Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Speciesism of So-Called 'Ethical Eating'

"But It's Better Than Nothing."

Never has a sentence left me scratching my head in confusion as much as this one, which is oft-repeated by these recent trend-hoppers who omit one or a half-dozen items from their diets and insist: "It's better than nothing!" and go on to proclaim themselves 'conscientious consumers'. These are the same folks who will list off any number of reasons they simply "cannot" be expected to do more. Take, for instance, foodie writer Alicia-Azania Jarvis and her recent article in the UK's The Independent ("My year of eating ethically") in which she goes to great lengths to a) justify the moral "sufficiency" of her decision to continue to consume animal products, although readily admitting that she is aware of the suffering this consumption entails, b) insist that taking any sort of ethical stance when it comes to the consumption of non-humans or their products inconveniences other humans and leaves you perpetually socially embarrassing yourself, and c) make it clear that omitting any animal flesh from your diet at all will lead to serious nutritional deficiencies. Surely, wringing one's fingers while trying to make strong arguments against not eating animals is not "better than nothing" for those animals?

Is Hypocrisy "Better Than Nothing"?

While alternating between calling herself a vegetarian and a pescetarian (as well as a pesc
atarian), Jarvis makes it clear in her article that she feels that although there is really no justification for eating fish, she... er... has justification to do so.

The ethics of vegetarianism are far from straightforward – particularly for a hypocritical pescatarian like myself. There's no doubt that if your motivations are animal welfare-related, there's little defence: fish, as people endlessly remind me, have feelings too.

My first strand of reasoning is that it's a matter of degree. You do what you can; pescetarianism is an extension of buying all-organic or free-range-only. It's better than nothing. It's a convenient argument, but also one that I actually believe.

I suppose that one could easily agree that pescetarianism is indeed "an extension of buying all organic or free-range only" (assuming that by "organic", she is referring to animal flesh). After all, eating one species of animal is no different from eating another species. Taking an animal's life for the sake of human pleasure, whether that animal spent most of his or her life in a lake, in the ocean, in a stall or in a field is still taking a life for the sake of human pleasure. I suspect, however, that what Jarvis is trying to say is that consuming non-humans raised according to organic or free-range "standards" (i.e. "happy meat") is somehow more ethical than consuming non-humans who are not, and that consuming fish is more akin to consuming the flesh of "happy" slaughtered animals. Use is use, though, however you qualify it.

Although once upon a time I might have taken issue with a foodie's lumping in the eating of animals (i.e. fish) with vegetarianism, I think that in many ways, the time has come to shrug off that inclusion, since there is no moral distinction between eating animal secretions such as dairy and eggs and eating the flesh of others -- whether or not they spend their lives underwater. Basically, if I'm going to nitpick, I'm not going to waste my time trying to argue over the semantics of a word (i.e. "vegetarianism") that in most of its incarnations is essentially no morally different in describing one's consumption from the word "omnivore". As Jarvis, herself, points out:

[E]ating fish but not meat is no more hypocritical than eating neither but continuing to consume eggs and mass-produced milk.
She's right about that. However, does calling yourself a hypocrite really absolve you of the the problematic nature -- the inherent dishonesty -- of hypocrisy? I mean, it may show that you're not completely self-delusional (although even that's arguable), but is there really anything respectable about admitting that you're too self-important to care that you unapologetically indulge in behaviour that involves doing something you acknowledge knowing is morally problematic? Something you know involves harming other sentient creatures? People often say that ignorance is bliss; when did admitting that you know you're doing harm suddenly become worthy of earning the respect of others? When did people become convinced that admitting you've done something wrong changes that what you're doing is wrong? It doesn't.

The fallback position assumed by most who are called on this is to say that "it's better than nothing". In Jarvis' case, she dismisses the harms imposed on non-human animals with her admitted hypocritical consumption of their flesh and secretions by saying to those who make choices like hers: "[A]t least you're doing your bit for the planet."

On Martyrdom

I want to make a few things clear. First: There is no shame in taking a stand and refusing to participate in animal exploitation. Some, like the unfortunately misnamed Vegan Outreach's Matt Ball might try to convince you that authentically going vegan and actually being consistent about your everyday choices makes veganism seem too hard. Worse, you'll embarrass yourself in front of those who refuse to acknowledge the interests non-human animals have in not being used as things. Jarvis, essentially an omnivore who chooses not to eat the flesh of certain species of animals, steps forward as the spokesperson for the "social nightmare" (her words) of being either vegetarian or vegan:

Become a vegetarian, or pescetarian, or – in fact, especially – become a vegan and suddenly you find yourself Socially Awkward. As far as I was concerned, making some kind of public announcement (aside from via the informal channels of Facebook or Twitter) was not an option. It was too self-important by half and horribly embarrassing.

Obviously, though, you need to let people know – if at no other time then at least when they invite you for dinner. In the case of long-standing friends, it can all feel a bit ridiculous. "By the way," you nonchalantly add, while mentally running through all the times you have served them meat, "I'm a vegetarian these days. Um, you can un-invite me if you like." I did, once, neglect to do this.

The result was my only carnivorous divergence so far. At least I think it was; in the event, I decided it was best not to ask what else was in the suspiciously-bacon-y fishcakes my friend served.

So basically, according to Jarvis, it is (OMG!!!) embarrassing for people to evolve and to incorporate changes into their lives that both make them better people, and that make a difference for non-human animals? Furthermore, if you do end up with something on your plate that belonged to someone you've purportedly decided to refrain from eating, just turn a blind eye to it all and carve away? And yes, according to Jarvis, fish are plants and don't count as a "carnivorous divergence", but that's straying from my point...

Let's be Honest

We live in a society where there is a fair bit of familiarity with the concept of not eating animal products for ethical reasons. It's a bit melodramatic to present making it clear to family and friends that you've set boundaries for yourself with regards to your consumption habits as being akin to self-humiliation. I mean, we also live in a society where it's become commonplace for people to assert their food requirements with respect to their allergies and various intolerances (think peanuts, lactose, gluten -- those sorts of things). Those who cannot eat certain food items are not made to feel shame when asserting that they cannot eat those items. Why should someone be made to feel ashamed when asserting that he or she chooses to not eat those items? In Jarvis' case, I can see where there would be much confusion and much eye-rolling, since she identifies herself as both a vegetarian and an omnivore. I'd personally be feeling heaps of social awkwardness if I were Jarvis' friend and on the receiving end of this contradictory information and had to respond to her. But of course, self-flagellation and self-identification as a hypocrite somehow take care of this for Jarvis:

Fingers crossed, meanwhile, that no one finds out you eat fish. Not only have you become the difficult one at the party; the one that caused the chef all that trouble and then tried to convert the guests, but you're a hypocrite. The only solution here, I'm afraid, is full-on retaliation (see above defence of my ethical stance). Hopefully, by the time you've finished, conversation will be have been killed so thoroughly that no one will bother to argue. Or invite you out ever again. In a way, problem solved.

Maybe Jarvis could benefit from reading my blog post from this past February about how effective communication is actually how to avoid social blunders?

Shame, Shame!

Unfortunately, it's not just the fish-eating faux-vegetarians trying to lump themselves into some big ol' "animal people" family with vegans who seem bent on perpetuating the stereotype that talking to others about not using animals is socially unacceptable proselytizing. I can understand how completely emotionally twisted up inside someone like Jarvis must be; she uses animals while pretending to be making choices significantly different from any omnivore's and does so while publicly labeling herself a hypocrite. How could she not want to rip those who talk to people about not using animals a new one? She wears her speciesism like a badge of honour. What's sad, though, is when other vegans perpetuate stereotypes and try to shame their fellow-vegans into staying "in the closet".

Vegan Speciesism

I think that there needs to be acknowledgment and discussion of the fact that many of us, as vegans, are still dealing with our own speciesism. While comfortable on our own turf with our decisions not to participate in the cycle of animal exploitation, some of us are still uncertain of how--or if--that should extend outside of our own bubbles.

"It's a personal choice."

"I don't want to get laughed at."

"But I once used animals, so who am I to judge?"

The truth is that if someone at a social event asks you about your veganism, you're not left to "face the horrifyingly anti-social prospect of wittering on like some sanctimonious evangelist" -- you're answering a question. I find that sometimes the best thing to do while participating in a meal and when asked about being vegan is to keep my answers short and to the point and to suggest elaborating after the meal if the person asking is interested. It's not so much that (as Jarvis brings up) I would be afraid to put someone "off their food", but rather that people are generally less defensive hearing about why I choose to not use animals when they're not slicing into various animal parts at the time.

Let me say it again:
There is no shame in taking a stand with regards to refusing to participate in animal exploitation. There is also no shame in communicating to others why it is that you refuse to participate in animal exploitation, or in talking to them about what it means to be a vegan. Given the misinformation that gets passed around by people, like Jarvis' fearmongering about nutritional deficiencies in the rest of her article (even though she consumes most animal products aside from the flesh of land mammals!) and her wishy-washiness concerning "compassionately-informed omnivorism" versus veganism, shouldn't someone be talking to non-vegans about not using other animals? Ideally someone who actually doesn't use animals?

If you won't, then who will?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Cheap Vegan Eats, Whole Foods and Old Cookbooks

I was leafing through cookbooks this morning and looking over some of the less expensive to make recipes that used to be staples in my kitchen back when I was cooking more (and for more than myself). Their origins vary: vegan cookbooks, whole foods cookbooks, veganized versions of recipes in non-vegan cookbooks, recipes swapped years ago in online vegetarian or vegan discussion forums, veganized versions of childhood favourites -- you name it! I've posted a few of them over the past years, either writing them out in full or sharing links to where I've since found them online: Kasha and Veggies, Lentil Burgers, Lentil Soup, Farmhouse Stew, Marinated Lentil Salad, New Farm Macaroni and "Cheese" Casserole, Melty White Cheez (and another favourite Baked Macaroni and Cheez recipe), Baked Rice and Lentils, Spicy Sweet Potato and Bean Burritos, TVP Gyros, Oven Roasted Tom Tofu, Tang Tsel and Taboulleh.

I first started learning to cook without animal products years ago using well-worn secondhand copies of non-vegan books like Jean Hewitt's The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook and Ellen Buchman Ewald's Recipes for a Small Planet. Both books taught me to cook using whole foods -- dried legumes, a wide variety of grains (whether in the form of whole or cracked berries or flour), nuts and seeds, herbs and spices and fresh produce. For a college student on a tight budget and first exploring vegetarianism at a time when the world wide web didn't exist to offer up thousands of plant-based recipes with a simple mouse-click, they were invaluable in teaching me how easy it is to steer clear of (generally more) expensive processed foods and to work with basic foods that pack more of a nutritional punch.

Unfortunately, most of these books were unapologetically non-vegan, with many of them merely omitting meat, and those omitting dairy and eggs often including honey (which was promoted quite heavily in the "natural foods movement" as an ideal alternative to refined sugar). The book pictured above (with its horribly hand-drawn cover displaying animal use) is an example of this -- a book focused on tofu, which uses dairy, eggs and honey in almost all of its recipes. These books obviously weren't so much about the ethics of animal use as they were about environmentalism and avoiding processed foods. Thankfully, we have books available today that stress vegananism and have the internet at our disposal to find vegan recipes without having to cherry-pick through the confusion of those old so-called natural foods cookbooks.

I had grown up in a home where the only varieties or rice explored had been Minute Rice or Uncle Ben's, and where the only legumes I'd ever eaten had been the split peas in my grandmother's traditional stinky and gloppy soup, or in the navy beans in the baked beans my mother picked up for our weekly Saturday dinner. I scoured the cookbook sections of the local used bookstores constantly in the city where I attended school to find a wide variety of books like the aforementioned, which enabled me to try out so many new ingredients and to get into the habit of stocking my pantry so that I always had something on hand to whip something up when rent or that extra textbook would have left me otherwise going without groceries any given week.

There are so many more recipes I've nabbed or adapted from books like those, as well as from more recent books and web postings, and I've been itching to share them for some time. I've been reluctant to do so since I'm currently without a functional digital camera and one of my own pet peeves about food posts is that I have a hard time not passing them by unless they include both the recipe and a photo. I'm going to cross my fingers that this is mostly my own quirk and that others might find the recipes useful anyway if I keep posting them here and there. Heck, if someone has a spare unused digital camera they'd like to offload and toss my way, I'd even be willing to spend an entire month posting pictures every single day of every single dish I made.

In the interim, here are a few more old favourites I've cherry-picked from various cookbooks over the years that I thought I'd share. They're both simple and inexpensive to make. The first is adapted from an old Company's Coming cookbook on "Meatless Cooking":

Tofu Sausages

What you need:

1 lb firm tofu, pressed
1-1/2 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp (or less) salt
1/4 tsp pepper, freshly ground
3/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 walnuts, ground
1/4 tsp cumin, ground
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup bulgur / cracked wheat
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)

Whatcha do:

Mash your tofu in a large bowl and add everything but the bulgur and rolled oats. Mix well. Add the bulgur and oats and mix well, again (I knead it with my hands) and let sit for around 15 minutes. Shape into small sausages or patties (use maybe 3 tsp or so).

Heat some olive oil up in a pan and brown on all sides. Makes about 20 of 'em.


This one was adapted from another older non-vegan cookbook, Low Fat Cooking for Good Health by Gloria Rose:

Baked Zucchini, Eggplant and Tomatoes

What you need:

1 medium eggplant, thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced (I've used 3-4 plum tomatoes before)
6 fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp dried thyme (feel free to experiment with different herbs for a different outcome)
1/4 cup broth (whichever flavour you prefer)
4-5 garlic cloves (or garlic to taste)
1 Tbs low-sodium soy sauce

Freshly ground pepper to taste

What you do:

Preheat the oven to 400 F / 205 C. Spray a casserole dish with vegetable / olive oil (I use olive oil in a non-aerosol pump). Spread the vegetable slices in layers, making sure that the mushrooms don't end up on top. Mix the rest of the ingredients well and drizzle over the vegetables in the casserole.

Place foil (or a cover) over the casserole and bake for a half hour.

Serve over brown rice or other absorbent grains like cracked wheat. Serves from 3-4 people.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Speciesism and Commodification

"Speciesism is wrong because, like racism, sexism, and homophobia, it excludes sentient beings from full membership in the moral community based on an irrelevant characteristic. Race, sex, sexual orientation, and species are all irrelevant to the capacity to be harmed.

But the rejection of speciesism on this ground implies the rejection of discrimination based on race, sex, or sexual orientation. It is unacceptable to perpetuate the commodification of one group for the benefit of another. Commodification involves treating the other—whether a woman, person of color, gay or lesbian, or nonhuman—as an object, as something rather than as someone."

-- Prof. Gary L. Francione, "The State of the Movement" (2007-01-24)

Veganism in Online Media

I found an article in the Manila Standard this morning with its authoritativeness reflected in the phrases like "I once read" and "it has always been said" that punctuate it. Its unfortunate scribbler starts off talking about how "you are what you eat" and goes on to discuss the damaging effects of serious alcohol and drug use on a person's physical appearance (particularly in a person's face). Although near the end he does bring up the benefit of eating "fruits, veggies and whole grains" to keep your skin looking healthy, somewhere in the middle, he manages to tuck in the following:

The vegan diet also has a detrimental effect on skin. The lack of protein results in a sallow looking complexion making vegans look pasty and pale.
Considering that the piece's writer also ends up describing coffee as a toxin that needs to be flushed out with antioxidants, I have a hunch that his "expertise" in diet and nutrition aren't going to be tearing him away from his day job anytime soon.


Yet another young and hip anti-vegan gets to hatemonger in online media this week ("The carnivore's guide to veganism") -- but hey, it's all just humour, right? In London's The Independent, Guy Adams ends up squeezing as many insults at vegans, misinformation about veganism and "meat is sexy !" comments as a body can in less than a dozen paragraphs. For instance, in response to being asked by his editor to supposedly "go vegan" for a week by giving up meat, dairy and eggs, Adams states:
I'm a carnivore. Not just any, bacon-sandwich-eating-carnivore, but a principled one. My auntie is a farmer. My parents keep sheep and chickens. I grew up fishing and shooting. My sister is a vet. On occasion during my adult life, like our new Prime Minister, I've ridden to foxhounds. For our honeymoon, I took my wife to Alaska, where we murdered several hundred salmon. Killed 'em, cooked 'em, ate 'em.
Then he makes clear his opinion of vegans:
I hated vegans. Really, I did. They're farty bores, I used to say, with pallid skin and bad breath, and the cheek, the utter cheek, to lecture people like me about animal "welfare", when their knowledge of wildlife extends no further than pulling tapeworms out of a house-bound cat's arse (all vegans have a cat).
So to get out and hobnob with vegans, Adams claims that he attended a (who??) "Humane Society of America" function. He comments on the food, admitting that some of it was good, but then trashes meat and dairy substitutes. That's fair enough to a certain extent and Adams might be surprised to know that many vegans aren't fond of most substitutes, either, for a wide variety of reasons. The misinformation comes when he writes about substitutes' having a "dirty little secret":
They're not all that great for animals, either: most are made from soy, a crop that is single-handedly responsible for swathes of the planet being carpeted by heavily fertilised bean plantations, where barely a wild animal survives.
It's not so much "misinformation" as it is a huge failure to properly contextualize a statement. What Adams neglects to mention is that the amount of soy needed to produce to feed a vegan is a fraction of the amount used to feed the animals eventually slaughtered to feed a non-vegan. Not to mention that soy products today are everywhere in processed foods and are most certainly not limited to those free of animal-products. Add to this that (as previously mentioned) not all vegans even consume soy-based substitutes, and that those who do choose to consume often do so in moderation, and it makes his whole "gotcha!" moment pretty irrelevant.

And then there's where he claims that his "fingernails started falling off, possibly due to lack of calcium"...

What's funny is that aside from begrudgingly admitting that eating a plant-based diet for a week did have some positive health benefits for him, Adams gets one thing right when he identifies the inherent problem of forsaking animal flesh on "welfare grounds" while continuing to consume dairy and eggs. Unfortunately, his final point is a bit lost as it seems more of an attempt to take a jab at vegans since he qualifies it as "a purist's contempt".

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bad Reputations

Rock icon Joan Jett has been a celebrity mouthpiece for PETA for years. She's also often misrepresented in the media and by animal advocacy groups as being vegan, even though she consistently shows up at public events wearing her trademark leather pants and other leather clothing. She set the record straight about her non-veganism recently in an article in the New York Observer:

"If not wearing leather would stop animals from getting eaten, then I'd stop wearing leather tomorrow," said Ms. Jett, who recently released a greatest-hits album and a new book and is played by Kristen Stewart in a new movie, The Runaways. "At least I can sit there and thank the dead cow for letting me wear its skin."
The non-human animal enslaved and slaughtered and whose skin Jett continues to wear to maintain her rock 'n' roll image doesn't care whether his or her parts ended up in her body or on her body (or "its" parts, as Jett might prefer to say). It's not how we use non-humans that is significant; what's wrong is that we use them at all.

Add to all of this that
PETA described her as handing out "vegetarian/vegan starter kits" for it in NYC a few months back. Whether PETA was using the terms 'vegetarian' and 'vegan' interchangeably (which is problematic in itself, albeit not surprising from PETA) or unapologetically non-vegan Joan Jett hit the pavement to promote that which she herself opts not to embrace, my head could very well implode trying to peel away the layers of muddled contradictions and moral confusion.

If Jett's inability to "get it" with regards to animal use isn't apparent in the previous quote, how about this one from PETA's website, where she responds to a question concerning how she feels about people who wear fur?

I believe they are callous and self-involved. With such good-quality imitation fur available for making clothes, etc., there is no reason to torture animals. It’s the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. Put fur lovers’ legs in a steel trap for a few days, or whack ’em on the head with a club, and maybe they’ll get it.
So eating animals is wrong and wearing their skin with the fur still left on it is worthy of having your leg put "in a steel trap", but wearing that skin is perfectly alright as long as you unhair it first? From Jett's first comment, I am guessing that she assumes that all leather comes from cows raised for human consumption and thus attempts to justify her use of it in that she figures that the cows are dead anyway. This is far from being a given, though.

What's somewhat ironic is that PETA, itself, has a blurb about leather on its site where it states the commonly known fact that leather can come from the skin of a wide variety of non-humans (e.g. cats, alligators, kangaroos, ostriches, and more -- some of them raised specifically for the human use of their skin). PETA points out that since leather is generally not labeled, there's often no way to tell whose skin you're wearing (as if it should matter whose skin it is, honestly). PETA also states on its site that the leather industry is the most economically important by-product of the meat industry, helping to prop it up financially. What PETA doesn't mention is that the skin of calves helps prop up the dairy industry even more so -- whether taken after they are slaughtered to become "veal", or taken from the fetal calves of spent pregnant dairy cows at the time of slaughter. Providing demand for a cow's skin ensures the continued profitability of the beef and dairy industries -- dots which Jett, unfortunately, fails to connect.
What's most important to remember, though, is that condoning the occasional use of some parts of some non-human animals for human pleasure merely perpetuates the status quo -- that animals are things for us to use. Is that really the best way to advocate for them?

For more information about PETA and the many dots it miserably fails to connect, itself...

Please check out Dan Cudahy's
Unpopular Vegan Essays blog here.

Visit Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach to read Prof. Gary L. Francione's articles on
how PETA kills animals and has been killing animals for a while, and on Ingrid Newkirk's defense of PETA's speciesist and sexist campaigns (and check out a few examples of the sexist campaigns here and here). Also read about how PETA gives awards to animal exploiters like KFC and works with them to make people feel better about continuing to consume animals.

Have a look at previous My Face Is on Fire posts to read about how some of my fellow abolitionists and I got fed up and wrote a letter rejecting those sexist tactics used by groups like PETA in the animal advocacy movement. Also read an example of how PETA profits from animal exploitation, how it misrepresents veganism while promoting the consumption of animal products and finally, how PETA's Bruce Friedrich has shamed vegans for asking waiters about ingredients on restaurant menus.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Exploiting Some Animals to Raise Money for Other Animals? No Thanks!

Welcome to Barbecue Season!

Summer is here (albeit not so much for you readers in the southern hemisphere). This means that on a nice day, each and every bike ride taken through a residential area of my small city's streets in the late afternoon or early evening brings with it an "opportunity" to get a noseful of the odour of animal parts being cooked on a multitude of eagerly fired-up backyard grills. I don't even have to travel that far to smell it, actually; I share a yard with neighbours, and over the summer months those same smells fill the air in and around my building at least once or twice a week.

Barbecue Season = $$

With barbecue season come fundraisers. After all, people like to be outside during the warmer months, right? What could be easier than grabbing a few bags of rolls, slapping a couple of cheap hot dogs on the grill, squirting them with some tasty condiments and handing them out on disposable paper plates? How about in a parking lot conveniently offered up by a local business hoping to churn up some good PR with those milling around the smiling volunteer wearing the apron and handing out mystery meat? My local paper features at least 2-3 of these a week in its "Community Events" calendar: Barbecued wieners and burgers for pee-wee baseball, for an all-girl bagpipe band, for some local group's project to build a well somewhere in some country wherever a well needs to be built... or for the local SPCA animal shelters.

Throughout the year, I periodically see notices in the paper of one or the other of the two SPCA shelters in my area holding food-based fundraisers. Some time ago, I joined the Facebook page for one of the local shelters -- the one through which I had adopted Zeus and Sophie over 10 years ago (and that's Sophie glaring at you off to the right). Over the winter, I received occasional announcements concerning its activities until one day I received an invitation to attend an all-you-can-eat spaghetti and meatballs dinner fundraiser (I think they called it a "spay-ghetti and no-balls" dinner). I posted on their Facebook wall, mentioning that I was vegan and asking if all of the spaghetti at their fundraiser came with meat-based sauce and if they would consider instead offering spaghetti with a vegan marinara sauce. One of the shelter's spokespeople responded saying that she wasn't really sure what was in the sauce, but said nothing beyond that. It wasn't an issue for her that they were selling food containing animal ingredients to raise money for other (obviously much more worthy) animals. As for the barbecues the SPCA shelters hold during warmer weather, the fare is hardly any different -- it's not vegan.

'Animal-Free' as Optional?

The topic came up again a few days ago when a local rat rescuer on Twitter tweeted about a Kindness Club barbecue being held in my city to raise money for its Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP). At this fund-raising barbecue, veggie burgers were included in the offerings, but as far as I know, so were the usual fund-raising mystery meats. The thing is that lumping in veggie burgers with the other animal-based food offerings doesn't change a thing, whether or not those veggie burgers were actually even vegan before they were taken out of the box. Why? Well, at the very least, they'd be cooked on a grill and served with utensils already covered in caked-on animal bits and animal fat. Even if they weren't, participating in an event where the flesh and secretions of animals are being sold to raise money to improve the lives of other animals means publicly condoning the message that some non-human animals' rights are more important than those of others. It also means condoning the lie that you need to exploit animals to feed humans. As an abolitionist vegan, I want to destroy the speciesist status quo -- not reinforce it.

But I Want to Help!

Some vegans might argue that attending such fund-raising events isn't problematic as long as no food is consumed, and that it can even be worthwhile since it ultimately "helps" some animals. The thing is that if you really just want to throw financial support at a specific cause, you can always -- at the very least -- write them a check. You don't need to participate in an event where there is animal exploitation to support that cause. If you do throw money at them, though, please use the opportunity to talk to them about speciesism and about the exploitation of other animals: Teach them that they don't need to exploit other animals to raise money. Want to do even more? Start up a vegan or animal rights group and hold a vegan bake sale -- or vegan barbecue -- and throw some of the money you make towards your local shelter or spay/neuter program and use your sale as an opportunity to educate the public (as well as the group or program receiving your donation) about veganism.

Make a Real Difference!

Don't be afraid to educate others! Make yours a clear and unequivocal message in this mess of mixed messages in the so-called animal movement. If you don't, then who will? And how will things ever change for non-human animals?

Ozzy Osbourne and Animals

I remember when I was a little kid how my brother-in-law (then a jean-jacket-wearing motorcycle-riding teenage boy who used to come 'round to woo my older sister) gave me my first earful of Black Sabbath. In those days, it seemed like fronting metal bands went hand-in-hand with sensationalist media stories -- often based on actual events-- about decapitating live animals with your teeth. Ozzy Osbourne was no exception to this. Of course, his image has softened considerably over the years; the last time I saw him on television was sometime in 2003, surrounded by a small pack of cute dogs. I was fairly surprised to read a story about him this morning that concerned his relationship with animals.

Around a week ago, I had read that Ozzy had become a health advice columnist (??) for the UK's
Times Online, so I checked him out and read about a supposed recent change in his diet:

I’ve pretty much become a vegetarian. Seriously. It’s my new phase: brown rice and vegetables. I don’t even drink milk, apart from a splash in my tea. It ain’t because of the animals. I mean, I used to work in a slaughterhouse. You won’t see me marching over the frozen tundra, hunting down people who club seals. I just can’t digest meat any more.
So, given mainstream media's complete inability to engage in anything other than conjecture and extrapolation, it's no surprise that articles have already begun to pop up proclaiming that the former bat head nibbler has... gone vegan! As is the case with so many stories involving celebrities and trends, it's only a matter of time before someone latches on to the latter of these two stories and spits it back out ad nauseam. Just remember that the man himself has made it clear that it just ain't so.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Veganism in Online Media

Marieke Hardy of ABC (i.e. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) wrote a piece yesterday about her recent Twitter tango (or tangle) with an MTV VJ called Ruby Rose ("Vegan, schmegan: you are what you tweet"). It seems that the Sydney Confidential celebrity gossip section of the Daily Telegraph had quoted Rose as having announced that she was "veganese":

The prolific presenter... told Confidential yesterday she now considers herself "veganese" - her own variation of the vegan lifestyle. "I don't eat any meat, I don't drink milk, but I do eat cheese and fish, just to get my iron levels back up," she said.
Hardy, a self-described vegan, tweeted about it and received a response tweet from Rose asserting that she'd never told them that she was vegan: "i didnt say i was vegan. i laughed and said not anymore because i eat cheese and the doctor told me i need fish". Hardy continued her piece by discussing the ridiculousness of the various labels people use these days to distinguish this or that animal consumption from other forms of animal consumption, often trying to attach some mention of vegetarianism or veganism to their choices even when neither is applicable. For instance, Hardy brought up that her friend calls fish eaters who cling to the vegetarian label "fish and chippocrites".

Near the end of her piece, though, Hardy did an about face, both apologizing to Rose and then stating that the plethora of labels
do help sort confusion (um, that's debatable). She also missed out on an opportunity to promote veganism by stating that those who "choose alternative diets" (and she includes herself in this category) are "all still just trying to do [their] bit". I can't help but wish she'd gone a little "bit" further.


Vegan cookbook author Jae Steele was recently interviewed in Toronto's National Post ("Making Love in the Kitchen: Meet Jae Steele") and took an unfortunate stand on veganism that reflects a focus on environmentalism and a disregard for animal rights:
I am an advocate for plant-based diets, but I never try to convert people to veganism. [...] I think there are more and less sustainable ways to eat meat and other animal products. Factory farming has got to go – it’s not good for anyone, or anything (animal, vegetable, mineral) but the money-makers, and even then it’s only in the short term. Sure, a vegan diet is more sustainable – they say it does more for the planet that switching to a hybrid car would, but I’d rather see everyone eat 25% fewer animal products each week than have 4 or 5 people become strict vegans.

How focusing on environmental reasons when discussing the ethics of consuming animals or their products is problematic becomes even more clear in an article from last week on
The Atlantic's website ("Can Meat Eaters Also Be Environmentalists"). It's by Nicolette Hahn Niman, wife of giant "happy meat" producing Niman Ranch's founder Bill Niman. If you've read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, you'll recall his praise of the Nimans whenever he gushed over his animal exploiting "heroes". As it turns out, she's a vegetarian who, along with being an environmental attorney and wealthy rancher, spends much of her time publicly picking apart environmental arguments against animal consumption. She did so again in a recent debate in Berkeley with vegan former rancher Howard Lyman, and her article in The Atlantic focuses on the views she presented in this debate. Somewhat ironically, although it describes Lyman as being an animal welfare activist, Wikipedia describes Niman as being an animal rights activist. Niman quickly made the opposite evident in her article (as if being an animal exploiter didn't make it evident in the first place):
Although I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, I have never accepted the view that eating meat is morally wrong. It's just never made sense to me that something humans and our ancestors have been doing for some 4 million years—something that's a major component of the natural world's system of nutrient recycling—could be immoral. And the more I've learned about ecologically sound food production, the more I've come to appreciate the important role animals play in it, both here and around the world.
I don't know vegan Lyman's politics. I do know that he advocates veganism, but that much of his vegan advocacy focuses on human health and the environment. In their Berkeley debate, Niman countered his environmental arguments by defending animal consumption as an integral part of the earth's ecology and then countered his health arguments by presenting the consumption of animal flesh as a likely necessary component of human evolution.

In the Berkeley debate, Lyman compared animal agriculture to human slavery and to the Holocaust. In response to this in her article, Niman chastised him (and made evident her speciesism) by stating how "many Jews and African-Americans would strenuously object to slavery and Holocaust analogies" in discussions of the ethics of non-human animal use. She then called upon her pal Foer to get his purportedly authoritative assessment of Lyman's analogies:
He agreed with me that the analogy is offensive and, in his words, "intellectually cheap." "It implies that one is incapable of explaining or understanding what is wrong with the meat industry on its own terms," he told me. "I am convinced that if the average American were to have an honest and clear-eyed introduction to the truth about factory farming, he or she would have no problem understanding what's wrong with it. To reach for a human catastrophe is not only repugnant, it's unnecessary."
Of course, what's funny about Foer's indignant reaction is that Foer, himself, is "incapable of explaining or understanding what is wrong with the meat industry on its own terms" as well as unwilling to generally just take the rights and interests of non-human animals seriously.

Niman continued by arguing that
while it's natural for animals to kill those of other species for food, that "throughout nature, killing members of one's own species is rare and aberrant behavior" and that humans have as much right to kill non-human animals for food as non-human animals have to kill other non-human animals for food. I wondered for half a heartbeat if she'd extend this to non-human animals killing humans for food? I'm guessing not, even though she insists that she doesn't see people as "standing at the top of some hierarchy with animals beneath them".

It's no wonder, given the stuff that comes out of various "happy meat" propaganda machines that Niman chose to finish up her piece with a phony kumbaya moment, bringing up that as an animal exploiter, she purportedly shares "common ground" with vegan advocates -- i.e. the need to "rid the world of factory farms". Unfortunately, what Niman leaves out is that her interest in the world running out of factory farms is tied into increased profits from her own sale of animal parts to fill the demand.

Go vegan. Talk to
others about veganism. Heck knows that with all of the confused (and confusing) messages going out on the internet and in the media concerning the ethics of animal consumption that the general public really could use some solid information and that those seeking to change their consumption could use some guidance. At the very least I know that the non-human animals Niman considers property would appreciate some extra voices speaking out on their behalf.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Vegan Travels in Maine, Part I

My recent trip to Pennsylvania involved stays in Maine on the way out and on my return. A bus brought me to and from Bangor where I was first picked up and then dropped off by my road-trip partner (aka my favourite American and the main reason for my venturing into the US). Since we needed to spend a night in the area after his 10+ hour drive out to Maine, I did some Googling and eventually found a B & B -- my first -- within an hour of Bangor that was described as being a "vegan / vegetarian B & B" supposedly run by a vegan, and as "catering to special dietary requirements" for the complementary breakfast offered with each night's stay. My sweetie reserved a room days in advance, advising the owner that I was vegan and that we'd require an animal-product-free breakfast.

Elm Cottage is located in a gorgeous little tourist-magnet of a town called Searsport, located on Penobscot Bay along Maine's mid-coast. By prior arrangement with Janet, the owner, we arrived later than the habitual check-in time, the only guests in the two-bedroom B & B that evening. We had chosen the "Gardenview" room, rather than the "Bayview" room, both because it was described as being more roomy, and because we wanted to avoid the memory foam mattress of the Bayview room's bed. We drove by the place the first time, missing the small house completely on the tiny street on which it is located. A more careful look the second drive-by identified it as being the most nicely landscaped place on the street. We were greeted warmly at the door by our host, Janet, as well as by one of Elm Cottage's five four-footed residents.

Exhausted, we stumbled upstairs into our beautiful room to drop off our things and dart off to the nearby Belfast Co-op where the interwebs had told me that a wide variety of prepared vegan foods awaited. I took so many photos of the room and wish I had space to post them all. From its unique rustic bed-frame to the warm glow of its antique wooden furniture and its understated decorative touches, the room was inviting and cozy, while spacious enough to be comfortable with a small sitting area off to the side. There was complementary shower gel and shampoo left in the shower stall of the room's bathroom; one was labeled vegan, while the other wasn't. I had, of course, packed my own as I always do when traveling.

When we turned in for the night after returning from dinner, it was with open windows and a floor-unit fan found in one of the storage closets. It was a warm and humid night in Searsport. The next morning, we ventured downstairs and got to meet a few more of Elm Cottage's non-human residents. Janet is involved in rescue work and shares her home with an elderly deaf Lab mix pooch and a deaf and blind Cocker Spaniel, both abandoned by the humans previously looking after them. She also shares it with three cats, including the beauty whose picture I posted above. There was a fair amount of snuggling to be had before breakfast, but I didn't get the chance to ask Janet everybody's names since we were mostly in different rooms while I was getting acquainted with them. Although our feline greeter was out and about all the while looking for skritches, Elm Cottage's other two feline residents were more skittish and stayed out of sight. With a 10 am checkout time for guests spending just one night, we only had the opportunity to glance at the cottage's garden and sitting rooms and nab a couple of photos. Janet told us that the place had been a fixer-upper when she'd purchased it and that she'd tackled it one room at a time to bring it to its present cozy state.

I had been anticipating the vegan breakfast we'd been promised and when we saw the spread laid out for us, we were both wide-eyed in amazement. There was toast, homemade pumpkin muffins, margarine, apricot "butter" and preserves, green tea and coffee with soy milk, orange juice, granola and fresh strawberries. Janet also brought out a couple of small casserole dishes, each filled with a savoury mushroom-and-something stuffed tomato, which although not exactly breakfast-y, were quite delicious. Well, I liked mine; my travel buddy has an aversion to most tomato-based dishes and pecked at his politely, later admitting to me that since we were only staying to have breakfast, he'd never thought that he hadn't thought there'd be a need to mention his aversion beforehand to our host. Our host then mentioned to us apologetically that the large bowl of yogurt by the granola was dairy-based. She added that she hadn't had time to pick up non-dairy yogurt at the co-op. As I wondered why on earth she'd put out non-vegan food for a couple of people who'd specifically requested an animal-product-free breakfast, she brought it over and spooned out a few dollops into a bowl of granola she'd poured herself and sat across the table from us to eat it.

I had been really excited about the idea of staying in my first B & B with the favourite American I hadn't seen in four months; I'd been very much looking forward to a promised vegan breakfast we could share together, anticipating some time to ourselves during the Maine portion of our trip since we'd be staying with his family in Pennsylvania. I don't eat out very much in my small city, mostly because there are no vegan restaurants here, and although a few can accommodate vegans by offering up a dish or two (usually salad or ethnic foods), my friends are all non-vegan and most with whom I would eat out invariably order animal products the rare times I do go out with them. The truth is that I will generally avoid meal-focused situations where I know I'll end up sitting across a table from someone sucking back animal flesh or secretions, because -- and I'm sure that this may not be the case with all vegans, but it is for me -- it honestly makes me feel ill at ease. Even my travel buddy was a bit shocked that Janet set out a dairy product as "optional" for us and then sat down with us to eat a bowl of it.

Although we both thought Elm Cottage was a beautiful place and we liked both its human and non-human occupants, we decided upon our arrival in Pennsylvania to book different accommodations for our return trip to Canada. Elm Cottage is a lovely place, but we were left feeling disappointed and uncomfortable about returning after the awkward and unfortunate breakfast situation. Instead, we chose a more private inn in Belfast that included a small fridge and coffee-maker in its rooms and comfortably fended for ourselves thanks to the nearby co-op and grocery store. All things considered, though, I think that were it not for the anticipation I'd built up about the "vegan breakfast" beforehand and for our both have looked forward to the intimacy we'd equally anticipated with a stay in such a small B & B, we would have been delighted with our stay at Elm Cottage.

(Edited to add a photo and to tweak the final paragraph after a night's sleep.)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

What Vegans Eat

Things have been quiet here the past three weeks thanks to a much-needed vacation this wee blogger took to do some traveling around the eastern United States with her favourite American. I hope to offer up a couple of blog posts concerning it over the next week since much time was spent exploring vegan options in Maine and Pennsylvania. First, however, I'd like to get caught up on what others have been doing online this past month, starting with a peek at some of my favourite food blogs...

I love simple-to-make finger foods -- particularly ones that don't require hovering over the stove too much during these warm summer months. Several weeks ago, I picked up some rice paper for the first time ever and tweeted a request for filling suggestions, and then spent a few days having a blast playing with different ingredients. Yesterday, while catching up on internet goings on, I was quite glad to see that Anna from
Carrot and Potato Time had recently blogged about rolls. I also got excited upon finding a recipe for Green Curry Summer Rolls on the VeganDad blog, as well as a recipe for Raw Spring Rolls on the Vegan Epicurean blog -- both just from this past week.

I should also mention that last week while on vacation, I noticed that Claire over at
Chez Cayenne had posted a recipe and photo of what appear to be absolutely scrumptious Baked Tempeh Spring Rolls. I hope to make these over the weekend if I can find some vegan spring roll wrappers at the grocery store!

Speaking of filled things, cookbook author Dreena Burton tossed around some
suggestions for what you can stuff into a wrap a few days ago on her eat, drink & be vegan blog. She mentioned using sprouted grain Ezekiel wraps, which I try to get from time to time since they are so delicious. They're a bit more pricey than other store-bought wraps, but are free of the preservatives you'll usually find in regular wraps, so they're good for you on more than one level. I usually find them in the freezer at the local health food store.

Speaking of wraps, I'll wrap this up (groan!) by reminding everyone to check in on NZ Vegan Podcast host Elizabeth Collins' ongoing Flickr project,
"What this NZ vegan eats". The photos will surely mesmerize you into trying the many recipes to which Ms. Collins ever so kindly links!