Sunday, July 19, 2009

Dribs and Drabs in the Media

It's not surprising to find yet another article like this that classifies fish eating as a type of vegetarianism (calling it "pesco-vegetarianism"). It's also no surprise that its author discusses the supposed dangers of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in any diet lacking animal flesh (or other animal products), or that the author describes vegans as "sometimes" consuming honey. The mangling of such stuff in the media has become quite commonplace.

What did catch my eye, however, was that in an article about eschewing the eating of animals, the only reasons given that anybody would choose to do so are "eco- and health-friendly reasons". No mention of ethics. No mention of concerns for animal rights, or even of concerns for animal suffering. It felt like the strangest compartmentalization. Has it really come to this?


Babble said...

Oh, the "sometimes honey" bit gets totally on my nerves, but to be fair, it's not entirely this author's fault. I was surprised to find honey used *as an ingredient* in several dishes and prepackaged goods at a *raw vegan cafe* in Las Vegas.


People, please: honey is an animal product. It is not - by definition - vegan. Sigh

Mylène Ouellet said...

It's not so much the honey reference that left me scratching my head. It's not uncommon for that to be misrepresented. It's the fact that the only reasons presented for going vegan were health and environment related, completely taking the most important factor (i.e. the nonhumans themselves) out of the equation.

Babble said...

Oh, I get that, completely.

I suppose I'm just becoming desensitized to it. In non-vegan circles, I really expect that finding a serious consideration of vegan ethics to be the *exception* (decidedly so) and not the norm.

It's everywhere. Remember the Boston Globe review of "The Vegan Cook's Bible" that you linked to? The reviewer made fluffy claims about "virtuous eating" for a couple of weeks as if she was trying on a new coat.

I wonder how much of this particular article's focus (or any of dozens like it) is due to the fact that either:

a) There are far more "health" vegans or "eco" vegans out there than I realize, and ethical vegans are a distinct minority.

Or b) Most vegans tend to downplay whatever ethical considerations they may have when talking to nonvegans for fear of being seen as preachy or vegangelists, or etc.

...Of course, it's also entirely possible, I suppose, that the writer of THIS piece didn't actually talk to many (or any) vegans before writing the piece.

gfrancione said...

Dear Friends:

With respect to the "pesco-vegetarian" label, this is precisely the problem with taking the position that meaning is a simple matter of use, particularly in contexts in which there are significant economic incentives to appropriate and confuse.

As for the omission of any mention of rights or moral concern, I find that these issues are increasingly subsumed under the "eco" heading. That is, moral concern about nonhuman animals is analogized to moral concern about the environment. This, of course, is problematic in a number of respects, not the least of which is that the issue of animal use becomes linked to what are often completely instrumentalist views about ecological consequence.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Babble said...

Let me be clear about this at the start: concern for the environment *is* important.

But it's pointless to try and use environmental concern to talk about the moral status of animals. It just turns into a discussion of ever-'greener' forms of happy meat. The whole question of the fundamental *unethical use* of animals gets shoved to the side, in favor of "well, the way we use them now is unsustainable, so we need to find sustainable ways to keep on using them."

gfrancione said...

Dear Babble:

I do not and never have denied the validity of the environmental argument. And there are versions of the environmental argument that include non-consequential moral concerns. But these are distinct ideas and it is not good to blend them, particularly given that the dominant form of environmentalism is relentlessly consequentialist.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Lucas said...

Here are some great articles that blow the whole "honey is vegan" idea out of the water.

Babble said...

Hey Prof. Francione,

I don't mean to imply that environmentalism is *bad* -- I just don't think it makes a strong ethical case for *veganism* in too many cases. It's still easy to make a claim that sustainable farming includes some use of animals. It *can* include veganism as a component, but in and of itself, it doesn't really get to the ethical root of the problem (for me, anyway).