone, things will grow on it. Microorganisms will come back, insects will come back, birds will come back, small mammals will come back. Depending upon the size of it, there might be larger animals, ungulates like deer. We know, in spite of what other people might say, that forests are just crucial, they're the lungs of the earth, they sequester so much carbon. When we deforest, we're taking away the ability of the forest to sequester the carbon, and when we deforest, a lot of that wood, which is trees, gets burned, so we get a double whammy. Then we're putting all that carbon into the air. Then the land is used to raise cattle, who emit methane, which is also lethal. So, I don't know if that answers your question.
In the previous book to this, the one that's called An Ape Ethic, I argue for forest personhood of great apes because they maintain... They're not the only ones, but I focused on that species because it was easy just to write about one species. They maintain the forests, along with others, of course, going down to microorganisms. You hear in business these days, and I roll my eyes, and now Fredericka, she sees me rolling my eyes when business leaders talk about the ecosystem of x, y, z corporation.
Karina Inkster: Oh, right, of course.
Dr. Gregory Tague: I'm like, "No, it's not an ecosystem. No, no. An ecosystem is in the soils and the components in the soils. In a square inch of soil, you have thousands of microorganisms that help the roots of the tree, and the tree helps the insects, and the birds eat the insects, and the birds eat seeds, and they go someplace else and they drop seed. That's an ecosystem." People also talk about biodiversity as if it's some static thing. We need more biodiversity, but it's biodiversity is not just a thing, biodiversity is what all those critters, from the microorganisms up to the megafauna, do in the forest, to keep it going.
Karina Inkster: Well, that's an interesting point. It's more of an action than just a static piece of information.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes. Yes.
Karina Inkster: Interesting, and all of these processes are part of what rewilding is, which is basically just leaving land alone and letting it do its thing without human interruption, right?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, yes.
Karina Inkster: So, the line that I pulled out from your book is, "Rewilding of only 15% of the massive lands that are used right now for animal farming would sequester up to 30% of the CO2, and prevent up to 60% of extinction." So, it's pretty good ROI, right? That's only 15% of the land that is currently used for animal farming. It seems to have a pretty outsized effect on the CO2 and extinction, which is kind of biodiversity, I suppose.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah, obviously I didn't research that. I must be quoting someone else, and I'm sure I cited it.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Gregory Tague: So, listeners should know that, as a Ph.D. in literary studies, I analyze texts, that's what I do. I don't go out into the field and do research. I rely on all these other researchers. But, yeah, that is a pretty amazing statistic. As you probably know, the late E. O. Wilson wrote a book called Half-Earth. He argues that half the earth should be put aside and left alone to become flora. He's not the only one.
I just finished reading a book... I don't know if I want to reveal the person's name. I'm working on a review of it. But, this person, a very prominent philosopher, he does not believe that there is anymore anything called wild, because, she says, "Humans have intervened and are everywhere." I don't know how I feel about that. She's also against leaving forests alone because she seems to think that it's not going to benefit the animals there. But, my counter-argument is that, and you know this from reading the book about the early Hominins, As a species, we have not been around as long as Homo erectus, and we have destroyed things. The forests were fine before we came. Yes, there were climate changes, severe, but you know? They survived.
Karina Inkster: Isn't benefit also based on what we think the right answer is?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, yes. Anthropocentrism.
Karina Inkster: Benefit in air quotes here. Yeah.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah.
Karina Inkster: Is what we as humans assume is best for another species-
Dr. Gregory Tague: Right. Yes.
Karina Inkster: ... when that may not actually be the case. That's interesting about early Hominins too. You mentioned Australopithecines, and there's a lot of different history that you touch on in the book. One thing that stood out, which is always on my mind because I'm constantly on social media, connecting with folks, finding podcast guests, and whatnot, it's this whole myth of the hunter, the strong ancient human who was out there killing massive animals and eating them.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Man, the hunter!
Karina Inkster: Man, the hunter. Correct, yes. When, in fact, what you're saying, and showing, through research, is, well, actually a lot of these early Hominins were prey themselves to other animal species, and that's never talked about. I mean, that is not something you hear in all these bros who are all about the carnivorous diet and, "Oh, you don't need vegetables, just eat meat and nothing else." Because that's what ancient humans did, ancient man, to be more exact for this population. So, that's pretty contrary to a lot of the things we see in popular media about what our predecessors were like.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes. Yeah, let's talk about that a little. Thank you. I don't know how far back we want to go, so I'll just try to summarize some points, but I spent a lot of time talking about the various species of this Australopithecus, and then there are all these subspecies, and for the most part, to summarize pages and pages of dense texts in the book. But, I did-
Karina Inkster: Oh, yeah. We got to get the Cliff Notes version.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah. But, I did that for a reason. I mean, I just wanted to present it, but they survived on mostly what I defined early in the book as a vegetarian diet, that they ate mostly plants, and we see that to this day in our nearest cousins, the great apes, mountain gorillas, I don't think they eat... They might eat a few bugs. Chimpanzees, I spend a lot of time talking about chimpanzees who will feed on red colobus monkeys, but, and this is an interesting note, very often, the one who gets the monkey, it's usually a juvenile, and colobus monkeys are not that big to begin with, so the juvenile wouldn't be very big, and a chimpanzee group could be up to about a hundred individuals. But, the meat is used for status, forging alliances, and sexual favour.
Karina Inkster: Right.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Now, think about-
Karina Inkster: Not nutrition, necessarily.
Dr. Gregory Tague: But, think about that for a moment, you know? The guys in their suits, going out to dinner, and having steak, forming alliances around meals, or taking whatever your gender preference has to be, going out on a date. It's centred around a meal. I mean, this is a whole thing about the vegan evolution and the cultural ecology of food. We see it, to this day, in chimpanzees. The food, the meat, the prized meat-
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Dr. Gregory Tague: ... is used for status, alliance, and sexual favour.
Karina Inkster: You used the example of going to a steakhouse or a Japanese restaurant with sushi as a business meeting in the book, right?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes.
Karina Inkster: Yeah, it's a good point.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Before I was an academic, I spent almost 20 years working for corporate lawyers in Manhattan, and it was a big deal. I'm not a lawyer, but I was kind of this governed person in between. I did research and whatnot, and going to a sushi restaurant in Manhattan was a big deal.
Karina Inkster: Right. Of course.
Dr. Gregory Tague: But, to get back to what you were saying, so we have the early, very early Hominins, and the Australopiths, or whatever, and then we have great apes. The ones that fascinate me the most are the Neanderthals, and there were two things that I mentioned. Well, I mentioned a lot in the book about Neanderthals because they seem to fascinate a lot of people, but you might recall that they would store, they would put meat in the water or underground so that it kind of rots a little, but it's like predigestion. Would anyone today do that?
Karina Inkster: With meat? No.
Dr. Gregory Tague: They also… wait, hold on, because I only realized something preparing for this. I only realized something yesterday, which I'm... Oh, sorry, I didn't put it in the book. So, they would take meat and put it in the ground, let it rot a little, it's like predigestion. They also, when they killed an ungulate or something like that, whatever they were then, they'd cut the stomach open and eat the-
Karina Inkster: The stomach carcass.
Dr. Gregory Tague: ... predigested food, which was probably plants. But, I was thinking about this, and to this day, for those people who eat corned beef on St. Patrick's Day, what is corned beef?
Karina Inkster: I actually have no idea what corned beef is.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Well, I'm going to tell you what it is. It's beef and it's soaked in a briny solution several days before cooking.
Karina Inkster: Interesting.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Neanderthals.
Karina Inkster: Never would've made that connection.
Dr. Gregory Tague: You know I wish I had gotten that in the book. I only realized that the other day. But, even the Neanderthals, I mean, there were some interesting studies that I cite in the book. One person looked at the three different Neanderthal groups, one in Italy, one in Spain, I can't remember what the other one was, or maybe two were in Spain, and depending upon where they lived, they tended to roam around a lot, and they didn't have home camps. But there was one particular cave or grotto in Italy or Spain, and there was no evidence that they ate any meat. It was all mushrooms, nuts, leaves, pine moss, and stuff like that. So, that's part of the cultural ecology of food.
Karina Inkster: That's a great point.
Dr. Gregory Tague: You don't have to eat meat. You want to eat meat, eat it, but you don't have to eat it.
Karina Inkster: Well, here's another interesting point that ties into this, I think, what I thought was interesting anyways, kind of myth-busting along the lines of, "Oh yeah, early humans were hunters," which isn't the case, obviously. I think another myth around that is that we dominate the world because we're hunters or because we're somehow at the top of the food chain, whatever that's supposed to mean. But, actually what you're saying is humans have dominated this planet because they don't have special adaptations to specific locations like some other species might. You mentioned insects as an example. That's an interesting point that I think a lot of folks have not really considered. They just assume, "Oh, it's our brains or technology or the fact that we can use other species for various food items." But, this is an interesting point around actually not being specially adapted to locales. I never really thought about that before.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Right. Well, I forget, this is not my own expression, but it's the conquest of earth, and we're the ones who have conquered the earth. There are some, I don't know if they're philosophers. Well, I'll mention one, Joseph Henrich, and I respect him, I respect the work he does, but he has a book, I cited it, I forgot the exact title, but it's something like The Secret of Our Success. I always wonder, our success? Yeah, I mean, there is some success, so we could talk to each other in these dramatically different places using this technology, but there are a lot of things that we're not successful about. I mean, we still have wars, we still marginalized people because of the way they look, because of their gender. Where is the success?
Karina Inkster: Good point.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah, the conquest of Earth. I'm not a cynical person, but let's be honest, I mean, the conquest of Earth by Homo sapiens is really just for us, and we've separated ourselves from the natural world. I know I spent a little time talking about this, a philosopher, Lucy Schultz, I forget if that's her name, who talks about this, and of course, Bill McKibben, from a different angle, back in the nineties, who wrote a book called The End of Nature. But, he was thinking mostly in terms of climate change. But, where is nature?
We are part of nature, we evolved from nature, but somehow we have conveniently separated ourselves from that, and as you pointed out, Karina, that we think it's for our purpose, and it's something to be used, it's something to be bought, it's something to be sold. But, that's not the case, especially if these vast forests in Indonesia, the Amazon, I mean there's one out by where you are, and I forget what it's called, but these places, they really should be preserved because that's what generates the atmospheric conditions that we need in order to survive.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Well, there's one more line that I pulled out in the early Hominin section before we move on, and again, I kind of feel like it busts a lot of the myths around where we come from and why we eat what we do. But, it's this line about we are genetically predisposed to eat for survival, but we're not genetically programmed to eat meat three times a day, for example, any more than we are mechanized to eat candy bars. So, I think a lot of these folks in the, whatever you want to call it, paleo eating style, carnivore world, which I really don't know that much about, a lot of them are eating that way because they think that our ancestral species used to when that's actually not really the case.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Correct. Yes, they did eat meat. Now, going back to, for instance, the Australopiths. There were climate changes a few million years ago, and the forest started to diminish. So, some species went out into the Savannah. We didn't become bipedal overnight, but they would go out and they started walking and finding other sources of food, and it may be that they were scavenging meat. I spent a lot of time in the book talking about not just the chimpanzees eating meat, but the early Hominins and how they would eat meat. It's clear, I mean, some species seemed maybe not to eat any, but some species did. They weren't necessarily hunting for it, they might have been scavenging for it. As time progressed, and the species evolved, there was hunting.
Some thinkers, Clive Gamble, I think is one of them, thinks that maybe even among the Neanderthals, they were hunting smaller game, but of course, they probably were hunting larger game. But, it's true. I mean, the man, the hunter, is just been forced on people to make them think that they have to hunt, they have to eat, and the book that you're referring to about humans as prey is by Donna Hart and the late Robert Sussman. Offhand, I can't remember the title, but that book was an eye-opener, and to this day, we still are prey.
Karina Inkster: Good point.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Whether it be insects, viruses.
Karina Inkster: Large animals, bears.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Sharks.
Karina Inkster: Sharks.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Alligators. Yeah.
Karina Inkster: It's a great point. I think a lot of folks forget that or they blow things out of proportion. So, just the fact that early Hominins ate meat, doesn't mean that they ate it three times a day, it doesn't mean that it was a huge part of their diet. Maybe in some parts of the world where there wasn't a lot of other food options available. But, I think it's just kind of a blown out-of-proportion thing, perhaps.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah, and if I could just make one point, and I think this is important for the listeners to know. As a privileged person in an industrialized country, when I talk about vegan culture, I don't mean for every part of the world. I make a point of saying that. So, people in the Gobi Desert, they raise goats and they use goat milk, and then they kill the goats and they eat them. Now, I'm not a fan of that necessarily, but obviously, there are many places in the "developing world" where that's what they do. My point about the vegan culture is geared mostly towards the industrialized nations because we seem to have the resources, technological and financial, to make an easy shift away from meat eating and dairy eating.
Karina Inkster: That's a really good point, and isn't it interesting that the areas of the world that are literally killing themselves by the food they're eating are generally the areas of the world that have the resources to make these decisions for our health?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes, and it is unfortunate. I think some countries are a little more ahead of-
Karina Inkster: True.
Dr. Gregory Tague: ... the so-called North American diet, which-
Karina Inkster: Yes.
Dr. Gregory Tague: ... it's not just America. I think it may include some Canadian-
Karina Inkster: Oh, absolutely.
Dr. Gregory Tague: ... provinces as well.
Karina Inkster: Yes, it does. For sure. Well, I do want to get to the journal, just in the interest of time. We're syndicated on radio and it has very strict timelines. So, was there any last-minute piece around The Vegan Evolution that you wanted to touch on before we get to the journal?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Not really. I mean, I think we've covered everything, and don't ask me any more questions because I won't stop talking.
Karina Inkster: Oh, we could do a whole part two just on the content in The Vegan Evolution, but also listeners should just get it and read it. I mean, that's the main point also. But, yes, thank you. Thank you for summarizing in the information.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Ask your library. If you don't want to buy it, yeah, a library can buy it if you don't want to buy it. That's fine.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. That's a good point. So, Literary Veganism is an online journal, and I would love to know more. I checked out the website, but for our listeners, can you describe what that project is and how it was put out into the world?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah, sure. In December of 2019, I don't remember the exact date, Fredericka and I were just sitting around having a glass of vegan wine, and I don't often have a eureka moment, I don't know what happened, I had a eureka moment, I said, "We're going to start a journal and we're going to call it Literary Veganism." And she's like, "Yeah." And that's what we did.
Karina Inkster: Wow.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It was very slow, a very slow start, and we didn't use any sophisticated... If you go there, you'll see. I mean, I won't lie because it's right there. We use Blogger, it's set up on Blogger. So, it's rather, I tried to keep it as simple and direct as possible, and it's taken off. We don't advertise, meaning I don't pay for any advertisements. I have not paid for an ad in Poets & Writers or anything like that. But, I, of course, put things up on social media, and somehow people find out about us, and really accomplished, I mean, we published Marge Piercy, we feature vegan artists when we can. So, Amy Guidry is one of the vegan artists we've profiled. I had student interns, while I was still teaching, involved in the journal. We were fortunate to profile, this was also done by a student intern, the animal ethics philosopher, Elisa Aaltola, I don't know if you know her, she's over in Finland. If I'm not mistaken, I think she's running for some kind of parliamentary seat or something there. Just the other day, we were lucky to have profiled the vegan artist, Jo Frederiks.
But, there's a lot of other stuff there. I mean, prose, poetry, and I love doing it, and I love working with the writers and the artists. We have some music there. If listeners aren't sick of hearing my voice, there are also some recordings of me reading from 19th-century newspapers, mostly in England. Yeah, I think they're British because that's where a lot of the vegan movement started, in England, around, I don't know, 1848, 1849, somewhere around there.
Karina Inkster: Well, the definition of veganism and The Vegan Society is British, isn't it? Back in 1940 or whatever it was.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yeah, well, that's more in the 20th century, but the vegetarianism, yeah. A lot of it had to do with just like self-control and things like that. Not drinking, not eating to excess. But, I read bits and pieces, they're very short, from those newspapers. I forget what they were called, the Vegetarian Advocate or something like that.
Karina Inkster: Wow, that's really cool.
Dr. Gregory Tague: So, the site, yeah, the site is www.litvegan.net. That's litvegan.net.
Karina Inkster: Perfect.
Dr. Gregory Tague: It doesn't cost anything, just go look at it.
Karina Inkster: That's awesome.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Let us know.
Karina Inkster: We'll link to it as well in our show notes, so our listeners can go and just click on the link directly. But, at the beginning of our conversation, we were talking a little bit about how to get this information out to the masses, and you mentioned the journal as a potential way of doing that, not just the journal, but also the arts, and visual arts, writing, all this kind of thing. So, is the content mostly vegan-related? Is it content by vegan artists? Is it kind of a mix of both?
Dr. Gregory Tague: Well, that's a good question because, in the guidelines, we specifically state that we want animal, environmentally-geared writing, but you don't have to be a vegan. So, a lot of them are. We do things kind of... Well, I won't say the old-fashioned way, but the way it's set up, a lot of journals, the way they're set up now is you go through some kind of portal, you don't talk to anyone, they have these submission portals. I said, "I'm not doing that." So, the guidelines say that you have to contact me first, tell me a little about yourself. One of the writers was like, "Wow, this is great. I actually get to talk to you and introduce myself."
Karina Inkster: Right. Nice.
Dr. Gregory Tague: So, I know who is and who isn't, and it doesn't matter to me, because as we said from the beginning, it's not like we're trying to indoctrinate people. We're just putting it out there, as you do with your podcasts, and people can decide for themselves what they want to put in their mouths.
Karina Inkster: A hundred percent. I think that's a pretty good approach because the opposite approach doesn't work. I think it actually is detrimental to the vegan movement in general, forcing things down people's throats, and maybe that has a time and a place in certain instances, but, in general, putting information out there, putting pieces out into the world and having people think about them themselves is a pretty positive way of doing it, I would say.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes.
Karina Inkster: Very cool. So, that's litvegan.net, and we'll have a link to that in our show notes as well.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes.
Karina Inkster: The Vegan Evolution, if you want to order it yourself, or get your library to order it, that would be amazing. We'll have a link to the book as well. It's actually part of the Routledge Studies in Food, Society and the Environment. So, there's a whole series of texts that are in that category, which is pretty interesting actually.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Yes.
Karina Inkster: Yeah. Awesome. Well, I'll let you go, Gregory, but thank you so much for our conversation. Great to speak about your work, and amazing to have you on the show.
Dr. Gregory Tague: Okay, I appreciate it very much. Thank you, Karina.
Karina Inkster: Gregory, thank you again for a fantastic discussion. I learned a lot, and I think our listeners probably did as well. Head to our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/145 to check out Gregory's work, and thanks so much for tuning in.