Thursday, February 18, 2010

Communication!

Cal State Fullerton's Daily Titan printed an opinion piece yesterday by student April Ehrlich ("Shades of Green: Vegan Arrogance"). In it, Ehrlich complains about a friend (maybe a former friend, after this public diatribe?) Ehrlich and her father recently invited along on a camping trip. She sets the piece's jeering tone at the beginning, writing:

I don’t know why I took my vegan friend camping with me and my family. You’d think a vegan would know better than to trek off on a week-long vacation without an endless supply of trail mix or dried edamame, or whatever it is that vegans live off of when they’re on the road.
What precipitated such a complaint? Ehrlich's father offered her vegan friend foods containing animal products and she chose to decline them. Ehrlich shows a complete misunderstanding and lack of acceptance of her friend's ethical choices by accusing her of being "snobbish" and of not being "open-minded" for having turned down cheesy eggs and for refusing crackers that contained chicken broth, melodramatically emphasizing the disappointment and distress her father purportedly experienced when her friend did so ("[h]is heart was broken") and whining that her friend would "rather starve than eat horrid, lowly camping food".

It's obvious that (so very easily) preventable miscommunication occurred before the camping trip. Ehrlich apparently knew that her friend was vegan, but seemed (and still seems) to fail to grasp what this entails. All parental woes and awkwardness (and one would hope, Ehrlich's own indignant public shaming of her friend) could have been averted with a simple discussion beforehand to confirm her friend's needs and whether or not her friend should bring her own food for the trip. This simple discussion could have been initiated by either party involved, host or guest. Ehrlich complains: "The girl could have brought her own food if she didn’t want to torture my family and I with her snobbish remarks regarding our eating habits". By this point, it's too late.

With this comes a valuable lesson for Ehrlich's friend--one that every vegan eventually comes 'round to learning: Life is
so much simpler for everyone involved if you are proactive and cover all bases to look after yourself in social situations that involve eating food or consuming (or using) other items that may be non-vegan. Combine this with clear communication beforehand and you end up with a win-win situation where you're not left with a grumbling stomach and your hosts are not left confused or offended. Heck, if you bring a little extra, you also have an opportunity to show people how easy to find or prepare, and how delicious vegan food can be. The point is that it always helps to plan ahead and planning ahead can be an easy and effective way to leave others with a positive impression of veganism.

I'll play devil's advocate and wonder if, given Ehrlich's accusations, her friend actually may have said
anything worthy of being judged so harshly. Ehrlich only indicates in her piece that her friend remarked that some foods have hidden animal ingredients, so we're left to speculate that Ehrlich merely made an incredibly defensive leap that in refusing to eat animal ingredients, her friend was somehow judging her and her family for doing so. Given Ehrlich's hostility and aversion to mincing words, it's highly doubtful that she would have overlooked the opportunity to quote her friend if there had been offensive words to quote. The intensity of her defensive hostility is obvious when she continues, writing:
Unfortunately, I think that’s what she enjoyed most about it. She sat high up on that throne of “I’m-better-than-you-because-I-love-animals-more.” [...] So, who’s better than who? I don’t eat red meat, so I must be better than you. Well, I don’t eat ANY meat, so I’m better. Well, I don’t eat any meat OR dairy. So?! I don’t eat any meat OR dairy OR anything that’s not organic OR anything with preservatives. I ONLY EAT RAW VEGETABLES. SO THERE. I WIN.
After a token bit admitting that after watching Foer on Colbert she agrees that not eating animal flesh is healthier, she snarks about factory farming and then takes a parting shot at her friend and at all those who take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously enough not to consume them, chastising us for being rude:
[W]hen the time comes to enjoy something cultural, or if a family cooks a meal for you, it’s offensive and snobbish to deny the offer. Basically, nobody is going to shoot you on site for eating an egg or maybe a piece of chicken every now and again.
You're right, April. Nobody is going to shoot us on site for eating an egg, but that's obviously beside the point. It's a real shame that you, on the other hand, would choose to personalize our ethical choices by going off on an ignorant and judgmental tear for not, in fact, eating that egg. Lest we hurt your feelings, or something. "Good job."

(Edited to add: It's worth noting that you can leave comments or responses to the original article at the Daily Titan. Many have already done so.)

10 comments:

Allison, The Busy (Happy!) Vegan said...

Thanks for posting this.

I think it's actually quite common for some of the omnivores around vegans to assume that our choice to avoid animal products is a judgment of them. Do I think it's wrong to eat animal products? Absolutely. Do I think the average person who does so is a bad person? Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, the moral consistency that vegans demonstrate in this particular area is frequently interpreted as self-righteousness, even if they make no comments whatsoever. I suppose it's a defensive reaction, but it's especially unfortunate because it makes honest and critical conversation about the topic virtually impossible.

AbolitionNow said...

I read the piece and I really couldn't stop rolling my eyes. I tried to read it calmly but all I could comprehend was the whininess and the "woe is me" bullshit. Yes, I can understand if the friend expected to be taken care of (it's a risk in the newly forming vegan world) but Erlich (sp?) could've really spared us.

It's all projection. Nonvegans calls vegans self righteous yet they're the ones who haven't done the research and claim that they're right. They call us morally superior yet they're the ones bitterly placing us on a pedestal. They accuse vegans of judging but who are they to start going on an immature rant upon hearing the word "vegan"? Let alone devoting an op ed? And what is with the bad journalism these days?

Once again, the friend is at fault for not bringing her own stuff and to have not prepared for the worst. But Erlich, is totally at fault for bitching on an open forum like that and not having asked her friend for explicit instructions and explanations.

Niki said...

Thanks for posting this.

I read that article earlier and I couldn't believe she didn't see the irony and hypocrisy in slating her friend for sticking to her beliefs.

I realise that omnivores get defensive and feel like any comment is an attack on them, however if we are to compare - the stated fact of chicken stock being an ingredient she can't eat is not an offensive comment, simply a truth. Whereas a whole article mocking what a vegan DOES eat and calling them snobbish for doing so IS an attack.

Really, who is the one doing the judging and preaching here?

Mylène Ouellet said...

Allison: You're welcome! I agree about that defensiveness. It sometimes presents itself at mealtime when you sit down with someone unfamiliar who, upon your identifying yourself as a vegan (or having someone else do so) decides to explain to you in explicit detail why he or she does consume animal products. Unfortunately, in many cases, that defensiveness is indeed completely knee-jerk and comes from that person's assumption that he or she is being judged by virtue of the fact that you choose to eschew what he or she doesn't. In those cases, the second you open your mouth to respond in any way other than to assure the person that veganism is a "personal" choice (which it isn't--at least not to the billions of nonhumans slaughtered each year) or if you speak up at all, you end up slipping into the shoes the person has conveniently set at your feet. At least as far as he or she is concerned.

I'd like to think, though, that sometimes the person in question is defensive because he or she has actually questioned whether he or she actually does have any justification for consuming animals, in which case, an opportunity could arise for gentle vegan education. One way or another, it's difficult to engage in that sort of open dialogue about anything at all when someone is that defensive. If I suss out that the person may be open to it, I usually suggest we talk about it after the meal.

Mylène Ouellet said...

AbolitionNow: I think that both parties were at fault--not just her vegan friend.

I look at it this way: If I invite someone over for dinner or set her up in any sort of situation where she's a guest and I'm playing host, I make sure that her basic needs are met. I ask about allergies, ethics and plain old basic food preferences. If she's allergic to peanuts, I won't try to feed her peanut butter. If she really dislikes apples, I won't try to feed her apple pie. If she won't eat something for ethical reasons, I'll make sure to have food for her to eat other than something that doesn't jive with her ethics. To me, that's what a good host does.

That being said, a) thanks to the misinformation that is often perpetuated about what we will or won't consume (thanks, PETA!) and b) due to the inconsistencies of some who self-identify as "vegan", there's no guarantee that anyone will know what is involved in providing for a vegan guest. That's why clear communication beforehand is essential.

Also, if we want to turn people's associations with vegans or veganism into positive experiences and potential learning opportunities, we really need to be proactive and impress upon them that it's not difficult to find delicious vegan food (because it's not!) and impress upon them that we're not "difficult" guests (because we're not!). Again, this means that clear communication is key. It also means always, always, always taking the extra step to look out for yourself. For instance, if I get a dinner invitation, I tell the person upfront that I'm vegan and explain what that entails. I also offer to bring a dish and often end up bringing more than one thing to share. Win-win!

Regardless of all of this, though, I agree that Ehrlich was way out of line. Her article was haughty and immature and I'm actually shocked that her college's paper even printed it.

Mylène Ouellet said...

Niki, you're absolutely right. I agree. I suspect that had her friend actually said anything offensive, Ehrlich would have plastered it all across her article. As it turns out, it seems that the slight was merely that her friend refused to consume animal products and as a result, Ehrlich ended up being the one doing the judging.

LiveVegan said...

Thanks for finding the original article and writing this piece Mylene :)

Vanilla Rose said...

Ehrlich wrote, "I don’t like consuming meat just as much as the next vegetarian".

Yeah, well, news for her. If she's eating crackers containing chicken broth, she's not really vegetarian. I've never been to the US or Canada, but in the UK most foodstuff is labelled as such if it is suitable for vegetarians. And the most popular brand of "cream" crackers, Jacob's, is vegan as far as I know. I think it's owned by a dodgy multinational, but the crackers don't have chicken inside!

Vanilla Rose said...

It is possible that the friend was not at fault at all. Maybe she said, "Shall I bring anything? I really think I should" but the pseudo-vegetarian Ms Ehrlich assured her that everything was fine and her father totally understood veganism. Perhaps even to the extent of saying her father would be insulted if the vegan friend brought anything!

Mylène Ouellet said...

You raise a good point. I remember years ago when a friend's mother would extend dinner invitations to me, I'd always ask if I could bring anything and she'd insist that there'd be plenty of things that I could eat. I would always bring something anyway, although I felt awkward about doing so, since she always responded beforehand that I needn't. The thing is that almost all of the time, I would have been left with a baked potato or raw carrots and celery from a tray. It wasn't a big deal for me to bring something; it made me happy to do so, both to share with others, as well as to make things easier for my hosts.

(Oh, and thanks Trisha! :-D)