Thursday, March 10, 2011

Veganism in the Media

I bookmarked an article from the Kansas City Star a few weeks ago. I had been attracted by its title ("The vegan way: Correcting myths about a growing trend"), but wasn't surprised to find myself wincing a few paragraphs in. I'm all for correcting myths about veganism, but it seems to me that whenever non-vegans in mainstream media take it upon themselves to do this, they invariably reinforce the same tired stereotypes and create further confusion. The article, unsurprisingly, focuses entirely on food. Most of it is in interview format, using a token vegan (a 21-year-old called Julie Wynn who's been vegan a little over a year) and a token "expert" (registered dietitian Denise Shmitz). So which myths about veganism get corrected? Funny you should wonder...

Myth #1: Vegans View Animal Use as Unethical
Myth #2: Vegans Don't Deliberately Consume Animal Products

Myth #3: Veganism Isn't Hard

When asked why she became vegan, Wynn cites concerns over eating processed food and the unnaturalness of the "stress [...] livestock goes through". When asked how veganism has changed her life, all she can muster is to say that she no longer feels heavy and bloated after she eats. Apparently, though, this amazing life-changing effect of having "gone vegan" isn't enough motivation for Wynn to actually be vegan:

"It’s hard, and I’m not perfect. There are still times I will have something that is baked into something, or I’ll have a little cheese over the holidays."
When questioned further about what she most wants to tell people about becoming a vegan (whatever her interpretation of the word may be), Wynn seizes a brilliant opportunity to educate the public and coughs up the following gem:
"The true fight of veganism dates back to the 1800s. It’s about the natural way of getting our food, and treating our animals well. Because if they are treated well, then the meat we receive will be the natural meat we are supposed to eat."
And when the confused-sounding reporter points out that vegans don't eat meat, Wynn clarifies (?) her statement by adding: "Well, that’s why. That’s what we’re fighting for." And then when asked if she would consider going back to eating meat, she weighs the possibility and leaves room for indeed doing so, responding that she is "going to cut everything out until it changes".

Myth #4: Eating Vegan Is as Affordable as Not Eating Vegan

Wynn clears up this myth by asserting at one point (after stressing her absolute love of takeout pizza) that one of the things that is difficult for her about being vegan is that it's "expensive". I guess that all those lentils she mentions she eats must be strictly black market.

Myth #5: Veganism Isn't Just a Personal Choice
Myth #6: Vegans Aren't Hateful Creatures Who Despise All Non-Vegans
Myth #7: Vegan Education Isn't Proselytizing

When asked the loaded question "Do you think that people who are not vegans are cruel or immoral", Wynn reassures the reporter that she "would never pass judgment" on others, like those nasty vegans who spend their days scowling at everyone while wagging their fingers at them: "I don’t like the vegans who assume people are bad just because they haven’t cut out meat and dairy." Wynn goes on to say that she wants to teach "by example" and would gladly share knowledge with others, if approached for it. The (I am assuming non-vegan) dietitian Shmitz weighs in about good vegans keeping their opinions about the morality of using animals to themselves by informing us that:
"Humans have been hunters and gatherers from the beginning of time. … If people think it’s unethical to eat meat, that’s their right. But it’s important for people not to impose their own views on others."
Who would have guessed that dietitians are also experts in ethics? Amazing!!111

Myth #8: Honey Isn't Vegan

The token expert in the article also helps to clear up the common misconception that honey isn't vegan:
Honey is one of those things that some vegans choose not to eat. That surprised me when I first saw that. I guess it’s because bees are involved.
I can guess, too. In fact, I'm guessing that she's never read any information on why it is that honey isn't vegan.

So there you have it! In one fell swoop, the Kansas City Star corrected these nasty pervasive myths and misconceptions about going vegan that have been plaguing us since the 1800s. I, for one, am so very relieved!

Aren't you?

Monday, March 07, 2011


I had a conversation with someone a few days ago (let's call him Joe) that slipped into a discussion about hunting. He was a friend of a friend's and as a few of us sat over coffee, someone brought up a story about an uncle's annual obsession with tracking down and killing deer. I noticed a change in his facial expression as he listened: his nose wrinkled just ever so perceptibly and a slight frown manifested itself as he crossed his arms. I asked Joe if he was against hunting and he said "no". A little surprised after having watched his facial expression and body language seem to indicate otherwise, I asked him if he hunted, himself. He told me that he hadn't in almost thirty years and that the last time he'd gone he'd been a teenager accompanying his grandfather. He told me that he's since had no interest in owning or using firearms of any sort and that even though many friends had invited him over the years to join them on hunting trips that he's declined. He told me that the story our table-mate had shared had disgusted him because "people who get off on killing are sick" and that he could never take pleasure in doing that. I paused, then told him that I was a bit befuddled over his fairly obvious reaction to our table-mate's hunting story and assertions of his own apparent disapproval of hunting, and yet of how he'd replied that he wasn't against hunting.

I had already been identified by our mutual friend as vegan, since my ordering soy for my coffee instead of the dairy default seemed to have warranted an explanation. I clarified my own stance for Joe briefly, stating that there's really no justification to treat a non-human animal as a thing existing for our use or pleasure, whether it involves hunting or other uses.
"Wow. That's really judgmental of you. It's the height of arrogance for you to think that just because you feel a certain way about something that you have any right to extend that to others' behaviours or actions," he replied. "We all have freedom of choice and neither you nor I have a right to interfere with anyone else's freedom of choice just because we disagree with what they're doing."

Uh huh.

I pointed out to Joe that we all, each and every one of us, engage in extending our own ethical beliefs--even our less important simple likes and dislikes--to the people around us every day in every other aspect of our lives. "I don't," he insisted. "You animal rights types may try to do it, but you have no right to impose your will on everyone else."

So I asked him if he thought it was wrong to physically strike young children across the face. "Of course!" he replied indignantly. I asked him what he would do if he were walking down the street and saw an adult strike a three-year-old hard across the face--whether he'd do or say anything. "I'd give that person a talking to and try hard not to give him a taste of his own medicine," he insisted. I asked, gingerly, if he did not think that this would count as his extending guidelines he'd set for his own behaviour (i.e. to not strike young children across the face since he believes that doing so is wrong) to the actions of others. "That's different! It's hitting a kid," he explained. I asked, then, how he'd react if he saw a man walking a dog on a leash and then turning to kick the dog really hard. "Well, I'd say something there, too. It's not right to hurt animals like that." I asked him, then, why he thought that extending his own view of hunting to others amounted to merely interfering with their freedom of choice and as his imposing his will on others, when over and above causing physical harm to another, it involved taking that other's very life.

"Wow. You're really militant," Joe replied (with an emotional knee-jerk non-response). "You're obviously carrying a lot of hate towards other people if you're this aggressive about promoting your animal rights agenda." Our mutual friend and our other table-mate had long since stopped their own discussion to listen to us, and our mutual friend laughed, saying "Ha ha! She got you, Joe!" upon noting Joe's agitation over having gotten tripped up.

The thing is that it hadn't been an attempt at a "gotcha" moment. A conversation had evolved after I'd expressed curiosity about what had seemed like a contradiction and had tried to tease that contradiction out a bit so that we could both examine it. I regretted that others had overheard the discussion and had then poked fun at him, since my intent had not been to ridicule.
I found it unfortunate that though Joe and I both recognized some of the same basic actions as inherently wrong that the fact that I did so as a vegan who felt no qualms about voicing that they weren't just wrong things for me to do--but that they were wrong in and of themselves--left Joe choosing to label me judgmental. The truth is that although he's kept it to himself, he's been doing a fair amount of judging of others who hunt, as well. Hopefully, taking it out of his bubble and placing it within a larger context will bring him around to understanding this and to his giving the whole matter of all animal use further thought. The choice, after all, is his.