Sunday, February 28, 2010

Preview for Peaceable Kingdom: The Journey Home

I haven't seen this yet, although a few abolitionist friends have praised it. I've been told that it was done in response to the original Peaceable Kingdom documentary (which had focused on how we use animals rather than on whether we should use them at all). Unfortunately, those who've seen the premiere have said that the documentary avoids all mention of veganism; this means another opportunity missed to state the obvious in terms of what we can do to alter the status quo. It's a shame.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bits and Blurbs About Veganism: Getting it Right

With a sigh of something akin to relief, I stumbled upon some articles here and there that left me feeling a little hopeful this morning while sipping on my gingery morning tea. Hofstra University's The Chronicle had a short piece by contributing writer TJ Edouard today, in which he offers some informal tips on dining out as a vegan. Of his own decision to go vegan, he writes that even after watching sensationalist videos, he wasn't completely swayed. Although they had a bit of an impact on him, his cultural background of the dairy and meat-laden sort left him first shunning other animal products instead (e.g. leather, fur). The turning point for him, he writes, came when he realized that "standing for something that you believe in is better than disregarding it because you are too selfish to pretend to care". So, he went vegan.

His article is interesting, because he talks about obvious (e.g. Parmesan cheese in sauce) and sometimes not-so-obvious (e.g. eggs in pasta) animal ingredients, and also about cross-contamination (e.g. when foods otherwise described as animal-free end up cooked in the same grease as animal products). As he states, the important thing is to get used to asking questions. Not only is the onus on you to inform yourself of what it is that you're eating, but in asking, you're also educating wait staff about animal ingredients and the dietary aspect of veganism.

(Some would argue that vegans should avoid all non-vegan restaurants in the first place to both ensure that they don't inadvertently consume animal products, as well as to avoid supporting businesses that mostly (or in any way at all) profit from animal exploitation. This is something I hope to write about in the near future and in the interim, I'm very interested in hearing others' thoughts on the subject.)

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In an informative piece in The Daily Princetonian today ("The daily value of veganism"), Senior Columnist Miriam Geronimus addresses nutritional concerns some of her family and friends have volleyed at her since she made the decision to go vegan last semester. Dispelling a number of myths ranging from the all-too-common "vegans get inadequate protein" to "vegans are all underweight", Geronimus does a fine job of educating her readers that it's not only not unhealthy to consume an animal-free diet, but that it can actually be more healthy. As she puts it: "Myths that veganism is unhealthy abound, but they are no reason not to be vegan if you otherwise would want to be". She's right!

With a little bit of self-education, it's easy to enjoy an animal-free diet; it's also easy to otherwise avoid consuming or using animals. The thing is that even if it weren't, it would be the right thing to do. It's not about convenience, but is about conviction--about doing what's right. Furthermore, as articles like Geronimus' illustrate, concerns over convenience when it comes to eating a nutritionally balanced diet are generally total bunk.

No more excuses, 'K? Just go vegan.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bits and Blurbs About Veganism in the Media

First, we had one college student's diatribe against her vegan friend for refusing to eat animal products while along on a family camping trip, insisting that politeness trumps ethics. This morning, I stumbled across a piece from Washington University's paper ("The delicious flesh of animals") in which its Senior Forum Editor proclaims that "there is no real 'meaning' to a cow’s life, other than to be killed for the cow’s meat". According to AJ Sundar, taste buds trump ethics. Reflecting the sort of muddled thinking that results when proponents of welfarism around the world turn the question of the treatment of nonhuman animals into the main question with which we should concern ourselves (i.e. while ignoring the ethics of using them in the first place), Sundar writes:

Perhaps animals ought to be treated in kinder terms, and I want to be very clear about where I stand: I do think that factory farming, or any other inhumane method of slaughtering and breeding animals, should be replaced by more humane methods of raising and killing animals. But I don’t think there is an extra obligation to refrain from killing animals altogether­ [...].

Sure, animals might lead a hard life on the range, what with the neutering and branding and penned-in spaces. But is it really that much worse than the average human’s life? Sure, factory farming is cruel, but surely raising animals in a free-range environment would be far kinder to the animals than in nature: Remember that it takes a wolf roughly half an hour to kill a cow, and the poor cow stays alive through most of this time as it gets eaten alive.

Is this what happens when too many well-meaning former-hipster profs throw books by guys like Michael Pollan on the syllabus for "Arts & Humanities 1000" classes?

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An article in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania's Weekender this morning ("Just say no to meat") was a good reminder of why advocating for anything less than veganism as a moral baseline when promoting the interests of nonhuman animals will, invariably, perpetuate serious moral confusion. Weekender's General Manager, Rachel Pugh, describes herself as a supposed vegetarian of "15 years" who, while having "dabbled with the vegan way of life", has also purportedly "dabbled" with eating animals, allowing "fish in and out of [her] diet for the past eight years". Following in the Jonathan Safran Foer mode of thinking, by which knowing and thinking about how animals are raised for us to use somehow nudges us up the moral ladder in terms of our own consumption ethics (i.e.
regardless of our follow-through), Pugh claims to be "conscious" of what she eats and where it comes from and insists that after having watched the movie Food, Inc., she's "even more conscious than ever".

Hmm... So what does it mean to be "even more conscious than ever"? Apparently not a single thing. She writes that "others’ choices to consume meat and animal by-products has [sic] never been a concern of [hers]". Furthermore, her own use of animals isn't really a concern of hers, either:
I think I’m somewhat in the vegetarian minority due to the fact that I could care less about others’ meat eating habits. It just doesn’t rattle me. Perhaps this is because I wear antique fur, which makes me a total hypocrite. And I’m fine with that mainly because I love mink stoles from the 1940s. In my book, if it’s been dead for over 30 years, it’s fair game. I just wouldn’t kill anything now for an accessory. I should add, of course, if it dies of natural causes today, this is also fair game which is the case with my recently purchased water buffalo bone ring. See? There are exceptions to every rule but a girl has to have standards.
Lesson learned? If you think that we should not exploit other sentient creatures because they have interests of their own, say so. And say why. Shrugging and suggesting that every little bit counts gives credence to the sort of wishy-washy half-hearted messages spread by people like Pugh, where lifestyle choices involving whether or not to be complicit in the use and slaughter of other sentient creatures are described as "dabbl[ing]" and where participating in this dabbling is written off as "personal preference".

Don't we really owe nonhuman animals more than that?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Grudges

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

"
Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude."

--Martin Luther King, Jr.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What Vegans Eat


It feels as if I just finished writing up January's short highlight of some of my favourite vegan food blogs--February has been zipping right by! So, on with it, I guess:

Anna over at Carrot and Potato Time just blogged about her experience making almond milk. I really, really have to try this for myself, soon since it seems so easy to make. Many don't realize that almond milk has been enjoyed for hundreds of years, its origins easily traced back to the Middle Ages, when refrigerators were a luxury only enjoyed by time-travelers.

Speaking of milks: Mihl at Seitan Is My Motor recently posted a recipe for a delicious-sounding Carrot-Coconut Soup w/Lime. It's described as "creamy, spicy, fruity and slightly sour" and looks absolutely beautiful, to boot!

Speaking of carrots (and beautiful dishes): Sinead at kitchen dancing shared a recipe for a Multicoloured Carrot Pilaf that sounds as delightfully complex tasting as the aforementioned soup. I always love her descriptions of how she goes about assembling her vegan culinary concoctions.

For a quick dessert or just a snack to satisfy a sweet tooth, how about a couple of the Banana-Maple Oatmeal Cookies from SusanV's FatFree Vegan Kitchen blog?

Go forth and cook up some good vegan eats!

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.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bits and Blurbs on Veganism in the News

In the UK's The Economic Voice this morning, I found an opinion piece by Richard Henley Davis in the "Lifestyle & Travel" section ("To go vegan or not to go vegan that is the question") that read more like a troll's rant in a vegan online discussion forum than something that should actually be featured in any sort of worthwhile publication. The kindest thing that can be said about it is that the piece's writer uses the term "vegan" when he means "strict vegetarian". It's all downhill from there. For instance, he writes:

The prospect of chewing on a carrot for the rest of my life is about as attractive as Churchill in drag so why on earth would I want to become a vegan?
Because talking about eating nonhuman animals is deemed sexy by food writers, there are many descriptions mean to present the allure of consuming raw flesh (e.g. "the vegan diet just seems like one step too far from the rare bloody steak that I am used to" and "I have my steak dripping with blood and I might use that blood as a sauce I love it so much"). And of course no piece mocking veganism (even if he does have a completely skewed understanding of the term "vegan" and misuses it) would be complete without taking a kick at ethics or animal rights, he mentions "pro vegan scientists who would bore at length on the evils of eating animal produce".

So what reason does Henley Davis offer up for eating "vegan" (i.e. being an omnivore who occasionally eats a meal that contains no animal products)? He says that it leaves him feeling "cleaner" and with "more energy" but then tempers this by stating that not eating animal products doesn't jive with heavy weight training--even though he's not a heavy weight trainer, himself. He concludes his article by saying he'll "appease both camps" and asserts that "the vegan diet is a healthier option" but that "we should gorge on meat and true organic dairy products once a month just give those amino acids and protein levels a boost". I wonder what he would need to gorge on to give his ability to write a respectable article a boost?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Never Forget



For more information on veganism and the abolitionist approach to animal rights, please visit the Abolitionist Approach website.

Spotlight on Activists: Sam Tucker

New Zealand's Sam Tucker is one incredibly busy and prolific teenage abolitionist animal rights activist and educator. He's the creator and host of the informative and nearly-weekly Food for Thought podcast (listen to it here) which features commentary on topical animal-related issues, interviews, cookbook reviews and shared vegan recipes. He also created and maintains the educational NZ Dairy Cruelty and NZ Egg Cruelty websites.

NZ Vegan Podcast
's Elizabeth Collins talked about Sam and his activism back in June (listen to it here) and this past December, Sam was profiled and interviewed on the Veganicious website (you can read it all here). He also creates videos about veganism for YouTube and you can check out his latest below.

(Update: Check out the just-released Episode 51 of the NZ Vegan Podcast to hear Elizabeth Collins interview Sam.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Human Rights or Animal Rights?

Listen to Porolita explain how she responds when people ask how she could focus on nonhuman animal rights when there are so many human rights issues to be addressed. Check out her YouTube channel here.

Adam Kochanowicz's October Interview with Prof. Gary L. Francione

Prof. Francione analyzes the current animal movement and discusses the importance of veganism. Enjoy!

Moral Schizophrenia and Animal Rights Ideology from Gary L. Francione on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The Oregonian's Grant Butler is Going Vegan (Sorta)

Who? Grant Butler is a an arts and food writer for Portland's The Oregonian. Where two weeks ago, he was talking up chicken soup as a weapon against winter colds, Butler's since decided to take the plunge and eliminate animal products from his life "... for a while" and for "at least the month of February (hmmm ... the shortest of the year -- a convenient coincidence?)". His "main reasons" given to do so?

  • Veganism is a fast-growing part of Portland's food culture, and The Oregonian's barely scratched the surface of all the bakeries, restaurants and food carts that cater to vegans.
  • As a cook, I love a good challenge, and going vegan presents a big one. [...]
  • It's a greener way to eat. [...]
  • While attending last fall's Veg Fest, a fantastic annual event celebrating all things vegan, "compassion" and "kindness" were buzzwords. These are values I aspire to in other aspects of my life, so why not embrace them in the way I eat?
  • Let's face it: I'm fat! [...]
I was skeptical that his decision to "go vegan" was presented right off the bat as being something temporary and that it seemed limited to involving changes in diet. I was also a bit disappointed in the emphasis on trendiness and thus the significance of covering it in The Oregonian, weight-loss and the environment with the only only reference made to ethics was the mention of "buzzwords" representing "values". I decided to forge ahead and read further articles post by Butler since he began the series on February 1. What followed was a mix of good and not-so-good.

On February 2, Butler wrote about re-stocking your pantry once you've made the decision to go vegan. He mentions looking for hidden animal ingredients and then stresses avoiding products "swimming in sodium and fat" (which isn't a bad idea, honestly). Alongside processed foods like Tofurky and Coconut Bliss ice cream and Earth Balance, he managed to pick up nuts, lentils, hummus and cannellini beans on his shopping trip. There's no mention of produce, but this initial shopping trip was likely meant to be understood as a one where animal products in your kitchen are replaced with things just as enticing. Butler wrote about his experience in an upbeat and optimistic way and I thought it bode well for the rest of the series.

Somewhat perplexingly, on that same day, The Oregonian published a Super Bowl snacks article of Butler's that suggests feasting on things like tuna salad, crab chowder, Indian-spiced meatballs, meat empanadas and cheese-sprinkled popcorn. In one fell swoop, he promotes eating: tuna fish, crabs, the flesh of cows/pigs/turkeys/lambs/chickens and various forms of dairy (yogurt, butter, whipping cream, cheese, et al.). Granted that the article could have been written before Butler's decision to experiment with an animal-free diet, but seeing it there really undermined the bit of hope I had of Butler's experiment's steering clear of most of the usual mixed messages and stereotypes about veganism that come with food writers' recent (temporary or half-hearted) forays into the exploration of the ethics of consumption.

On February 3, Butler wrote about a trip to the bookstore to pick up some vegan cookbooks for "inspiration". In this post, he mentions Mark Bittman (mister "Vegan Before Six", himself) as an author who caught his eye and in the pile of books pictured in the article's accompanying photo is Bittman's Food Matters. Another book in the photo is Pat Crocker's misleadingly named The Vegan Cook's Bible (find out why here). The one book he discusses at length is Dynise Balcavages's The Urban Vegan, which he praises for "leav[ing] out the food politics of being vegan," adding that "there's plenty of that elsewhere". I find it curious that Butler would purport to have been looking for "inspiration" and would have turned to books by someone like Mark Bittman (i.e. foodie darling of the "conscientious omnivore" movement) to find it, but then felt the need to single out for praise a vegan cookbook's not mentioning "the food politics of being vegan", as if it's somehow distasteful to discuss ethics beyond environmental concerns.

The next few days offered up a mix of short blurbs containing fairly good information. For instance:
  • On February 4, Butler churned out a really decent article on why honey isn't vegan. In it, he linked to information on vegetus.org about the exploitation of bees--a must-read for any vegan who shrugs off its consumption as being ethically insignificant.
  • On February 5, he wrote about dining out in Portland and how vegan-friendly a city it is. In it, he referenced Erik Marcus' website as "useful" (which is funny, considering how little time or energy Marcus spends on even promoting veganism).
  • On February 6, he wrote a little blurb about processed meat subs he'd sampled.
  • The next day, he wrote a brief piece about the encouragement he'd been receiving from vegans and "the role that community plays in making veganism work".
Now, this last piece really got me thinking quite a bit, because "community" is indeed key for vegans; rather than go off on a tangent to present limited thoughts on it now, I think that I'll flesh it out into another blog post over the next few days.

Sidetracked by considerations of this, I opted to catch up on the rest of Butler's vegan-for-a-month series later this weekend and blog about it some more, then, hoping to find that he'll have written more useful tips and that maybe through his research he'll have gained better and deeper insight into what leads people to actually become vegans in the first place. All warm fuzzies triggered by this dissipated, however, when the last thing of his I read on read a restaurant review of his published just yesterday, in which he discusses the deliciousness of waffles topped with "creamy gravy that’s studded with bits of spicy pork sausage" or "folded around three strips of smoked bacon and six pieces of Canadian bacon".

So I'm left wondering again whether the harms can outweigh the benefits when non-vegans position themselves as willing to try on and talk to others about "veganism". I've spent the past two days conflicted over whether something like this upbeat series of Butler's should be deemed a good starting point for some, or whether it ultimately sends out mixed messages by focusing on diet and by seriously de-emphasizing the most important reason of all to stop exploiting nonhuman animals. Are human health and the environment relevant factors to consider when deciding to go vegan? Of course. But it seems to me that anything that presents veganism as being mainly restricted to food, that does so in the form of a decidedly temporary experiment and where the writer publishes articles promoting animal products as delicious alongside his articles discussing an ethical framework that involves the eschewing of animal exploitation... well, it just misses the point. And I'm not sure how effective a tool can be in educating others about veganism if that point--that sentient nonhuman animals are not ours to use for our own pleasure since they have an interest in living out their own lives--is missed or altogether ignored.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Meals and Such

With morning coffee comes lackadaisical googling. This morning's web-meandering led to some interesting finds, including the following:

It's apparently Meat Week, according to a CBS News article ("Carnivores, Delight: It's Meat Week") about the goings on concerning it in NYC. "We know it is stupid," the NYC event's organizer admitted.

Meat Week was conceived by two bored coworkers in Tallahassee, Fla. Back in 2005, Erni Walker and Chris Cantey were using a word generator on Cantey's Web site that came up with the "holy combination" of "meat" and "week." [...] Now the gospel of meat overindulgence has spread across the country as 16 cities have organized chapters venturing to barbecue restaurants from Jan. 31 to Feb. 7. -- with some locations drawing as many as 70 meat eaters a night.
OK, the eye rolling was a given with this one, but what actually caught my attention in the CBC article was when they continued by saying that
[i]n fact, many participants at Meat Week are vegetarians. The draw for many is the communal, family-style environment that is the hallmark of many Southern-style barbecue restaurants.

"That's why a lot of vegetarians come out, even though they are appalled by what's going on around them," Walker said.
I find it difficult to wrap my head around a reality where people who eschew animal products and who would purportedly be "appalled" by an event completely devoted to eating as much animal flesh as one can stuff into one's stomach would be drawn to its "communal, family-style environment". Could I be wrong or should I assume that the event's founder was being facetious?

I'm wondering how other vegans feel about (and deal with) food-related gatherings (involving family, work or friends) where animal products are part of the feast. Is it a non-issue for you? Do you grin and bear it, but try to minimize the number of occasions that come up? Do you sit silently, or do you take the opportunity to educate others about animal exploitation? Do you Do you defer questions that may be asked until after the meal? Do you altogether avoid participating in meals where animals or animal products are consumed?

I'm looking forward to hearing about your different experiences!