A Californian friend who's a regular and thorough reader of the New York Times fell into the habit a while back of sending me links to veganism-related articles he would come across. Given the number of pieces that have been run over the past several months on food ethics -- ranging from clumsy pokes to hostile swings at veganism -- he's been kept busy. Some low points came earlier this year and included "Wellness" writer Tara Parker-Pope's unforgivably sloppy piece in April on the supposed difficulty of going vegan, and the fiasco that same month which was the ridiculous mini-essay contest to defend meat eating in its "Ethicist" column also in April (which was followed by that column's writer's leaving her post). The ongoing sometimes overtly anti-vegan and sometimes "66.66%" vegan writings of Mark Bittman (including his 2009 "Wellness" guest-post bemoaning his having supposedly become protein deficient from skipping meat at lunch and breakfast) set the stage for it early on, as did various one-sided articles on things like the popularity of hobby butchering classes.
It was hardly much of a surprise this morning to get an email with a brief "Have you seen this?" and a link to yet another story that fits into what seems to have become commonplace in the New York Times. This time 'round, it was a Mark Bittman interview with a woman called Sherie Rene Scott who is apparently a former vegetarian who's decided to stage a one-woman show called "Piece of Meat" to talk about her return to meat-eating after having spent "her entire adult life as a vegetarian". Scott sums up the show in her interview as being about "desire". The one word I'd probably choose to sum up the show? "Opportunistic". Or maybe "shuffling". I'd hardly use the words "innovative" or "creative".
The article's started to go around online animal advocacy circles with some advocates focusing on how apparently awful it is that Scott's gone public with her return to meat-eating and then attempting to profit off of it by turning it into entertainment. As ended up being discussed over the course of the day on Gary Francione's Facebook page, there are many things problematic with both Scott's actions and interview and few of them really have anything at all to do with the fact that after 26 years of consuming animal products she decided to start consuming yet another animal product.
Vegetarianism was a part of my being, not just something I identified with politically; it was who I was, a part of my nature. And for it — for this desire — to come up in me, I had never been tempted in all of that time. So I looked at every aspect in my life to see what could I possibly be lacking. A lack of nourishment artistically? Was I hungry for another type of flesh, like a middle-aged lady hot to trot? But then my doctor said that female vegetarians over 40 do not get enough iron, and he said, “It’s eat meat or you get treated for anemia.”Where to begin with this, really? So consuming animal products (i.e. eggs, dairy, likely otherwise using them in skin care products and so forth) was a part of her "being" -- a part of her "nature" and so she ended up opting to consume other animal products (i.e. animal flesh). She speculates about it having been triggered by some sort of artistic lack and makes a tacky ageist and sort of sexist comment about middle-aged women, not very cleverly comparing sex to meat-eating. I mean, seriously? Yet Bittman describes her show as "quite feminist".
She then tacks on that some authority figure made the scare-mongering claim that "female vegetarians over 40 do not get enough iron". Now, do I really, really need to start linking to the multitudes of authoritative documents that will provide sufficient fodder for the nose-thumbing that claim deserves? Even the most mainstream of medical and nutrition-oriented organizations in North America have long-since offered up official positions confirming that a well-planned vegan diet (never mind a vegetarian diet's like Scott's) can not only be perfectly healthy, but may even be more healthy than one in which animal products are consumed. Do a Google search. I dare you. Also, this whole ultimatum (i.e. "eat meat or you get treated for anemia") she uses as justification is almost funny. Oh gosh! Treatment for anemia -- the horror! Faced with the hardship of perhaps having to take iron supplements for a short while and to then (gasp!) increase her consumption of awful things like quinoa, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, collards and spinach, she was left with no choice other than to go back to consuming the one animal product she had (perhaps) not been consuming.
Of course, as most of these folks do, she tries to dredge up some sympathy, expressing that when she gobbled down her first bites of animal flesh in 26 years, she shed tears. But this soon swings to the old familiar and very, very trendy presentation of meat-eating as some sort of visceral and sexy thing -- a touching base with one's predatory self that in Scott's case comes out sounding like some victim's twisted need for revenge:
I’ll align myself with the prey. I want to enjoy my flesh, and other people’s flesh, when it’s my choice. I don’t want to constantly be treated like a piece of meat. And I had to look at how I had treated others as a piece of meat, too. When have I been the predator?So having felt like a victim of violence, her logical response is to choose to adopt what she describes herself as a predatory nature? (Don't people usually go to therapy for this sort of thing?) She chooses to embrace her animal exploitation, and following in the steps of many others who've cashed in while doing so, perpetuates this weird, weird notion that so many others have been flinging around, that it's somehow more ethical to do something if you do it wide-eyed and deliberately. Using other sentient beings is OK, according to Scott, "[a]s long as you're doing it consciously". So if I punch you in the nose deliberately and having weighed doing so beforehand, it's somehow less wrong than if I just did it without thinking?
What really gets to me is how hilarious it is that the end of the interview that she claims that although so many talk about their journey toward vegetarianism, "no one talks about leaving the fold". I mean, has she not read the New York Times in the past 3-5 years to see that rather than come forth shamefully, others like her have seized the opportunity to jump on a bandwagon to flaunt their exploitation of others? The fact that Scott merely chose to shuffle around how she exploits animals -- whether eating or wearing their flesh or drinking their secretions -- matters little. What's unfortunate and a real shame, though, is the New York Times' continuing indulgence in presenting to its readers this constantly lopsided take on animal exploitation issues. Scott? She's just another drop in the bucket.
We have so much work to do. Please talk to someone about going vegan today.