Sunday, July 12, 2015
Striking at the Root
I've seen a few people on social networking sites post this recent article by Ginny Messina, aka The Vegan RD. It's called "Preventing Ex-Vegans: The Power of Ethics" and stresses the importance of raising the issue of ethics -- the moral reasons we should not participate in animal exploitation -- when talking to others about veganism. Basically, Messina points out what has seemed to me over the years to be obvious. Unless we strike at the root and address speciesism and make our animal advocacy about the animals, other humans are less likely to take animals seriously enough to leave them alone in a meaningful and permanent way. If one was to skim over the article and was already convinced that talking about ethics is key when talking to non-vegans about what we owe other animals, the takeaway from the article could very well be that Messina reiterates this.
Messina points out how using health or dietary arguments can fail. So many welfarist groups concern themselves with health-related arguments, stressing that a shift in diet will lead to improved health and appearance -- to weight-loss and to a sort of untouchable state of being where mosquitoes will never again gnaw on you and you'll never again experience the sniffles and will forever safeguard yourself against cancer and any number of chronic diseases. It only takes one experience refuting any of such claims, whether from an ordinary lapse in someone's immune system to stave off a bad seasonal flu, the failure to become sylphlike or a symptom of something more insidious perhaps passed down thanks to genetics, exposure or previous habits to leave someone rejecting such arguments. Worse is when vegans who actually do get sick (as humans are wont to do) are singled out as having gotten sick because, of course, they've been deprived of proper nourishment and of the magical benefits of consuming various parts of another sentient being's decaying body or secretions. Worst is when vegans start shaming other vegans for not being glowing-skinned exemplars of perfect health or for not being of a weight deemed ideal by mainstream society.
Veganism = Vegan Diets = Vegetarianism?
It's problematic to me that Messina uses the terms "vegetarian" and "vegan" interchangeably and that she seems to equate eating a plant-based diet to being vegan. The term "vegetarian" involves the likelihood of continued involvement in animal exploitation, so it seems weird to talk about how to motivate people to remain either vegetarian or vegan with a focus on ethics being key. Plant-based eating or following a so-called "vegan diet" also involves animal exploitation in other areas. The thing is that the animals who are exploited and/or killed don't care whether or not they end up in our bellies. Vegans realize that it's not that animals and their secretions are eaten that's the issue, but that animals are exploited and treated as things in the first place. Veganism isn't just a diet. So when Messina writes that "[o]ne of the reasons people abandon vegan diets is that they lose faith in its benefits" she's right in the sense that people's interest in fad diets waxes and wanes according to results and expectations, especially if those expectations rest upon claims which are "far-fetched". But it's when she equates following a plant-based diet to being vegan -- i.e. to losing one's interest in a plant-based diet as potentially leading one to become a purported "ex-vegan" that the article becomes a bit problematic for me. She writes that "health" arguments may motivate people to go "vegan", but the truth is that all health-based arguments do is motivate people to change what they put into their mouths, mostly. Vegans reject participation in animal exploitation. A health-based argument may lead someone to eschew -- to some extent or other -- eating animals and their secretions, but it won't convince anyone to stop buying leather shoes, wearing beeswax lip-balm, taking the kids to a petting zoo or to not buy a purebred puppy from a professional breeder.
Messina states that "the problem of ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians is a serious one". Honestly, I'm perfectly alright with ex-vegetarians and don't see them as a problem at all. I'd love vegetarians to become ex-vegetarians and to choose, instead, to reject their participation in animal use and to go vegan. There is absolutely no ethical difference between someone's eating and otherwise using other animals on all levels (e.g. your average non-vegan), someone's partially limiting the animal products they put in their bellies and otherwise continuing to use other animal products (i.e. your average vegetarian), or someone's completely limiting the animal products they put in their bellies and otherwise continuing to use other animal products (i.e. your average plant-based diet follower). They're all speciesist. They all involve complicity in the continued victimization of other sentient beings for humans' pleasure and convenience. So, yes, Messina is right that there needs to be a focus on the ethical arguments to not use those other sentient beings. Except that you can't really use ethical arguments in any sort of clear, consistent and unequivocal way to bring about permanent change to how humans view others in terms of their being ours to use when you lump in deliberate exploiters with vegans.
In her concluding paragraph, which seems to deliver the clear message that ethics should drive vegan advocacy, Messina unfortunately again focuses on variations of animal use, talking about "vegan and vegetarian diets'. Yeah, ethics is important. But so is figuring out where we should be consistent and unequivocal. It's stilly to talk about ethics when promoting a so-called "vegan diet" and even more so when talking about a "vegetarian diet". I mean, if you're going to talk about ethics, how on earth can you talk about propping up what are, honestly, choices which allow for animal exploitation? If Messina wants to deliver a message concerning how to get people to both go and stay "vegan", then it really confuses the issue when she focuses on diet or says "vegan or vegetarian" without explicitly emphasizing that what we need to accomplish in talking about ethics is educating folks that using animals at all, whether we're eating them or their secretions or otherwise contributing to their exploitation, is wrong.
Posted by M at Sunday, July 12, 2015
Friday, January 30, 2015
College Education Fail?
Hot on the heels of her article from November called "How to be a vegan without being annoying", Castleton State College's The Spartan's own staff writer Jorah McKinley has offered up yet another badly-written rant to serve as filler for her paper. In an attempt to drill home the point to all that standing up for yourself (never mind standing up for other animals) is annoying, McKinley copied and pasted her previous article into a new document to submit to her editors who, in turn, managed to prove that either 1) Castleton State College's journalism program is in trouble, or 2) The Spartan is in desperate need of a proofreader with a minimum elementary school education. McKinley omits the first sentence from her previous article to update her reader that she has apparently been "a vegan" for a whopping eight months now.
Of course, she misrepresents veganism as a diet, self-identifying as having herself "adopted a vegan diet", so at least it's clear that she's writing about vegans from the outside looking in. (Although it may explain some of what seems to be her animosity towards vegans, it neither excuses it, nor does it excuse what's ultimately just poor writing all 'round.) She begins by introducing her reader to all kinds of hostile stereotypical caricatures of vegans (whom she lumps in with vegetarians).
I realized that there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians who are just terrible. We all know the type. They’ve got their condescending tones and their upturned noses and their crunchy vegan granola. Nobody likes these people, no one. Don’t be one.It's sort of amusing that she should use the term "condescending" to describe tone, given the tone of her own article. Worse, though, is that she actually encourages her non-vegan readers to pass the article along to non-vegan friends. You know? To help them not be annoying. It's pretty simple, McKinley tells her vegan and non-vegan readers. She writes that the "one rule" that's not meant to be broken lest you become one of those awful creatures is that you never talk about veganism. In case you might not get it, she spells it out in caps for you: "DON’T TALK ABOUT IT!" It's not meant to be discussed in your "everyday life", she tells us. It's a "personal choice" she repeats to her readers (while reiterating that she interprets veganism as being a "diet").
They [sic] way you choose to eat is a personal choice. Not every single person you come into contact with needs a full description of the moral high ground you think you’re standing on. So DON’T talk about it unless someone asks, which they probably won’t, because no one cares.Because obviously saying anything about veganism is preachy and awful and should be kept to oneself unless someone asks. And if they ask? Then for the loving sake of pete, don't have the rudeness to give someone an honest answer! You can either (according to McKinley) 1) be an asshole and freak out on them, or 2) keep it to yourself. There's really no grey area, McKinley makes clear. You're either a stealthy vegan or you are condescending scum, "[p]ushing you’re opinions on innocent and unsuspecting bystanders".
This is the message McKinley not only seeks to deliver to those she would view as her "fellow" vegans to more or less shout them down, but the message she wants to make clear to all of the non-vegans at her school, to spread her own animosity by fostering it in the rest of Castleton State College's students. What a true hero she is to her school's vegan students, staff and faculty, no? (Ssssh!)
Posted by M at Friday, January 30, 2015
Monday, October 20, 2014
I Love Vegan Food Bloggers, Yes I Do!
I love (love, love, love!) vegan food bloggers. I appreciate and respect folks who have the time, energy, creativity, knowledge and skill to concoct all kinds of amazing plant-based dishes, whether to appeal to novice cooks or hardcore foodies. In past years, I would often just go through my list of favourite food blogs and write up posts, organized by theme or a particular ingredient, with links to the various scrumptious recipes from the sites I have perused and loved. I loved promoting food bloggers and am quick to cough up links to favourites to anyone who asks.
In the past when I've promoted vegan food blogs, I've sometimes been asked by the odd animal activist: "Is it an abolitionist site?" Almost always, I would shrug and say: "It's a recipe blog, not a philosophy or political blog." As far as I was concerned, as long as someone did a fine job of creating and presenting tasty and tempting recipes, that's all that really mattered. In fact, I've generally preferred blogs whose writers steer clear of any philosophical or political discussions. My reason for this isn't that I don't think a vegan food blog is a great place to do vegan advocacy. In fact, I do. I've talked to many vegan food bloggers and cookbook authors, though, who've pointed out that it's time-consuming enough to figure out a recipe, test it, perfect it, plug it into step-by-step instructions, take mouth-watering photos of it and then present it in a complete well-edited package to appeal to vegan and non-vegan readers.
I'll Pass on the Welfarism, Thanks!
I'll admit that I usually side-step food blogs where groups like HSUS or PETA are very obviously promoted. I do understand that one of the ways in which some food bloggers end up increasing their readership is to catch the attention of some of the welfarist movers and shakers. I'm guessing that a single mention in an article by some of the talking heads of the welfarist movement could easily not just triple or quadruple a blogger's audience, but take that blogger from being virtually unknown outside of a small circle of loyal followers and launch her (or him) to vegan foodie superstardom with ad revenue, donated products, cookbook deals, et al. More than one vegan food blogger has mentioned to me that as much as they wish they could actively promote abolitionist principles, that the welfare-bashing associations that go with it usually leave them passed over by the wide majority of vegans (or others seeking out plant-based recipes) who align themselves with welfarist groups and causes.
"I'm out to share yummy vegan recipes and to make life easier for those who aren't handy in the kitchen," said one food blogger to me recently. "I'd rather leave the ethics and politics to those who have the time, knowledge and patience." And quite honestly? I have no issue with that. I'd rather see a vegan food blogger be focused and successful at what (s)he does and stay apolitical than promote welfarist organizations. I'd also rather see a food blogger be focused and successful at what (s)he does than see that blogger engage in awkward or half-hearted advocacy that ends up just confusing his or her readers.
And When Something Like This Comes Up?
Around a month ago, I was scrolling through my vegan food blog feed. I follow a lot of them, primarily since (like many vegans) I love to cook, but also since I manage an international vegan recipes page of sorts on Facebook and am always looking for recipes to share there. The headline "10 Ways to be Vegan" grabbed my intention immediately. It was on a blog called Namely Marly. Expecting the best, I was left sighing and shaking my head just a few paragraphs in. I shared a link with a vegan friend, quipping: "Could have been straight outta The Onion, no?" and finished the article. It was so nonsensical that I kept waiting for a "punch-line". I found none.
The tip-off should have been Marly's celebration of the latest celebrities to go on a short term plant-based diet weight-loss cleanse. Oh golly, oh gee! The fact that they stuck to it for 22 whole days left Marly giddy with excitement and referencing Jay-Z as left pondering whether he's stay on a "plant-based diet or become a semi- or part-time vegan".
Marly proceeds to ask if we can be "vegan by degrees". When I saw this, I thought that she would perhaps discuss transitioning and how it happens in steps in an obvious and deliberate manner towards eliminating our consumption of animal products. Instead, Marly chooses to use "vegan by degrees" to describe humans who don't, in fact, intend to remove themselves from the cycle of animal exploitation. First, she keeps conflating veganism with "a vegan diet". (If you're actually reading this blog post, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that you already know that veganism is not a diet, right?) She mentions people to whom she's spoken who "started a vegan diet" and then found it too hard to do every day and to commit to for the long haul. She quips: "And all this thinking led me to a conclusion: you don’t have to be 'whole hog' to be vegan."
Marly then goes gets entangled in the same-old "all-or-nothing" argument that anti-vegans often use to try to undermine veganism by insisting that we shouldn't bother even trying to go vegan, since there is purportedly no such thing as a 100% vegan. You know the ones? They argue that since there are unavoidable forms of animal use in the world that we should excuse away indulging in the avoidable forms? For instance, they will sometimes argue that since insects and small mammals are destroyed in fields in agriculture, that it's hypocritical for vegans to eat vegetables and then point out that it's unethical to consume meat, dairy, eggs, to support circuses or rodeos, et al. She begins with the straw-manish premise that the definition of veganism "is to eat or behave in a manner that causes zero animal suffering" and then after offering up examples of unavoidable animal suffering caused by humans, concludes that it's only logical that anyone who acknowledges that these (unavoidable) forms of animal use and abuse exist should easily "understand [her] concept of [what she calls] Vegan by Degrees". Her ten "ways" to be vegan?
1) Dietary Vegan
Marny's first pick falls in line with the understanding of veganism she presents earlier in her piece, which is of veganism as a diet. She specifies that that the only forms of animals use of concern to these "vegans" involved what they put into their mouths and bellies.
2) Ethical Vegan
Here she describes actual vegans who (gasp!) apparently take veganism "to the next level" by eschewing animal products they don't put into their mouths and bellies. They're the hardcore extremist vegans, of course. This second point of hers really serves to remind me of how I loathe when animal activists (even if innocuously so) qualify the term "vegan" with the word "ethical", since it leaves the door wide open for others to insert different qualifiers (e.g. see Marly's first point for an example).
3) Green Vegan
These are apparently vegans who eschew all animal products, just like ethical vegans, but do so for environmental reasons. Because apparently visiting the zoo contributes to global warming. But seriously, folks... There have been so many pro-animal use arguments and justifications made on behalf of saving the environment, that trying to argue that there's such a thing as a "green vegan" who rejects all forms of animal use that a so-called "ethical vegan" would is bizarre. I've heard people argue over the benefit of using leather -- a slaughterhouse by-product -- rather than using fossil fuels or other chemicals to make synthetic replacements. Some have even argued that the energy used up in making and distributing processed meat substitutes leave a heavier ecologically destructive footprint than growing, slaughtering and consuming your own backyard bunnies. The list goes on...
4) Raw Vegan
See #1 but unplug your oven..
5) Plant-based Vegan
This is apparently a "dietary vegan" who won't eat processed foods. Even if those processed foods are plant-based. This is a new one for me. The term "plant-based" has been used widely by all kinds of cookbook authors, athletes and so on during the last few years who've at least been candid about their promotion of a strict vegetarian diet versus trying to pretend that they are promoting a type of veganism. Why Marly has chosen to try to redefine this is just plain weird. Although I guess that when you are attempting to try to fabricate a list of ten supposed "degrees of veganism" that you're bound to yank anything out of the ether that you can. No bonus points for originality here, though.
6) The Paris Vegan
This. This made me chortle. Marly references the so-very-often-mocked Peter Singer's "Paris exception", which is where Singer says that it's OK to exploit animal products if you're on vacation or a guest in someone's home and don't want to appear rude. I have heard vegan eyes rolling in unison from hundreds -- thousands -- of miles away over this one. (OK, so there's a bit of hyperbole involved in the previous sentence...) It's funny that Marly would bring it up as a legitimate type of veganism, but I suspect that this would be completely lost on her.
Vegan Before 6 -- Mark Bittman's fad diet. You know, the one where you can call yourself vegan as long as you don't consume animal products for 1-2 meals a day. Then for the third, you can have the bacon double-cheeseburger and milkshake with a side of foie gras and still pat yourself on the back for being... ungh... vegan.
8) Weekday/Weekend Vegan
So this is for those for whom something like the Vegan Before 6 "type" of veganism would be just too dang hard. Marly's offering you a better option: Just go vegan on the weekends or somethin'. It's like Meatless Monday X 2 (but presumably with dairy and eggs, though Marly hasn't really specified this and given all of her other so-called definitions, I hardly dare speculate as to how fast and loose she's chosen to play this one. I'll err on the side of caution and guess that it may very well involve just not eating meat on weekends. Or maybe just not eating white chickens who've been raised in Maryland. Yeah. That's it.
9) Virtually Vegan
This is basically a lacto-ovo vegetarian. But Marly uses the entry as an opportunity to argue on behalf of eating honey: "You know, if you think about it, honey is a very natural sweetener and bee keepers are very motivated to take good care of their bees."
10) Travel Vegan
This is sort of like the so-called Paris Vegan mentioned earlier, except instead of option to consume animal products to perhaps not inconvenience a host while you're travelling, you opt to consume animal products to not inconvenience yourself and to not deprive yourself of a beautiful cultural experience involving the torture and slaughter of another being.
Yes, she really wrote that list. Yes, she is actually serious about it. In fact, the rest of her piece is devoted to encouraging her readers to take it easy on themselves and to be flexible about their "vegan" participation in animal exploitation, outing herself as a comfortable "90-95%" vegan. She writes:
At some point in time you’re going to have to make a decision about what percentage of veganism you can afford or be happy with. For me, that 90 – 95% range works just fine. On a day-to-day basis I don’t eat any meat, dairy, or eggs. I even read the labels on my garments and shoes and do my best to avoid the ones made with leather. But I stop there. I don’t call the manufacturer to find out if the glue that was used in the shoe I want to buy was made from animal products. And I don’t ask the server if the bun that comes with my veggie burger has egg in it.Marly even takes it further by engaging in that old familiar vegan-shaming that groups like Vegan Outreach engage in to make vegans feel guilty about actually making an effort to avoid animal products. She begins by bringing up a scenario where a vegan is served non-vegan food by a family member, choosing an example where a soy cheese containing dairy has been used. She presents two possible reactions to this: 1) Eating it "with gusto" and shutting the fuck up about it, or 2) A scenario where the vegan foists upon the hapless family member "a lecture or some kind of patronizing comment about how the cheese they used was only 98% vegan". Other than devouring the food in happy silence, Marly informs her readers that "any other reaction would be rude".
But the thing is that if a family member had actually gone to the trouble, had actually taken your ethical beliefs so seriously that he or she would have tried to prepare a dish which was appropriate for you, is it so unthinkable that the family member might understand completely if you politely declined to consume the animal product? Furthermore, since Marly is opposed to questioning servers -- people to whom she is not emotionally attached -- about animal ingredients in her food, I can't help but wonder how on earth she would have even found out about the dairy in her host's dish. You know? Since asking people what they are handing you to put in your belly is a pain in the arse.
She counsels her "well-intentioned" readers to loosen up about their consumption choices and to not let those choices be governed "by restrictive, arbitrary rules". (Because asking a server whether the veggie burger on the menu is actually vegan is restrictive; being expected -- as a vegan -- to at least make a simple effort to avoid easily-avoidable animal products in a restaurant is the needless self-imposition of an arbitrary rule. And Marly makes it clear that self-imposition is an unnecessary burden. "If giving up mozzarella feels like pulling out a fingernail then just relax about it," she tells her readers. "It's all good," she reassures them, postulating that she is perhaps "brilliant".
But you see, it's not enough for Marly to out herself as a non-vegan "vegan" and to present her readers with many non-vegan types of "veganism". If you have ever read similar articles before, you know that they always come with a good self-protective dose of shaming. Those of us who have the incivility to both be unequivocal about veganism, as well as to -- gasp! -- point out that deliberate participation in avoidable animal exploitation (whether indulged in gleefully or not) isn't vegan? Well, Marly tells her readers to swing those awful, mean and critical vegans a wide, wide berth. "They don’t eat white, refine sugar because it was processed using bone chard [sic]. So they think you shouldn’t either." (Said no vegan ever about a cane sugar manufacturer switching to leafy greens to filter its sugar!)
But on a more troubling and serious note, Marly (after managing to direct a dose of the aforementioned shaming at the actual vegans who left comments in response to her post) calls upon the "community" to be "inclusive" rather than "exclusive" and tells her readers to toss aside those horrible restrictive and arbitrary "guidelines" (uh... like avoiding animal use for selfish pleasure?) and to just suss out what they're comfortable with on their own and to (I guess) call that their own personal form of veganism. She praises all of the readers who agree with her wholeheartedly that the "options" she's presented make (what she still insists on calling) veganism more easy. She ignores most of the more thoughtful and well-reasoned points brought up to explain what veganism is or isn't, though my favourite comment from The Rational Vegan goes completely over her head. Instead, she basks in the adoration of her non-vegan readers who've felt vindicated in their continued use of animal products.
Although I love (love, love, love!) vegan food bloggers, a vegan food blogger Marly surely ain't. Popularity is important for a food blogger, vegan or otherwise. As indicated at the beginning of my post, I get that. I really do. But, for the ever-lovin' sake of all that's left that is good in this world, when that popularity is built upon the blood and bodies of other sentient beings? That's where I draw the line and become that supposed "hater" and "ideologue". But you know what? That's my own "authentic swing" and Marly? She's just been chiseled away from my recipe blogs reading list. There are puh-lenty of other actually "authentic" vegan food bloggers out there whose work I would much rather follow and support. If that makes me a "judgmental" meanie, I'm pretty comfortable with that option.
Posted by M at Monday, October 20, 2014
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
I was flipping through my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago and noticed that my friend Denise had posted a couple of emails to a small vegan group to which we both belong. They concerned Vegan Treats. Surely if you're reading this blog, you have heard of this vegan bakery in Bethlehem, PA? It's particularly well-known for selling its desserts wholesale to stores and vegan restaurants in neighbouring states. I made a pilgrimage to sample some of their cheesecake during a 2010 trip to Pennsylvania and, as recently as last month, I had a slice of their chocolate strawberry shortcake at the wonderful Vegetarian's Paradise 2 in New York City.
I was curious about the exchange between Denise and, at first, Konya herself, then store manager Joy Grant. Denise has agreed to let me share the messages here. This first one was sent by her via Facebook to the Vegan Treats page on September 3. When no response was received, she sent a copy of it by email on September 9:
I am hoping that Danielle will see this message.
My family and I have been vegan for around 8 years and visit your bakery fairly often. During one visit in the spring we noticed that you use Sprinkle King brand sprinkles. My daughter is a baker and stated that Sprinkle King is not vegan as they contain confectioner's glaze (with insect shellac). We also noted that there was a case of Chex brand cereal in the kitchen, and to my knowledge they contain non-vegan vitamin D.
We visited again the day of the Bethlehem Vegfest and saw the same brand of sprinkles there. I asked the woman behind the counter if the sprinkles are vegan. She assured me they were, and said she would double check with the manager in the back. She came back to again assure us that the sprinkles are vegan but she said she was not permitted to let us know the brand being used.
I am not sure what to do in this situation. I have always thought that a bakery run by an ethical vegan would use all vegan ingredients and that I would not have to doubt any product purchased there. This has caused me to wonder what other ingredients are not vegan at Vegan Treats. I have friends and acquaintances that frequent your bakery and I feel that I have to let them know of this situation, that I would be ethically in the wrong if I did not at least give them the information I have. I wanted to check with you first however.
I hope you can see this not as an attack or threat, but as a plea for more information. Please let me know your thoughts.
I also sent this via FaceBook last week and have not heard anything back.
Thank you for listening.
On September 9, Danielle Konya replied to her initial message, but via Facebook. Her response was the following:
Good afternoon, Denise!
Thank you very much for contacting us and for being a loyal fan of Vegan Treats! I would be happy to explain some of your concerns.
I have been vegan for over 20 years, and started my bakery as a means to support my activism. I can assure you, I hold the purity of my desserts to my own very high, personal standards.
We do utilize Chex brand cereal in our bakery. Although their source of Vitamin D can sometimes be controversial, I have chosen to stand in line with various guidebooks, and community members, including PETA.org, and to consider this cereal to be vegan.
I have also chosen to utilize a brand of sprinkles that does contain Confectioner's Glaze. Although this is a very controversial ingredient within the vegan community, I would prefer to be transparent with my customers, and allow them to make the choice for themselves. I would like to apologize for any confusion there may have been in regard to the permissibility of sharing brand names. I am always happy to share product information with customers, and want everyone who dines here to be comfortable in their choices.
The far-reaching, negative implications that living in our civilization has on animals is an incredibly sad and unfortunate fact of life. I wish as much as anyone else, that I could ensure my shoes, food packaging, office supplies, cotton t-shirts, etc. were 100% cruelty-free, but realistically, I can not. Instead, I have to make educated choices that have as great of a positive implication as possible.
Please, feel free to email myself, or my management team anytime. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org Utilizing email always gets a faster response than our facebook page, simply due to the fact that we are always logged in to our mail account.
Thank you again for being a customer, and for taking the time to message us,
OK, so do you see what happened there? Denise, a loyal customer, messages Vegan Treats because she and her daughter visited the Vegan Treats home store and noticed both non-vegan Sprinkle King brand sprinkles and a case of non-vegan Chex cereal. On August 23, a visit to the Bethlehem Vegfest left her finding Vegan Treats there and using the same non-vegan sprinkles. When she inquired about them later at the Vegan Treats store, she was told by an employee that they were vegan. The Vegan Treats employee even double-checked with someone else and then repeated to Denise that they were vegan -- but then refused to confirm their brand name? Now, if an employee pulled that sort of stunt at a regular old bakery or restaurant, a vegan's instant reaction might be to suspect that the employee was being less than honest, yes? But why would an employee at a vegan bakery seek to withhold ingredient information from a vegan customer? Unless, as Danielle Konya confirmed in her response to Denise, they were NOT vegan, after all.
An animal ingredient is an animal ingredient is an animal ingredient. Confectioner's glaze, is an animal ingredient. For those of you who don't know, it's the name candy manufacturers use to refer to shellac. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, "Shellac is a coating or glaze derived from the hardened, resinous material secreted by the lac insect, much like honey from a bee" and "300,000 lac insects are killed for every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of lac resin produced". Furthermore, "[a]pproximately 25% of all unrefined, harvested lac resin is composed of 'insect debris' and other impurities". You can read all about it here.
Konya takes about the "purity" of her ingredients and "transparency" with her customers -- wanting to let them "make the choice for themselves", but the truth is that she wasn't transparent and she didn't let them choose. Konya fed her customers ingredients with which she knew many of them (e.g. the actual ethical vegans) would take issue. Had Denise not noticed the sprinkles and the cereal, she would never have known. None of Vegan Treats' customers could have known. There was no transparency in any of this. And she most certainly didn't allow her customers to make any decision "for themselves". She made it for them. With regards to the Chex cereal, she wrote: "I have chosen to stand in line with various guidebooks, and community members, including PETA.org, and to consider this cereal to be vegan". That was her decision: not her customers'. Even though she knew that it would be problematic -- "controversial" to some of her customers. What she did manage to do, sadly, was to deceive her customers.
On September 12, Denise replied to Danielle, messaging her through Facebook:
Thank you very much for the thoughtful reply.
My concern is mainly the lack of transparency that I personally experienced when asking directly if the sprinkles were vegan. If someone were to go in today and ask that same question, what reply would they receive?
I hope you can understand my feelings. I feel betrayed, as I have always confidently bought your goods with the understanding that everything was vegan in your shop. I have never seen the information posted anywhere in the shop that the sprinkles were questionable. Will this information be made available so people can make an informed choice? I never felt the need to ask before as I had assumed that all ingredients would be vegan.
Thank you again,
Instead of a response from Danielle, Denise received one that same day from Joy Grant, denying there had been any deception in Vegan Treats' serving its customers animal ingredients and referring to Denise's questioning the use of an animal ingredient as her own personal (perhaps fussy?) choice:
Good afternoon Denise,
Thank you for emailing us! I'd like to introduce myself, my name is Joy Grant, I am a member of the management team here at Vegan Treats. Danielle is out of the country, but with her advisement and permission, I'd like to continue your conversation.
We were also concerned with the explanation our counter person provided. It is not the managent or owner's intention to hide anything from our customers. Our bakery is designed with an open concept, we enjoy providing visitors with a behind the scenes view of our kitchen.
We encourage everyone to make choices in their life that allow them to fall asleep at night knowing they did the best they could for the world. Some do more, some do less, but we hope all try. I sincerely appreciate your dedication to this compassionate lifestyle that we all share, and although you have chosen to avoid sprinkles containing confectioner's glaze, we are going to continue using them in our bakery. We respect your position wholeheartedly, and have decided that our use of sprinkles is a choice we can stand behind.
Moving forward, our staff know that it is imperative to be honest and straightforward with all of our customers. If they are ever confused, they are encouraged to pass along our email account, names, and various work hours, so that we may help everyone with confidence. We are also in the process of re-designing our website, which will include a page of FAQs, one regarding our sprinkles has already been drafted.
I hope I've helped answer your concerns. Please feel free to call or email me. I will be back in the bakery on Monday, and available for a phone call anytime between 9am and 3pm. I check my email account regularly, please do not hesitate to email me over the weekend if you prefer.
Joy Grant Vegan Treats Bakery
As a vegan, I am more than familiar with being deceived about animal ingredients. In my case, it was the first Xmas I spent in my hometown after having gone vegan. I was eating at my sister's. I had offered to bring a few dishes, but she'd refused, listing off a number of things I'd be able to have. I still brought a few things. My brother-in-law was doing most of the cooking and, at one point, I offered to help. He shooed me out of the kitchen and as I was walking out, I noticed him haul out a container of chicken bouillon powder and proceed to spoon some of it into first the boiling pot of baby carrots, then the wax beans. It was with his spoon hanging over the pot of wax beans that he saw me watching him and that he moved his body to hide the container from view.
At the table, I refused to eat anything except what I had brought, along with a plain baked potato. When pressed by my sister, I told her why. Both she and my brother-in-law sighed. He at first denied having done it and when I made it clear that I had seen him in action, he downplayed it, saying that it was just a small amount of "seasoning", that I was being picky, that I could rinse it off, etc. But in the end it wasn't the amount of bouillon powder that mattered. It was the deception. It ended up being the last time I ever ate at my sister's because even knowing my ethical stance, my brother-in-law took it upon himself to get me to eat something he realized I could very well have a serious issue eating -- something I would even refuse to eat. I felt that my trust had been betrayed and that my choices and stance had been disregarded and disrespected. That was what was unforgiveable. Mistakes happen, but being fed animal ingredients on purpose without my consent? I felt violated. Wouldn't you? Now, can you imagine something like this happening in another vegan's kitchen?
That's exactly how another vegan felt after hearing the news about Vegan Treats and reading Denise's exchange with them. On September 12, after having left queries on Vegan Treats' Facebook page and having had them deleted, Sabrina emailed them directly:
As a vegan and customer of Vegan Treats, I am unbelievably shocked and disappointed in your bakery. It was bad enough to learn that VEGAN Treats is using non-vegan ingredients, but then to have my FB posts deleted and to be blocked for asking simple questions is beyond all belief.
I have to tell you - this doesn't bode well for your business. The fact that this is how you handle your customer relations (deleting/blocking for polite questions) says a lot about your company, as does the fact that you advertise as a vegan establishment and are definitely NOT.
I know many vegans and will be getting the word out about your ingredients and unprofessional behavior. People have a right to know, as much as you want to suppress that knowledge.
Their response to her later that day was the following:
Thank you for emailing us, we would be happy to answer any questions you may have. Emailing, calling, or even stopping by in person is always the most effective means of reaching a member of the management team, rather than navigating through our 3rd-party monitored social media accounts. These outlets are, admittedly, used for basic promotional material, event information, topical "blurbs", etc. and aren't, admittedly, the best way to get a personalized answer to questions, order placements, shipping status questions, and the like.
I am sure you are referring to Vegan Treats' decision to utilize sprinkles that contain confectioner's glaze, and our use of Rice Chex Cereal in our gluten-free cheesecakes. We have chosen to utilize a brand of sprinkles that does contain Confectioner's Glaze. Although this is a very controversial ingredient within the vegan community, we would prefer to be transparent with my customers, and allow them to make the choice for themselves. Vegan Treats is always happy to share product information with customers, and want everyone who dines here to be comfortable in their choices. We do utilize Chex brand cereal in our bakery. Although their source of Vitamin D can sometimes be controversial, we have chosen to stand in line with various guidebooks, and community members, including PETA.org, and to consider this cereal to be vegan.
The far-reaching, negative implications that living in our civilization has on animals is an incredibly sad and unfortunate fact of life. We here at Vegan Treats, wish as much as anyone else, that we could ensure our shoes, food packaging, office supplies, cotton t-shirts, etc. were 100% cruelty-free, but realistically, we can not. Instead, we have to make educated choices that have as great of a positive impact as possible.
We hope that the vegan community can join together to recognize the importance of vegan businesses, and instead of fighting one another, we join together to discourage our friends, family members, neighbors, and strangers from patronizing "traditional" restaurants, bakeries, and grocery store aisles.
Please feel free to email anytime,
Vegan Treats Bakery
Basically, Joy admitted once again that Vegan Treats was fully aware that the sprinkles they were using contained confectioner's glaze (i.e. shellac, an animal product) and spoke of transparency and of claiming to want to give customers the choice whether to consume them or not. (Of course, as previously mentioned, that involves actually letting your customers know, in the first place, that you're feeding them animal products.) She used the old "you can't be 100% vegan because of the cruelty inherent in producing everything unavoidable in day-to-day life" argument to excuse away knowingly using cereal and sprinkles -- SPRINKLES! -- containing animal ingredients. And then, in what smacks of a subtle nose-thumbing gesture, she shamed Sabrina and accused her of not recognizing "the importance of vegan (sic) businesses" and choosing to purportedly fight with her fellow vegans rather than trying to discourage friends and family from shopping at "'traditional' restaurants, bakeries and grocery store aisles". In short: "Quit your whining. PETA says it's all good to serve you lanolin and ground up insects and their secretions. You should be supporting us instead of the other businesses who (also) serve their customers animal products."
Sabrina's reasonable response to this, sent later that same evening:
Joy, Confectioners glaze is not vegan; there is no controversy. I'm sure you'd be hard pressed to find a vegan who agreed that eating bugs was vegan. You do realize that confectioners glaze has bugs, right? The lac bug, to be exact. Also, you do realize there are alternatives, right? As far as Chex, Vitamin D3 is derived from sheep lanolin. I'm sorry, but how is this vegan? You realize that vegan means NO animal products, right? If you are so "transparent" then IMMEDIATELY stop deleting your customers' posts from your FB page, and let your customers know about your sprinkles and the Chex. I also don't appreciate the comment about "fighting" one another. Expecting a vegan bakery to have vegan products is not "fighting."And the final word from Vegan Treats?
Hello again, Sabrina,
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and knowledge with us. Under the owner's guidance, we have all been educated on Confectioner's Glaze, its production, and its contents. Although you may have decided not to consume anything containing confectioner's glaze, Vegan Treats is going to continue in its use of our current sprinkles, albeit with our eyes open to commercially-available, confectioner's glaze-free sprinkles.
The entire team at Vegan Treats is happy to answer any questions our customers may have, feel free to call or email us anytime.
Vegan Treats Bakery
Basically: "We know exactly that insect secretions and their ground up parts go into our sprinkles. Maybe you don't like that, but we're going to keep serving them. See ya!" On September 13, I decided to post information about what was happening on the My Face Is on Fire page on Facebook. I thought that Vegan Treats' vegan customers should be made aware of what was happening. A reader decided to contact them and received a message from them in which the company backtracked completely, proclaiming not only that they were, in fact, going to pull the sprinkles, but that they had apparently -- unlike what they'd told Denise and Sabrina -- had no clue that the sprinkles contained animal ingredients. An excerpt:
Since we received a concerned email from a loyal customer, the confectioner's glaze issue in our sprinkles has been our number one concern. Rest assured you have no worries when it comes to Vegan Treats; our goal is and will always be the protection of all living creatures. We go to great lengths to make sure all of our products are vegan, but sometimes we can be mislead by the companies that we are supporting.Now, the good news is that after enough expressed outrage, they finally paid attention and decided to stop using the sprinkles (no mention of the cereal). The weird news? That they would suddenly play innocent and suggest that they had been duped and had not known that the sprinkles contained insect ingredients. Another reader shared with me a similar messages he received from Vegan Treats that day, again vaguely suggesting that Vegan Treats had been misled into thinking that the sprinkles were free of animal products. They also mentioned "investigating" the non-vegan Chex cereal they were using. That same day, Danielle Konya ended up posting on the Vegan Treats Facebook page, describing Vegan Treats as "an ethical vegan company" and emphasizing her devotion and dedicated to other animals. It also stated the following:
Danielle has been an ethical vegan for over twenty years, and had rarely encountered the issue with confectioner's glaze. We seldom use the sprinkles and believed them to be 100% vegan. We were assured by the company when we researched them that they did not contain any insect byproducts. Vegan Treats has never meant to deceive or mislead our customers, and we try to be as transparent as possible. We appreciate your concerns because they are ours as well. We have already discontinued the use of the sprinkles and are reaching out to find an alternative.
Our distributor told us that the confectioners glaze in the sprinkles does not contain shellac. There’s some debate now if confectioners glaze can ever be vegan. Until we can find out with absolute certainty, we are taking a proactive step to discontinue the use of sprinkles in our products because of an inability to verify definitively the ingredients of confectioners glaze.The thing is that confectioner's glaze is shellac. And it doesn't take a PhD or a heap of super-human insight to suss out that had the folks at Vegan Treats actually believed that their confectioner's glaze (i.e. shellac) didn't contain shellac, they would not have presented it to Denise and Sabrina as a "controversial" ingredient and written all that they did about having been completely educated on its contents and on how we can't expect to be perfect vegans and 100% "cruelty-free" and that they were going to keep using it anyway, even if fussy vegans like Denise and Sabrina chose not to consume it.
Comments were left in response to asking for clarification and Danielle wrote at 3:26 pm on September 14: "We were told this glaze did not contain shellac, a product we wouldn't knowingly use." Denise's daughter, a hobby baker, knew from reading the ingredients on their packaging that the sprinkles contained confectioner's glaze (i.e. shellac) and in the letters to Denise and Sabrina, Danielle et al. admitted to knowing that the sprinkles contain confectioner's glaze -- and that they were going to use them anyway. Many vegans with whom I've spoken -- and even more who have left comments on the Vegan Treats Facebook page -- have agreed that it's one thing to make an honest mistake and to correct it, but that this entire situation has only been presented as an "honest mistake" in the desperate damage control done following the sharing of the initial exchange between Vegan Treats and Denise, in which Danielle Konya admitted to knowing what they were using and that she intended to keep using the non-vegan sprinkles.
And for those who may actually know the swept-under-the-carpet details about what transpired before the sprinkles were pulled, Konya had an article printed up in her local Lehigh Valley Live paper in which she managed to get HSUS' happy-animal-use-promoting Paul Shapiro to weigh in about nobody's being perfect and perfection being the enemy of the good (or the same old drivel used to prop up advocacy campaigns which stop short of unequivocally promoting veganism). And if anybody still wants to yammer about the possibility of her having deliberately fed her customers an insect-derived ingredient? Well, then Farm Sanctuary's Gene Baur also steps in to self-identify as a self-described "vegan" who occasionally consumes honey. The message is loud and clear: "Hey vegans? Quit your whining. Nobody's perfect and what's a little bit of bug juice, anyway? Now go eat one of Danielle's yummy eclairs!"
Perhaps popular welfarists Baur and Shapiro think there's nothing wrong with vegans knowingly consuming animal products, or with a supposed "ethical vegan" running what's described as "an ethical vegan business" purportedly accidentally feeding her customers animal products found in a common ingredient in the bakery world and widely known to be animal-derived. As I mentioned before, accidents can indeed happen. However, if you choose to water down your own definition of what it means to be vegan and you know that other vegans who may not have chosen to water down their own definitions of what it means to be vegan have placed their trust in you, you're burdened with this thing called "accountability" when it comes to your actions and when it comes to respecting their ethical decisions.
When your actions involve knowingly feeding your customers an animal-derived product you readily acknowledge could very well be deemed "controversial" at least (and repugnant and unacceptable at most), when you do so without full disclosure until someone outs you, when you do not cease doing so until there is enough outrage expressed? That's an entirely different story. And then when the damage control involves playing victim and sympathy-seeking and having others try to shame vegans for being concerned about having possibly been fed those animal ingredients in the first place? Instead of just admitting that you screwed up and knowingly fed your customers something you shouldn't have and promising to change, but instead you engage in a cover-up and the pros who have your back shame the vegans who were unequivocal about their choices? That, to me, is the deal-breaker. That's the "don't let the door hit you on your way out" unapologetically delivered by Vegan Treats to those who know what happened. And that's why I will never again knowingly purchase a product from Vegan Treats.
Please note: Any use of bold-type in the correspondence referenced above was by me.
Posted by M at Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
I was talking to a new local vegetarian friend and we were discussing restaurants we'd visited in other cities. I mentioned that I'd love to see a vegan restaurant open up here, in our shared city.
"Or at least a vegetarian one," she said.
"Well, that wouldn't guarantee vegan options," I pointed out.
"Well, it would probably be better than what's available now," she countered.
"In terms of convenience for vegans? Not really. When they shuffle out meat, they usually shuffle in lots of cheese," I explained, mentioning a bunch of places in town with vegetarian items on the menu which were completely unsuitable for vegans.
"Well, something is better than nothing," she said. "And at least it would get people thinking about not eating meat."
"A vegan restaurant would be better than nothing and would get people thinking about not using other animals at all."
"Well, I have no problem with eating cheese," she said. "It's not the same as eating meat."
"It's all the same," I said. "There's as much suffering and death involved in eating a grilled cheese sandwich as there is in eating a hamburger."
"But it wouldn't really go over, though. A vegan restaurant would be too weird. People like cheese too much and you have to be willing to make some compromises and to draw them in with something."
"How about drawing them in with really good food that happens to not involve animal exploitation?" I suggested.
"You know what I mean," she said, annoyed.
"I think what you mean is that you don't really want to have to eat a dish that doesn't have cheese in it."
"Hey, maybe we can have a vegan restaurant with cheese, eggs and meat options for those who want them," I joked sarcastically.
"That would be great!" she replied enthusiastically. "Just no meat, though. I'd rather not watch people eating animals."
"I'd rather not watch people using animals at all," I said, realizing that we weren't getting anywhere, and reminded once again of the great, great divide between vegans and vegetarians.
Posted by M at Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
A vegan messaged me this morning to say that she thinks that by "obsessing over veganism", abolitionists are apparently doing animals a "disservice". She asserted (the tired old): "Not everybody will go vegan for the animals, so you should at least try to convince them to eat less meat or to do Meatless Mondays. Every little bit helps and telling them it's not enough unless they go vegan just alienates them and leaves them doing nothing at all."
So here's the thing… If I was against wife beating and advocated against wife beating, would someone else who was against wife beating actually say the following to me?
"Not everybody will stop beating their wives, so you should at least try to convince them to hit them a little less hard or to hit them a little less often. Every little bit helps and telling them that it's not enough unless they stop beating their wives altogether just alienates them and leaves them doing nothing at all."Sounds ludicrous, right? The person who sent me the message thought so and reminded me that we were discussing "animals and not humans". I reminded her that humans are animals and that it's precisely this "us vs. them" mentality–of deeming them inferior because they're of a different species–that's used an excuse for the atrocities we inflict upon them.
We're already overrun with advocates from large welfarist groups telling the public that "every little bit counts" and that it's alright for them to keep using animals as long as they use them a little less often or a "little less cruelly". These large animal welfarist groups are generally well-funded by non-vegans who cherry-pick animal causes because they sometimes view some species (e.g. dolphins, seal pups, dogs, etc.) as more worthy of moral consideration than others (e.g. cows, chickens, pigs, fishes, etc.). These large welfarist groups are already effectively promoting this backwards "less is more" message to non-vegans while catering to their speciesism.
I have no interest in reinforcing someone’s belief that other animals are in any way whatsoever ours to use. They're not ours to use if we use them a little bit less often. They’re not ours to use if we give them slightly bigger cages. They’re not ours to use if PETA or HSUS give someone wet sloppy kisses for finding a way to steal their lives that is 10% less horrific than it would otherwise be. They're not ours to use, period. Giving them any less consideration is speciesist. You know what else? Giving them any less consideration as a vegan doesn't somehow cancel out speciesism. Yes, even vegans have a long way to go in identifying and addressing our own speciesism. The evidence for this is most obvious to me when fellow vegans suggest that we should accept their continued use and wrap our advocacy around this acceptance, rather than educating the public to stop using them and to go vegan.
As long as we condone and applaud half-hearted measures where other animals continue to be used, we merely reinforce the speciesist status quo, when it's speciesism itself that we truly and desperately need to eradicate. We owe animals more than to contribute to what we already know is the problem, no?
Posted by M at Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Monday, June 16, 2014
The bottom line is that for any animal advocacy to bring about meaningful long term change for the billions killed each and every year for human pleasure, it needs to address speciesism. Convincing someone to give up beef for climate change, fishes to save the oceans or meat on one day a week for personal health? It merely persuades people to make token gestures for themselves -- often just temporarily -- rather than to initiate meaningful permanent change for other animals. People are left feeling better about choosing the other animal products they'll invariably choose to replace the ones they may omit or use less often. They become convinced that those other options are better or more ethical choices. They’re left feeling good that they’ve done “enough” – and hey, if animal advocates are patting them on the back for it, then surely they’re doing enough, right?
Some animal advocates argue that "something is better than nothing", assuming that getting non-vegans to shuffle animal products around is actually "something" in the first place. How is it "something" if instead of having a burger for lunch on Meatless Monday, someone instead has an omelette? How is it "something" if someone decides to stop consuming beef, but instead chooses to eat chickens or fishes? And why this false dichotomy, as if the only two options available in animal advocacy result in varying degrees of the continued deliberate exploitation of others? Is it not incredibly arrogant for us to think that although a message got through to us and we went vegan that the same could not possibly occur with others?
Those advocates insist that getting non-vegans to "lower" their animal consumption is some sort of "step in the right direction", when the truth is that unless that direction is towards veganism, there are no actual "steps" being taken. When we try to persuade non-vegans to make small token gestures for themselves – for their health, their environment – rather than attempt to persuade them to make meaningful changes for the sake of those billions of others whose lives we steal each and every year, we are bargaining away the lives of innocents. Without addressing the underlying problem of speciesism and turning people’s focus to those others, we have no hope of seriously shifting the status quo.
Worse is that when animal advocates convey to the public that veganism is "too hard" and applaud token gestures, they actually leave the general public less willing to hear and weigh animal rights advocacy and an actual vegan message. After all, why would they listen when they’ve been told that they’ve already done enough? This is the horrible damage caused by groups like Vegan Outreach and all of the other large welfarist groups who pump their fists in the air over false victories. This is the horrible damage which we’re left to undo.
Posted by M at Monday, June 16, 2014
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
I missed this article by Jeffrey Kluger a few weeks ago. I figure that it's because the writing at Time Magazine has been generally unimpressive over the years and that even if the piece had shown up in my news feed, my eyes may have glazed over a little and I may have moved on to the next item. It caught my attention this morning on the Gary Francione: The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Facebook page, where Prof. Francione had included a link and brief commentary in response to it. The general consensus by all, myself included, was that it's garbage journalism at its worst.
According to the Wikipedia entry on him, Kluger is a senior writer with Time. He's taught journalism at New York University, he's written for magazines like Science Digest and he's written several science-related books, including one eventually used by Ron Howard to form the basis for his Apollo 13 film. A bit more digging, however, brings up that he was lambasted just two years ago when he wrote a piece on the Higgs Boson discovery and several science writers immediately fingered it as being "riddled" with errors.
Knowing this makes the poor quality of "Don't Feel Guilty About Eating Animals" a bit more understandable, if not more acceptable. On his Facebook page, Francione summed it up by saying that Kluger "argues that we are hardwired to justify immoral behavior and, therefore, we should feel free to engage in immoral behavior". Basically, Kluger's piece is about a study showing that if people do things that make them uncomfortable (e.g. things which they feel or know are wrong to do), they will try to justify it. According to Kluger, this fact in turn warrants that they continue to engage in the behaviour they've attempted to justify.
Kluger's opening sentence itself is scientifically wrong. He writes: "Like it or not, you're a carnivore." Ask any nutritionist or dietitian, general practitioner or high school biology teacher and they'll set you straight: Humans are omnivores. This trendy use of "carnivore" as a buzzword in mainstream media articles ranting against veganism or animal rights has really gotten old. Kluger then goes on to say that if a cow wanted to -- and could -- eat you, she would, as if the fact that if a cow suddenly became a carnivore and might eat you is justification right off the bat for the continued human consumption of cows. (It's basically a spin on the whole "Lions eat other animals, therefore we should do what lions do" line of reasoning.)
How many logical fallacies and falsehoods can one man stuff into a single paragraph, you've always wondered? Now you know:
The hard truth is, we eat meat, we love meat, and our bodies are built to digest meat. It would be nice if we could pick the stuff off the trees, but we can’t. So apologies to goats and pigs and cows and chickens and fish and lobster and shrimp and all the other scrumptious stuff that flies and walks and swims, but you’re goin’ down.Just because we do something doesn't justify continuing to do it. "Loving" the taste of something (e.g. cigars, handfuls of sugar, antifreeze, etc.) doesn't justify continuing to consume it. As for picking the stuff on trees? I'm guessing that Kluger has never eaten a fruit or nut in his life.
Kluger basically says that in response to the guilt humans may feel as the result of their consuming animal products that they have two options: He mocks the first, which he says is to go vegan ("try that for a week") and suggests that the second is to morally absolve ourselves of wrongdoing -- to convince ourselves that we're still nice folks even if we continue to engage in behaviour we know is unethical. He brings up animal intelligence as a means to shrug off our exploitation, citing the deadbeat dad of the animal rights movement, Peter Singer, as having told him that "there’s very little likelihood that oysters, mussels and clams have any consciousness, so it’s defensible to eat them.” History has shown, however, that Singer is no advocate for other animals. For Kluger to cite him as a sort of authoritative voice to add weight to his own argument that it's alright to eat some of them? It's sort of laughable. At least it's laughable to anyone who has kept up with reactions in animal rights circles to Singer's blatherings in recent years.
Kluger uses this as a springboard to further discuss animal intelligence (calling the chicken "as sublimely dumb an animal as ever lived") and uses the terms "intelligent", "mindful" and "conscious" interchangeably. He writes that most people agree that "the more mindful an animal is, the less defensible it is to eat it" and that, the more one tends to eat a certain species, the lower one tends to rate that species' "consciousness". Basically, our perceptions alter -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- so that we are able to shrug off what we might otherwise deem wrongful behaviour. This isn't really rocket science, though. It's hardly ground-breaking news. Anyone who's ever interacted with a child who's done something bad and who attempts to make excuses for it gets this. Heck, anyone who works in addiction counseling sure as heck gets it, too. It's cognitive dissonance and compartmentalization at its finest. We try to save face. We try to make ourselves feel better about the things we may say or do which we know we shouldn't say or do. Nobody wants to feel guilty and we scramble to alleviate our guilt.
Kluger ends his article saying that however we feel about what we inflict upon others, that it's ultimately up to us to "make our own peace in our own way with what's on our plates". In response to this, your average abolitionist animal advocate would say: "Y'know what? I have an easy solution for you that will allow you to live with yourself in an authentic and meaningful way without the self-deception and without exploiting others." Kluger, on the other hand, gets it backwards and views this self-deception -- this compartmentalization -- as a "necessary skill for a species with a conscience like ours trying to make its way in a morally ambiguous world". So rather than sit back and suss things out and consider not participating in the exploitation, Kluger opts for the self-deception, calling it "ethical expedience" and attempting to prop it up with relativism. "Pay your own check and the meal is up to you."
This is what Time Magazine calls journalism, just when I thought that popular mainstream media couldn't possibly become more disgraceful.
Posted by M at Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Friday, May 23, 2014
It's been a while since I've thought of Jonathan Safran Foer. He last came up in a discussion a few years ago when I had been corresponding about animal ethics with a Jewish cultural anthropologist. My acquaintance had expressed that as long as 1) he "knew" that another animal had received periodic chin scritches while being raised for slaughter, and that 2) as long as most of his dining on animal products revolved around "parts otherwise wasted" (e.g. he would go to pricey restaurants to feast upon a pig's roasted tail or on calf brains, for instance), he felt that he was doing his "bit" to be an ethical eater. He was a huge fan of Michael Pollan's and of the whole "nose-to-tail" part of the slow food movement. He was also a lover of Jonathan Safran Foer's work, whether fiction or non-fiction.
Though always respectful, our discussions became increasingly heated as we spun around in circles. He would rehash the same old, same old arguments commonly raised by "happy meat" proponents; I would volley back with the actual facts concerning other animals' treatment outside of factory farms and would redirect to emphasize sentience and the ethics of use. I teased this Ivy League educated and tenured professor that he couldn't argue his way out of a paper lunch bag when it came to ethics.
Our ethics debates aside, we discussed a variety of other things and he ended up sharing quite a bit with me about Jewish culture and identity. It was Passover and our conversation had shifted to focus on Pesach traditions revolving around food. He was planning to host a Seder for his adult children and his daughter's new boyfriend, as it turns out, was a vegetarian. We discussed the symbolism of the foods served on the traditional Passover Seder Plate and I shared with him the changes some Jewish vegan friends had incorporated into their own annual traditions. My acquaintance taught me about the Haggadah used at Passover Seder and -- see, it really does all tie together -- brought up that Jonathan Safran Foer had just written The New American Haggadah. He forwarded me links to reviews, which helped further explain what the Haggadah means and what it is. (Along with Pollan and Bittman, Foer was also one of my acquaintances ethical food-related inspirational figures. His Haggadah was apparently generally received with a bit of "meh".)
I'd written about Jonathan Safran Foer a few years prior to all of that. When Eating Animals had been released, I had been sent a review copy and after scanning a dozen pages of it, had balked at putting myself through reading a single page more. A few months later on a nearly 24-hour bus trip to Pennsylvania (don't ask), I brought the book to read. I figured that somewhere between snoozing and staring out the window, I could force myself to work through the welfarist text. On the way back, I spent almost 16 hours stranded in a Montreal bus station in a snowstorm, took all of the notes I'd tucked into the book and wrote a lengthy blog post I've never published. Over the years, I've thought of finishing it up to publish it, but all it would point out is how Foer's just one of these sorry excuses for an animal advocate that I'd like to see slip into obscurity. He's non-vegan and has promoted animal exploitation. He has described veganism as an "end goal" rather than a starting point and has publicly dismissed abolitionists as absolutists.
He has come up less and less often in online discussions in recent years, which has left me pleased. His name popped up in my newsfeed today, though, in an article on a restaurant trends site I follow. It seems that Foer has decided to partner up with the welfarist-beloved Chipotle fast-food chain to spearhead a new project intending to feature the words of popular authors on its bags and beverage cups -- Foer's words, as well. I traced a link back to a Vanity Fair article about it.
Foer apparently found himself sitting in a Chipotle restaurant by himself one day, bored. "Why not offer something interesting to Chipotle's overwhelmingly non-vegan customers -- like my non-vegan self -- to look at as they sit eating their animal products? Why not attempt to enhance their experience as they sit and dine upon the parts and secretions of others?" Foer seems to have thought to himself. He soon wrote to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells:
I said, 'I bet a shitload of people go into your restaurants every day, and I bet some of them have very similar experiences, and even if they didn’t have that negative experience, they could have a positive experience if they had access to some kind of interesting text,'" Foer recalled. [...] I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to just put some interesting stuff on [your cups and bags]? Get really high-quality writers of different kinds, creating texts of different kinds that you just give to your customers as a service.’”Chipotle thought his proposed project, called "Cultivating Thought" was a fabulous idea. Anything to enrich its customers' experience, to make them happy -- to potentially boost sales! And organized and endorsed by none-other than "happy meat" supposed maker-of-vegans Jonathan Safran Foer? How could they refuse. When Vanity Fair questioned Foer concerning whether he, a vegetarian, might have had apprehensions about getting into a business relationship with a company that sells meat?.
“There were things that I had to at least think about, like the fact that they serve meat, and I don’t eat meat,” Foer said. “And the fact that they’re a sizable corporation, and that I don’t tend to get involved with sizable corporations any more than I have to, and the fact that I have no interest in marketing for anyone or endorsing anything.Oh, where to begin? Maybe with his passing reference to having had an issue with the "meat" Chipotle serves? Foer is, of course, a non-vegan. I don't remember if he addressed this directly in Eating Animals. I don't think so. His focus in the book was mostly on animals raised for their flesh and I seem to recall Foer suggesting (whether in the book or in interviews concerning it) that he would have less of an issue consuming animal flesh if he was 100% certain that the animal had not been factory farmed. So the fact that Chipotle also serves animal products other than meat seems irrelevant to Foer and, given his decision to go ahead with his project, the fact that Chipotle serves meat isn't a serious issue for him, either. (It's still so bizarre to me that so many have credited him with being such a great voice for veganism or animal rights.)
As for his having no interest in marketing for anyone or endorsing anything? His initiating and leading this campaign, in and of itself, is an endorsement of Chipotle. In turn, endorsing Chipotle means endorsing animal exploitation. That's fairly clear. But you see, Foer sits on the Board of Directors of Farm Forward, welfarist animal agriculture facilitators extraordinaire. Farm Forward's mission is to mobilize the general public against factory farming and to promote more sustainable animal agriculture.
Its staff is mostly comprised of overpaid professional welfarists -- a few who have been hands on involved in helping "happy meat" farms become hugely successful. Its Board of Directors includes an academic whose life's work revolved around welfare reform. According to his Farm Forward bio: "In his research, he is developing methods of 'asking' farm animals what they feel about the conditions in which they are kept and the procedures to which they are subjected." It also includes John Mackey, who is Chairman of the Board and co-CEO of "happy meat" market Whole Foods. Chipotle is praised several times on the Farm Forward website for its more "humane" animal product sourcing practices. In fact, Farm Forward's Board of Directors also includes Frank Reese, who owns and operates Good Shepherd Ranch, which according to Farm Forward itself has been a chicken supplier for Chipotle.
No endorsing? No marketing? Albert Camus once wrote: “When silence or verbal trickery helps to maintain an abuse that needs to be ended or suffering that needs to be soothed, there is no choice but to speak out and show the obscenity disguised by a cloak of words.” It's unfortunate that with all of the research Foer completed to write Eating Animals that he was unable to recognize the extent of his own speciesism. Given that it was written in close collaboration with Farm Forward and that it's now more or less treated as Farm Forward's bible, it's not altogether surprising.
It's mostly sad to me that as gifted a wordsmith as he is, he uses his talent again and again to both facilitate and promote animal exploitation. Whether he does so by spreading and sustaining the "humane myth" that there could ever be an acceptable and ethical manner in which to enslave and slaughter others to serve them up at a fast-food joint, or whether he partners up with Chipotle to enrich the experience of those who provide demand for this continued enslavement and slaughter, his writing becomes no more than a weapon used against other animals. "What's the kindest thing you ever did?" begins Foer's own writing piece contributed for Chipotle's "Cultivating Thought" campaign.
What's the kindest thing, indeed, Jonathan?
Posted by M at Friday, May 23, 2014
Monday, May 12, 2014
I remember with perfect clarity the day it finally clicked for me just how completely meaningless the word "vegetarian" is. It was around six years ago and a friend and I had decided to have a bite and a beer at his favourite restaurant, something we used to do a few times a month. He had been a longtime vegetarian and was a fan of this particular place because it had over a dozen vegetarian appetizers and entrees on its large menu. Also, it was licensed -- thus, there was beer -- and stayed open a little later than most downtown eating establishments. The numerous vegetarian dishes ranged from cheesy artichoke dip to quesadillas. The only two vegan-friendly edibles were the overpriced processed sweet potato fries (hold the pesto mayo dip) and a bland tofu coconut curry dish (hold the buttered piece of ciabatta strangely ordinarily served on the side). I went for the company and nothing else.
My friend was a regular there and the staff was aware of his dietary preferences, so we would ordinarily go and be greeted by a server carrying menus and his favourite beer, and we would be left to suss out what we wanted. (I rarely cracked the menu open, usually resigned to getting the usual plateful of sweet potato fries.) This particular evening, a new server showed up and started rattling off the list of dinner specials, first describing some sort of beef platter . My friend interrupted her politely.
"We don't need to hear the specials," he told her. "We're both vegetarians."
"Oh," she said, looking unsure of what to do.
"Well, I eat fish, but my friend doesn't eat any animal products at all."
The server smiled and looked confused, then left to get our beers.
"I guess you're probably not happy that I'm eating fish again," my friend said, not looking up from the menu. "I'm doing it for health reasons."
"Why would I not be happy?"
"Well, because you think it's wrong."
"I don't control your choices. Besides, there's no real ethical difference between eating meat and eating other animal products."
At this, my friend looked up, frowning. "So you think that just because I'm not vegan, I'm no different from anyone else who eats meat?"
"I know that you mean well, but there really is no difference. Animals are still used and animals still die and end up served to others as meat in the dairy and egg industries. We've talked about this before. Why don't we talk about something else?"
"So you don't think that it matters that in the 20 or more years I've been vegetarian, I've saved lives by not eating meat? How many lives have you saved in the less than a year you've been vegan?"
"It's not a contest," I told him, uncomfortable with how the conversation was going. "Let's just talk about something else for now," I again suggested.
"At least I'm not eating meat. That may not matter to you, but it does matter and it matters to me."
I couldn't help it and asked, gingerly, whether he thought it mattered to the fish.
"Fish can't feel pain. They're not the same as cows."
Quietly, I said: "They can and they are."
"Well, not all vegetarians agree with that."
"Neither of us is really a vegetarian," I offered, thinking back to his earlier assertion to the server.
"We both don't eat meat," he said to me. "That makes us vegetarian. Would you rather I call myself a pescetarian? That's still a type of vegetarian, just like a vegan is a type of vegetarian."
"I don't see veganism as a subset of vegetarianism," I told him.
I explained to him that "vegetarian" is a blanket term for various degrees of animal use restricted to diet. These days, in mainstream media, those various degrees of animal use have been expanded to loosely include eating fish, but an overwhelming majority of vegetarians disagree with this and see it as a watering down of a term whose original definition clearly excludes eating animal flesh. They disagree with it for two obvious reasons. The first is that it confuses things when they use the term to try to explain what they won't eat (i.e. meat). The second is that many view eating meat as somehow being morally different from consuming other animal products.
"But you don't think there's a difference between eating meat or cheese, so why do you care?"
"I don't, really. I just found it sort of funny that you told the waitress that we were both vegetarians.
"Well, you don't eat meat, so how are you not a vegetarian?"
I explained that since vegetarianism is strictly about diet and since the term is understood to include animal use, even in one's diet, that it has nothing to do with veganism. It has more in common with regular old eating-of-everything-ism, which is also understood to include animal use.I explained that the only morally relevant distinction concerns whether someone is vegan or non-vegan.
"So you think that you're better than vegetarians, then?" he asked.
"I don't think that I'm better than anybody. You know that. But veganism is the rejection of all animal exploitation. It involves avoiding all avoidable animal use and it isn't restricted to diet. To call me a vegetarian would suggest that I might eat eggs or dairy and that it's highly possible that I would -- or at least could -- wear wool, leather and so on. It's a completely useless label for me to use practically, plus it has nothing to do with what I believe in. I don't see veganism as a subset of a diet that involves various degrees of animal exploitation while involving likely animal use in other areas. Veganism is no more a specific subset of vegetarianism than it is a subset of eating-everything-ism."
By this time, our server had returned to take our order.
"So, I guess that you don't care, then, if I order the fried clams and chips?" my friend asked.
"Actually, if you did, I might have to leave."
"Aha! So even with all of this talk, you really do think that eating meat is worse than eating other animal products! I knew it!"
"No," I half-smiled, sadly. "It would just really, really smell."
Posted by M at Monday, May 12, 2014
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Some fellow vegans and I were mocking PeTA yesterday. You know the old saying: Sometimes you either have to laugh or cry? Genuine and clear-thinking animal rights advocates know the harms caused by sexist, sensationalist and wishy-washy supersized animal advocacy groups like PeTA. Each and every one of its campaigns and the mainstream public's response to all of them are seemingly never-ending reminders of just how effectively PeTA manages to leave the general public more and more convinced that anyone standing up for the rights of other animals must be missing a few marbles or hopped up on hallucinogens. If I seem to be straying a little into hyperbolic assertions, you really need to forfeit a few minutes of your life sometime to deconstruct one of PeTA's single-issue campaigns. At the very least, it will put things into perspective for you.
It was during this mostly tongue-in-cheek exchange that someone posted a link to a recent article in the UK's Telegraph by someone called Hannah Betts. In response to one of PeTA's ongoing and annoying "sexiest vegan" contets and described as a "vegetarian for some 30 years", Betts purports to answer the question: "Can a Vegan Ever be Sexy?" with a long rant filled with stereotypes, inaccuracies and a sort of rather obvious hatemongering subjectivity which leaves one hoping for the sake of her friends and family that her diatribe was at least somewhat therapeutic for her. (Sometimes it's good to just let it all out, y'know?)
It's no suprise that non-vegans would find it just as easy as vegans do to pick apart PeTA's campaigns -- particular its more sexist and fatphobic ones. Betts starts off by quoting from a PeTA press release:
“People go vegan for a variety of reasons, including the fact that vegans tend to be fitter and trimmer than meat-eaters, which makes them more attractive.”It's unfortunate that rather than just dissect PeTA's equating a person's thinness with sexiness and pointing out the problems inherent in this, and that rather than attempt to bust the whole stereotype of the lean health-nut vegan ('cause we should all be aware that there are vegans of each and every size) and to perhaps write something meaningful, Betts decides to keep her argument superficial. She attempts to establish that vegans are all, in fact, unattractive and undesirable creatures.
They Say Hate Is Blind
Betts suggests that "the notion of a 'sexy vegan'" is "an oxymoron" and then begans a series of snide deprecatory claims that are as much in need of a decent fact-checking assistant as they are just mean-spirited and, in some cases, just sort of bizarre.
Society may have got beyond the stereotype of the vegan as a flaky-skinned, flatulent tree-hugger to the point where it can imagine a flaky-skinned, flatulent tree-hugger wearing Stella McCartney. However, vegans are still not necessarily the individuals one would most want to make eyes at.So, whether or not they're dressed up in a trendy vegan-friendly fashion designer's clothing: vegans smell, have bad skin and are all hippies. This could have been something lifted from one of the Pork Network's badly-written anti-vegan articles. Betts continues by stating that going "plant" is, in fact, a pretty much guaranteed way to shed "one's sex appeal". But then she goes on to rattle off bits about celebrities -- many of whom aren't even vegan -- to try to prove this.
She describes Bill Clinton from his younger and more unhealthy years as "hot stuff" and refers to him now, much older and in less danger of keeling over from a heart attack as "skeletal". She says "[v]eganism has aged him 20 zombieish years" while altogether discounting that perhaps getting older has aged him. Clinton was president a decade and a half ago. The man's he's pushing 70. The fact that he's never been a vegan and now even eats fish and eggs also makes him a weird example with which to begin, never mind that his mug -- regardless of its age -- is likely not the go-to image most conjure up when they hear the word sexy. But the thing is that Clinton's dietary changes were made specifically to facilitate weight loss. He was in bad shape. To say "veganism" made him skeletal and purportedly unsexy is erroneous whichever way you look at it.
Another non-vegan, Beyoncé Knowles, is singled out next. Betts describes her as having become "unrecognisably gaunt, her hair and skin lack lustre" and compared her to a "malnourished waif" following a three week plant-based cleanse she did, designed in part for weight loss. Betts' description of Knowles refers specifically to her most recent appearance on the Grammys, where according to the pictures I've seen on the internet, her skin was glowing, her curves still curvy and her hair looked no different than it has in the past although minus her usual hair extensions. Again, any way you approach them, Betts' claims are bunk.
Natalie Portman (who went back to eating animal products while pregnant a few years back and who was quoted a few months back as anticipating that her forthcoming move to Paris would compromise any attempts at being vegan) is the next celebrity brought up. Betts pulls a big word out of the ether and describes her as "pulchritudinous" (i.e. a word used to describe someone of breathtaking beauty) but unsexy. She then rattles off a bunch of other celebrities (including non-vegan Ellen DeGeneres and some Hollywood starlets I'm certain anyone would deem quite fetching) as further examples. Her list made no sense. I mean, she even disses Brad Pitt. Now, I'm am most definitely not a celebrity worshipping fan-girl, but at this point it becomes obvious that Betts could be presented with a handful of the most universally agreed upon aesthetically pleasing individuals in the world and, upon finding out that they were rumoured to be vegan, would spit on the ground and mutter the words "you're disgusting".
In indulging herself in this diatribe, though, Betts does no better than PeTA. She basically takes a list of successful and (mostly) incredibly talented people, some of them non-vegan and the majority of them women, and belittles them according to her really warped perception of their beauty and sex appeal... and she blames this lacking sex appeal on their purported veganism. It's sexist, sensationalist gibberish not worth the bandwidth used to read the article.
On Attempting to Establish Credibility
Betts tries to build herself as some sort of credible authority on the nasties inherent in veganism by asserting that she has not "eaten meat for 30 years, apart from once" and that she "became a vegetarian for precisely the macroeconomic/ecological reasons that Peta [sic] and its furry friends so admire". She rattles off some stuff about how she became aware, as a teenager, that eating grain-fed animals was stealing grain from "the world's poor [humans]" and that this prompted her to go meatless.
To her credit, unlike most of the large welfarist animal organisations, she does not attempt to feign any sort of interest in animal rights. However, her set-up certainly leaves her with no more credibility to critique veganism. Yet, critique it, she does:
[A] diet confined to plants is an asceticism too far: denying the body, as it denies the life – social and otherwise; facilitating animal existence by curtailing human.She then lists off a bunch of food items as prohibited:
They are obliged to renounce: sugar (coloured with bone char), honey (the toil of bees), red foods (cochineal, made from insects), sweets, mousses, margarines, peanuts and crisps (gelatin, made from animal waste), soy cheeses (the milk protein casein), many breads (butter, whey), beer and wine (tropical fish bladders), even orange juice (often omega-3 enhanced) and the medicinal Bloody Mary (Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies).It's incredibly misleading, of course. I've been told that most white sugar in the UK is vegan (and even if it wasn't, it's not difficult to find sweetener produced without bone char filtration). Apples are red foods. Not all sweets are made with animal products (and -- gasp! -- you can even make your own without animal ingredients), peanuts and crisps are not all made with gelatin and soy cheeses are not all made with casein. Beer and wine are not all filtered with animal products. Not all orange juice is enhanced with animal-derived omega-3. The way Betts describes it, these things are all off-limits across the board. That's deception, plain and simple: "The life one subscribes to under such circumstances is not only obsessional, it is profoundly boring – for oneself and others. (Who could possibly envision a life without Bloody Marys, after all? The horror!)
It's all downhill from there. Betts goes on to refer to vegans as having the "neurotic cast of mind" apparently required to go vegan when, for instance, hypothetically being presented with an otherwise meatless dish with a "thimbleful of chicken stock" in it at a dinner party and lacking the "compassion" to oblige the host by gobbling it up. (Did you think there'd be no shaming vegans for not eating animal products in this article? Honestly? Scroll down and you'll even find the obligatory "holier-than-thou" reference) Betts continues:
[M]ost of us do not have a problem with the notion of animal needs being subservient to human ones. And, while many avoid the foie gras and veal crate extremes, a jar of honey, or a round of goat’s cheese, do not seem especially savage.So there we have it. No surprise that she lumps herself in with an "us" that condones animal use. Some may express shock that someone who self-identifies as a vegetarian would seem so callous about exploiting others, but this is where it's useful to point out that vegetarianism is all about continuing to exploit others. There's no ethical significance between drinking a glass of milk, devouring a pork chop or donning a fur coat. Speaking of fur coats, vegan-hating Betts is a fan.
But hey, just to make sure that her readers realize that she really is a voice of authority on all things "veg" and that she's done her time, self-flagellating with the most pesky of unsexy vegans, Betts spells details the horror of her own self-deprivation:
[M]y own periods of even non-fish consuming vegetarianism have also coincided with anaemia, vitamin B and D deficiency, inability to recover from illness, exhaustion and hair loss. “Trimmer” vegans may be, but the ability to bruise while resting my chin on my hand and the sight of hairballs around my flat did not immediately imply “fitter”.Because, well, nutrition... it's all in the meat, obviously. "Nutritional advice is nothing if contradictory," Betts tells her readers, but then informs them that it's nonetheless generally agreed upon that the healthiest diets in the world include at least some animal products. So it's contradictory if it's pro-vegan, but crystal-clear common sense if it ain't. Got it! It looks as if the diet which I follow while being vegan hasn't yet started to dim my intelligence so much that I can't follow Betts' brilliantly executed and flawless arguments.
Why Dontcha Tell Us How You Really Feel, Sweetheart?
But then again, I have some other issues with which to deal. You see, according to Betts, a vegan like me indulges in "[po]-faced extremes of behaviour" which automatically render me "unsexy". In fact, we vegans are all unsexy "[e]vangelists" and "zealots" and thus "seldom the coolest people in the room". As per Betts, incorporating animal exploitation into our lives would strike a greater balance in terms of "health, planetary preservation [and our] sanity". Hell, it would even finally leave us able to socialise with anyone other than our cats, she says, chuckling to herself over the "gotcha" that the cats eat meat.
Me? I think that given the chance between hanging out with Hannah Betts and a furry feline that I'd take the obligate carnivore's company over the obligate hate mongering idiot's. I get the sense that 99% of the people who left comments in response to her article would agree. Now can someone pass me some alfalfa sprouts? I'm feeling a little faint.
Posted by M at Thursday, March 20, 2014