Here's a talk given by Will Potter from the Green Is The New Red website mentioned in my previous post today. His bit was at the "Animal Law: Working With the Grassroots" conference at the University of Washington in May of 2008, in which he was a member of the "Representation of Activists" panel. In it, he elaborates upon the "Green Scare" by explaining how the US government--in part through the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA)--has come to vilify and attack environmentalist and animal rights activists, right down to your average vegan potluck attendee.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Andrew Stepanian was jailed in a secretive US prison known as a Communication Management Unit (CMU) after being sentenced to three years under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), a recent post-9/11 act criticized by everyone from the ACLU to animal welfare and animal rights groups for its inclusion and criminalizing through broad strokes of legitimate civil disobedience.
On Thursday, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed Stepanian about his imprisonment, and discussed his case--along with the serious concerns regarding the existence of CMUs and the enforcement of the AETA--with Stepanian's lawyer, as well as with Will Potter who runs the Green Is The New Red blog. Incidentally, Potter's blog is a must-read for anyone in the environmentalism or animal rights movements. It focuses on the real-life repercussions of the Green Scare, comparing the US government's focus on environmentalist and animal rights activists to the Communist witch hunts of the 40s and 50s.
A transcript of the interview and discussion can be found here.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
In his Unpopular Vegan Essays blog, Dan Cudahy wrote an excellent piece contrasting the rights-based abolitionist approach to new welfarism. He clarifies what importance either side places on veganism, with abolitionists using it as their absolute moral baseline, and new welfarists embracing it as more of a tool (e.g. to boycott the animal slaughter industry). Dan explains how, among other things, new welfarists are missing the point and wasting valuable time and resources hitting the industry where it's already strong with public relations and marketing campaigns, while neglecting to make a significant effort to engage in the most effective form of activism--educating people about veganism.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I got up this morning, fixed myself a cup of coffee and some leftover chickpea vegetable hash and sat down at the computer to have breakfast while catching up on some of my favourite podcasts. I noticed a new show from cookbook author Dino Sarma's Alternative Vegan podcast and had a listen. I love this podcast, particularly because Dino tends to focus on using the very basics for vegan cooking. There's no room for expensive processed vegan substitutes in his kitchen, nor is there room for meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh and seitan. Instead, he uses fresh produce, legumes and nuts to create tasty dishes that often reflect his South Asian roots and his love of improvisational cooking. His recent show focuses on how to roast chickpeas and the different things you can do with them, leaving you antsy to go roast and use your own. Check out his blog and pick up his book, too.
Friday, June 19, 2009
My early morning read pretty much clinched it for me today that people need a stronger grounding in both semantics and basic logic. Yesterday I heard about lacto-vegetarians wanting to call themselves lactovegans; today, I read that the writer of a column called "Vegetarianismism" is now calling people who eat meat "fellow vegetarian[s]". What's next, really? (This is going to be a little long.)
Max Fisher, The Atlantic's token vegetarian foodie, has now gone on record as 1) endorsing the eating of animals and 2) conflating vegetarianism with the eating of animals. In his piece from Wednesday called "The Case for Semitarianism", Fisher revisits ethical relativism with that same delight recent Pollanite foodies have been oozing while oohing and aahing over their hands-on involvement in the slaughter of some non-human or another. In Fisher's case, his oohing is over someone else's participation in the slaughter of a pig. Fisher uses terms like "beautiful" to describe how the Greeks have (here comes the euphemism) "celebrated pork". He immerses himself completely in his Pollan-gasm, writing:
I looked at the bright, smiling faces in Aglaia's photo as they held the severed head of the pig and resisted my knee-jerk reaction that meat is "wrong." I thought how silly it would be to tell these people to eat tofu instead, and what a loss to Greek culture, to all culture, it would be if they did. Food is absolutely central to the cultures that make the world so interesting, and that food includes meatthen invites us all to "understand why the cost of universal vegetarianism would be perhaps too high". Heaven forbid that we wipe the gleeful expressions off the faces of those Greek children during photo ops with severed heads--that would just be plain ol' mean.
Fisher does admit that this fixation on meat is "bad for the animals who die to produce it", but I guess that how bad it is for the animals isn't a particularly weighty or relevant concern for him, since his solution is that there should be "compromise" and that some animals are just going to have to be collateral damage so that humans can still cater to their taste buds and indulge themselves in their bloodlust.
Predictably, he quotes New York Times foodie Mark Bittman who recently co-opted the term vegan to help promote his book and latest food fad) and uses this as his stepping-stone to advocate the occasional eating of animals. He calls this "mitigated meat". As if the name-dropping, bandwagon-hopping and euphemisms weren't annoying enough, he then redefines the term vegetarian by providing the example of a "lifelong vegetarian [sic] friend [who] allows herself meat on holidays and special occasions". (One has to wonder whether Fisher extends this own redefining of the term to himself, since he frequently reminds his readers that he's a vegetarian.)
So what to do? According to Fisher, it depends on whether you view animal flesh as "an indulgence similar to alcohol: a social norm harmless in careful moderation" or if you view it as being "more like cigarettes--a harmful vice at any level". I guess that viewing it as the product of the torture and slaughter of a sentient creature isn't an option anymore. It's either naughty to eat animals, or naughty and unhealthy. It's all about us and not about them. Fisher's take (and introduction of yet another foodie term crafted to make people feel hip and lovely about eating animals)?
For me, the latter view makes sense, though that has a bit to do with my addictive personality (I can either eat three burgers a week or no burgers at all) as well as my moral qualms. But I see no problems--ethical, dietary, or culinary--with what I like to call semitarianism: A diet of sometimes vegetarianism, sometimes omnivorism.So now I wonder, just how much meat do you have to eat and how many times a day do you have to eat it to qualify as an omnivore? 'Cause it seems to me that by definition, if you eat it at all, that makes you an omnivore. Is it just me, or does it seems as though foodies would like to make the word taboo, without actually condemning the eating of animals itself?
In asserting that he sees no ethical problems inherent in eating animals, Fisher contradicts what he'd written earlier about his own vegetarianism stemming from how he'd "long thought that eating a (once) living thing seemed fundamentally immoral". Fisher takes his philosophical meanderings further off-track by contrasting his proposed new "semitarianism" to (another foodie term for omnivorism) flexitarianism, stating that his new form of vegetarianism "is borne out of philosophical conviction, and that conviction is no less legitimate for food-lovers who abstain from meat one day a week or all seven". Furthermore, sounding more like Palin than Pollan, he asks all vegetarians and vegans to "recall that even the most fervently ethics-based vegetarianism isn't really about an ideological purity of all-or-nothing, us-versus-them purism activist groups foster".
Fisher then explains that what vegetarianism and veganism are all about is reducing animal suffering and he absolves humans of any sense of agency or accountability by reassuring us that "[w]hether one person gives up meat or three people cut out a third, it's all the same to the cow, and it should be the same to us". So if someone kicks me in the shin hard enough to bruise it or three people kick me in the shin a little less hard to produce the same bruising, should it be all the same to me? More importantly, should it be all the same to them?
Thursday, June 18, 2009
For those of you who follow Hungry Hungry Veganos on Twitter, you'll have read about this already today. It seems that someone has taken it upon himself (or herself) to set up a blog called lactovegan.com which is self-described as representing "compassion and consciousness". Supposedly born of the blogger's frustration with constantly having to explain himself while eating out and trying to describe his lacto-vegetarian dietary preferences, the blog instead introduces a completely contradictory and confusing term into the mix. What's that old saying? Two wrongs don't make a right?
You don't take a situation where to correct confusion over a term used to describe you, you introduce an even more confusing (and, by definition in this case, impossible) term to try to correct it. As is described in the blogger's initial post back in February:
Why invent a new term? In American society, the term vegan is very well understood. But, everybody has their own definition of vegetarianism. Depending upon indivdual [sic] interpretation, a vegetarian food may include dairy, eggs or fish. To overcome this vagueness in description of individuals who do not consume meat, eggs, fish etc. but do consume veggies and dairy, we use the term lactovegan.Um, right. The term "vegetarian" isn't open to individual interpretation to the point where it includes eating animals (i.e. fish). Neither is the term "vegan" open to interpretation. If someone applauds the fact that in American society "the term vegan is very well understood", why would that person then feel compelled to go out of his (or her) way to co-opt the term to misrepresent and mangle it and make it "vague" as well?
Maybe I'm naive, but I can't help but think that this person's just out to yank chains. Then again, more stupid things have happened.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Tarwater and his brother Monzo came to live with me when they were 11 months old. A few years ago, Monzo died of complications from hyperthyroidism. Yesterday, Tarwater left me at the age of 15-3/4. I'll love him and miss him forever.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Someone I met earlier this year who'd been asking me about my veganism and my reasons to support an abolitionist approach to animal rights left me a little perplexed a short while ago upon my own questioning him about the reasons he chooses to keep consuming animals. This person was an intelligent omnivore who'd had great love for the companion animals with whom he'd once shared his life. He struck me as being incredibly perceptive and empathetic towards people and far from being callous. He'd communicated to me that he could never bring himself to watch videos about factory farming because they'd make him hate people, but insisted that he'd already seen plenty of imagery of the harms inflicted on animals and was indeed aware of what went on in factory farming and understood, theoretically, why a logical step for vegans would be to want to see the abolition of all use, regardless of the degree of harm inflicted upon the animals.
He told me that the only difference between us in how we treat others around us is how far we each choose to extend our "circle of community". For instance, he pointed out that his community extends to most people (excluding those deemed threats to himself or his circle of community) and to non-human animals in his care, or in the care of those in his circle of community. Those non-human animals, he explained, would obviously include friends' companion animals. When I presented him with the theoretical scenario of my having a small sanctuary with rescued chickens, pigs, cows, et al. (i.e. animals he would usually designate as "food"), he asserted that by being in my care, they'd also be part of his community.
I pointed out to him that there were two ways of looking at his incorporation of non-human animals into his community. On one hand, it seemed that he acknowledged non-human animals as the property of the human members of his community (i.e. animals "in their care"). The other way of looking at this would be to say that he is willing to extend his community to those others the members of his circle of community include in their own respective circles. Since he asserted that my own circle of community extends to all non-human animals, though, this would have meant that by virtue of his including me in his own circle, he'd need to treat all non-human animals as members of his community, thereby ceasing to use them as means to an end. When he denied feeling the need to extend his own circle thus, it became clear that the former of my interpretations of his inclusion of non-human animals in his community was the valid interpretation.
The whole conversation drilled home to me yet again how wrong-headed it is for activists to focus on lessening harms to animals people use, while allowing the consideration of animals as property to continue to be the status quo. Until we get people thinking differently about non-humans, the degree of suffering to which they're subjected will be completely irrelevant to many, even if it's the stuff of token gestures for others.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
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.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Cookbook author and herbalist Pat Crocker is currently promoting her recent book The Vegan Cook's Bible. I found myself ending up with a somewhat furrowed brow as I read this bit about it via The Canadian Press. In it, Crocker emphasizes that she's "not a strict vegetarian or vegan", but "regularly enjoys [...] dairy products [and] includes a small amount of organic lamb, chicken, beef and fish in her diet once or twice a week". Now, there's no hard and fast rule anywhere that vegan cookbook authors need to be vegan. I mean, even Bryant Terry, whose Vegan Soul Kitchen is all the rage these days in online vegan discussion groups was pretty forthright about his less than enthusiastic take on veganism. In a recent interview with Mother Jones, for instance, he stated that he doesn't "advocate any particular diet for anyone" and "think [s] that's a very personal decision that people have to make".
It still disappointed me, though, to read Crocker's assertions that "cooking without dairy is really difficult" and that "vegans have lost a certain sense of mouth feel and what tastes good and their palates have become accustomed to a pretty bland diet". Cooking without dairy isn't difficult and to assert that vegans have become accustomed to a bland diet is nuts and perpetuates the whole myth that veganism involves a sort of ascetic diet where deprivation rules the day. Whether she really buys into this or is just bullshitting to try to emphasize how super ridiculously tasty her own recipes are compared to the rest of what's out there, we may never know.
I don't have a copy of the book, but this review of it by Roseann Marulli on the SuperVegan site pretty much helped cement my suspicions of it being anything but a bona fide vegan cook's bible. According to the review, in a section of the book on substitutes for white sugar, Crocker suggests using honey. More problematic, though, is that Crocker includes a section on health called the Healthy Body Systems in which she repeatedly advocates the consumption of fish. In a supposedly vegan cookbook. When Marulli asked Crocker about this, Crocker responded by insisting that "'the fact that vegans don't eat fish does not change the fact that fish is an excellent source of, for example, omega3 fatty acids'".
It's one thing to debate the degree to which vegan ethics or politics should be emphasized in vegan cookbooks (and this is something I'd like to wrap my head around down the road in another blog post). On the other hand, to write a book that one feels compelled to call The Vegan Cook's Bible and then fill it with recommendations to eat fish? Um, no. I don't think so, Pat. I'll pass on this one, and hope that other vegans get this heads up before they decide whether to do so, as well.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
A vegan I know, Adam Kochanowicz, has recently launched a site called Vegan FM which is devoted to showing video and audio podcasts produced by vegans (albeit not necessarily dealing with vegan or animal rights issues). One of the features of the site is The Vegan News, a news show hosted by Adam and focused specifically on stories of interest to vegans. Check it out and get involved!
Slate published a story on Tuesday about how lard's supposedly making a comeback. With all of the frantic foodies tripping all over themselves to sing the praises of meat consumption recently, this progression (or regression, really) doesn't seem that far-fetched. Slate's Regina Schrambling wrote:
I'm convinced that the redemption of lard is finally at hand because we live in a world where trendiness is next to godliness. And lard hits all the right notes, especially if you euphemize it as rendered pork fat—bacon butter.Schrambling goes on to laud lard as being an essential ingredient in much authentic (e.g. Mexican) cuisine and to focus on its apparent health benefits (e.g. she says that since it has a higher burning point that frying chicken in it leaves the chicken absorbing less of it -- sorta irrelevant for most of the folks who read this blog, I'd say).
Schrambling also stresses the superiority of lard to shortening, calling the latter the "go-to solid fat" of the '90s. That's like promoting low-tar cigarettes as a healthy thing by comparing them to cigars, really. Plus, in the last ten years, I don't think that I've purchased a single cookbook that's ever called for shortening in any of the recipes. Touting lard as a better option to something that's not really used much in the first place is misleading.
She also states that the saturated fat in lard has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. Someone should inform the American Heart Association of this, since it's still asserting that saturated fat does indeed raise bad blood cholesterol and it lists lard several places on its website where it discusses minimizing one's consumption of saturated fats to avoid heart disease.
In case anyone has any doubts, Schrambling pretty much clarifies which bandwagon she's hopped on halfway through her short piece, stating that:
[w]hat matters more, though, is that lard has become the right ingredient at the right time. It fits perfectly into the Michael Pollan crusade to promote foods that have been processed as minimally as possible: Your great-grandmother surely cooked with it, so you should, too.She then wraps up by waxing on about the environmental / sustainability motivation to return to using lard, getting all hot and sassy post-Pollan foodie-style by describing how its usage is finding a niche in high-end restaurants and quipping that "[l]ard is just about the last stop before the squeal when pork producers are extracting every savory bit from a pig". 'Cause Schrambling thinks that pigs are things, don't you know.
So head's up to all: "Lard: Coming soon to clog another artery near you!"
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Friday, June 05, 2009
Something one should always keep in mind when given the opportunity to fence-sit:
We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
- Elie Wiesel, Nobel Acceptance Speech (December 10, 1986)
Posted by M at Friday, June 05, 2009
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Had I started this blog 7-8 years ago, I think that I'd be writing more about food. Specifically, I'd be describing my wild recipe experiments, sharing their successes (and whoppin' failures) and posting snazzy photos of the results. I was cooking for two back then, and one of us was an omni who loved to eat, so I was hell-bent on concocting delicious recipes that kept him contentedly meat-free. These days I have less of an inclination to play in the kitchen, but I can live vicariously through fellow bloggers who have the time, talent, creativity (and willing additional diners) to be able to work their cooking mojo like crazy. Here are a few things that got my attention this week:
My friend Melissa (who, incidentally, really needs to write a cookbook now) has been posting up a storm on her newish blog The Papaya Chronicles. Last Sunday, she shared a recipe for Roasted Veggie Couscous. I love how she provides meal-time context along with her recipes, as well as suggestions for variations that could be just as yummy as the original recipe, itself.
The folks over at Hungry Hungry Veganos posted a recipe a few days ago for a Fabulous Falafel Gyro w/ Titillating Tahini Sauce that's had me craving falafel (one of my favourite things in the world) all week.
If you lean towards liking your eats quite spicy and are curious about East African cuisine, Claire at Chez Cayenne posted a recipe yesterday for Zanzibar Beans in Coconut Sauce that looks as scrumptious as I'll bet it tastes.
Now off I go to distract myself from my hunger pangs by perusing some of my favourite non-food-related blogs... at least until I can get home and cook!
ETA: I hope to highlight my favourite food bloggers' vegan recipes a couple of times a month. If you have such a happeningblog featuring mouth-watering vegan concoctions and you'd like to do a link exchange, please do drop me a line so that I can stay on top of whatever creations you've been offering up to the interwebs.
From an interview with Celebrity Baby Blog, former teen star Mayim Bialik grabs hold of a label and attempts to redefine it:
I’m technically a vegan, but I do eat egg if it’s in things. And that’s how we raise Miles, too. I cook meat for my husband, which is Kosher, but we don’t have a vegan house, just Kosher house that has vegan options for everyone.No, Blossom. You're not "technically" a vegan.