Monday, August 29, 2011

Because the World Needs Another Article About Not Going Vegan

I'm not keeping track, but I'm sure that if I were the type to count on my fingers and toes that I'd long since have stopped being able to log these articles about nothing which present themselves as somehow having anything to do with going vegan. Tim O'Shea's bit in the Concord Monitor ("My so-called vegan life") is yet another to throw into the pit with the rest of them.

These articles, opinion pieces, columns or newspaper blog posts usually split into two general types. On one hand, you have those who are just trying to take a swipe on some level or another at vegans or those who in any way weigh the issues surrounding the exploitation of nonhuman animals seriously. The tone of many of these pieces ranges from mild mockery to outright hostility. On the other hand, you have the more innocuous-seeming articles by people who may (or may not be) be well-intentioned but who at least keep the barbs and schoolyard comments in check. Many of these articles are still these unfortunate fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants excuses to squeeze out copy that presents itself as offering up any sort of useful or valid information on veganism or on what's involved in going vegan. Too many are just heaps of misinformation cloaked in good intentions. Whether hostile or not, the articles frequently present veganism as a diet, often side-step animal rights issues as being at the heart of going vegan, invariably present eating vegan as self-imposed deprivation, and almost always go to great lengths to emphasis the deliciousness and irresistibility of meat, cheese and other animal products.

O'Shea's article definitely falls into the former camp, with the level of derision in it vacillating between gormless and mean-spirited. It's entirely focused on diet, and aside from a token mention of "ethics" as a motivator to go vegan (tucked in between "health" and "because, well, their girlfriend suggested it"), no time is wasted in actually discussing what animal use entails. O'Shea instead begins by bemoaning various things vegans can't eat (including mashed potatoes, for some reason) using words like "forbidden" to describe nonvegan foods and "hardcore" to describe those who avoid bone char-processed sugar. Avoiding nonvegan food = restrictive and extremist.

O'Shea's so-called vegan experiment was, of course, limited to food and was meant to last no longer than a whopping two whole weeks. How did he get ready for it? Apparently, with a few Google searches and by writing it all off as awful before he had even begun. He writes: "I didn't do much preparation other than find a paperback vegan cookbook, conduct some web research and brace myself for my first taste of soy milk." He bemoans his black coffee (because vegans obviously don't use sweeteners or whiteners in coffee) and plain brown rice cakes (because vegans obviously champion the taste of cardboard), as well as the wretchedly awful reality of being forced to eat meatless salads deprived of stinky blue cheese dressing (since salads without meat and stinky blue cheese dressing are naught but so much wilted lettuce). He bemoans the lack of vegan options spontaneously manifesting themselves his cupboards but adds that "we [sic] vegans are creative" and explains how to make a bowl of cereal using almond milk. Any other forays into cooking he makes, he portrays as disgusting, adding that "when you're subsisting on twigs and apricots, you'll seek any safe harbor". A vegan waffle is "supple burlap". A black bean burger ordered at a restaurant is the "vile bastardization of the all-American meal".

And somehow, it's after all
this that he asserts that "something went horribly wrong". After one week of a badly-planned attempt to eat a strict vegetarian diet, he throws a dinner party complete with the aforementioned purportedly irresistible animal products which customarily get referenced at some point in articles like O'Shea's, and of course O'Shea finds himself -- in his own home, at his own dinner party -- with nothing but cucumbers and bread to eat, so gives in and gorges himself with gusto on pig and chicken flesh. Shortly thereafter on a trip to NYC, still during his two-week-long supposed attempt at something he mislabels going vegan, O'Shea lumps himself in with vegans again while trying to excuse away what he asserts none but the most "pure" of vegans could possibly resist:

All the willpower in the world faded away as my environment surrounded me. I'd like to tell you I was pure, the pinnacle of principled veganism, but after the bagel with cream cheese, the steak slathered in garlic butter, the turkey BLT with mayo, the bucket of beef brisket nachos and the three pieces of classic New York pizza, I'd only be fooling myself. Yet I dare any vegan among us who's claimed to resist such temptation to cast the first fiddlehead.
Somehow, though, O'Shea insists on continuing to present himself as being "vegan" during the rest of his two-week experiment, post meat/egg/dairy-bacchanalia, mentioning trying to "reclaim [his] vegan pride" while complaining about the disgustingness of quinoa, potatoes, bananas and peanut butter and describing himself on his supposedly last day "as a vegan" as full of anxiety and in "gastric distress". He slips in that his wife even commented on his body odour, as if somehow not eating animal products was responsible. He sums the experiment up as a failure (no, really?) and leaves his readers with this summary of what being vegan inevitably entails:
I spent my days either dreaming of deli meat snacks as my hummus-filled stomach grumbled like low-rolling thunder, or I gorged myself on an anti-vegan menu in fits of delirious indiscretion, justifying my actions through a combination of deceit, rationalization and head fakes. It's no way to live - this vegan life.
It's unfortunate that O'Shea should fancy himself an expert mouthpiece on what being vegan is like when nothing -- not a single stinking thing -- about his experiment involved veganism on any level whatsoever. In the end, sadly, it's just one more article to throw on to the ever-growing pile of mainstream writings in the media both misrepresenting and maligning a way of life which is so simple, so right, so healthy and which is so far-removed from the self-infliction of misery that O'Shea would have you believe it is.

If you haven't already done so, please consider going vegan. By this I don't mean O'Shea's half-arsed newspaper-filler-producing temporary meat-fest fantasy take on it, but that you actually and earnestly go vegan.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What This Vegan Eats

I've been quite lax about posting recently, thanks to being on vacation and indulging in various distractions. At the very least, I guess that I can share some of the bland and uninteresting fare I've been eating the past while to maintain my unhealthy, sickly vegan self:

Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, pickled mild banana peppers, radishes, sweet onion vinaigrette, ground flax.

Tofu marinated in tamari and lemon pepper, cherry tomatoes, parsley and a mix of organic ketchup and sriracha.

Pita pizza with mushrooms, onions, garlic, green bell pepper, pickled hot banana peppers, sliced tomatoes, nutritional yeast sauce, basil & dried chipotle.

Lima bean soup with carrots, collards, hot banana peppers, garlic, scallions, Indian chili powder and dill weed. A half-cob of corn sprinkled with some Louisiana hot sauce.

Stir-fried Asian veggies and udon noodles with a super-spicy coconut curry sauce.

Pita pizza with roasted garlic red sauce and fennel seed, Gardein chunks, black olives, Spanish onions, hot banana peppers, Cheddar Daiya.

Broccoli, green peppers, mushrooms, chickpeas and garlic stir-fried with a bit of tamari. Quinoa with a dollop of salsa.

Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, shredded carrots, radishes, green peppers, Spanish onion, steamed broccoli, hot banana peppers from the garden -- all on a hidden bed of quinoa. I drizzled lemon juice, olive oil and crushed garlic over it before serving.

Wild blueberries blended with almond milk, topped with banana slices and plain soy yogurt.

Chickpea salad w/roasted garlic dressing and diced Claussen dill pickles, tomato and mustard in a whole grain pita. Fries (a rarity for me) and steamed organic carrots and peas on the side.

Carrot slaw, barely steamed broccoli, shredded collards, radishes, tomato, scallions, hot banana peppers from the backyard, cucumber. Tossed with a Dijon balsamic vinaigrette.

Spinach-sweet potato soup with quinoa and Indian seasonings.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hitting at the Heart of the Problem

Every day that we live, we remake the world. The question is, are we remaking the world in the way that we really want it to be? Would we prefer that animals be nicely treated commodities, still exploited, albeit more gently, or would we prefer that the world be vegan, and recognize the inherent worth of animals as beings with their own subjective experience of the world?

If we want a vegan world, we have to work to produce one, and the only way to produce one is by living one uncompromisingly on a daily basis. Vegan education works to effectively remodel social relations, and to hit at the heart of the problem with animal exploitation. For this reason, our work should focus on the inglorious, quotidian work that’s required for creating a broad-based movement of people who live abolition in their daily life, who work to change the conditions that condemn animals to being mere instruments and property, and who work to educate others about the importance of veganism as a lived form of protest. No amount of negotiating with KFC or McDonald’s or whatever fast food restaurant will have such an impact; no amount of banning gestation crates, or producing cage free eggs will get us there. Only veganism can bring the kind of world we’re after, and only veganism can be the means if we are truly serious about respecting the inherent needs of animals to live free of exploitation and suffering.

-- Excerpt from "All We Have Is Means" by Bob Torres (co-author of Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


"It's time. You need to come home," my brother-in-law said to me on the phone. My brother-in-law had never called me before. We ironed out that I'd hop on the bus immediately and that he'd pick me up and rush me to the hospital once I arrived. I called a few close friends who'd made themselves so kindly and wonderfully available to me to ensure that the cats would be looked after, I packed a bag, and then I walked to the nearby bus depot, breathing in/breathing out.

I had just been there. I had been there so often over the previous months and more so during recent weeks. Dad had been drifting in and out of consciousness for several days, lost somewhere between the hallucinations brought on by the hypercalcemia caused by his multiple myeloma, as well as those caused by the generous dosage of morphine he'd been given to ease the time he'd had left. I was returning. It was time for 'round the clock vigils, to make sure that Dad had family with him, that he wouldn't die alone. My shame? That I didn't want to be there for it. I feared it. I did not want to witness my father's ceasing to be.

My sister sat in a chair beside his bed, where he lay breathing quite raspily, nearly immobile, his arms bent and pulled up close to his chest, with his hands cupped and almost leaving him looking as if he could wake up and dive into a dog paddle. I paced, tired from my day at work and with muscles tight from the hours on the bus. My sister told me that he'd had brief moments of consciousness over the previous days, but that the doctors anticipated that between the wear of the drugs on his system and of the cancer itself, all we could hope for at this point was for him to "pass" easily and painlessly. Nobody loves a death rattle, so they'd even given him drugs to quiet his rasp a little. "It's customary," the nurse had assured me.

Dad sat up in bed abruptly, his eyes wide and alert and with arms suddenly outstretched. He was driving. After a beat I tentatively asked him where he was going. My sister rolled her eyes at me, continuing to work on her crossword puzzle. He grinned at me in the sly way I remembered from when I was younger and he'd tease us. He motioned as if pulling up to a stop and proceeded to indulge in some sort of mysterious interaction which I recognised as some sort of shopping errand. In French, he proceeded to hold up his end of a conversation with what I quickly realized was a jeweler, making it obvious that he was shopping for a new watch. Politely, he'd ask to try one after the other, comparing the time on his bare (to me) wrist with the time on the clock on the wall of his hospital room, declining one after another. "Bonjour. Ah non, merci." I tried to insert myself into the exchange -- to help. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me (again in French) that he was "buying time". My sister protested to me that he was tiring himself out and that I wasn't "helping". Soon, though, he and I found a watch he deemed satisfactory and he seemed relieved, finally relaxing against his pillows. He told me that he was thirsty, so I walked over to the bathroom off his room to get him some water in a paper cup.


I stepped back out of the washroom surprised to have heard him speak my name for the first time in several weeks. I looked at him, my sweet father sitting up again and staring intently at me, seeming so lucid and so concerned.


"Es-tu bonne pour continuer?"

Dad asked, in effect, if I was "good to go on". I assured him that yes, I really was. My sister insisted again with annoyance that I was tiring him out, ignoring him completely and oblivious to the entire exchange. He sat back in his bed and I brought him his water and he drank a little and fell back asleep. My uncle came to relieve us a half hour later and my sister and I went to my parents' house just a few minutes from the hospital, on call.

A few hours later, that call came. His temperature was up, his breathing irregular -- we needed to return. My mother, for some reason or other, had blood tests scheduled for the next morning and had been asked to fast. She was in the washroom, sick to her (empty) stomach when my father sat up one last time, looking straight at the clock on the wall in front of him and reaching out with one arm in front of him as if to grab hold of something. He wheezed and sighed deeply, then curled up against me and I held him. My father died in my arms four years ago as I write this. I remember the heat leaving his body as I held him. I remember clinging to that heat and ignoring the nurses who came in to do as gently as they could what nurses do to confirm that someone you love is gone.

I miss you, good and gentle lumberjack. I miss our shared geekiness. I miss watching Nova with you on PBS and miss sharing your OMNIs with you. I miss you telling me all about stars and pointing them out in constellations with the telescope you bought for me, kidding me that I was going to be your "little astronaut". I miss getting up so very early on Saturday morning when you'd make us both toast and cocoa and then read your science fiction books as I watched cartoons, everyone else in the house still fast asleep and with the morning all ours. I miss you teaching me to be kind to others, human and non-human. And later, I miss how you'd assure Mom that the books I brought home as a teenager were fine, whether Sartre or Satanic Bible, and that I was able to suss them out myself. I miss how excited you got over my going off to university, and how years after I had faltered and returned again to finally finish my degree, you were still excited and wanted me to share with you whatever I was learning -- to explain each and every thing to you. I miss that so much, every single day. So today, of all days, how could I not think of you?

Monday, August 08, 2011

(Not) Veganism in the Media

HSUS' Wayne Pacelle has been making the rounds recently to promote his book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals; Our Call to Defend Them. The articles I've been reading here and there about his various appearances have not offered up anything surprising; they've mostly reflected his continued commitment to ensuring that Americans feel more comfortable about using non-human animals. This recent piece in Michigan's Lansing State Journal, for instance, turned up more of the same. Strangely enough, the article starts off quoting Pacelle as saying that "we [...] need to be mindful and intentional in a society where our attitudes toward animals are conflicted and contradictory". Given the conflicted and contradictory messages HSUS has been disseminating over the years, Pacelle's plea for mindfulness and an associated thoughtful intentionality when it comes to how we think of non-human animals seemed ironic at best -- and disingenuous at worst.

The article's emphasis seems largely placed on Pacelle's great "passion" and charisma. I've no doubt that HSUS' president and CEO is still able to seem enthusiastic while engaging with ease in essentially churning out
the same old message he's been churning out for years now. Pacelle's become adept at reassuring people that HSUS is no "us" to the general public's "them" -- that everyone, regardless of actual concrete follow-through has some sort of good intention, and that this good intention is enough.

People of every background and experience have a passionate connection to animals and they want to do something to make the world better for them.
And just what sort of people share Pacelle's "passionate connection" to animals and want "to make the world better for them"? People like attendee Gita Mahabir, who insists that she's "not like a crazy animal person" but that she "just do[es]n't like to see things [sic] suffer". Basically, Pacelle's message is palatable to people who view those who take the rights of non-human animals seriously as nuts. In repeatedly dodging opportunities to talk to the public about going vegan, Pacelle also implicitly endorses this mindset.

How exactly does Pacelle manage to obtain and hang on to the attention -- and financial support -- of people like Mahabir? By making it clear to them that to walk shoulder-to-shoulder with almighty defender Pacelle, you need not worry yourself about being lumped in with the "crazy animal people" who choose not to use animals. Although he asserts that that eating is a moral act, his interpretation of its morality completely sidesteps exploring the notion that anyone should consider the bother of depriving themselves of the taste of animal flesh and secretions.
It doesn't mean you have to be a vegetarian but you have to be conscious and perhaps buy products from farmers who are raising animals humanely [sic].
According to the article, his book contains "50 ideas to help animals" with "many" actually involving cutting back on animal consumption. I wonder how many times Pacelle actually brings up not using animals as a possible way to "help" those locked into this cycle that inevitably ends in their slaughter? (I haven't read it, but would be happy to do so and to give it an earnest review if somebody wanted to send me a copy. A bonus: I own a good shredder!)

So hey, Wayne? Instead of suggesting to people that they "perhaps buy products from farmers who are raising animals humanely" and presenting it as the very least they can do, how about offering veganism as your so-called "prescription" for the immorality of what we're putting billions of non-human animals through every single year? Is it really so far-fetched to consider telling your HSUS donors that not using non-human animals altogether is even a viable option? Is it really so unfathomable to present not using non-human animals at all as the only truly "humane" option when it comes to whether or not we should treat animals like things and continue to breed them for slaughter? C'mon? Think about it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

"It's Just Food"

I've written a few times about precisely how not a fan I am of over-hyped short-term so-called "vegan" challenges or cleanses that are usually kick-started with an emphasis on health and weight loss. I occasionally get into the same old tired discussions with non-abolitionist animal advocates over why I'm not, countering their assertions that "any exposure for 'veganism' is good exposure" or that any experience "going" vegan is a potential opportunity for an individual to actually "stay" vegan. The thing is, though, that not eating animal products for three weeks isn't "going vegan". Veganism involves making an ethical lifestyle choice--a step taken to reject living a life that involves the avoidable exploitation of other animals. It's not something tried on like a pair of socks with the intention from the very beginning to go back to consuming (and otherwise using) non-human animals.

Going vegan should, at the very least, involve some sort of intention to stay vegan. Weight loss dieting or health-related cleanses have their place, no doubt, but as primary motivators anticipated to trigger someone's completely and permanently eschewing the exploitation of all non-human animals, eaten or otherwise? I don't really buy it. This may sound like a stretch to some, but I honestly think that the best way to get someone to take the rights and interests of non-human animals seriously is to actually talk to them about why they should take the rights and interests of non-human animals seriously.

I read an article earlier today which served as a reminder to me of why it's problematic to give much credence to faddish short-term public experimentation with what is what is usually just strict vegetarianism. In her Petoskey News article "Vegans are people too", staff writer Rachel Brougham spills the beans that she's a third of the way into a "three-month vegan challenge". Although in her previous articles, Brougham repeatedly refers to her project as following a "vegan diet", she portrays herself in this recent one as identifying with what she describes as the typically stereotyped and judged vegan. She refers to herself as being "vegan" while sharing stories of her interactions with food service employees and dismissive eavesdropping fellow-customers in eating establishments.

There is indeed a fair amount of truth to her realization that far too many assumptions are often made by non-vegans about vegans and that, all too often, those assumptions spill out with awkwardness and hostility. Nonetheless, her inserting this into the article seems a little contrived. It's as if she hopes to cash in some vegan cred of sorts by identifying with what she portrays as ordinarily mocked and maligned vegans--as if she seeks to give some further sense of validity to her entire experience. The thing is, though, that Brougham's experience is far from that of being vegan, or of even understanding veganism in an ethical sense. It's certainly far removed from understanding veganism in an abolitionist sense:

For me, following a vegan lifestyle isn’t about being right or wrong. It’s not about being sane or crazy. It’s not about following a trend or going against the grain. I’m not making a political statement and this isn’t something I’m being forced into as — quite literally — a matter of life or death. It’s simply a different way of living that makes me and countless others feel better.
Although her statement sounds well-intentioned and some parts of it make a sense, it certainly doesn't convey an understanding of what's at stake for animals for whom it is actually a matter of life or death whether or not we continue to treat them as things. To take the rights and interests of other animals seriously and to reject involving oneself in their exploitation is very much a question of making right or wrong choices and of following through with right or wrong actions. Choosing to reject involving oneself in this exploitation will undoubtedly allow someone to "feel better", but to sum up going vegan as "simply a different way of living that makes me and countless others feel better" completely misses the point that going vegan isn't about ramping up one's own pleasure or assuaging one's guilt: Going vegan is about not perpetuating the exploitation and slaughter of non-human animals. It's not about me and you, Rachel -- it's about them.

And of course, as a writer for mainstream media who is testing the waters with strict vegetarianism for a few weeks, it makes sense that she would assert that for her, the experiment wasn't a political statement. Of course it wasn't. It was fodder for an article -- a temporary playing around with some variation on a trendy idea to sell copy. For me, as an abolitionist vegan, actually being vegan and educating others about going vegan are very much both personal and political statements. How could they not be?

Brougham wraps up her article with more comments about exactly how she's feeling better one month in, losing weight and sleeping better. She also makes it clear that whether or not she continues to not eat animals and their products (and to call it "veganism") is completely up in the air and that the outcome is really of no concern to her.
On Oct. 1, I’ll be at a dinner fork in the road. Maybe I’ll go back to my old ways; maybe I’ll eat meat and dairy on occasion; or maybe I’ll stay the vegan course.
Her disassociation with what's involved in continuing to consume animal products and her ambivalence about whether or not to consume them is made most clear, however, when she asserts
I’ll never judge my dinner companion for ordering the steak while I enjoy pasta with vegetables. After all, it’s just food.
As long as anyone continues to hold the belief that pieces of a sentient being are "just food", it's a given that they haven't wrapped their heads around speciesism and haven't weighed what's involved in bringing that piece of an animal to their plate. It's unsurprising, then, that Brougham could be so lackadaisical about whether or not to resume consuming animal products after her experiment. But her experience really just reflects the dozens of other so-called vegan cleanses and challenges so many celebrities, foodies and ordinary old newspaper writers have been droning on about over the past few years. More often than not, the question of animal rights gets tossed to the wayside and (as I mentioned at the beginning of this post) the focus is on health, environmentalism or weight loss. The issue of speciesism--that very state of mind which props up and facilitates the continued exploitation of non-human animals by the general public--is never addressed.

Sometimes mention is made of the treatment of animals, although more often than not when this is done, references are inserted to various purportedly ethical degrees of animal consumption. Readers are reassured that with "happy" eggs, they can have their non-vegan cake and eat it too, and that opting to do so is somehow a good and meaningful step for readers to take without having to engage in the oh so extremist and absolutist refusal to simply reject animal consumption altogether. This is generally why I have a hard time championing these half-hearted forays by non-vegans into murky territory they mislabel "veganism". This is why when fellow-vegans insist to me that getting "the word" out there at any cost is important and that mentions in mainstream media should be celebrated that I'm left wondering whether or not some of my fellow-vegans really realize what's really at stake when clear and consistent messages about the ethics of using animals as things fall short or when this supposed "word" is delivered by unclear and inconsistent messengers.

Let's be clear and consistent messengers about veganism and about what it really is we owe non-human animals. If we won't, who will?