For the past few years, I've been sifting through articles and opinion pieces on the websites of various newspapers and magazines, trying to make sense of how it is that writers have come to so clumsily and conveniently bend--or altogether ignore--the actual definitions of words that have become buzz words. It's as if once a word associated with some sort of popular trend is known to draw a reader in, license is granted to co-opt that word, however its meaning ends up being misrepresented or mangled in the process. Whatever sells, even if that "whatever" gets watered down or redefined, right? Years ago when I'd first started exploring vegetarianism, it was made pretty clear to me that veganism was what the "serious animal rights people did". Veganism meant not just abstaining from eating other animals and their secretions, but also refraining from using them to make clothing or personal care products, for human entertainment and so on. These days, if I use the word "vegan" to describe myself, there's a small (albeit realistic) chance that I'll be asked if I'm doing a cleanse. Worse is when some well-meaning person will pipe up and say: "Oh, my son's girlfriend is a vegan... but she treats herself to turkey at Christmas and will eat fish if her body tells her she needs it." Indeed, it's hard to blame anyone for their confusion, given that with what's being written in mainstream media, folks are being bombarded with increasingly confusing messages daily.
Thanks to people like Mark Bittman, the word "vegan" has even been downgraded to being used as a qualifier to mean something akin to "that moment you ate something plant-based". In opinion pieces like Mary Schwantes' in Suburban Journals yesterday ("Try 'semi-veganism' to eat healthier"), the term seems presented as meaning that someone, for health reasons, is eating a few more fruits or vegetables than usual. Now, I'm all for people eating more fruits and vegetables (or whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and other plant-based fare). The thing is, though, that when you start calling the slipping in of a few extra bites a day of plant-based food "semi-veganism", you really miss the point altogether of what veganism is about. You might as well call someone who goes an extra few hours between romps in bed "semi-celibate", for all the meaningfulness contained in distorting the term so.
Credentials as Credibility?
According to Suburban Journals, Schwantes is a "retired professor of dietetics and nutrition", so it's no surprised that the piece misrepresents veganism as merely a diet and focuses on health as an incentive. What's bizarre, however, is how its author presents eating a single dish without animal products as if it were a vegan act in and of itself:
My point here is to make "semi-veganism" work for you. Once a week, let oatmeal burgers stand in for hamburgers, leave the meat out of your pasta sauce and add mushrooms, make a risotto the likes of which you've probably never had with pecans, mushrooms and fresh spinach or butternut squash — and you may just find yourself eating "better".