Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Erik Marcus Really Needs a New Domain Name - Part I

I've been reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, for the past couple of weeks now, squeezing in a paragraph here or there during lunch breaks and usually scribbling as many words down--shaking my head in disbelief--as actual words I've read. Around a month ago, I had a conversation with a vegan writer on Twitter about Foer's recent media darling status. She asked if I'd read the book and I told her 'no', and that the idea of actually spending money on such a thing was disconcerting to me, given all that I'd read about it. She suggested I contact the publisher to obtain a sample copy to review for my blog, and so began my slow trudge through what I'm starting to suspect may end up being the most beautifully written piece of absolute garbage I've ever read. (I'll reassess that once I get to the end, of course, when I plan to write a review of it--an autopsy, more or less.)

So Foer has been all over the news on the internet, in magazines and in newspapers. Kathy Freston, vegan cleanse diet guru (who enjoyed her own fifteen minutes of being a media darling a few months ago thanks to PETA-approved Oprah), recently called him
"the Michael Pollan of a younger generation". Now, the last time I checked, Michael Pollan wasn't trying to talk anyone into going vegan. Neither is Jonathan Safran Foer, for that matter. In fact, from interviews, it seems that Foer isn't even necessarily bent on talking anyone into becoming a vegetarian, so it made enough sense that someone who made her name talking a famous talk-show host into adopting a vegan "diet"either for a month for health reasons should compare him to a guy like Pollan, who is known for promoting a trend known as "ethical" omnivorism. They're all people who seem to be cashing in on various food-related trends that, on some level or another, either directly involve or lead to the excusing away of varioius types of animal exploitation. What amazed me, however, was to hear fellow-vegans pick up on the Foer-mania and start lauding him for supposedly promoting veganism.

One such vegan is Erik Marcus, who's apparently written a couple of books about factory farming (neither of which I've read) and who happens to own the domain Vegan.com where he serves up what he refers to on Twitter as his "snark" (often just links to news stories about meat consumption, with a line or two of commentary) and where he features episodes of his podcast which is listed on iTunes as VegTalk (which, given the number of times Paul Shapiro has been a guest during the past several months might be more appropriately called HSUSTalk).

Marcus recently announced on Twitter that he'd be interviewing the non-vegan Foer and asked his followers what they'd like him to ask Foer. No surprise that many of the responses included asking Foer 1) why he doesn't promote veganism and 2) why after having done all of the research into factory farming that he did for the book, Foer is not vegan (he's on the record as being an on-again, off-again vegetarian at best). Marcus blew a gasket after Adam Kochanowicz, host of the Vegan News, offered his suggestion:

AbVegan @VeganDotCom Ask yourself why you're interviewing him. Ask Foer why he's not a vegan.
To which Marcus responded, tweeting:
VeganDotCom I should ask Foer how he's already managed to accomplish a million times more for farmed animals than what you've done. @AbVegan
Numerous tweets from various animal advocates imploring Marcus to elaborate upon what it was, exactly, that Foer had supposedly accomplished that was a million-fold better than Kochanowicz for "farmed animals" more or less went unanswered (albeit with Marcus' repeated insistence that Foer's having merely appeared on "Martha and Ellen" was somehow concrete evidence of his having made a difference in the lives of the animals we enslave to slaughter and eat). Other ignored tweets pointed out that on his own website's main page, Foer directs people to where they can buy locally raised turkeys to eat. Why indeed, as Kochanowicz asked, would a vegan who claims to be pro-veganism get excited over interviewing someone who exploits animals and enables and assists others in exploiting them?

So on with the interview...

Marcus starts the interview off gushing over how much he and Foer have in common, particularly since they've both written about factory farming (Marcus returns to this gushing state several times in his interview, but in the interest of not overstating what was already embarrassingly overstated, I'll refrain from revisiting it myself). They talk about the wrongful vilification of farmers, described by Foer as being mostly people who "care" about the animals they raise for food, but who are somewhat helpless when it comes to whatever technology they use to confine and kill and who are ultimately driven by consumer demand. Where demand driving exploitation is concerned, they get it right. Unfortunately the portrayal of helpless and caring farmers gets carried a bit far by Foer as he goes on about all of the farmers he met who were bona fide members (or former members) of PETA. He then goes to talk about what he calls "values" these farmers apparently share with
"animal rights activists", citing this as the reason there is a need for animal activists to move "away from obsession with the divisive questions which, frankly, right now, in America, are not the relevant questions".

At this point, I wondered how much coaching Marcus did before this interview. I don't recall Foer ever using the term 'divisive' before, but it's been volleyed at abolitionists (and particularly at Prof. Gary L. Francione) innumerable times to silence differing opinions (usually when those abolitionists' opinions involve rejecting regulationist welfarism--which
perpetuates the continued exploitation of nonhuman animals--and insisting on vegan advocacy that has as its goal the end of the exploitation of nonhuman animals). It's no wonder that Foer would conflate animal advocates with farmers, or confuse animal rights advocates with animal welfare advocates, given that throughout the interview, Marcus himself refers to the animal movement as the "vegetarian movement" and sometimes seems to use 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' interchangeably. But I'm getting sidetracked when there's so much more to cover...

I'll be doing that in Part II of my Marcus/Foer love-in review tomorrow.

15 comments:

Jay said...

I really tried to avoid commenting on the "lovefest" that was that interview, and I'm glad I did. You commented on it far better than I would have, which probably would have included key smashing and misspelled curse words.

Looking forward to part 2! =)

Mylène Ouellet said...

Thanks! I've only just stuck my toe into the water with this long-winded rant. Unfortunately, I need a good long nap before I can make some sense out of the equally long-winded second part of it that actually dives into the really nasty stuff that Marcus pulled.

Jay said...

Oh, I wish you the best of luck. I was very, very angry at the end of that interview ...

Philip said...

Peoples,
All one has to do is listen to Erik debate Gary and it will turn you into a revolutionary! To take back that domain name by force!!
OK..actually if you listen to that debate which I believe you can find on Gary's site.. you will take pity on Erik and wish him a speedy recovery from his self inflicted wounds.
After watching Erik speak once and hearing him in that debate w/Gary I began to suspect Erik was a comedian... possibly playing a tired satire schtick of a wimpy whiney vegan.
I'm thinking now possibly that Mr Marcus may be funded by CCF. That's my best and most honest assumption of the man.

Vanilla Rose said...

As a follower of this blog, I hope that you will have the energy to do further research into the psychology of why so many people seem to want to claim the title "vegan" without the wish to actually be vegan. You have cited so many examples of this, and pulled their arguments apart very well. But I am left wondering: what is their motivation?

vegaia said...

Aren’t humans amazing Animals? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions of more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."


~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates~

Check out this informative and inspiring video on why people choose vegan: http://veganvideo.org/

Also see Gary Yourofsky: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bagt5L9wXGo

James Crump said...

It is sad, but not surprising given Marcus's track record of servility to the corporate welfarist "movement", that Erik Marcus, the owner of "vegan.com", would promote - as the best reading material of 2009 - a book that has nothing whatever to do with veganism written by a nonvegan who promotes nonveganism. The irony of this situation, which is perhaps too terrible to be edifying given that Marcus seems to have at least some influence in the animal movement, passes belief and, furthermore, seems to be totally lost on Marcus himself.

When confronted with the fact that Marcus's "activism" cannot intelligibly be considered consistent, even under the most generous analysis, with pro-vegan values, Marcus attempts, lamely, to brush people off with witless and charmless reposts like: "Are you on drugs?", or: "WTF?" Indeed his most "substantive" self-defense seems to be to point out that a certain five letter word occurs in the title of his books. Since this is all Marcus has to demonstrate that he is pro-vegan, he may as well, as children do, stamp his feet and declaim his virtue. More important, however, Marcus's books, which he takes to be a knock-down argument against the charge that he is not pro-vegan, are in reality a confirmation of this, as they promote, not veganism, but rather welfarism.

A suggestion: Why don't we start a online petition asking Erik Marcus to give up the "vegan.com" domain name?

LiveVegan said...

Great blog Mylene. The 42 minutes of the Marcus interview with Foer I wish I could have back ;-) Lucky I can multitask. The very sound of Marcus' voice irritates me. Vegan.com is a disgrace.

LiveVegan said...

James I like your suggestion to start a online petition asking Erik Marcus to give up the "vegan.com" domain name? Maybe you could start a twitition ? ;-) Seriously

Amanda Rock said...

I'm so confused about all these books that tell the reader how horrible animal exploitation is and then just sort of shrug and denounce veganism because it's SOOO hard. I think they're in it for the money. :p Ha ha. Last week I read 'Food Matters' by Mark Bittman (who totally seems like a nice guy!) and was just blown away at the stupidity. So confused!

Crystal said...

I'm surprised to see usually intelligent people acting so immaturely. I've been watching this little flame war unfold on twitter, as I'm sure most people have, and I'm so surprised. People are acting like middle school students.

Marcus's book Meat Market is actually a pretty decent AR book, and it makes him seem far more mature than he's acting.

Allyson said...

I am really glad to have read this. I couldn't bring myself to listen to the interview. I re-tweeted it, more to see how others viewed this whole thing. I am quite fed up with all of the Foer hype and perplexed by his popularity, especially with vegans. All it is doing is confusing the American public, and asserting that it is okay to participate in morally unacceptable acts, as long as we think a little about it first. Foer is unfortunately... just another celebrity... but he's cashing in at the animals' expense. I would like to see how many people he's converted to veganism... because, isn't that the point?

Why preach if you don't practice yourself? I know I would be pretty off put if I found out, say, the Dalai Lama was a fraud... Just sayin'.

Thanks...:)

ian said...

THANK YOU for writing this, and I am looking forward to part 2...

Dave Shishkoff said...

Agreed - Marcus should hand over the name, preferably to the Vegan Society of the UK.

James Crump said...

As to Marcus's hackneyed sarcasm, euphemistically referred to by Marcus himself as "snark", it is at best witless and charmless (as when, in a recent blog entry, he insulted Prof. Gary Steiner), and at worst, an attempt to shut down movement discourse re: the failure of welfarism.