Or ‘that time I spontaneously quit my shitty bar job to see Jonathan Safran Foer with my best friend at the Opera House’.
Dinner in Chinatown: Prawn toast, dumplings, and a glass of cheap red gulped so quickly I almost couldn’t taste the vinegar. Running up Dixon St, giddy with a belly full of truancy, wine and self righteousness in equal measure. Hailing a cab for Jess, stuffing a twenty into the driver’s hand and announcing grandly ‘take this girl to the Opera House’, before my last minute decision to scramble into the front seat, followed by the pair of us talking incomprehensibly at our bemused chauffeur. Steps two at a time to the box office as the siren went to take our seats, a last minute ticket purchase.
As part of the Festival Of Dangerous Ideas, JSF was speaking at the Opera House on ‘What We Are And What We Eat’, based on research for his celebrated non fiction work Eating Animals. And before anybody gets all het up about it, he wasn’t arguing that vegetarianism is a dangerous idea. Rather he sought to expose the way that our public and private debates about vegetarianism and environmentalism have become more about our own or others perceived hypocrisy than the issues themselves. Which was comforting, as I was expecting my dinner of pork buns and prawn toast to sit heavily in my gut for the duration of his speech. Research into the practices and impacts of factory farming led him to the decision to raise his son as a vegetarian, and although he presents flawless environmental and ethical arguments as to why we should all do the same, the man is pragmatic: “If half of the people in this room were to become strict vegetarians in the next ten years, that would be fantastic. But it’s not going to happen. If all of the people in this room halved their meat intake over the next ten years it would have the same net impact.” He explored the guilt and labelling associated with such terms as ‘lapsed vegetarian’ and generally set about putting into beautiful, eloquent words everything I’ve ever thought about the issue. Obviously, I’m not ‘a vegetarian’. However, I do eat a largely vegetarian diet; for environmental, monetary and ethical reasons I only eat meat 2 or 3 times a month. And his point is that I shouldn’t be questioned or harassed for that, just as his decision to wear second hand leather shoes shouldn’t jeopardise or negate his other efforts. That we don’t have to be all or nothing, and we don’t have to label ourselves and our habits. The goal should be to reduce our collective consumption.
And then the moderator called for questions from the audience. Let the statementing-with-upwards-inflections begin, complete with pre-empted and thus irrelevant question about aforementioned leather shoes. He dealt with one particularly painful woman’s roundabout question which eventually had something to do with meditation with a simple “I don’t find it very helpful to try to banish thoughts, actually.” Zing. This insanely intelligent man managed to cement and confirm almost all of my half-formed opinions, which only served to make the following exchange that much more embarrassing.
Jess: Hello Jonathan Safran Foer!
*JSF signing a book addressed to Jess and Heidi, accompanied by awkward silence*
Jess: Your books are excellent
JSF, bemused: Thank you.
Jess: I think you’re great.
JSF, pausing to look up at us: Thanks. What do you.. do?
Jess: Journalism. *points to her left* and Law
JSF: I see. *continues signing*
Jess: I’m sorry. I’m just trying really hard not to word vomit on you.
JSF: …word. Vomit?
Jess: Whenever I talk to people I admire I just end up saying a lot of things. Like gahblahblahblahblah blah. And I’m trying really hard not to do that. *JSF hands her signed book*. Thank you Jonathan Safran Foer!
Heidi: She also refers to them using only their full names.
..and it was only after we walked away that I thought to quip “well I certainly don’t work in a bar any more” in response to his admirable attempt at conversation. Thus exposing my wit, daredevil nature and fangirl status. After which he would promptly marry me, obviously.