My childhood was not happy, but it improved during school and more during college. Something happened during high school that had a considerable effect on my later life, and I certainly don't mean learning verbs and nouns or struggling with four years of languages. My closest cousin, Teddy, died, devastating his family. He was fifteen. He had bone cancer, and they think that if they had caught it in time they might have saved him by amputating his leg. But he had a big test to study for, and carried on despite the pain, and by the time they realized it was cancer, it was too late. Almost 60 years later similar happened to my elder daughter, as melanoma took her out. But this is about that first death. The thing is, when I was sixteen and Teddy was fifteen, one grade apart at the same Quaker school, it seemed to be that he had everything to live for, while I had little. He was outgoing and popular, full of fun, a good guy. I was really none of these things. His family was wealthy; mine was poor. He did well in classes; I had trouble just graduating. I am and always was agnostic, having no belief in the supernatural, including God. But it seemed to me that if God existed, and it was written that one of us had to go, I was the expendable one. Instead he took out the one with promise, leaving the misfit in place. Why would God ever mess it up like that?
Well, over the decades I have slowly come to terms with that seeming injustice, and I think actually I did have more potential, which has since been realized in my writing career. I was depressed in part because I was smart enough to see what I lacked. But that is beside the point of this discussion. First came a revulsion to death, because I had seen how unfair it could be. Death has been on my mind more or less constantly, as some of my writings show, such as On a Pale Horse, a novel with Death as the protagonist. In college after the first semester I gradually stopped eating meat, because I knew it required the killing of animals, and I did not want to contribute to that. I believe that was the way I finally came to terms with my cousin's death. This may have been late and slow in coming, but it developed the force of religion. When I fell in love and proposed to my girlfriend, it was qualified. I said approximately “Understanding the constraints that exist, will you marry me?” She said “Yes.” I said “Did you understand the question?” She did. Vegetarianism was the one requirement I made of her, because I knew I could not truly love a person who consumed dead animals. Probably the fact that my father had been vegetarian, and my mother not, and they had a long, slow, difficult estrangement and divorce, influenced me. My parents' problems were considerably more complicated than that, and vegetarianism may have played no significant part in their breakup, but it was in my mind. My wife has been a vegetarian ever since, and we have been married over 54 years, so it seems it did work out. Our daughters also were vegetarians, not because we required it of them—I believe every child should have the right to make fundamental decisions for herself—but I think because no meat was served in our house and they were satisfied to leave it so.The questions of nutrition and health are relevant. Some supposedly intelligent people claim that vegetarianism is unhealthy. I expect to outlive most of them. But it is true that it is better to watch your diet, regardless whether you eat meat. For example, fish oils are good for Omega 3 fatty acids, assuming the mercury contamination is low. Omega 3 is important in the balance of the system. But you can get it from flaxseed oil, and we do. We are ovo-lacto vegetarians, meaning we do eat eggs and milk. My rationale is that I don't like hurting animals, and maintaining them for their milk and eggs can be healthy for them. But I certainly don't like factory farms, so it's a compromise. Vegans who eschew milk and eggs must work harder to get things like protein. Some vegetarians do eat fish or fowl; fruitarians eat only fruit. So while I am not vegetarian for my health, there may be health benefits. Today there are also a number of imitation meats, made from soy or other products. Some emulate the real things perfectly, others are only approximate. I prefer that they not be perfect imitations, because even the semblance of meat eating sickens me. I'd be happy to have products like polka-dotted Martian hawkfeather grind, not resembling anything on Earth. But obviously those who eat meat purely for the appearance and taste can now do so as vegetarians. It has been said that any environmentalist who is not also a vegetarian is a hypocrite, because of the staggering damage the meat industry does to the world. I don't have that extreme a view myself, but I do believe that universal vegetarianism will come in time, because it takes about twenty times as much land area to feed folk via meat animals as it would to feed people directly. When the food runs out, as it will, this will be the necessary compromise. I also think that soon algae and krill cultivation will produce food emulations of any type, much cheaper and less environmentally damaging than present agriculture. So yes, vegetarianism will conquer the world, in due course, and the animals will no longer be slaughtered for meat. That will be a brave new world indeed.