Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Veganism (Which Isn't Veganism) Is All the Rage



It seems to be the standard now for online news publications to periodically -- or even permanently -- feature a column by someone who is either trying a plant-based diet for a predetermined period, or who is claiming to be going/to have gone vegan. I really wish that more of these columns would be written by folks who were actually inspired to authentically go vegan for ethical reasons involving their rejection of animal use, rather than seeing so many of them written by folks who have an interest in losing weight or have a half-hearted interest in appearing to care about the environment. Every so often, a passing reference is made to factory farms and animal welfare. There's often a paragraph with statistics about greenhouse gas tucked into these pieces and a quote from a dietician or nutritionist, but there rarely ever seems to be anything insightful or honest written about animal use. Basically, most of these columns are written by people who haven't really connected the dots and who are only interested in playing vegan for the sake of churning out some money-making words.

The UK's Swindon Advertiser, this week, offered up the same old, throwing in a few confusing spins for good measure. In "A more ethical way to go shopping", its news editor, Sue Smith, describes her dabblings in "the world of veganism". I am guessing that her "venture" into it in January was for a column describing her trying out a plant-based diet for a week or month. I haven't looked. I rolled my eyes at the very first line which includes the words "eat ethically" and "organic farm". Smith starts off in a confused mess by describing that she tried being vegan a few months ago, then decided to try to be mainly vegan (yeah, mainly vegan) moving forward, but treating herself to animal products "on high days and holidays". So, from the start it's made clear that Smith view animal-derived foods as tasty treats with which she can regularly reward herself. To figure out "where to shop" for these, she decides to go to an "organic farm".

Abbey Home Farm, her readers are told, is run by vegetarians. Although fruit and vegetables are grown there and sold in their shop, cows are also kept and killed to stock the shop with meat, milk, cheese, yogurt and butter. Long-term vegetarians who decided that they wanted "to produce food for the local people". So they took over a farm and added a shop on the premises: "
We wanted a shop where people could see the animals around them. They could see what they were eating," said co-owner Hillary Chester-Master. (I think she meant whom they were eating, but I digress... Vegetarians. Sigh.)

Then these two "long-term vegetarians" decided to set up a café on their farm. Smith calls it a "vegetarian café", adding that "
they do serve meat On Sundays – with just one choice of either chicken, beef, lamb or pork". It's ethically insignificant, of course, since there's no difference between producing dairy or meat for human consumption. But Smith has already shown veganism as being something which can make up a percentage of your diet (i.e. by being "mainly vegan"), so it should be no surprise that she would describe a café selling animal flesh as "vegetarian". I mean, why not at this point, since words and their definitions seem as insignificant to Smith as wether or not humans use or otherwise consume other animals. It's no surprise either that co-owner Hillary Chester-Master, "long-term vegetarian" would also refer to the café as "vegetarian" in the piece. I mean, she even refers to a chicken as "a week's worth of meals".

Smith then babbles about not wanting to support "intensive farming" after her "foray into veganism" and asserts that it's "satisfying (and important" to know the "origins of the animals whose lives would get taken for her pleasure and convenience and she describes herself as a kid in a candy store wandering around the shop and looking at the "food" around her. And so the rest of the article turns into an extended advertisement for Abbey Home Farm. 
Everything is 100% organic. It's up for a BBC food and farming award, the readers are told. Children are brought in to "learn about where their food comes from". The reader is basically lulled into embracing a charming, pastoral vision of what enslaving and slaughtering sentient beings can purportedly involve. The reader is presented this vision by someone who repeatedly touts vegan cred. And this is why I wish fewer non-vegans would make a buck pretending to be writing articles from a vegan-friendly angle. In the end, they're no better than speciesist endorsements for the reinforcement of the status quo. Smith is OK with that. Chester-Master is OK with that. The animals whose lives are stolen by both? Not so much.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On "Selective" Morality



It's Tuesday morning, so I've been sifting through various news articles and opinion pieces mentioning veganism. The headline "Why I believe selective veganism is the way forward" caught my eye. It seems an ongoing project for many to co-opt the term "vegan" and to water it down or otherwise alter it to include or promote deliberate animal use for pleasure or convenience. When I clicked on the link, the opinion piece's title became: "Struggling vegan? Why I believe selective veganism is the way forward" which better clarified the writer's likely angle to me. Veganism is haaard! Treat yourself with animal products to make it easier! I hopped that I was wrong, but these pieces have become so predictable.


"Selective Veganism" Explained


Lisa Bowman begins by defining "selective veganism" as "the vegan version of flexitarianism". Basically, she says that while the latter consists of people who are "mostly veggie" occasionally indulging themselves in meat, that "selective vegans" are people who are "mostly vegan" but who occasionally indulge themselves in dairy and eggs. Um. Yeah. "Here we go again," I thought.
Maybe you’re strictly vegan at home but flexible when you go out to eat? Perhaps you’re 100% vegan until you’re offered free food? Or maybe you won’t touch dairy unless you’re hungover as hell.
At least (i.e. at the very, very least) she acknowledges that "most vegans" would view this as a "cop-out" (no, really?), but she doesn't elaborate upon why they would any further, choosing instead to focus on all of the reasons most vegans would probably be better off cutting themselves some slack and, well, not be all that vegan.

Belonging (or How to Avoid Being an Outsider 101)


Bowman makes a huge -- and wrong -- assumption about vegans when she states that most of us she sees posting on sites like Instagram seem to have enormous vegan support networks. The truth is that most of us don't. Outside of major urban areas, most vegans with whom I've spoken have been fortunate if they've known more than 1-2 other vegans off the internet. Social networking helps with this a great deal, since it's a way for us to connect from a distance, or to meet up where we may not have otherwise crossed paths. Sadly, though, many of the new vegans who've written to me via the blog or my blog's Facebook page, though, have mentioned that they knew no other vegans "in real life".

So Bowman brings up socializing and focuses on eating out, saying that since her friends are all non-vegan, she can't eat at "vegan food joints" and finds herself left with only two options. She says she can either "
make do with what’s available for vegans on the menu, which invariably is either nothing or chips and a miserable side salad" or to eat animal products (she specifies that they be "vegetarian") and to not "stress about it". First of all, it should be pointed out that specifying that vegetarian dishes should be chosen is ethically meaningless, since there's no difference between consuming meat, dairy or eggs. In all cases, animals used for these are bred into existence for human pleasure and live wretched lives which end in slaughter. In the case of dairy and eggs, additional lives are taken whether they be of the calves removed from their mothers so that the milk meant for them can be stolen for humans, or the male chicks who end up killed at hatcheries. As for the rest of it? 

It's possible to socialize with people and to have it not involve food. However, if meals are involved, there can still be options which needn't involve what I'm guessing Bowman thinks would be strong-arming your non-vegan friends into a plant-based restaurant. Bowman says she's in Liverpool. As someone who lives in a tiny city (really a big town masquerading as a city) with a population of less than 57,000, I don't have the luxury Bowman mentions of even having access to a strinctly plant-based restaurant. That said, even my small city has at least a couple of vegetarian (and very vegan-friendly) restaurants, a café with half of its menu consisting of vegan-friendly options and then Middle Eastern or Asian restaurants with a good number and variety of dishes perfectly suitable for vegans, as well as pubs and restaurants with at least 1-2 dishes like stir-fries or veggie burgers whose condiments can be switched out if they're dairy-based. Heck, we have at least two pizza places offering plant-based cheese and a popular downtown restaurant offering Daiya and cashew-based mayo as substitutes. I can think of only 3-4 places in the downtown core out of nearly 30 eating establishments where you might find yourself stuck with nothing but french fries.

Is it really be so difficult in a city the size of Liverpool to suggest a place to friends which would have something suitable on its menu? Bowman makes it sound as if your choices are limited to either 1) depriving yourself of the company of your friends, or being with them and 2) depriving yourself of food unless you compromise your ethics to share a table with them. I mean, I just looked at the Happy Cow listings for Liverpool and am envious. 
Honestly, though, if it really came down to it -- if you really found yourself faced with eating fries or a salad with no other options available -- then, so what? I've been asked out to pubs by friends who've shrugged upon realizing that I had no other options but fries on a given menu and I've ordered the fries and made a mental note to avoid the establishment in the future. I don't understand how a vegan whould -- or should be made to -- feel obliged to purchase animal products in such a situation.

On Selfish Pleasure


In a section titled "So that you don't suck all of the joy out of eating" (i.e. another of the excuses she presents for not being vegan), she admits that her weakness is halloumi. She "loves" it, she reveals. She "loves it" when she's hungover and has it "three times a year" and those three times apparently "bring (her) so much happiness, it outweighs the ethical guilt (she feels). Basically, her own selfish pleasure trumps ethics. So what if kicking a puppy made her happy? Or tripping an elderly person to watch them fall? It's confusing when further along in the article, she cites this same halloumi consumption as having led to her feeling physically ill and then goes on to link eating a "clean" diet with eating a plant-based diet, and eating that plant-based diet with orthorexia and then deciding to continue indulging in halloumi and other animal products for mental health reasons. I won't write about this, since we've already seen plenty of the "I listened to my body" confessionals by "ex-vegans" and Bowman doesn't really provide any clear information that her anecdote was any different.

I don't think that Bowman ever clearly refers to herself as a vegan in the article (which is a good thing for many reasons), but it quickly becomes obvious that the piece is less a "how to help struggling vegans" one than Bowman's own self-defensiveness about her own personal choice to continue using other animals and viewing her doing so as somehow treating or rewarding herself. This self-defensiveness becomes even more obvious later in the article when it takes a more hostile turn.
 


A Good Vegan is a Quiet Vegan


Bowman writes that unless you're a "shouty" vegan, most people won't know that you're vegan so that having to disclose that one is vegan is "awkward". She brings up for instances of being invited to someone's home for dinner or where coworkers surprise you with food. The workplace awkwardness from the latter, I think, would be better avoided altogether if her coworkers simply knew she was vegan in the first place (although by this point in the article, it's obvious that she isn't). Perhaps her own awkwardness comes from having already eaten animal products in front of her coworkers and, thus, feeling hypocritical about calling herself a "vegan" at work, then having to explain why she arbitrarily shifts her boundaries in other circumstances. In this case, I think that being consistent about her ethics would probably be a better solution than using her inconsistency as an additional excuse to further consume animal products. But for an actual vegan, I think that simply clearly self-identfying as vegan could stave off a lot of possible awkwardness.

As for dinner invitations? It's pretty commonplace these days for people to identify or clarify their dietary requirements whenever sharing meals is brought up. But I guess I could see how someone who chooses to side-step ethics to feel a part of the non-vegan gang eating out might be conflicted about asking members of that gang to take her (non-existent?) ethics into consideration when they invite her into their homes for a meal.
Bowman also thinks that explaining that you're vegan entails explaining why you're vegan, and that explaining why you're vegan is "patronising" and to be avoided. (I'm guessing this is where she thinks the "shouty" vegans come in.) She states that rather than risk being patronising, she would choose to exploit other animals. (Note, though, that she again draws an ethically meaningless line here, asserting that she'd consume dairy "to avoid an awkward situation" but would not do so with "meat".)  She brings up travel and mentions that during a stint working at a yoga camp in India, all of the food made available to her contained meat and dairy and that she would have been a "pr*ck" to her hosts if she had abstained. Basically,

Bowman makes it clear, however, that it's not just a question of what she considers to be good manners to eat whatever food is provided to her as someone who presents as eating anything; she throws in somewhat flippantly that she'll eat non-vegan food that's free, since "free food tastes better". 


On Letting the Haters Keep Hating


Bowman also brings up that to avoid getting into a debate about veganism with people who might be antagonistic, she will choose to deliberately eat animal products in front of them and to verbally self-identify as not being vegan. This has got to be one of the most bizarre things I've read in a long while. Of course, at this point in the article, we know that she neither is, nor views herself as a vegan in the sense of the word in which most understand and accept it (regardless of how she later goes on to describe herself as "95% vegan"), so these reasons she continues to list off become more and more confusing. She's writing about how vegans should behave by explaining how she, as a non-vegan, opts to behave in certain situations. This one is no different. I think there are probably much better ways -- certainly more ethical ways -- to avoid or to get out of an unwanted debate about veganism for an actual vegan than to eat animal products and to distance oneself from the term. Bowman seems to have internalized so many negative anti-vegan stereotypes, though, that she can't even actually put herself in the shoes of an actual vegan to consider any other options.

This is evident in her stating that her so-called "selective veganism" allows you to "distance yourself from the extreme vegans". By "extreme" she cites vegans, who confided to other vegans in a Facebook group she had joined, that sitting at a table on Christmas day with non-vegan family members and watching them eat an animal was upsetting to them. She suggests that they should just suck it up
and "get on with it". She then misses the point made by these vegans entirely by insisting:
Just because someone eats meat or milk doesn’t make them a bad person. Their heart may just lie in other ethics.
So, ruining everyone’s Christmas by muttering ‘murderer’ darkly at the dinner table every time Gramps lifts a piece of turkey to his lips isn’t okay. 
There's a difference between leaning on fellow-vegans for support in a private setting (e.g. in a Facebook group) because something is upsetting to you, and being passive-aggressive and/or rude at a dinner table. Also, just because someone's behaviour is upsetting to you doesn't necessarily mean that you think they're a "bad person" in general. Vegans learn to compartmentalize when living the lives in which we constantly interact with other non-vegans. We know that exploiting others is wrong and we live with the reality that over 98% of the people around us actively participate in that cycle, including people who have been our loved ones since before we went vegan. We do still see the behaviour as wrongful, though. But what on earth does it mean to say "(t)heir heart may just lie in other ethics"? It's gibberish to me (but then so is much of this article, to some extent or another).

The "Takeaway"?


She finishes off the article with the typical reducetarianist arguments that "every little bit helps". She uses an argument I'm used to hearing from groups like the misleadingly named welfarist group "Vegan" Outreach, that eating some animal products makes veganism (sic) more "sustainable in the long run". Let's get this straight: Vegans don't deliberately consume or otherwise use easily avoidable animal products. So, if you deliberately consume or otherwise use easily avoidable animal products, you're not a vegan. Your continuing to deliberately participate in animal exploitation doesn't make your "veganism" more "sustainable"; it makes your continued animal exploitation more "sustainable" for you. It just reflects that you haven't taken a long hard look at your own speciesism and that you haven't rejected the notion that other animals exist for human pleasure or convenience. The former is quite significant and the latter is pretty much what going vegan entails.

Veganism isn't a diet imposed on you against your will. Vegans choose to go vegan because it's quite honestly the very least we owe other animals. It's not something you can adhere to 95% of the time while viewing it as a treat to gobble up this or that animal part or product for your own pleasure or convenience. If you view consuming or using other animals as a "treat" to which you're entitled for otherwise depriving yourself of using them, you really (no, really) need to ask yourself what's going on in your heart and head. Criticising veganism as being "too all-or-nothing" if it doesn't involve your choosing to gobble up your beloved dairy-based halloumi misses the point of veganism entirely. Bowman may view deliberately using animals as being a her being a "selective vegan" or "struggling vegan" when the plain truth is that it's neither. It's just ordinary ol' non-veganism.

Ultimately, the only valid thing Bowman has written in this entire article is that most vegans would view her position -- one advocating animal use for vegans as a means to stay "vegan" -- as a "cop-out". It's a "cop-out" at the very least. Sadly, though, Bowman's piece is a pretty standard example of the kind of speciesism reinforced and promoted by a wide number of purported animal advocates today. We need to do better. We need to do so much more.

Monday, January 09, 2017

On Whinging About Going Vegan When Not Going Vegan


Earlier this morning, on the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page, I posted a link to a Huffington Post blog by Lee Willscroft-Ferris, founder of TheQueerness.com. Its first post was basically an announcement to set it up, presenting the context behind it that Willscroft-Ferris -- a longtime vegetarian -- had decided that going vegan was the next "logical step" for them to take, describing the ethical reasons behind doing so. Although the blog title ("Veganism: My Journey Towards Ethical Eating") is unfortunate, Willscroft-Ferris does describe going vegan in terms of overall lifestyle choices and as a "political" act, so hopefully it won't ultimately hinge upon food, but will explore all aspects of animal use. I'm keeping my fingers crossed although sometimes when it comes to writings about veganism in mainstream media, doing so feels like waiting for crumbs to be thrown.

Usually, so very many of these types of opinion pieces in the media end up being insincere bandwagon-hopping attempts to just drop the word "vegan" in an article without the article's ever actually having anything to do with veganism. Someone will decide to put themselves on a diet without doing any research whatsoever, then spend the article or series whinging about how deprived and inconvenienced they felt because they had no ethical issue with using animals in the first place. This is almost always the case with anyone who adopts a different diet without preparing themselves for it, though. Throw into the equation that veganism isn't just a diet and that there's this little thing called "motivation" which factors into the decision made by those deciding to actually go vegan in earnest and it's no wonder that these types of articles so often present "going vegan" as an awful experience.

Take for instance this article on the German Deutsche Well (DW) broadcaster's website. In "Visiting vegan: Could you give up animal products for a week?", British Berlin-based reporter Louise Osborne decides to embark upon the #howgreenami challenge (which I think is an environmentally-focused short-term thing launched by someone or other on Twitter) by purportedly "living vegan for a week". I found myself shaking my head from the beginning of the article. She describes having to replace warm fur-lined leather boots for cold Converse sneakers (there are plenty of winter footwear options available on the market which aren't made using animal products and which still keep your feet comfortable warm). Thus, from the start, "living vegan" is portrayed as miserable. In fact, just two days and four paragraphs in, Osborne states that all she feels is "resentment".

That it's self-depriving is also drilled home as the Brit writes about having had to give up her morning tea, because she usually drinks it with "a splash of milk" and hasn't been able to subject herself to the absolute horror of trying out a plant-based milk in it. She writes: "I'm not quite that desperate … not yet, anyway." So much for even exploring other options. She just assumes that those options would be hideous.

She pauses at this point to drop some statistics at this point about the rise in veganism in the United Kingdom, mentions the oft-cited UN report on the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gases, discusses the popularity of veganism in her adopted home of Berlin, then jumps right back into writing about her woeful experiment.

She decided to point out the social inconvenience of going vegan by bringing up an unplanned and unresearched restaurant outing with friends. The restaurant chosen ends up being one specializing in cheese fondue and grilled meat and as her friends encourage her to "cheat", she orders up creamless pumpkin soup and french fries. As her friends indulge in fondue, she whinges that she feels "left out" even though she doesn't "even like cheese". At this point, the writer's tone seems more akin to that of a sullen or petulant child's than it does one befitting a reporter earnestly exploring an angle for a story. She admits to having "cheated" and to having had wine she knew was processed with animal products and writes that "(i)gnorance is bliss".

She complains about visiting a vegan-friendly restaurant and ending up with chocolate she felt was sub-par compared to the milk chocolate she loves. Then, back to this weird confusion about clothing and her choosing to portray vegans as suffering through the winter months, she complains about her cotton scarves failing to keep her warm. She brings up the word "deprivation" to launch into the token interview with someone presented as an authority on old-hat veganism, writing that she wanted to know how "they lived" with deprivation. So she goes to a market and talks to a purported "health" vegan, then to someone motivated by animal welfare and treatment.


Osborne takes the opportunity to discuss treatment, writing that although she's concerned about it, that she doesn't "
absolutely oppose animals being slaughtered for food". She then brings up that old overused "but if we don't use wool, we'd have to use fossil fuels to make clothing" excuse. She then returns to her token vegan expert, the welfarist, who admits to her that she still uses leather and believes in making her "own rules" about which animal products she uses. She tells Osborne that she doesn't like being told what to do. Osborne wraps up her article agreeing with this attitude, referring to veganism as overly "strict" and finishing her piece off on an "every little bit counts" note.


The (un)funny thing is that these days, many welfarist animal advocates would likely read this article and repost it, presenting it as a positive thing and as a "victory" in terms of veganism being written about in mainstream media. To me, articles like these just reinforce the same old tired lies peddled by large welfarist organisations that veganism is too hard, too extreme, too alienating to the general public, too inflexible, et al. It's articles like these which these organisations use as "proof" that going vegan should be presented not as the least one can do for other animals, but as the most. Articles like these get used to argue in favour of focusing public education on flexitarianism, reducetarianism and all other forms of what is, essentially, excusetarianism. What we need to remind ourselves is that articles like these aren't about going vegan and that if we don't speak up about what going vegan really is that nobody will connect the dots. If we don't dispel the lies and bust the stereotypes, nobody else will. Louise Osborne certainly won't.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Misguidance

(This was taken from a January 18 post on the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page. I'm posting it here because I encountered something similar again late yesterday evening, which left me sad again at how ineffective -- even counterproductive -- some of us are in keeping the focus on what's important as we welcome new vegans into our community and offer them our support.)

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In a small vegan Facebook group this morning, I saw a thread in which a young mother of a 5- and 7-year-old who'd just gone vegan reach out to ask about alternatives to some of the foods her kids have enjoyed as treats or as convenience foods. She pointed out that as a parent with a cooperative partner (who is open to following her lead) that it may very well be up to her to decide what to feed her little ones, but that one's a fickle eater and that she's hoping to transition them to plant-based foods with the least amount of hassle. She was asking about things like Daiya and veggie dogs, asking if tater tots were vegan-friendly, which ice creams were better, etc.

Instead of answers to her specific questions, she received a big mess of a lecture about feeding her kids junk food. When she pointed out that they also eat fruits and vegetables and that she had those covered -- that she needed help with her other questions -- 3-4 people basically made it clear to her that they thought she was a bad mom 1) for having fed her kids junk in the first place, and a bad vegan 2) for not completely switching them over to an organic whole foods diet instead of seeking vegan-friendly alternatives to the junk foods they enjoyed. She insisted again that she does feed her kids as much healthy stuff as she can and that she wasn't looking for information on how she should be feeding them from A to Z, but would be grateful for advice in response to her other questions.


A few people became indignant at this and one went so far as to tell her that she was the sort of person who gives vegans "a bad name" since her kids will "no doubt end up malnourished and the subject of (medical/legal) intervention". Not surprisingly, she told them to go stuff themselves with beans and left the group.

For the everlovin' sake of pete, don't ever let this be the sort of "support" you give other new vegans who seek community and guidance. Is proper nutrition as important for vegans as it is for everyone else? Of course. But going vegan doesn't mean having to embrace a whole foods, fat/salt/sugar-free, nothing-out-of-a-box diet. Most of us eat convenience foods from time to time and are doing perfectly fine. Most importantly, though, for someone who is new to veganism and who is earnestly trying to transition family members along with her, convenience foods can be useful. To shame someone for using them accomplishes nothing, especially when that someone is already very likely being shamed by non-vegan friends and family members around her for wanting to transition her kids in the first place. Vegan parents face enough invalidation from non-vegans around them; they should expect better from other vegans, shouldn't they?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

On Absence from Blogging

I've been talking about blogging with a friend whose advocacy I've respected for a long while. I've had more than a few people ask me why I haven't been writing for the last year. It's weird looking back at how I used to blog so frequently, whenever a relevant story or opportunity arose and then at how my own responses have diminished in frequency. To cite "burnout" would be obvious, I guess. The politics in animal advocacy have left me feeling a bit fried. I used to find strength in my involvement, but not so much these days. That's not to say that I haven't felt the urge to recognize or applaud others whose work I've continued to admire, appreciate and promote. A lot of my advocacy has shifted over to the sharing of articles on Facebook on My Face Is on Fire's page and I've spent a large chunk of time maintaining and moderating an international cuisine page there, as well.  I've commented there, for sure, often rambling on in status updates. I've just neglected to update the blog. I hadn't realized how much I'd stayed away from it until this week, when I noted that I'd only posted twice this year.

I hope to get back into blogging. I've spent more time being introspective, I guess, than in paying attention to the politics in the movement. I've kept an eye on some of the discussions had. There've been so many. I hope to feel more comfortable sharing my own insights into all of it as an abolitionist vegan, as I've done before, but adding more to it. I'd like, I think, to drill down a bit more, to explore how things affect vegans on a day-to-day sort of level -- to continue to offer support to fellow vegans who forge on and who strive to share the vegan message with others. I'd like to be more earnest about some of what that entails while continuing to share how essential and simple it is to make changes to our lives once we've identified and chosen to reject the speciesist views we're taught to embrace from the ground up our entire lives. We need to support each other as vegans. When it comes to animal advocacy, we need to support each other as abolitionists. I don't expect activists who've been hurt by others to support those others, but would like to see less of that hurting going on. I'm not talking about glossing over facts and honest discourse here, or about silencing valid criticism. There needs to be honest discourse. We need to be challenging each other. We do. But we need to consider being each other's sounding boards first and foremost. We can criticize constructively if we leave our egos out of it and focus on the fact that billions of lives depend on our getting our collective shit together. Particularly when the alternative for most who are paying attention is to listen, instead, to the blaring welfarist voices championing SICs and more "gentle" forms of animal exploitation.

I want to keep writing. I need to keep writing. That said, so many others are doing it so very well that I plan to spend some time here highlighting them. Their work as abolitionists has been inspirational to me, regardless of their political allegiances. I can't not continue trying to do something, because the overwhelming majority of the people around me continue to use others -- to contribute to their torture and slaughter. My friends and family contribute to the torture and slaughter of others. So this little bit that I can do to try to get people to reconsider their own participation in all of this is the least I can do over and above refusing to participate in it myself. It's the very least I can do.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Veganism is Ethics in Action


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.

Whatchoo Eating?

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.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How Not to Be an Annoying Vegan?



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!)

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Vegan Food Bloggers


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.

7) VB6

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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Sprinkles and Integrity


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:

Hello,

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.

Denise

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 info@vegantreats.com 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,

Danielle Konya

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:
Hello Danielle

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,

Denise

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.

Thank you,

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.

Sabrina

Their response to her later that day was the following:
Hi Sabrina,

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,

Joy Grant
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.

Sincerely,

Joy Grant
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.

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
.
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:
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.


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Please note: Any use of bold-type in the correspondence referenced above was by me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Great Divide


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."

Silence.

"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.