Veganism Is _______?
In Long Island University's The Post Pioneer yesterday, its features editor Diane Agulnick shared a couple of paragraphs describing veganism and why she's a vegan ("Veganism Is Not a Religion"). She starts off emphasizing that being vegan is a personal choice for her, writing: "I'm not trying to convert you, I'm not trying to convince you, and I'm not trying to persuade you." She contextualizes this by describing how people often react defensively--even apparently fearfully--upon finding out that she is vegan. What is a vegan? According to Agulnick:
The truth is, a vegan is just an extreme vegetarian. I'm sure most of you know that a vegetarian is someone who does not eat any animal meat, including beef, chicken, fish, etc. The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans also don't eat any dairy, eggs, or any animal products whatsoever.So after defining veganism as dietary, Agulnick goes on to emphasize the horrible conditions of factory farming to explain why she would refrain from eating animal products other than meat, adding that cow's milk is for calves and that both cows and chickens are "pumped full of hormones" and forced to make them "lactate or shoot out eggs multiple times a day". For emphasis, she adds:
Girls know how hard it is to deal with that one egg once a month; having to go through this on an even more regular basis doesn't sound too pleasant, does it?I'm not sure I've ever heard this approach used to appeal to either people's empathy or sense of justice to get them to reconsider using nonhuman animals, but then again, as Agulnick restates at the end of her piece to make it clear, it doesn't bother her if people agree or disagree with her "reasoning" since it's just her personal choice. (But hey, if anyone happens to rethink their "carnivorous" ways, it's a bonus.)
Although I appreciate that more people are discussing veganism in mainstream media (or college papers, as in this case), I find it troubling that the "go to" places for so many vegans talking about their veganism is still to overstate how they've no intention of changing others' minds about exploiting nonhuman animals--as if it's rude or shameful to either do so or seek to do so. Adopting this posture does nothing but perpetuate this mindset amongst vegans--and non-vegans alike--that a good vegan is a quiet vegan and that merely talking to a non-vegan about veganism is somehow wrong. How can we possibly educate others about the interests of nonhuman animals within this context?
The Difference Between Man and Animal
Yesterday, on the website for First Things, a publication of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, I found a short opinion piece by a guy called David Wills. He wanted to throw in his own two cents after having attended "a forum on the ethics of food animal product hosted by the National Catholic Bioethics Centre (and after having read a Times Literary Supplement review of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals). He doesn't talk about veganism, necessarily, but after bringing it up and discussing it with a few people on Twitter, I went back to his piece a few times yesterday sort of amazed at intensity of the man's speciesism, as he takes issue with what he calls "a lack of clarity about what man is and animals are". Particularly, he takes issue with Foer book's reviewer's assertion that what Wills calls "food animals" deserve to live long fulfilling lives:
The reviewer seems to assume, but does not even try to argue, that food animals deserve a long and fulfilling life (whatever fulfilling means for them), and therefore to kill them for our use is wrong. But since they have no real consciousness or memory, how can they know, much less care, that their life is shorter than it might have been?
Would a beef cow fall into despair if told he was being slaughtered on Monday? Would he start lamenting the books he had not read, the symphonies he had not written, the fact that he won’t be grazing in the field with his great-grandchildren? Animals don’t live in time as man does, and therefore being deprived of time is not an injustice.
So nonhuman animals "don't live in time as" humans do and therefore have no interest in living lives of their own and we should thus view their use as justifiable? One could say the same of humans who are senile.
In its blurring the fairly obvious difference between man and animal, that argument is typical of the kind of argument often offered against the current use of food animals. Whatever is the argument for treating food animals better than we do, that is not it.
That Wills misses the point of why nonhuman animals deserve to live long fulfilling lives makes itself evident in that he describes them as having "no real consciousness or memory". Anyone who has spent any long stretch of time with any nonhuman animal can certainly refute that nonhumans have no memory. As for consciousness, I think that Wills convolutes the issue by focusing on intellect (e.g. "lamenting the books he had not read") rather than acknowledging its most basic and important aspect: Sentience. That nonhumans are able to feel or perceive things around themselves, seeking pleasures and avoiding pain and developing / maintaining relationships with kin and others, is what truly irrefutably reveals their similarities to humans. Wills chooses to ignore this altogether in his short piece, however, finishing it off instead with some martini-phobic ramblings.
He's Not a Vegan... Because He Eats Fish
Finally, I just wanted to throw in this short mangling of the meaning of "vegan" I found in a short review of a weight loss book by the actor who provided the voice for the captain of the Axiom spaceship in the hit animated movie Wall-E (a movie I thought was tremendously overrated, by the way--something I've always wanted an excuse to say aloud or write somewhere), The Oregonian's Jeff Baker gives us some insight into what a vegan is or isn't:
Garlin eventually managed to start losing weight by eliminating meat, chicken, sugar and processed foods from his diet. He is not a vegan because he eats fish, but he is in that neighborhood and happy about it.In that neighborhood, huh? Uh, OK. Is that like calling the state of Texas or the city of Los Angeles "neighbourhoods"?