Monday, July 26, 2010

Veganism in the Media

Food writer Jason Sheehan got a passing mention on My Face Is on Fire last November when he pumped his fist in the air and grunted something about wanting to eat a cow. I read another one of his pieces today, this one in Seattle Weekly ("Two (Seriously TWO) Suggestions for Vegan BBQ"). In it, he goads vegans in his area for not having been able to meet his challenge to find him a restaurant that serves a non-animal-based product identical to the flesh of barbecued pigs. Of course, Sheehan's set-up is merely an excuse to disparage vegans and to engage in a fair bit of name-calling and insult slinging:

You guys suck.

No, for reals. The OTHER reason for me posing this challenge to Seattle's meatless community was that I was sick of getting Gestapo'ed by the vegan Fun Police every time I wrote about getting a little pig in me. I was sick of all the ridiculous comments by militant jerk-offs trolling around the site and trying to convert people like a bunch of pasty, Moosewood Cookbook-toting missionaries. I was sick of people talking all about the "delicious vegetarian alternatives" to pulled pork, a rack of ribs and some brisket without ever, you know...mentioning a single fucking one. This was my olive branch--my attempt at reaching across the divide and trying to walk a mile in the hemp sandals of my tofu-loving brethren.

Sheehan basically sets up a no-win scenario by more or less conveying that unless someone can find him an identical product that isn't animal-based, that they should shut the hell up and let him continue to eat barbecued pigs:
I think it's time for you to stop pretending there are actual options for vegan 'cue out there and let me and my friends all eat our pig in peace. After all, it's not like we come to your parties and mock you for eating carrots.
Of course, arguing that one should be allowed to engage in a specific immoral activity unless a nearly identical substitute for it can be provided is ridiculous. Consider how much sense it would (not) make if Sheehan had a habit of punching his neighbour's 4-year-old daily and expressed pleasure at doing so, and then issued a challenge to those who don't punch 4-year-olds (and who advocate that others don't punch 4-year-olds) to find him a nearly identical non-animal-based substitute to that 4-year-old, so that he could punch it and be left feeling the same amount of pleasure. If you failed to come up with an adequate substitute for Sheehan, would it make sense for him to claim victory and assert his right to continue punching that 4-year-old neighbour's kid "in peace"?

Any vegan will happily tell you that there are thousands of nutritious and satisfying meals that can be assembled without animal products and without direct substitutes or analogues for those animal products. I suspect, however, that Sheehan's rant had very little to do with actually wanting to find the perfect fake pig flesh, but more to do with fine-tuning his vegan-bashing.


How could I resist a title like "What is a Vegan or Vegetarian -- How to Become One"? The article was published yesterday on Allvoices, which I think is sort of like The Examiner in that any member of the general public can become a regular contributor, with monetary compensation hinging on the number of hits the article gets, rather than on any actual expertise of the writer. In this case, considering that writer Kelly Woodcox's other recent piece for Allvoices was a story on how Angelina Jolie got into "tip top perfect shape for her new movie", I couldn't help but feel a little cynical before I had even started to read her piece.

Although she sets vegetarianism apart from veganism at the beginning of her article, Woodcox begins by defining veganism strictly in terms of diet. Then, sharing a story with her readers about a "vegetarian" she once met who explained her reasons for having become a
vegetarian, Woodcox illustrates how she is completely clueless about animal rights issues and particularly of what's involved in the dairy or egg industries (the same could, of course, be said about the vegetarian she mentions or of anyone who chooses to continue consuming eggs and dairy):
I heard a vegetarian say one time that she parked her car at a field and watched the cows. She said, “After watching the cows and how they interacted with with each other, and also just plainly looking into their eyes, I just knew I could never eat an animal again”. She does however eat bi-products of the animals because it does not harm the animal. Meaning she will eat eggs and dairy.
Let me repeat that: "She does however eat bi-products of the animals because it does not harm the animal. Meaning she will eat eggs and dairy." Right. Because cows scamper freely in fields, then spontaneously produce milk and then walk themselves over to buckets into which they giddily squirt their milk and when finished, they go scamper some more. Right? Wrong! To suggest that using animals for their secretions does not harm animals is inane.

The article goes downhill from there, if you can imagine that. She mentions those who cite passages from the Bible to justify their vegetarianism and goes on to say that "people in the Bible did start eating meat with God's approval" and then goes on about how some say that God doesn't exist, but that they've yet to prove it. She writes about how
most vegetarians and vegans apparently eat organic food, implying that they're motivated by health reasons and suggests ways to go about obtaining it more cheaply. She also asserts that soy is important for (vegetarians or) vegans and that they need to get used to the taste of soy products:
Another thing you should do if you want to be a vegetarian or vegan is acquire a taste for soy products. They are actually very good and good for you. You just need to eat them until you like them. Once you do it for awhile you will more than likely end up liking them.
The rest of the article is mostly babbling, really. One gets the impression that in a last-ditch effort to meet a word count, she decided to weave whatever she could into her article, regardless of whether it was on-topic. She argues that people--vegan or not--should drink more water and then ends by plugging a friend's bio-feedback business in Indiana. What bio-feedback has to do with ascertaining what is or isn't a vegan or how to become one is lost on me, but what can I say? 'Tis the internet where anyone (present blogger included) can write about anything. Here's hoping that discerning vegan and potentially-vegan readers will be smart enough to avoid garbage like Allvoices when seeking out information about veganism and animal rights.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

DIY Animal-Free Shampoo

A fair bit of this blog's focus in its first few years was anti-consumerist in nature. Tips on how to wean yourself off the sort of materialistic self-indulgences were always qualified in some way with an emphasis on using methods free of animal exploitation, of course, but my intended message was as much about living a more simple, affordable and sustainable life as it was about being vegan. The important thing is that these aren't mutually exclusive. Veganism can be expensive, depending on how reliant you choose to be on commercial products to substitute the commercial products you used previously. The thing is, though, that it's easy to cut costs by making things from scratch. Often, using this approach also means living the sort of life that's more gentle on the planet's resources -- the resources upon which all other animals (human or non-human) also rely. Even if pinching pennies isn't a motivating factor for you, think of how all of kinds of simple little changes in how you consume could add up and make a difference.

Cleaning products and personal care products are sometimes highly toxic, often overly-packaged and unless you specifically choose ones that are designated as vegan, invariably end up using animal ingredients and involve heavy animal testing. Also, unless you select products that are organic or where the emphasis is placed on using natural ingredients that are mostly plant-derived, your products, regardless of being animal free, will still contain harsh chemicals which are no better for your own body than for the environment. So what's a penny-pinching and environmentally conscious vegan to do? Experiment with making your own stuff. For instance, you can start with one particular product, like shampoo.

This Instructables post on DIY shampoo is actually one of my favourites. It describes a whopping ten different ways to make your own shampoo, catering each to individual preferences or needs. Starting off with a basic recipe, the author of the instructable moves on to provide variations to stimulate, quench, soothe, de-flake, shine or rejuvenate your hair. She throws in one variation for the sake of its amazing smell (coconut and vanilla!) and one for a dry shampoo. Her final -- "No 'Poo" -- is one of the most basic recipes imaginable, using baking soda, water and apple cider vinegar. Please note that the author isn't vegan and that these recipes are mostly "accidentally" animal-free, except the last one, where she mentions the option of adding honey. Please leave the honey for the bees and while you're at it, check out a better variation of a "No Poo" recipe here at the Big Raw & Vegan Blog.

For those with hair prone to appearing greasy near the roots, do what my old Hungarian roommate in university used to do and apply a little bit of cornstarch to the roots, lightly rubbing it into your hair and then combing it out well with a fine-tooth comb. The cornstarch absorbs the grease and anything else stuck to your hair thanks to the grease. The important thing to remember when using this method is that it can be messy (so do it over a sink) and that you should start with the least amount of corn starch you can, adding more as you need it; otherwise, you'll end up with a lot of white powder in your hair and... will have to wash it! Well-dried arrowroot can apparently serve the same purpose (and pose the same problems if you go to heavy on it).On the other hand, for a moisturizing "shampoo", I've found several references online to taking a ripe avocado, mashing it with just enough baking soda to make a paste, then rubbing that into your hair and massaging your scalp well. Rinse it out well when done and your hair will supposedly be left very soft.

For more DIY shampoo recipes, a few Google searches will bring up hundreds, many of them similar variations on the ones I've mentioned or to which I've linked. All it takes is a little trial and error until you find the one that's right for you, which is what you'd do shopping around for a new store-bought shampoo, anyway. In this case, however, you don't have to plunk down $7-12 to test something out since many of the ingredients you need you can find at home or buy in smaller quantities.

If you have a favourite recipe for homemade shampoo, please share it below. If you try any of the ones I've mentioned, do please leave a comment to let me know how it went. Expect a My Face Is on Fire post on homemade hair conditioner over the next few days and in the interim, if there are any other products for which you'd like some DIY suggestions, just drop me a line.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Animal Advocacy Leaders Hall of Fail

Animal Advocacy Leaders Hall of Fail

Years ago when I'd first stopped eating animal flesh, the writings of John Robbins were recommended to me by many vegetarians. Robbins is the one-time heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire who purportedly walked away from it permanently and completely to

"...pursue the deeper American Dream... the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem." (Read more here.)
He began his pursuit by writing several books about the health and environmental implications of factory farming, as well as of the cruel conditions under which non-humans are kept on such farms. From what I remember and from recently discussing him with others, he generally dodged using the term "vegan" in his books and either opted for "vegetarian" or referred to following a "plant-based diet". He may very well have been either vegan or a strict vegetarian at some point, but he's been quoted a few places online as having stated in this 2006 interview with Raw Vegan Radio that he will eat animal products while traveling. (I guess it's hard to "respect" others while on the road, as Peter Singer and Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson have also expressed.)

Knowing all of this, it wasn't that much of a surprise to read Robbins' latest Huffington Post article ("The Brutality of Factory Farms: An Inside Look"), in which he unapologetically excludes some animals from his aforementioned dream world. Focusing on the treatment of dairy cows and this or that lawsuit of PETA's (who can keep track?) with which he is getting involved, he asserts the following:
My concern, let me emphasize, is not with small-scale family farms. I have no problem with the many hard-working families who treat their cows well, take care of the land and try to bring a healthy product to market. My problem is with the much larger agribusiness enterprises, the factory farms to whom the animals in their care are nothing but sources of revenue.
He's done a bit of an about-face since insisting on his own website at one point in response to a reader that there is no such thing as a "happy" dairy cow. I guess that this is where things get tricky when you focus on the ethics of how animals are treated, rather than considering whether or not they're ours to use at all. The truth is that Robbins is perfectly OK with animal use. According to one of his websites, he's not even out to ban the billboards referenced in the Huffington Post article. He writes:
My ideal goal would actually not be to ban the ads. My preference would rather be to see the dairy industry reconcile the discrepancy between the conditions portrayed in the ads and the actual reality. If the industry treated cows in the manner exhibited in the ads, I’d drop the suit in a heartbeat.
When I'd originally read a couple of Robbins' books around 15-16 years ago, I was just at the very beginning of a stage of my life where I thought I was making a difference as a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. Part of my motivation to stop eating animal flesh at the time had to do with the health and environmental arguments that Robbins presented in his books. I seem to remember his having advocated a strictly vegetarian diet with some emphasis on the treatment of animals on factory farms. As I learned more about ethics and animal rights, my own way of viewing what we owe non-humans changed drastically, so I left behind Robbins' books and didn't keep track of the path he continued to follow. I'm now really glad that I never bothered.

"Veganism" in Online Media

"Not Eating Meat" is Not "Being Vegan"

A My Face Is on Fire reader sent in a link to an article yesterday she thought might be worth deconstructive poke or two ("Alice + Olive Designer Stacey Bendet Doesn't Eat Animals, But Feels Glamourous Wearing Them"). Stacey Bendet showed up at a MAC cosmetics line launch wearing a Mongolian lamb vest--a piece she designed herself. Fashion designers use animal products all of the time, of course, so why should Bendet stand out? From the article:

[T]he designer admitted to us that she has somewhat mixed feelings about the fur pieces she makes. "I'm vegan, actually," she said. "I don't eat [animals], I don't put meat in my body. So every once in a while I think it's okay to wear it. But I made it — I'm probably going to hell."

She continued: "I don't feel that guilty wearing it. I don't know why. It doesn't make sense. But something about putting it inside me feels really barbaric. Something about wearing it just feels a little glamorous."
A woman who makes her living designing clothing using animal products and who wears that clothing describes it as being "glamorous" and sexy and calls herself a vegan? Um, right.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

About Zeus

I ‘met’ Zeus for the first time over a year ago via the phone. Mylène was sharing her home with four cats at the time: Sammy, Sophie, Tarwater, and Zeus. I knew who was who from their distinct, individual voices as they conversed with Mylène and one another. Each had his or her own unique purrs and meows. Long before I met any of them in person, I knew each one as a vocal member of Mylène’s family. Sadly, Tarwater passed away before I got the chance to meet him. At the time, I noticed that Zeus stopped speaking at all. I knew it was him over the phone due to his hugely loud happy purrs, but I don’t think I ever heard him speak again after Tarwater was gone. Even when I finally met Zeus in person, he simply had stopped speaking. There has been a sadness about him ever since. No one can convince me that Zeus is not deeply grieving Tarwater’s absence in his life.

My first face to face meeting with Zeus was not long after the loss of Tarwater from the family. During that initial visit, I witnessed the first sign that he was not well – the onset of vertigo. Later on, I was the one who drove him and Mylène to the vet. We both knew something was not right with Zeus, but he seemed to get better with time. However, the vertigo would return time and time again and then would suddenly disappear again. Mostly the vet said “wait and see”. I saw him struggle in person and over the webcam with his bouts of vertigo. Then one early morning, I got the panicked call that Zeus was in serious trouble and on the way to the emergency vet.

When Mylène finally got to bring Zeus home again from critical care, he was a very sick boy. He looked terrible, even over the webcam. He was too weak to even move himself around. The worst part for me, personally, was that I heard him speak for the first time in over a year. He was meowing loudly and pitifully – in great pain. He was, without question, suffering.

The good news is that Zeus is definitely on the mend. He looks better, he is full of life, and can often be seen sitting at the computer with his person. As a cat person myself, I can’t express how much the thought of losing Zeus was breaking my heart. He is simply one of the most loving, gentle beings you could ever meet. We hit it off from the get go and never looked back. In truth, all the cats in Mylène’s care are special, each in his or her own way. If you get the chance to meet them, you will see what I mean. Each had a rough start in life and each was rescued under less than ideal circumstances, yet each one seems to be genuinely happy and thriving and is simply a joy to be around. Seriously, Sophie has explosively sneezed on me and hit me with enough snot so that I had to change my clothes and I
still adore her. I just learned to keep some tissues at hand to wipe her tiny nose off. It is the least I can do to return some of the acceptance and affection she has given me along with the rest of her family.

Thanks to everyone for your help and encouragement in keeping a wonderful family together.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Celebrity "Veganism"

Add PETA darling and actress Zooey Deschanel to the list of fair-weather vegan celebrities going back to eating animals and their secretions. Less than a year after Deschanel was praised by every half-hearted veggie-something publication or website online for having supposedly brought tons of attention to veganism as a guest on the television show Top Chef, Deschanel has announced that she's gone back to eating meat and dairy after recently discovering that she can't consume soy or wheat products (because there are obviously no other sources of protein or types of grain in the world, obviously). A blurb in the Toronto Sun recently quoted her as telling Bust magazine: "I gave it a good try, but sometimes you just need a little something, a little meat."


Do I really need to say anything about Jessica "Real Girls Eat Meat" Simpson's recent it-isn't-about-weight-loss cleanse that's got those who actually care about Simpson's yo-yo dieting even more confused about what "vegan" means? I'll let you Google that yourself.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Almost 10 years ago, I met Zeus for the first time. I had been thinking of introducing a new member to my two-human and two-feline household and a good friend happened to know a couple who'd been fostering a momma and her two kittens for one of the local shelters. I'd never before brought a new cat home to my guys Tarwater and Monzo, so I had second-guessed myself into thinking that a kitten might be the best choice. (I've since learned through further adoptions and fostering that age is more or less irrelevant when it comes to determining how well cats will adapt to each other, but that's best left for another discussion on adopting non-humans that I hope to initiate in the near future so that I can stress the point that non-humans of all ages need homes -- regardless of age or appearance.) From what I was told, Zeus' mother had been abandoned pregnant in an apartment by tenants who'd skipped out on their rent; thankfully, the building's owner called a shelter for help instead of putting her out on the street to fend for herself and this is how she and the only two kittens who survived the ordeal ended up in foster care. Although I had only "planned" to fall head over heels in love with one, it took me less than 15 minutes to realize that I'd be signing papers at the shelter the next day to bring home both Zeus and his sister Sophie.

Kittens always seem like a great idea at the time. They're adorable and spend the majority of their kitten-hood operating in two modes: check-my-breathing-to-make-sure-I'm-really-just-sleeping (see photo above and to the left) and chaotically insatiable. If they seem quiet in-between, they are likely practicing being stealthy and likely getting into something you forgot to kitten-proof. A total of 6-7 years sharing my home with various cats and cat-proofing accordingly had not left me prepared for the energy and curiosity of kittens and all that entails. I still remember the first time I felt like a complete failure when it came to providing my feline family a safe environment the day Zeus and Sophie came tearing out of the bedroom and bumped into a three foot tall decorative bottle made of thick glass I'd had for years. I watched it wobble... and crash, splintering into thousands of little shards as Zeus and Sophie stood frozen, probably more wide-eyed and terrified at my cry than of the bottle's noise. I stepped across the room in my bare feet to scoop them up just as the upstairs neighbour came knocking on the door to make sure that we were all alright. And we were.

As the kittens grew older, friends who visited couldn't help but grin at Zeus. He had this habit of sitting so very calmly and quietly. He was unflappable except when he tried to get Tarwater's attention, and then it was a sad event to watch. Zeus almost behaved like that worshiping little brother who wants to tag along and be included and who then goes away sulking after getting brushed off (in Zeus' case, after getting sent off with a growl or bat on the nose). Tar eventually gave in so that in later years, it wasn't uncommon to find him fast asleep with Zeus wide awake and curled up around him and purring loudly.

It was Zeus I was most worried about when Tarwater died last year. And it was just a few months after Tar died that Zeus ended up getting sick and requiring a special
trip to the vet's for the first time for what appeared to be a mild case of vertigo. The vet ran a few tests and suggested further tests at a recheck appointment if the vertigo hadn't subsided (but it had). By Xmas, Zeus ended up with mild and easily treated gastritis. By April, the vertigo and the gastritis had both returned and I decided to book the earliest appointment I could to press for further tests; the night before his appointment, he'd also started coughing mildly--something new. Freaked out at being at the vet's, his coughing soon turned into wheezing and a few X-rays later we confirmed that Zeus' lungs were inflamed. The vet wrote the vertigo off as having been caused by poor oxygenation; she administered steroids by injection and gave me a prescription for antibiotics "just in case". Over the course of the next several weeks, we returned a few times for further check-ups and X-rays (the steroids would help, then their effect would wane) and Zeus was finally diagnosed as possibly having the onset of feline asthma. Tuesday, two weeks ago, I brought him in again because he'd started coughing. A different vet than the one who'd been treating him before suggested avoiding a steroid injection and instead trying oral and inhaled steroids, sending me home with $200 in prescriptions after noting that his lungs didn't sound "too bad".

Two days later--Canada Day, a holiday for me--I woke up in bed and the first thing I saw was Zeus convulsing beside me, staring at me with his eyes and mouth impossibly wide and his nose and tongue blue. I called my vet's answering service and rushed him to the on-call
emergency vet's by cab. I held an oxygen mask to his face for nearly an hour as the vet injected him with fast-acting steroids, wrote down his history and then taped plastic sheets around a cage so that he could pipe oxygen into it and allow Zeus to be more comfortable. I was sent home and promised regular phone updates, which at first were that he wasn't responding very well. Only at the end of the day was I told that he was finally stable and that imaging had shown that he'd developed a serious case of pneumonia, probably due to his weakened lungs and depressed immune system (no thanks to the steroids he'd been getting). The next morning, the vet called to tell me that Zeus was panicking and that this worsened his breathing; he suggested that I take him home, and by the time I arrived, Zeus had already meowed himself hoarse and looked worse than when I'd brought him in. After hydration, syringe-feeding, antibiotics, a human consultation with my vet the next day (Zeus was in no shape to travel) and 2-3 mostly sleepless nights later, my sweet boy was (and is) on the mend.

During these past few weeks, I've had many friends--both old and new--offer words of support. Some of you also offered to help with the expenses incurred over the past few weeks because of Zeus' crisis after I'd admitted that my underpaid self was tapped out. Some of you weren't even people I knew particularly well, and some of you were people with whom I've had personal or political differences in the past. I'm not the sort to ask for help and felt awkward receiving it, but in this case, the possible alternative was unthinkable and I realized that this wasn't about me. I want to thank you for the advice, the kind words, as well as for any contributions that were made so that I could ensure that Zeus received the care that he did.
He's my one of my favourite persons, and if you ever meet him, you'll understand why.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Hate and Gibberish in "The Chronicle of Higher Education"

For the most part, when I poke around online for references to veganism in mainstream media, I'll find misuses of the term "vegan" or the odd jeer against those who choose not to use animals buried in some foodie's article on why he would trade in his firstborn for a plate of bacon. Every once in a while, things get kicked up a notch when someone -- often someone who profits from animal slaughter -- goes on a particularly hostile anti-animal rights rant. Although it's no surprise to read arguments against not using animals from those who fear their livelihood is threatened as more and more members of the general public start paying attention to the reasons we shouldn't use non-humans, it does make me wonder about what makes people tick when someone who doesn't have a hands-on financial interest in the continuation of animal exploitation decides to to go on an anti-veganism tear. I saw a stellar example of this yesterday in July 4's The Chronicle of Higher Education in an article by Harold Fromm ("Vegans and the Quest for Purity").

Fromm begins his article by positioning Peter Singer as an authority in the animal movement by referring to him as having started the debate regarding "human versus animal consciousness and the morality of eating meat", stressing that although Singer doesn't label himself a vegan that more and more people are becoming vegan. Having positioned Singer as an authority, he then makes uses of the animal liberation movement's deadbeat dad to add punch to his assertion that "the philosophic issue—whether all consciousness, human and animal, is equal—has hardly been resolved":

Singer himself, in the persona of the protagonist of a short story he wrote in a 1999 response to J.M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals, concluded: "The value that is lost when something is emptied depends on what was there when it was full, and there is more to human existence than there is to bat existence"[.]
Singer is basically offered up as a reasonable moderate to set up the rest of his article, which is devoted to portraying vegans as unreasonable extremists. In fact, he spends the next ten or so paragraphs going on about how vegans are antisocial and rude, lumping in together cows and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) for moral consideration and then comparing the ethics of humans consuming cow's milk to human babies being breastfed by their mothers, etc. No, really -- he does!

Fromm next attacks Bucknell University Gary Steiner's NY Times op ed piece from last November, "Animal, Vegetable, Miserable". He accuses him of having had made "a miserably weak case for living the life of a vegan" and goes on to rant about Steiner's dismissal of the ethical significance of those who claim to be conscientious omnivores -- those lovers of "happy meat", and about Steiner's assertions that speciesism and animal use are both horrendous and deeply ingrained in our culture. You see, Fromm thinks this is all very silly and hypocritical, since according to him vegans suffer from "biocentrism" and we're in denial of the fact that our choices and actions are not, in fact, all about us:
We care about the planet because we are made from its materials. The planet, c'est moi! That deludes some people into thinking they can be disinterestedly "biocentric," having the interests of the planet (and nonhuman animals) as much at heart as those of human beings. But because the so-called environment is the same substance as ourselves, our concern for it is just a disguised case of looking out for No. 1. Biocentrism is little more than a type of self-congratulating anthropocentrism.
After sharing this little nugget about the selfishness of choosing not to exploit animals with his readers, Fromm continues with a heap more logical fallacies and factual errors, trying to disprove the immorality of the human use of non-human animals.

We evolved in a kill-or-be-killed world, Fromm explains, conveniently leaving out that as we humans have established ourselves at the top of the food chain and that our most fearsome weapon of choice today when it comes to consumption is the almighty shopping cart. Nonetheless, Fromm insists that as "[r]efined as some of our moral sensibilities may now be, there's nothing we can do to outwit this fact: To be alive is to be a murderer. Or to be murdered."

He goes on to explain just how murderous we are by asserting how we are all ust selective killers -- even vegans. According to Fromm, this is evident in that we do not hesitate to kill bacteria when we shower or brush our teeth, or take a single step in any direction for that matter. Hell, according to Fromm, that we are merely selective killers is evident in that we would consider taking antibiotics and that we don't offer "the HIV virus [sic], the swine flu [and] tuberculosis" the same moral consideration that we extend to "animals beautiful and large enough to be registered by the senses of Homo sapiens".
The grandstanding of vegans for carefully selected life forms, to serve their own sensitivities—through their meat- and dairy-free diets, their avoidance of leather and other animal products—doesn't produce much besides a sense of their own virtue.
According to Fromm, the only real way to not be hypocritical would be to die, perhaps committing suicide -- "the supreme biocentric act" -- since "the real 'crime' is existence, not being or using animals". (I think that someone ripped the 'S' section out of his dictionary, since he's obviously not familiar with the word 'sentience'.)

Now, lest his readers think that Fromm is a heartless and bloodthirsty buffoon (as opposed to just being a regular old buffoon), he goes to great lengths to paint himself as caring and concerned. He's an admirer of Michael Pollan's, he says, keeping his carbon footprint small and eating a diet "very high in plants and low in meat", and although earlier in the article, he jeers at Gary Steiner for pointing out the horrors involved in our institutionalized use of animals, he does an about-face and writes that he "approve[s] of [the] revulsion at the brutal treatment of animals raised for our consumption" of people like Pollan and the aforementioned Singer. In fact, Fromm insists that he actually finds vegetarianism admirable and states that he "would recommend it" for a long list of reasons that are really too pathetic for words and all fall short of taking animal rights and interests seriously:
[V]egetarians have more limited goals and have marked out a manageable territory with fewer cosmic pretensions. They are concerned about their health. Or they don't want animals to be raised expressly to be tortured and killed—especially in factory farms and slaughterhouses—for their dinner plates. Or they don't want to ingest the dead bodies of fairly complex creatures, which is apt to make them feel queasy.
So vegetarianism -- that is, exploiting some animals, but not others -- is admirable, according to Fromm, regardless of whether it's done primarily out of self-interest (e.g. health), emphasizes dissatisfaction with the treatment (but not the use) of some animals, or merely stems from an aversion to the gross factor involved in eating the dead. Furthermore, even though he makes it clear in his own words that what he calls vegetarianism is inconsistent and that it's useless in terms of having any sort of real positive impact upon our consumption ethics, what's laudable about it according to Fromm is that it's easy:
No doubt they would prefer all animals (whatever that might include) to be treated humanely, but they are not prepared to stop wearing leather shoes or eating Jell-O. At least vegetarianism—though it can't resolve the moral dilemma of the savagery of our lives—is more or less possible in both theory and practice.
Veganism, on the other hand is purportedly neither possible in theory nor in practice, but Fromm deems it "harmless enough [...] if you don't care about being part of society or alienating potential friends who may find you more trouble than you're worth".

Since vegetable farming involves the killing of animals, says Fromm, vegans are also waging "a war on animals". Fromm should have done done himself a favour and done a little bit of reading before babbling like a troll in a vegan discussion forum:

[There are] more than 10 billion land animals we actually slaughter for food annually, of which more than 9 billion are chickens, and which works out to about 33.3 animals per non-vegan annually, PLUS the animals killed by harvesters to feed both humans and “food” animals, which we can estimate at least another 1.5 animals per non-vegan annually, for a total of at least 34.8 animals per non-vegan annually, compared to the estimated 0.3 of an animal per vegan annually. By going vegan, we avoid ALL (100%) of the animals intentionally slaughtered to feed ourselves and over 99% of all animals killed, intentionally or as a regrettable and unintended side-effect. (Dan Cudahy, "Contrasting Harms: Vegan Agriculture Versus Animal Agriculture")
Instead, Fromm would have us think that since the very act of living involves the accidental deaths of a few (or billions, I guess, if we toss common-sense aside and lump in the non-sentient microbes that Fromm puts on par with sentient non-human animals), that it is hypocritical and inane to deliberately choose to not use or exploit sentient non-human animals. It's a "hopeless longing for innocence", he says, since we're doomed from birth to be "murderers", particularly those of us who were nursed by our mothers and thus at one point consumed human milk.

Ultimately, Fromm rejects veganism as plausible since according to him, "as long as we are among the living, we should stop pretending to virtues possible only for the dead". I reject Fromm's incoherent attack on veganism -- obvious and unfortunate oversight of an editor from The Chronicle of Higher Education that it is -- and assert that as long as we are among the living, we owe it to the others who live alongside us to strive to show them justice, and to at the very least refrain from making the consumption choices that restrict their ability to live out the course of their own lives instead of suffering through lives spent enslaved and waiting to be slaughtered.

Monday, July 05, 2010

On Empathy

"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow