Friday, January 29, 2010

Fur


What could possibly be a more stereotypical image of animal rights activists in pop culture than that of their demonstrating outside a fur store? For almost 20 years, groups like PeTA, as Prof. Gary L. Francione recently discussed on his Abolitionist Approach website ("The State of the Movement"), have been mangling perceptions of animal advocacy horribly by nurturing this stereotype, while singling out the fur industry as particularly worthy of the ire of those who take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously. But is the fur industry really any more worthy of such ire? As one advocate recently pointed out Twitter, for instance, 'fur' is skin and hair while 'leather' is skin. To obsess over people's wearing of fur while turning a blind eye to others' wearing of leather (which is much more common and involves so much more loss of life) seems odd and illogical. Furthermore, as Prof. Francione often points out when discussing anti-fur campaigns, considering that a large percentage of those who wear fur are women, fur becomes a convenient and sexist target. After all, when's the last time you saw PeTA demonstrators bombard a leather-clad biker with paint-balls?

Single-issue campaigns are problematic on many levels, not the least of which is that in focusing on this or that thing, other equally relevant issues get sidelined or marginalized. The impression given is that the object of the single-issue campaign in question carries more ethical significance. Sometimes, the very focusing on a single-issue can even lead advocates themselves to get a little lost--to lose sight of the wider or broader reasons that campaign may have been deemed important. This all becomes so tricky in a morally schizophrenic and speciesist society where we already have people categorizing some nonhuman animals as "pets", some as "food" and some as "pests". It becomes tricky in a society where many are drawn into believing that the consumption of flesh is more ethically troublesome than the consumption of animal products like milk or eggs, and then choose to eschew one for the other and convince themselves that they're making a huge difference in the lives of those nonhuman animals.

Somewhat telling (albeit somewhat less significant when looking at the big picture) is that with all of these years of anti-fur campaigning, PeTA hasn't even managed to effect any sort of tangible and permanent change in the general public's thinking concerning the wearing of fur. A recent article in the UK's Telegraph ("Why Fur is Fashionable Again"), for instance, discusses the resurgence in popularity of wearing "vintage furs", but as the editor of Red fashion magazines states in it:

I think the wearing of any fur at all, vintage or otherwise, anaesthetises the wearer. You’re only one gold card away from a new fur coat if you’ve bought an old one.
Ironically, another industry insider quoted in the article--one who admits to wearing so-called vintage fur--actually nails the problem with single issue campaigns and the resulting confusion from their mixed messages quite effectively, saying: “I can’t understand people who’ll [...] eat supermarket battery chickens, and then give me a hard time for wearing fur.” Where does this confusion come from? Animal advocates engaging in the sort of welfarist campaigning that either a) flat-out condones certain forms of animal exploitation (e.g. Erik Marcus applauding Jonathan Safran Foer, a promoter of "happy meat"-- see here and here) or b) lauds wee incremental changes to small segments of a wider-scale problem (e.g. HSUS spending so much money from its supporters to pressure restaurants to use cage-free eggs rather than educating consumers about not consuming eggs or other animal products in the first place).

More recently, the organisation Friends of Animals posted an open letter on its website to figure-skater Johnny Weir, in response to a New York Times article describing an outfit he wore at the US Figure Skating Championships as including fox fur. Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animals' President wrote:
Please consider that there’s nothing pretty about the fox that suffered and died to trim your outfit. The beautiful fox was likely anally electrocuted, or may have had its head bashed in, only to serve as decoration for someone’s performance.

If you buy fur, no matter what size piece, or which animal it comes from, you’re supporting an industry that has no respect for animals.
Feral announced on Twitter yesterday that "Johnny Weir's NEW decision to not perform in real fur at Olympics--victory for Arctic foxes, lynxes,wolves- free-living animals in nature." Um, OK... But what of the leather skates that Weir will inevitably wear, not unlike the skates worn by most professional figure skaters? Why all the fuss over one bit of skin and hair worn by a celebrity athlete, while ignoring that he and most of his fellow-skaters customarily wear skin (and otherwise consume animals)? Considering the several postings on the Friends of Animals website, the numerous tweets from Feral and others, the supposed faxes sent off hither and thither (including one to his costume designer, as reported here) and the claim that Weir's decision is somehow a "victory", one is left to wonder if the victory is more in terms of the publicity generated for the group than one for nonhuman animals.

So? From this mini media blitz, the public is left confused about the ethical significance of wearing one part of one animal's body rather than another's. Where Weir himself is concerned, he's no further ahead in terms of having had his conscience shifted; the reason Weir touted as being behind his decision to forgo wearing the fur is that he's purportedly received "threats" concerning it since the blitz started. Where is the victory here? All I see is a lost opportunity to earnestly educate people about the exploitation of animals and to educate them about veganism. (Check out Gary L. Francione's blog post from earlier today on the Weird story.)

The truth is that whether one chooses to wear leather, fur or silk, animals are exploited and treated as though they're ours to use. Whether one eats flesh, milk, eggs or honey, animals are exploited and treated as though they're ours to use. It seems to me that the most straightforward, simple and honest message that we can deliver as members of the "animal movement" is this: The only way to remove oneself from the cycle of suffering into which billions of nonhuman animals are enslaved and slaughtered every year is to actually remove oneself from the cycle altogether. When we start playing fast and loose with the term "ethical" or obsessing over single-issue campaigns, we lose sight of advocating for the most logical means by which to attain the best-case scenario for nonhuman animals. Instead of spreading (or implying) the misleading message that it's worse to consume one animal product over another, why not advocate for veganism?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bits and Blurbs on Veganism in the News

Zimbabwe's Thought Leader (part of the Mail & Guardian online network) featured an opinion piece today that 'ignorant' just doesn't seem to qualify adequately. Sipho Hlongwane's piece "Vegetarians Cause Me Grief" is just one long anti-vegan diatribe. Using 'vegetarianism' and 'vegetablism' interchangeably, the writer at least seems to get that veganism is something altogether different (for whatever little that's worth):

There’s the other type of vegetarians. The really pale, thin ones. Vegans. The fanatics. I like to think of them as the provisional wing of vegetablism. I’ve had the odd run-in with these vegan people. My reaction is always the same. Shame, man. All that malnutrition can’t be fun. And their reaction to that is always the same. They faint, but only after losing too much energy, trying to swing a punch at me. Tsk. Really man, shame.
And if you didn't quite get out of that last bit that he's not particularly fond of vegans:
My philosophy is quite simple. Live and let live — in the case of vegans, live and let die. I do me and you do you. I may find your dietary habits odd and perhaps quite insane, but if that’s what you want to eat, then bon appetit. Trouble is, the reciprocal is never true. Vegetarians cause me so much grief. They’re the biggest source of under-the-skin, itchy irritation in my life, more than taxi drivers, traffic cops and government workers. As soon as they see meat on my plate, they’re at my heels, yapping away like a pack of excitable terriers.
We get it, Hlongwane. You're snappy and clever and needed to scratch an itch and to earn a buck. We also get that it's not just the cows you mention that are full of methane.

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Nosing around online, I uncovered yet another former "vegans" getting their rocks off slicing up nonhuman animals article ("Conscious Carnivores, Ethical Butchers are Changing Food Culture"):
Why go to Jim and Wendy Parker's Dallas hog farm to meet the Red Wattle and scratch his belly, Reed has been asked, knowing you'll eventually butcher that animal?

"To me, that's exactly how it should be. At that point, there's no argument against eating meat. These pigs live a good life. They are animals raised to be food. And that's OK."
Former self-described "militant vegan" Berlin Reed's obviously spent too much time reading HSUS pamphlets. And that's not OK. There's nothing good about living a life where your only purpose is to end up on someone's plate, guy, whether or not someone scratches your belly before scalding it or slicing it open.

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Word on the street (OK, on the Examiner website, really) is that Philadelphia is going to be the only US city hosting a demonstration on January 30 for the "World Day for the Abolition of Meat". Philadelphia Animal Advocate Examiner Megan Drake touts it as being a good way to encourage veganism, but does it really? It seems to me that the article does a pretty good job of explaining all on its own that it doesn't:
The purpose of 'World Day for the Abolition of Meat' is to inform the public of how much suffering meat eating causes non-human animals and how unnecessary it is to human beings. Goals are twofold: encouraging vegetarianism and veganism as forms of boycotting the products of the animal farming industry and secondly to explicitly request the abolition of meat production.
The truth is that singling out meat as a cause of animal suffering side-steps the fact that there is as much--and often much more--suffering involved in dairy and egg production than in raising animals for their flesh. Protesting the consumption of meat to promote vegetarianism also misses this point altogether. Furthermore, saying that one is protesting for the "abolition of meat" to encourage veganism makes about as much sense as saying that one is protesting for the "abolition of yogurt" to promote veganism. You want to promote veganism? Promote veganism!

Additionally, focusing on suffering turns the
treatment into the main issue and feeds right into the popular "happy meat" trend, by which many let themselves get lulled by producers and animal welfare groups (like HSUS) into thinking that it's actually just fine to eat the flesh or excretions of some non-humans, since small supposed improvements in the way they're caged or tortured their entire lives somehow validate enslaving them and slaughtering them in the first place. (Whether those supposed improvements actually even lead to less suffering is another issue altogether, best saved for another post.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Vegans Eat

I've been lax about updating since the holidays. I've started two different posts in the past few weeks and have yet to wrap them up and edit them down since I've been busy with school-related red tape. I'm determined to churn them out by the end of the weekend, but in the interim, a monthly update of what some of my favourite vegan food bloggers (as well as some vegans engaging in some sort of food-related projects) have been up to is warranted.

Krista at Disposable Aardvarks Inc. has started a project that involves attempting to make bento lunches for her family for each letter of the alphabet. Her first entry from three days ago is here. Could there be better proof that when eating vegan, the variety of food choices at your disposal are near-endless?

Jessy over at happyveganface mentioned at the end of her first post in December that she and her fellow were going to be participating in a "pantry challenge". Basically, it involves going through your pantry and clearing out a lot of stored staple food items that have been sitting there for a while 1) to turn 'em over, since they could very well need to be used up or replaced, and 2) to use the opportunity to cut back on your grocery budget by being creative and using what you already have on hand and don't want to see going to waste. As of her most recent post last week, the pantry challenge was still on and some of the staples were, in fact, starting to run out. If the shared recipes and enthusiasm from over the past month and a half don't nab you, you can bet that the the amazing photos she's been taking of the dishes she's prepared during this challenge certainly will.

Adam Kochanowicz, host of the The Vegan News and Vegan Examiner, has started a little web-based project that requires assistance from his fellow vegans. He may not be a food blogger, but he's building a database of vegan recipes at Vegan.FM. You can edit the page directly to add to it, or email Adam at ajkochanowicz at gmail.com. If you have a couple of favourite vegan recipes, please take a few minutes to lend a hand and add them to the growing number already there.

Finally, Elizabeth Collins, host of the NZ Vegan Podcast, recently announced on Twitter that she's going to start documenting what she eats in a Flickr photostream to show New Zealanders all the great vegan food they can make from local ingredients (as well as to show people elsewhere that anyone can make great vegan food--it's so very easy).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Veganism and Animal Rights in Online Media

Some bits and blurbs I've stumbled across online while catching up on internet goings on after a brief holiday hiatus:

Last week, Gary L. Francione published a piece on the debate-provoking website Opposing Views concerning "Meatless Mondays" ("Vegan Gary Francione on Why He's Against 'Meatless Mondays'"). In it, Francione describes how the trend is problematic since it

reinforces the idea that animal flesh is morally distinguishable from other animal foods [and] is also promoted by many as an end in itself to reduce the environmental consequences of flesh consumption or as a health measure similar to reducing alcohol consumption.
Francione goes on to explain how he would have no issues with supporting a "Vegan [Day]" as long as
it were made clear that this was: (1) in recognition of the ethical imperative that we cannot justify animal use; and (2) just one step toward complete veganism.
Essentially, "Meatless Mondays" is often considered or touted as an end in itself, when what needs to be conveyed is that all animal exploitation is wrong and that eschewing this or that animal product one day a week doesn't somehow serve to justify exploiting animals the rest of the week.

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Somewhere in Canada, somebody tried to write an article about animal shelters and to--uh--clarify the differences between animal welfare and animals rights ("The Impact of Animal Rights, Rescues and Shelters on Animal Law"). In doing so, he managed to prove that absolutely anybody can write absolutely anything on the internet and that it need not make any sense whatsoever or reflect anything resembling truth or honesty. I don't even know where to start picking it apart. When you've finished reading it (if your eyes don't get sore from their rolling before you're able to do so), here's a piece on why you should, in fact, adopt from your local shelter.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oreos: Where PETA's Got it Wrong

Just before the holidays, Oreos came up in a discussion on Twitter. Was it true? Were they vegan? For some time, PETA's listed them in the snacks section of its "I Can't Believe It's Vegan!" lists of so-called "accidentally" vegan foods on its website. Surely, PETA would have verified this, no?

No!

Or rather, PETA's got a definition of veganism that it keeps flexible enough to include animal products and thinks that your definition should be that flexible, too. The disclaimer on the main page of its "I Can't Believe It's Vegan!" website reads:

Items listed may contain trace amounts of animal-derived ingredients. While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals. For a more detailed explanation of PETA’s position, please visit http://www.caringconsumer.com/labels.html.
Basically, PETA says that fussing over ensuring things you put into your mouth are actually vegan is nitpicking and becomes an obsession over "personal purity". How far PETA takes this was recently reflected in a press release back in May to promote The Animal Activists' Handbook, co-written by its Vice-President Bruce Friedrich and Vegan (?) Outreach's Matt Ball. In it, Friedrich was described as arguing "against questioning waiters in restaurants about the ingredients in menu items". I mean, if PETA thinks you should even ask if any ingredients are animal-derived at all, then one really has to wonder about the work it put into assessing or ascertaining whether anything in its list of purportedly accidentally vegan processed foods is, actually, vegan.

It's one thing to acknowledge that in a world where animal exploitation is rampant that it's impossible to always avoid consuming foods whose ingredients or processing have involved some sort of animal exploitation; it's another matter, however, to fall into the practice of deliberately turning a blind eye where a simple question or two can provide that information and allow you to choose and act accordingly.
So? I wrote to Nabisco and asked if its Oreos are animal-free. Specifically, I asked if the sugar used in them is processed with bone char. The response on December 23:
Hi Mylene,

Thank you for visiting http://www.nabiscoworld.com and for your interest in our OREO product.

I understand that knowing what ingredients are in the food products you eat directly affect how you practice your lifestyle, and Kraft Foods does all that it can to assist its consumers in making educated food decisions.

I apologize but unfortunately this ingredient information is not currently available.

As you can imagine our products change frequently, and maintaining a list of products that contain enzymes would be virtually impossible.

Thank you for contacting us and please add our site to your favourites and visit us again soon!

Kim McMiller Associate Director, Consumer Relations
Enzymes. I hadn't even considered those when first writing to Nabisco (some enzymes used to condition dough in processed based goods are animal-derived). Not having received a response to my question concerning the sugar itself, I asked again and this time received this information in the following response on December 28:

Kraft has several sugar suppliers. Sugar in our products can come from either sugar cane or sugar beets, depending on availability.

Some of our suppliers DO use the animal-derived natural charcoal (also known as "bone char") in their cane sugar refining process and some suppliers DO NOT use this process.

Since we may use any of the sugar suppliers at any given time in production, we cannot give a definite answer as to whether or not bone char was used in the sugar refining process of a particular product.

So there you have it, straight from Oreos' makers, themselves. There is no way to confirm whether one package of Oreos or another contains animal-derived ingredients (e.g. enzymes used to process the dough) or sugar that's been processed using the charred bones of animals; there's no need to embarrass yourself, as PETA would have you think you are, by asking if any animals were used to concoct 'em.

Spread the word that PETA's information on what is or isn't vegan should be examined critically by all vegans. While you're at it, maybe ask yourself
something I've been asking myself since the Oreo discussion came up: Why support a company that ordinarily profits off the massive exploitation of animals anyway when other options are available? Better yet, do a Google search or three for vegan cookie recipes and go nuts while ensuring that no animals were used to satisfy your sweet tooth. Feel free to post any links you find to recipes yielding particularly scrumptious results in the comments below!