Meet Emily Pepe, the first place winner of our 2007 Lantern Books Essay Contest
. (You can also read her essay, Butch O'Hare and the Nameless Chicken
Tell us a little about yourself.
My husband and I live in Portland, Oregon, where I serve on the board of Northwest VEG. Please check us out on May 10th, when Lantern blogger Mia MacDonald will speak at our annual vegetarian festival.
When I'm not volunteering with Northwest VEG, you can find me leafleting for Vegan Outreach, watching Lost, and reading books in just about every imaginable genre. For the past six years, I've read roughly three books a month.
How did you find out about the contest? And did you discover anything surprising in the process of writing your essay?
After seeing the contest announcement on the Lantern website, I resolved to set aside one full day to write without interruption. Once I got started, there were no surprises, as I had already spent over a year contemplating the deeper metaphors that came into play. The only hard part was keeping the story under 1,500 words. Due to space limitations, I had to leave out all the jaw-dropping synchronicities that reinforced my decision to stay vegan after I got the idea to become vegan while at the airport. Some of these recurring synchronicities involved the familiar themes of air travel, World War II, and the city of Chicago, but others had to do with mermaids and the cat goddesses of ancient Egypt (don't ask, or you'll get another 1,500 words).
Suffice it to say that I'm never going back to an omnivore diet. When the universe hands you an epiphany, you'd be a fool not to pay attention.
Why was the subject of your essay important to you? What do you hope people will take away or learn from your essay?
If you took Philosophy 101, you may remember hearing about a concept called the "slippery slope." Well, in The People of the Lie, M. Scott Peck writes about the continuum of evil that exists in the world, ranging from minor peccadilloes to the most abhorrent acts imaginable. He tells us that if we are emotionally dishonest with ourselves for too long, we may develop blind spots in our vision that could cause us to sabotage ourselves and injure those around us. This is how people slide down the slippery slope away from goodness and toward moral degradation—by turning a blind eye to inconvenient truths.
As a trauma survivor, I've had a greater-than-average interest in the psychology and sociology of evil, and so when I discovered The People of the Lie back in 2004, it made quite an impression on me. At the time, though, it didn't occur to me to extrapolate the book's message to include the cultural mores surrounding diet. It wasn't until I found myself at O'Hare nearly three years later that I made the connection in a single instant. I knew then that if I were to invent a flimsy rationalization for continuing to eat chicken, it wouldn't make me a horrible person; however, it would make me a bystander and accomplice to the economic and cultural forces that conspire to make animals suffer.
This is why I adore ecofeminists like Carol J. Adams and pattrice jones—there are so many writers who focus on the epidemiological and environmental issues surrounding the omnivore diet, but so few who discuss the spiritual and cultural implications. Although I do make it my business to be well versed in nutrition, ecology, and animal agricultural issues, I believe that veganism is not really about food or animals, per se. I see veganism as a spiritual practice in which the selection, preparation, and consumption of food serve as a visible metaphor for non-visible beliefs about equality and justice.
My hope is that everyone with an interest in the peace movement, the women's movement, and other social movements will eventually consider the implications of diet as an expression of the political self. Being vegan is surprisingly easy, and it takes absolutely no time away from other political activities, so why not give it a try?
What advice would you offer to other writers on composing a successful essay?
The essay I submitted to Lantern was my first attempt at literary nonfiction, so I'm not sure what advice to give. All I can say is this: if you find something personally meaningful, there must be a good reason for it, even if you can't find the right words to explain how you feel. Just keep contemplating the depth and breadth of your unique experience, and eventually, you'll start making moral and intellectual connections that you never even knew existed. That's when the big picture will reveal itself, and the right words will start to come.
A word about this exquisite photograph of Emily: In yet another stroke of synchronicity, Emily had been contacted by photographer Shannon M. Rush
to pose for her upcoming book Portrait of a Vegan
. Before Emily knew she'd won the contest and that we'd request her photo, she'd arranged to pose for Shannon at the airport! For more information about Portrait of a Vegan, email Shannon