Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s new “personal challenge,” reported last week in Fortune magazine’s blog, is to only eat meat from animals that he kills himself. Yes, the world’s youngest billionaire is suddenly killing for food. Responses to Zuckerberg’s May 4 Facebook alert (“Today I killed a pig and a goat”) apparently elicited reactions from dismay to disgust to confusion.
Interesting, the killing is what everyone seems to be focused on. What’s missed in the chatter is Zuckerberg’s own motivation: becoming a more thankful person. In his Facebook response to the May 4 post, he elaborated, “Towards the end of last year I reflected a bunch of how thankful I was … and I decided to make this year's challenge around being more thankful for what I have.” Zuckerberg decided that the best way to implement this was by “forcing myself to get personally involved and thank the animals whose lives I take in order to eat them [as] the best day-to-day way to remind myself to be thankful.”
Is this just a self-indulgent stunt? Or an authentic attempt at character growth? As an eternal optimist, I’m hoping the latter. And for better or for worse, Zuckerberg – Time magazine's 2010 Person of the Year – has an immensely powerful voice, especially among young people worldwide. The fact that he wants to be more thankful and has decided to focus on that most basic human need, food, strikes me as encouraging.
People (especially vegetarians) may counter: “How about not eating animals at all? That would really be a positive step.” And I agree – but let’s remember, his goal is gratitude, not a diet overhaul or a statement about eating meat (at least not yet). Most carnivores are not going to give up eating all meat, all at once. But taking a serious step toward understanding what must occur to eat meat (killing, preparing) is huge, and a desire to change one’s heart and not take gifts for granted is, in my opinion, more profound than any outward change of habit.
I was also thrilled to read that Zuckerberg’s mentor in this process is Jesse Ziff Cool – a Delicious Living contributor from way back and a champion of the organic and local foods movement for decades. As Zuckerberg’s Palo Alto neighbor, Cool introduced him to local farmers and, reports Fortune, “advised him as he killed his first chicken, pig, and goat … ‘with a knife, which is the most kind way to do it.’” (Thanks to Elephant Journal's blog for posting this video of Jesse Cool speaking at Google.)
Not insignificantly, Zuckerberg added, “This year I’ve basically become a vegetarian. … I'm eating a lot healthier foods and I've learned a lot about sustainable farming and raising of animals.” If that kind of knowledge starts making its way into his speeches (and, of course, Facebook posts), he could exponentially increase the conversation about our food supply. Ignorance is the enemy of a sustainable food world - it’s a lot easier to deny the reality of grossly inhumane factory farms when you simply pick up your food all shrink-wrapped and Styrofoam-backed at the local grocery store. So I’m thankful for this seemingly eccentric goal, and look forward to hearing about what Zuckerberg learns and how it changes him.
What do you think - virtuous goal or self-important gimmick?
Intro image by Guillaume Paumier / Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-3.0.