Thursday, June 11, 2009

Max, Stop Pulling on My Pigtails, Will Ya?

Yesterday, The Atlantic's "Vegeterianismism" writer Max Fisher tweeted about his latest article--this one focusing on what he assesses as vegetarians' proper behaviour. In his tweet, he linked to my blog post from a month ago, where I'd commented on his own piece where he'd directed a fair amount of hostility at vegans for not being hypocrites about their ethics when it comes to consuming animals. The funny thing is that in his tweet, he described my original piece as "hate mail". I certainly don't hate dear Mr. Fisher, nor have I ever mailed him. But I certainly have an appreciation of how easy it could be for some to misunderstand very basic points. And I digress...

In "Risotto, Not Rhetoric (or Red Meat)", Max Fisher starts off in a self-deprecatory manner by describing what a lousy cook he was after first having become a vegetarian. He also shares how obnoxiously preachy he feels he was at the time, trying to "shame others" into shunning meat. Fisher states his point quite clearly that preaching is "hypocritical" and that he's "always found it amusing that vegetarians can be so concerned about the well-being of animals and yet quite ready to shame their own parents". He then goes on to express how the only real way to spread the vegetarian word is by focusing on the "joy" inherent in it, and not "the harm of others". That's kind of like saying that you should try to convince people to not smoke by conveying to them the joy of breathing (for instance), while avoiding any mention of lung cancer, emphysema, or stroke.

Fisher then tells a tale that I think is meant to be a success story exemplifying his championed method of avoiding "the V-word" while sneaking vegetarian food into dinner guests. He shares the tale of how he managed to get his unhealthy college professor to give up eating red meat, stating how it was "evidenced by the prodigious amounts of chicken he ate at our regular dinners". Less cows, more chickens? I guess that the "V-word" that should be avoided here is 'victory'. At least where the chickens are concerned.

I'm all for winning people over with their taste buds and happily-filled bellies. Years ago, I worked in in an office where monthly potlucks were the norm and I always took the opportunity to bring a couple of creative vegan dishes to share with colleagues, to give them the chance to get a taste of just how delicious vegan food can be. That being said, I hope that Mr. Fisher isn't actually advocating that those who are serious about what he calls the cause should refrain altogether from
ever talking about their reasons for not wanting to use animals. I mean, somewhere between browbeating people over dinner and donning an apron to convert people from eating cows to eating chickens, there's gotta be some grey area, no? At least, let's hope that we can acknowledge a more effective way to help animals.

I particularly appreciated what Professor Gary L. Francione had to say a little over a year ago about the many opportunities that exist to educate people about veganism, and of how "the most effective opportunities are calm, friendly exchanges between two thinking human beings". Talking about ethics isn't tantamount to proselytizing. Sometimes it's just a question of helping people connect the dots. And as Professor Francione writes, "every person who goes vegan is a vital contribution to the nonviolent revolution that will eventually shift the paradigm away from animals as property and toward animals as persons". How one chooses to communicate is indeed essential. It's just as essential, however, that vegans not, in turn, be shamed into not talking about their veganism. After all (and as I hope Mr. Fisher agrees on some level), the ultimate goal is to help the animals--not harm them.

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