Monday, August 31, 2009

What Did You Say About Vegans?

I read an article in the University of Missouri-St. Louis' The Current this morning that left me shaking my head. It's no medical journal, I know; it's a student paper. It still frustrates me to see veganism maligned and misrepresented in any publication, though, given people's too-often tendency to believe most of what they read without either assessing it critically or doing some background research of their own. I always figure that the best sign that a piece is pretty decent is when it leaves you with as many questions as answers; I always worry when I walk away from reading something thinking that presented me with all of the answers I needed.

The article that appeared in today's online version of
The Current is called "Be Careful Before You Jump on the Vegan Bandwagon" and it presents a lot of information that seems, at best, to have been lifted from vague recollections of blogged posts of news snippets that may or may not have been heard on the radio at some point by someone getting ready for school or work. What does this piece tell us?

1. Veganism will make you sick:

Many people that attempt to convert to a vegan lifestyle without the right help end up malnourished, fatigued, and hungry. I feel that this lifestyle is extreme and anyone wanting to indulge should seek professional medical help.
2. No, really--it'll make you sick:
I am not convinced at all that everyone can be healthy without any animal flesh or animal byproducts in their diet. There are simply not enough long term studies on the effects of veganism to convince me otherwise.
3. Veganism kills babies (and children):
I do see, however, the mounds of ethical debates on people being brought to suit for killing babies and children by limiting their diets to vegan foods only. This is even more inhumane than killing an animal for consumption in my opinion.
4. Since supplementation is abnormal, Vitamin B-12 deficiency "is a common deficiency in vegans".

I do appreciate the writer's emphasis on needing to research a vegan diet, but then again, I'm all for everyone reading up on nutrition regardless of whether or not they consume animal products. It bothers me, though, that the article seems to be a bit more about scaremongering than it is about dispensing soundly-based advice.

Because Vegans Love to Eat, Too

Once again, just because I can, I've taken a peek at what some of my favourite vegan food bloggers have been up to lately.

Yesterday, the perpetually-upbeat Jessy from happyveganface posted a recipe for the veggie burger to beat all veggie burgers. Her Spicy Black Bean Millet Mushroom Potato Burger seems to incorporate anything and everything -- from tahini to sriracha) and looks amazing. Click on the aforementioned recipe title to see for yourself!

SusanV over at the FatFree Vegan Kitchen shared a recipe earlier last week for Iraqi-Inspired Seitan and Eggplant Stew. Just reading the list of the mix of seasonings used is enough to make me want to try this one out soon--paprika, cloves, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, et al..

Spreaking of intriguing spice mixes, Claire at Chez Cayenne posted a tempting recipe for Malaysian Tofu Curry over the weekend. I may actually test this one out on my spice-living friend Thomas when I visit him in Pennsylvania in a few days. Those of you who appreciate heat should visit her blog periodially, since its focus is indeed on spicy cuisine.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Clarity and Consistency as Tools Against Speciesism

I read an excellent essay this afternoon by Angel Flinn, posted over on the (unfortunately mostly welfarist) Care2 forums. It's called "A Mouthful of Flesh", and in it, Flinn examines whether there is a meaningful ethical difference between eating a nonhuman animal such as a dog (or a cat, hamster or horse) and eating a nonhuman animal such as a pig (or a cow, chicken or deer). She writes:

Frankly, it's a little baffling trying to figure out what combination of factors puts certain animals off-limits to certain people. Rabbits are a case in point. We're horribly confused about rabbits – some of us shoot them, some of us pet them, some eat them and some enjoy watching dogs tear them apart, limb from limb. As a society, we don't seem to know what rabbits mean to us. Are they our pets, are they our prey… or are they, in fact, persons: individuals who exist for their own reasons?
She considers how some claim that the difference lies in the fact that there are some nonhuman animals we welcome into our families--we insist that they matter more because we have come to "care about" or "love" them, and how that sort of language has now become what's more or less a creepy marketing tool for farmers pushing guilt-free "happy meat" (i.e. animals most humans customarily view as food and who are touted as having been raised under loving and cruelty-free conditions until they're slaughtered to be eaten). Flinn views this as yet another attempt by humans to justify "morally reprehensible" acts against nonhumans and she's right. It's the reactions immediately following her essay, however, that are most telling when it comes to illustrating the absolute moral confusion humans have concerning the use of nonhumans. I encourage fellow-vegans to read the piece and to go through the comments left in response to it and to even jump into the discussion itself. There is so much work to be done to fight speciesism.

Earlier today, though, it was another article online that got my attention and got me wondering about how thoroughly confused some humans are about nonhumans. In an opinion piece in USA Today yesterday called "Veterinarian Isn't Necessarily Synonymous with Vegetarian", veterinarian columnist and admitted welfarist (and Pollanite) Patty Khuly decided to explain why she feels that professionals who earn their money by bettering and saving the lives of some animals shouldn't be expected to not want to spend some of that profit on products that involve the suffering and slaughter of other animals. Khuly admits that "our human science convincingly demonstrates that animals do feel pain, fear and stress — presumably to the same degree we do" and that "animals are not so very different from us". She then takes issue with what she describes (and resents) as the following general implication:
The problem is that doing so brings us in uncomfortably close proximity to the suffering of animals we've pledged an oath to protect. So it is that when we buy the meat, milk and eggs like everyone else does, we get less of a moral pass when it comes to checkout time. We understand animals. So we should know better.
To a certain extent, I agree with her that this is a non sequitur. After all, the fact that someone profits from enabling others' use of nonhuman animals in no way entails that those who are profiting are, in fact, motivated by anything other than profit (and we have seen this ad nauseum with prominent regulationist animal welfare organizations, for instance). Unfortunately, Khuly chooses to take it further to make an argument concerning herself and her fellow-veterinarians, that
[f]or some veterinarians, first-hand knowledge leads to veganism, vegetarianism, reduced animal protein consumption or a highly selective diet of home-grown or non-factory-farmed animal products. And while all such variations are geared toward an animal welfare position that's defined by how animals are used or how they're treated should they be used, not a one includes an insect-sweeping observance of animal life preservation wherever possible. We all impose limits … somewhere.
Not a one, Patty? It becomes obvious that this was a lead-in to justify what follows as her description of her own lifestyle, in which she raises chickens and goats for personal consumption and "cherish[es] [her] leather" shoes. It's in her final paragraph, however, that she almost petulantly expresses what I think are the bonafide gist and raison d'être of her article:
In short, I'm not perfect. None of us should be. We're only human. Now, if only the naysayers could begin to accept that individual moral progress is far preferable to a slavish adherence to any one particular animal rights dogma … then perhaps veterinarians could catch a break every once in a while when the dinner bell rings.
I can't help but find such animosity towards the very idea of animal rights a bit disturbing from a woman who just earlier in her article was insisting that "animals do feel pain, fear and stress — presumably to the same degree we do" and are "not so very different from us"--even worse, that she'd hold this much animosity after she'd insisted that those such as herself "who devote [their] careers to finding ways to diminish animal stress and alleviate their suffering are more keenly aware of it than most". What's not surprising, however, is that an animal exploitation industry funded group such as the Center for Consumer Freedom would have hopped on her pile of moral confusion to present it as some sort of evidence that it's not, in fact, hypocritical to supposedly "dedicate [one's] life to helping animals" while accepting one's place "in the food chain"--that caring and concern need not apply to what's on one's plate.

The only thing that seems clear from this entire ball of moral confusion is that there is an overwhelming need for those who do take the rights of nonhuman animals seriously to adopt veganism as a moral baseline and to address the use (and not merely the treatment) of animals by educating others about veganism. Clarity and consistency about this are the only things that are going to change people's mind in a significant enough way to end animal exploitation. Anything less is disengenuous.

More Vegan Bits in the Media

Here are a few snippets from some online sources I read this morning:

This morning, yet another foodie article (this one on the Time website) extols the supposed virtues of smacking your lips over the delectable remains of the carcass of a locally-grown animal you have butchered yourself. Apparently, pigs are the new crack. According to San Francisco chef Ryan Farr, who teaches classes on "hog-butchery", nobody can resist:

There is nothing bacon does not improve. Bacon is the new black," says Farr, whose charcuterie company produces 4505 Chicharrones, the pork snacks favored by several San Francisco bars and restaurants. "I have five vegan friends who close their eyes when they eat them and pretend they are potato chips," Farr says. "Bacon is the gateway meat.
For more foodie raving about the supposed delights to be had in playing with a slaughtered nonhuman's body parts, check out this Guardian food blog bit where eating a pig's head is described as being the "utterly sensible and right thing to do" (but do so forewarned that it's not for the weak-stomached).

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The LA Times reported yesterday that Animal Network's Whale Wars nabbed a "record 3.2 million viewers" for its season finale last Friday. Whale Wars is a show that follows Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Paul Watson and his crew as they interfere with Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. I wonder if Animal Network could get 3.2 million viewers to watch the season finale of a show dealing with abolitionists interfering with the treatment of animals as property? My glass of seawater can be half-full, can't it?

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For those in the Philadelphia area, vegan cartoonist Dan Piraro will be appearing at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival on Saturday, September 5 at 8 pm at the Rotunda. For more information, check out the story in the Delaware Country Daily Times. A vegan since 2002, Piraro frequently weaves references to the use and abuse of animals in his strip Bizarro.

Beans 'n' Rice

From DJ Weekly and the folks who brought us the giggle-worthy hip-hop parody "So So Vegan" comes this new offering:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Using Violence to Stop the Violence?

"The essence of nonviolence is love. Out of love and the willingness to act selflessly, strategies, tactics, and techniques for a nonviolent struggle arise naturally. Nonviolence is not a dogma; it is a process." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about violence over the past week. I mean, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about human violence--over and above the violent acts humans already commit against nonhumans every single day for the sake of human pleasure. There are some in the animal advocacy movement who believe that the only way to bring about the end of the everyday violent acts humans commit against nonhumans is to, in turn, commit violent acts against those humans. Considering that (depending on whose survey you read) a mere 1.5-2.5% or so of the population of the United States, for instance, self-identifies as vegan and claims to abstain from consuming animals in any manner, this basically means that a few individuals making up an ever-so-tiny fragment of that less than 3% want to put the smack down on the other 97%+ of the population to get them to stop killing the over 10 billion animals in the United States alone who are killed each and every year. (Uh, yeah--good luck with that.)

I won't ramble on about why committing violence to end violence is wrongheaded. Abolitionists like Vincent J. Guihan (over at his blog We Other Animals) have already made clear cases for the common-sense, efficacy and logic in using nonviolence and vegan education to effect change for nonhumans. For instance:
As advocates, our work is not a matter of reaction; it is a matter of transformation. We have to struggle to avoid confusing the wallpaper for the walls. We have to struggle to avoid confusing our work pulling down the walls of the house of slavery and violence with building those walls back up again through violent and confrontational behaviour of our own. We can only “tear the house down” by convincing its other builders to join us, not with threats and idiocy, but creative and nonviolent education that calls them to join us in a life that respects the rights of other persons to be free from violence and slavery.
It baffles me, really, that anyone would truly think that using fear and intimidation will change people's hearts and heads to allow the major paradigm shift that is needed to stop the overwhelming majority of us from thinking of nonhuman animals as things that exist solely for our use and pleasure--as our property.

Prof. Gary L. Francione, who has consistently promoted nonviolent vegan education to abolish the exploitation of nonhumans (you can read a couple of his earlier essays here and here), has also re-emphasized the avoidance of violence by vegans and animal rights advocates in his recent responses and reactions to the more recent calls for violence by a very few in the animal advocacy movement. He's done so in his podcast commentary of a few days ago, as well as over on the Opposing Views website and on his Facebook page, where discussions pertaining to the subject have been ongoing for several days on his Facebook profile page. It's on this Facebook page that Prof. Francione recently revealed that he has invited Steve Best, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at El Paso and spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Press Office, to a formal (or even an informal) debate on the use of violent or nonviolent approaches in animal advocacy. Although the conditions surrounding it are still being ironed out (and you'll need to visit Prof. Francione's Facebook page to get the dish on those details), it appears that there is indeed a good chance it may happen sooner or later. Stay tuned for more information!

Update: Although Vegan Examiner Adam Kochanowicz reported earlier today
that a formal debate would be held on September 18 and would then appear on the Animal Voices talk show, Prof. Francione has since stated that he and Best will, in fact, be having the actual debate in a one-on-one Skype call with no moderation. There has been no information concerning a potential later broadcast as of this time.

What's Being Said About Vegans in Mainstream Media

Reproduced here for your reading pain/pleasure are a few snippets of what people have had to say about vegans or veganism in mainstream media this past week:

The Telegraph's columnist Liz Hunt didn't mince words on Tuesday as she shared her take on vegans:

An easy way to put vegans off a life of crime

I have yet to meet a vegan I like. They are smug, humourless, self-obsessed, self-righteous individuals, who spend every spare minute proselytising. Celebrity vegans are bad enough; take the hatchet-faced Stella McCartney, the supremely irritating Gwyneth Paltrow, and the loopy Heather Mills. The latter even allows her daughter to accost non-vegans and inform them of the wickedness of their ways.

Now, with news that vegan prisoners have won the right to ethically-sourced toiletries, and are demanding leather-free shoes to boot, I discover they have a criminal class, too.

Quite why they need suntan oil and facial scrubs, let alone lipstick, while doing time, isn’t clear. But can I suggest that instead of pandering further to this miserable group of lags, we dress them in leather head to toe, send them to work in an abattoir, and force-feed them from the menu of an Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse. That would be a deterrent with bite.

Her rant is no doubt in response to this recent news story. I really feel concern for people who give in to displaying this much animosity and often wonder what's behind it. I get it that 'snark' is hip and sells copy, but this much vitriolic disrespect just makes me squirm a little.

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According to an article in yesterday's Kentucky Post, a recent nationwide School Nutrition Association survey of 1200 public, private and charter schools in the United States "found that [only] 20 percent of cafeterias offer vegan meal offerings, which contain no meat, dairy or animal products". It's absolutely unacceptable that 80% of American schools surveyed don't provide students with options that don't involve the use and slaughter of nonhuman animals.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. on Non-Violence

"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action."

-- The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967, Riverside Church in New York

Saturday, August 22, 2009

On Our Apparently Complicated Inability to Avoid Stereotypes

Actually, the inability doesn't really seem to be that complicated a thing. As humans, we lump everything into categories for the sake of convenience and for the easier processing of information. It's pretty straightforward and is particularly true in this day of information overload where the idea of having to sift through facts and ideas and think critically in doing so is daunting to far too many. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. So what happens when we let others do our thinking for us, whether overtly or stealthily?

An abolitionist friend shared a link to this piece by Maiken Scott which appeared on NPR this past Thursday. It's called "Pet, Dinner, Research Subject: Our Complicated Relationship with Animals" and manages to make it clear, with its title alone, that Scott's short article involves our relationship to animals we call 'property'. The piece is introduced with a reference to the recent scandal surrounding Michael Vick, making the general statement that "[a]nimal rights activists are vowing to continue their protests against [him]" and then using that as a starting point for Scott to supposedly "set out to understand the passion of animal rights activists" while "getting a lesson in ethics along the way".

So how does this all play out? Scott basically interviews and quotes four different people. The only voice for animal rights presented is that of Maria Pandolfi. She's summed up as being an art teacher who's grown up with learning disabilities and who "feels[s] that it's wrong to kill". Scott adds that "Maria champions an animal that elicits about the same level of compassion as bugs - RATS". Words like "love" and "compassion" are used in describing her reasons for being a vegan animal rights activist, and Scott makes sure to add that Pandolfi allows rats to wander freely in her home. (Please note that a friend of mine involved in animal rescue and who knows Pandolfi has informed me that she does amazing work through her Rat Chick Rat Rescue group.)

The three other people interviewed are not pro animal rights and are all academics. One is James Serpell, an animal welfare professor at the University of Pennsylvania who admits that he both eats animals and keeps them as pets, and that he purportedly struggles with how he continues to "categorize animals". The second academic quoted is a University of Pennsylvania animal researcher / experimenter, Adrian Morrison who self-identifies as having been the victim of an animal rights activist break-in and who presents himself as having had "internal debates" about his animal experimentation until he assuaged his guilt by asserting to himself that experimenting on nonhumans "is the way medicine progresses, and medicine has helped children, and there is a difference between a cat and a child". The third academic interviewed is Villanova University ethicist Brett Wilmot, whose purpose is basically to assess what may be going on when animal rights activists protest:

It's easy to look at somebody protesting outside a lab and think they are nuts, says Villanova ethicist Brett Wilmot:

Wilmot: We become very complacent when we're in an environment that for the most part reflects our sense of order, and justice and reasonableness, and then when other people are in that same environment and find it appalling and react that way, our first reaction is to think "wow - what on earth is wrong with them" when again, they may be simply exhibiting the same kind of reaction we would under different circumstances.

Er... Huh?

So there you have it. The sole animal rights voice belongs to a woman who is very much portrayed as basing her activism on emotion, and as being open to the idea of destroying property. The other three voices are all those of men who are academics and who are portrayed as being quite rational. Pandolfi is described as engaging in a "passionate struggle" while Scott makes it clear that (Wilmot aside) "[f]or the other two, the struggle is a quieter one, an ongoing conversation and balancing act". How could anyone not walk away from the piece thinking that AR activists are all pro-violence flakes who "lurv animals FTW!!" while those who justify their continued use as property are reasonable, quiet, learned men who aren't the reactionary types that the ethicist at the end talks about quite meaninglessly?

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 10 of 10

This is Part 10 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 9 of 10


This is Part 9 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

(Note: You'll hear a much younger Patrick Stewart playing a role from this point on.)

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 8 of 10


This is Part 8 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 7 of 10


This is Part 7 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 6 of 10


This is Part 6 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 5 of 10


This is Part 5 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 4 of 10


This is Part 4 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Warning: There are (not really graphic) scenes of the animated dogs hunting in this part.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 3 of 10


This is Part 3 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see my introductory post for it.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 2 of 10

This is Part 2 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. Scroll down to see the first part.

Plague Dogs Uncut - Part 1

This is Part 1 of the original and uncut UK fantasy film adaptation of the book The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. I don't even know where to start in terms of discussing how it explores the many ways in which we use dogs and treat them as property.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On Why You Cannot Abolish the Use of Animals While Encouraging the Use of Animals

I have been involved in more than a handful of discussions or exchanges over recent months where I have been informed of the "need" for animal activists to present a united front and that my promotion of the abolitionist approach with veganism as an absolute moral baseline is "counterproductive" and "off-putting" to new potential vegans--that the abolitionist approach to animal rights, in and of itself, is purportedly "off-putting". Is "off-putting" just a euphemism for "not easy", though? I agree that advocating for veganism as an absolute moral baseline isn't offering anyone whose second nature it is to view nonhuman animals as food (or more generally, as our property and ours to use) anything resembling instant gratification.

What it
does offer, however, is simplicity and consistency. What it does allow is an opportunity for a human individual to remove herself from a cycle that causes unnecessary suffering and ends in slaughter. What it does allow is for (depending on where you source your stats) anywhere from 20-30 animals a year to not be slaughtered for the most superficial of human whims. What it does allow is the sort of opportunity for the sort of clarity and critical thinking which will leave you understanding that "veganism doesn't require perfection, is simple and straightforward, and does not involve a cultish religiosity but simple reasoning based on evidence to make moral decisions".

It was suggested to me the other day that my having disagreed with a fellow vegan over whether we, as vegans, should be promoting vegetarianism had been "mean" and lacking in "compassion for other humans". The truth is, though, that this isn't some sort of childhood interaction where we are gingerly picking team members to play dodge ball. If I express disagreement with a certain approach, it is because based on what I have observed or learned, that approach has been ineffective (or worse, that it is logically flawed before even getting off the ground). Call me compulsive, but I would feel almost just as strongly about pointing out to someone that he cannot start his BMW with a Popsicle stick or a lit stick of dynamite. Add to this that we are talking about differences in approaches to animal advocacy that affect the lives of billions of individuals every single year, and how could I not voice my disagreement? Why would I not? Disagreeing with ideas is just that--disagreement. Discussion and debate need not be stifled by being dragged down to the personal and there's far too much at stake right now to get tripped up over personal niceties or posturing when the focus needs to be on the work at hand.

Being what some call more flexible by promoting vegetarianism may make me seem more amiable, but other than making me seem more warm and fuzzy, who does it really benefit in the end? We have already seen that, however emphatically some may choose to assert otherwise, vegetarianism is not some sort of gateway to veganism and that (as expressed in the following quote by Gary L. Francione) its promotion does nothing but spread confusion:

If we promote any variety of vegetarianism short of veganism, we reinforce the false belief that there is a distinction between meat and dairy or other animal products. So even if vegans usually start off as vegetarians, we ought still to be promoting veganism. I should add that it remains a question in my mind as to whether those taking vegetarian “first steps” do so precisely because that is what they are being advised to do by animal advocates who are confused on this issue.
I have an old university friend who claims to have been reading my blog for months because it "makes [him] think" (although Site Meter leads me to believe that his assertions have more to do with flattering me than reflecting any actual reading of anything in this blog). He's a vegetarian. He's been so for a good dozen years and if you ask him, he will insist to you that he's doing it to prevent animal suffering. While gobbling up his cheese omelet, he will insist to you that eating meat is wrong and when asked why he continues to consume animal products, will invariably answer that he's doing his "part" and doing "more than most" and that this is enough. The truth is that he's taken no meaningful steps whatsoever to alter his own role in the exploitation and slaughter of animals. Somewhere along the line, someone convinced him that vegetarianism was enough and there he sits. He hasn't gone vegan and has no intention of doing so, since his only goal is to minimize suffering, and he feels that in eschewing meat and opting for other animal products that he's somehow stacking points up in the plus column. These are the so-called small increments some would have me applaud for the sake of not being "off-putting"?

I'm no mover, I'm no shaker. I have never published a book on animal rights, nor have I penned a popular vegan cookbook. I hold no doctoral degree and am no expert in anything other than sorting out the muck in my own head (and even there, my expertise is tenuous at best and more of an ongoing learning experiment). My superpower, I guess, is that I have nothing to lose. I am just an ordinary Canadian vegan who has spent years reading and listening and ultimately realizing that some things just weren't working: I have friends who make annual donations to PeTA, but who continue to eat animals. I have friends involved in cat rescue, but who raise chickens for their eggs and flesh. I have friends who define themselves as "animal lovers" who were outraged over the recent Vick case, but who will verbalize--quite delightedly--their enjoyment of the taste of animal flesh within moments of calling Vick a monster for having gotten his own kicks by exploiting dogs. I have a friend who's able to articulate why it is that she believes that consuming cage-free eggs involves making an ethical choice that's supposedly superior to consuming eggs from chickens kept in battery cages, even though she's never purchased a so-called "humane" product in her entire life. Something's not working. It's just not. What's obvious is that there are overlapping layers of confusion about moral issues and about the status of nonhuman animals that need to be peeled back. Do we really want or need to add more?

For more information on why veganism is the only defensible moral position in terms of our consumption and use of nonhumans, read or listen to the following:

On the Practice of not Being Jaded (with Some Thich Nhat Hanh Thrown in for Good Measure)

(I'd written this a little over a year ago, but went back to it tonight, thinking of politics, posturing and engaging people with flawed good intentions.)

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I was thinking about someone who passed through my life not too long ago and a conversation we'd once (or twice) had about unconditional love. He'd indicated that anyone who gave it any sort of consideration in terms of its feasibility was certainly trying to compensate for some sort of lack in childhood with which they hadn't managed to come to terms in their adult lives. He brought up single women who adopt babies as an example of people seeking an instant fix to their own similar childhood lacks by taking in a human who'd more or less be forced to love them, by virtue of his or her helplessness and complete reliance on the woman / adoptive mother in question. It struck me at the time that he seemed to have no understanding of the concept of the reciprocity of love, or of the possibility that people might actually seek to love in and of itself, and not necessarily merely desperately seek to set themselves up to be its recipients.

It's along the same lines as people who enjoy giving for the sake of giving versus those who restrict their giving to reward-like affirmations (verbal, physical, et al.) to modify others' behaviour. There are some who dole out "love" as if it's just another component of some sort of reward-based system -- a controlling sort of habit that's ultimately, especially when done consciously, just another variation of emotional blackmail. So I come back to wondering about unconditional love and its place, if any, in human relationships. In the end, does it really all just boil down to baggage and strings? So this got me thinking about
Thich Nhat Hanh (1926- ), and a passage of his I'd read and remembered about a more general way to approach those milling about in the world:

When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express our mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable.
I guess in a sense, it's about love being more of an approach or mindset when engaging anybody in our lives than it is a tool to define and frame our contexts and relationships. In this sense, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, we need to learn to offer it unconditionally. It's "not contingent upon the other person being lovable". In a sense, love shouldn't be conditional upon someone's loving us back, or someone's being able to give us exactly whatever it is that we want. Maybe it's naive (or side-stepping into the murk) to think of it as such, or to strive to adopt that understanding of it into one's own life and one-on-one relationships, and particularly with romantic interests. And as long as we continue to think of it as a reward we can dole out to the deserving--the worthy, it's difficult to "love" when engaging those with whom we disagree, or those who choose to challenge, discourage or even disparage us. But is that really how we ultimately want to think of love?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Vick and Vegans

Most vegans who have spent enough time mulling over human behaviour acknowledge it as a given that speciesism is so deeply and firmly entrenched in mainstream North American culture, it's sometimes hard to figure out where to even begin teasing it out and addressing it. It manifests itself each time a well-enough meaning omni friend asserts great love for the family dog over dinner, while carving up a slice of a turkey's breast. It manifests itself when that same dog is abandoned at a kill-shelter, given up when lack of time and interest leave him more an unwanted burden--a thing that's exhausted its use--than a member of the family. It's also manifested itself quite prominently over the past couple of years (and more so in recent weeks) in the much-publicized case of former/future football great Michael Vick's involvement in dog-fighting and his subsequent arrest for it.

On a visceral level, when I'd first heard of the case I'd branded Vick a monster. To both organize and profit from the deliberate torture of animals seemed the most heinous of acts. Upon giving it further thought, though, after that initial knee-jerk reaction, I came to agree wholeheartedly with Gary L. Francione's 2007 piece on the whole matter in which he wrote the following:

Michael Vick may enjoy watching dogs fight. Someone else may find that repulsive but see nothing wrong with eating an animal who has had a life as full of pain and suffering as the lives of the fighting dogs. It's strange that we regard the latter as morally different from, and superior to, the former. How removed from the screaming crowd around the dog pit is the laughing group around the summer steak barbecue?
Since Michael Vick's recent release and subsequent reinstatement in the NFL, the internet has been swamped with heated discussions in message forums, outraged blog posts, indignant tweets on Twitter, anti-Vick petitions and the creation of innumerable groups on social networking sites calling for the boycott of NFL sponsors (as well as those of the Philadelphia Eagles who signed Vick) until Michael Vick is shown the door.

In one such group on Facebook, I'd posted a link to Prof. Francione's essay and asked this simple question: "How many of those here calling for a boycott are actually vegan?" and the very first response to my question was from a woman who asserted that Michael Vick was a monster and that she enjoyed her steaks, thank you very much. A few days later, the group's moderator emailed me to state that
she was vegan, but felt that veganism was a "personal choice" and that the Vick issue transcended that and should be the sole focus of the group's discussion. The following day, my link and question were quietly removed. Basically, what she was attempting to convey to me is that this single issue concerning one man and a certain species of nonhumans is somehow more relevant than the widespread exploitation of other nonhumans by the overwhelming majority of humans. For those of us who do consume animals and their products, who wear their skins and fur, who pay to watch them pace behind bars to delight our children: How can we so vehemently loathe that which we do ourselves every single day?

What's most ridiculous is that these so-called boycotts being encouraged to get Michael Vick trounced from the Eagles and NFL ignore the fact that this very sport itself involves animal-eating athletes wearing animal products while running around a field chasing a ball that's made from a cow's skin. These games take place in stadiums where spectators consume mass quantities of animal-based hotdogs and hamburgers. There is not one single aspect of this game that doesn't involve the suffering and exploitation of animals. As for boycotting sponsors "just until" Vick is trounced? The Eagles' sponsors include (but aren't limited to) Tastykake, Dunkin' Donuts, Papa John's, KFC and Taco Bell. As for boycotting NFL sponsors, according to the NFL's Canadian site alone, some of those sponsors include: Campbell's, Maple Lodge Farms, Burger King and Nestle. Need I really explain the ridiculousness of boycotting companies whose very existence is based on the exploitation of animals to punish one single man who's exploited animals?

As Dan Cudahy pointed out quite effectively on his Unpopular Vegan Essays blog, single issue campaigns are problematic on many levels, including that they encourage us to single out the value of one species over others-- they "cultivate speciesism":
they don’t also call for an end to ALL animal exploitation and abuse, they cultivate speciesism. SICs do this by implying, via the silence regarding other forms of exploitation, that forms of exploitation other than the one on which the SIC is focused are either not as important or unimportant. SICs can avoid this problem by putting it front and center that ALL animal exploitation is wrong and ought to be abolished, but they almost never even mention other forms, much less make them front and center of the campaign.
Keeping this in mind, it's troubling to me that some vegans--particularly those who purport to support the abolition of all animal exploitation--have been very vocally against pointing out the ethical inconsistency and hypocrisy of branding one man's exploitation any more significant than the daily habits of most people that lead to the mass slaughter of over ten billion nonhumans in the US alone each year. For instance, Virginia Messina (a registered dietitian specializing in vegan nutrition) recently expressed that Michael Vick should, in fact, be singled out as a monster and that faith in the "good hearted" nature of omnivores should leave vegans absolving them of any accountability in their own roles in the torture and slaughter of those over ten billion aforementioned nonhumans and keeping their fingers crossed that they'll come around:
[W]e are good at psychological self-preservation which means we can distance ourselves from the pain of the masses in order to do what we want. Some people are far better at this than others, of course. But even those of us who care a lot about suffering and who make changes in our lives and also become active to make changes in the world, still do it to some extent. Just as many meat eaters do it by choosing not to think about the effects on animals of their diet and lifestyle choices.
To her credit, she does admit that this sort of behaviour is not, in fact, "defensible". This assertion seems empty and meaningless, however, when she elaborates by saying
[t]hat’s what keeps so many vegan activists going—the very fact that many omnivores are, in fact, good hearted, compassionate animal lovers. We know that if we can just get people to really think about what happens on factory farms, there is a good chance they will change their behavior.
She then jumps into the exact same sort of vilification of Michael Vick that's been echoed across the internet by humans of all sorts, regardless of their own exploitation and consumption of nonhuman animals. But isn't Messina's "psychological self-preservation" really just a euphemism for what Gary L. Francione calls "moral schizophrenia"? And rather than reinforcing this moral schizophrenia in others by supporting their vilification of Michael Vick, wouldn't it make more sense to do as Gary L. Francione points out in his recent podcast concerning the Vick issue, which is to use the very issue as an opportunity--a way in--to "get people to really think about what happens on factory farms"?

Allow me to play devil's advocate and consider that maybe this "psychological self-preservation" is indeed leaving some otherwise well-intentioned consumers with a blind spot. If that's the case, then does allowing the "good hearted" to continue ignoring the roles they play in the suffering and exploitation of nonhumans not do them a disservice? If I were harming others I would otherwise not seek to harm and was ignorant of it and had it pointed out to me, I would surely appreciate it so that I could alter my behaviour. Is allowing others to continue deluding themselves into thinking that Michael Vick's exploitation of dogs is wrong, while the direct roles they themselves play in the continuation of the torture and slaughter of others is "understandable" not--at the very, very least--patronizing? And at the very worst, how does crossing one's fingers to hope for the best while perpetuating this moral schizophrenia help those nonhumans who continue to be slaughtered?

As a vegan, how consistent am
I being in not intervening to take every opportunity I can to educate others about veganism? As an abolitionist animal rights advocate and activist, does turning a blind eye and deluding myself concerning what really works not leave me, in fact, accountable and complicit in the continuation of the mass slaughter of nonhumans? We may toss words around and argue theoretical points while continuing to make excuses for our fellow humans, but at the end of the day, should this not be about effecting change? Rather than worrying about stepping on toes, should the focus not be on ending the exploitation of animals?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Because Vegans Like to Eat

Here are just a very few things vegan friends have been cooking up this past week or so:

Over at Yummy Vegan Dinners, ms. veganorama has been tempting readers with photos of her Pesto Fettucine and Roasted Eggplant, as well as of Southern Tomato Pie (which I soooo want to try to make sometime soon).

A few days ago, Vincent Guihan posted a recipe for Romano and Romaine Vegan Caesar Salad Wraps on his recently-resurrected Vegan Improv blog. I had this for lunch today, using the optional thinly-sliced onion he suggested (red onion, in my case) and it was simple and yummy on this incredibly hot summer's day.

Earlier today, I stumbled across a vegan cooking blog that grabbed my attention. Amey, at Vegan Eats & Treats, recently wrote about her foray into tofu-making. Her blog's mood is definitely fun and the photos of the meals she makes will leave you fighting the urge to poke around in your own fridge and cupboards to recreate them.

I'd also like to highlight a new cooking blog by an abolitionist vegan friend. It's called Quick and Dirty Vegan and its purpose is to dispel the myth that vegan cooking is complicated and convoluted. In The Divine Miss V's own words:

No more excuses. No more whining about time or skill in the kitchen. It has never been easier to find or prepare a vegan meal or snack, and everyone can do it. Hopefully, cooking newbs will gain confidence and the "aha moment" that they're pretty damn good at feeding themselves and others; and maybe the more advanced among you will appreciate a "day off" from your normal cooking frenzy.
So if you're new to veganism or are looking to take a break from your larger and more self-indulgent cooking projects, do keep an eye on this blog.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

After Turning My Head Away from the Internet for a Week

There's so much abolitionist animal rights activity online right now that I'm not even sure of where to start in terms of raving about it in any sort of detail. Two things worthy of nothing right off the bat, however, are that Prof. Gary L. Francione has entered the world of podcasting. In the "Abolitionist Approach Commentary", Prof. Francione has begun presenting a series that explores different issues and aspects of why we need to bring about the abolition--and not the regulation--of animal exploitation. His first podcast is on the myth and misrepresentation of vegetarianism as being a "gateway" to veganism and can be found here. His second podcast examines the issue of "pets" and can be found here. Speaking of podcasts... Vincent J. Guihan has steered his We Other Animals blog in a new direction with WOARadio. You can listen to his very first podcast ("I would throw 1000 ancient redwoods out of the lifeboat to save one kitten") here. Now to catch up with the rest of what's been going on while I've been sidetracked...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Divisiveness à la Post Punk Kitchen

A fellow vegan abolitionist who (along with his lovely partner) runs a small animal rescue operation in Chicago mentioned today that Isa Chandra Moskovitch, well-selling Post Punk Kitchen vegan cookbook author, has been publicly expressing her dismissal of abolitionist animal rights theory (in general), as well as of Bob and Jenna Torres' work (more specifically) and of the Vegan Freak Forum community (where she brags of trolling with multiple fake accounts). She seems to have a fair amount of disdain for anyone who supports an abolitionist approach to animal rights (or as she prefers to call us, "people in that cult"). She seems to think that we're both divisive and "adorable". What's funny is that it wasn't that long ago that she was all for cashing in on Bob and Jenna's endorsement to sell her own wares.

Oh, say it ain't so, Isa! We're all in it for the nonhumans, aren't we?
I mean, it's not a popularity contest or anything, right?

It would be interesting to try to tease out the reasons for her animosity. I have better things to do right now, though, like fold my laundry and listen to the leaves rustling outside my window. And update my vegan cooking site links.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I Need New Reading Material

I think that I may need a book to review. Or a book suggestion that isn't a reread.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

PeTA and Peter Singer: What's the Problem?

This is just a quick post to draw attention to a couple of pieces that should be read by those sitting on the fence about a) where PeTA really stands in terms of animal rights, and b) whether Peter Singer has ever actually had anything whatsoever to do with anything even ever so vaguely resembling a serious interest in the rights of nonhuman persons. A My Face Is on Fire reader emailed me today to ask me if I'd read Roger Yates' most recent post on his On Human-Nonhuman Relations about the current public misconception of PeTA's being a radical animal rights organization (or, rather, how it misrepresents itself as such). Yates points out in his recent post that

a visitor to PeTA’s site may find herself looking for animal rights books in PeTA’s online catalogue. However, the only philosophy book on human-nonhuman relations there is Animal Liberation. There are no works of animal rights theory. Instead PeTA misrepresent Peter Singer’s texts by saying, “If you read only one animal rights book, it has to be this one.” For some reason, Singer seems to tolerate this distortion – elsewhere he’s at pains to make it crystal clear that his views have no rights-based foundation.
The reader who emailed me was wondering why it is that PeTA would misrepresent Singer as presenting any sort of philosophical framework that is rights-based if his work is not, in fact, based on a serious concern for the rights of nonhumans. (Why indeed?) She then asked me if I could clarify Singer's position in a simple manner and explain to her how it differs from the abolitionist approach to animal rights. I ended up forwarding her this link to an essay called "Peter Singer and the Welfarist Position on the Lesser Value of Nonhuman Life" by Prof. Gary L. Francione from his Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website and I suggested that she also go directly to the source and take the time to read Singer, herself. I hope she'll check out the link in question (and the book) and respond to this post if she has further questions or concerns.

I also recommend to anyone else who's unfamiliar with Singer's actual work and with where it fits (or doesn't!) in terms of the "big picture" to take the time to go to your library and pick up a copy of
Animal Liberation and read it--critically. Then go back and read Prof. Francione's essays and let the dots connect like mad. And in case anyone already familiar with Singer's work lets out a little gasp that I may be offering it up as recommended reading on this blog (I know that I just did!), I'll just point this out: It's the simplest thing in the world to nod in agreement with others--especially when you know and value the soundness and significance of their work--but to actually take the time to muddle through source material yourself to come up with an actual understanding of why you agree (if you do) is invaluable and will honestly make you a better advocate for nonhumans who haven't the voice to speak for themselves.

Sometimes Reading Opinion Pieces is Hard on the Head

Keith Burgess-Jackson of the Animal Ethics blog posted a link to a little opinion piece by Mark Krikorian that appeared in the National Review Online last Wednesday about the "longstanding lefty argument that eating meat is evil". In it, Krikorian dissected another article (from the Washington Post) whose author, Ezra Klein, had attempted to make an argument for vegetarianism--i.e. not eschewing all animal products--for environmental reasons. Never mind my taking a kick at Klein's presentation of animal consumption as no more than a certain amount of pollution output / resource depletion, statements like the following would have been enough to get this vegan to discount most of what Klein had to say:

I've not had the willpower to eliminate bacon from my life entirely, and so I eliminated it from breakfast and lunch, and when that grew easier, pulled back further to allow myself five meat-based meals a month. And believe me, I enjoy the hell out of those five meals.
That said, Klein actually indirectly refers to veganism as a "perfectly virtuous diet" in his original Washington Post piece, and it is with this that Krikorian takes issue in his criticism of it, so that he ends his opinion piece by writing:
Just so you know, I think we do eat too much meat, and salt, sugar, and fat, because our species evolved to crave these once rare elements of our diet which are now abundant. But vegetarianism and veganism are not only not virtuous, they're immoral, based as they are on the principle that animals are morally equivalent to humans. Likewise, meat probably should cost more than it does, but not because we need a global-warming tax on it but because animals, while lacking "rights," are not inanimate objects we can use with impunity as industrial inputs — and their humane treatment will almost certainly raise the price of hamburgers.
Reading this made my head hurt a little. So, veganism would be immoral because it is "based [...] on the principle that [nonhumans] are morally equivalent to humans," but according to the author "meat" should be more expensive since "animals, while lacking 'rights,' are not inanimate objects we can use with impunit as industrial inputs" and their (continued usage and) "humane treatment will almost certainly raise the price of hamburgers". Krikorian is obviously for the continuation of the consumption of nonhumans, but I'm really not certain of what he's trying to say while on the one hand calling veganism "immoral" yet seemingly acknowledging that it is indeed morally problematic to continue using animals as things.

Maybe I'm just under-caffeinated? To echo Burgess-Jackson's
own comment on it, though: "How sad, that such bad reasoning as this man's should see the light of day in a prominent place".

Why I Am Vegan

A short clip made by a vegan I know.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Part-Time Veganism

The Times Online featured an article on dieting today. Sounding to this vegan's ears like something straight out of The Onion, the article blesses (shh!) Mark Bittman with the honour of having added fuel to the fire igniting the recent popular interest in something it calls 'veganism'. It focuses primarily on society's ongoing obsession with weight-loss, bringing up the recent popularity of the Barnouin/Freedman book Skinny Bitch, stating that "for many, the authors’ total abhorrence of animal products was hard to swallow", thus kick-starting "part-time veganism" (or "agnostic veganism") and providing Bittman with incentive to cash in.

How's it working for some? The article claims that "the pleasure principle is intrinsic to the success of part time veganism". For instance, one fan reports:

“I’m vegan 70% of the time. I have irritable bowel syndrome, so cutting out dairy eases my stomach pains. But for the other 30%, I let myself eat cheese, fish and meat, either because I’m craving it, or for convenience. I want to be healthy, but I also want to enjoy life. If I’m having dinner at a friend’s and say I’m vegan, they panic. if I’m holidaying somewhere like France, my options are too restricted. When you deprive yourself, you feel resentful, which defeats the purpose of a healthy diet. I want to be good to my body and mind.”
Another states:
“The tipping point came when I couldn’t fit into a size-18 dress in Primark. I was a meat-and-potato kind of girl before that, but the promise of weight loss drew me in. I cut out all meat and dairy, but found it incredibly tough. There’s milk powder in so many things, and I began to crave chocolate. So I loosened up and allowed myself to go partially vegan. I now eat eggs, and try to substitute dairy with soy products where possible. I’ve gone from 13st to 10st, and am a size 12.”
The slippery-sloping of vegetarianism, I've come to terms with, since I now know that there is more suffering endured to produce a glass of dairy milk than there is to produce a single hamburger. I really do hope to eventually stop rolling my eyes at this, though. In the meantime... Veganism: Coming soon to a butcher shop near you!