I was scanning through online newspapers today, looking for vegan holiday meal features. Anyone who claims at this point that veganism is still some sort of obscure ideology of which most people have never heard either don't watch television or don't read the paper or magazines. The word is indeed in circulation and people are curious about it -- for all kinds of reasons. It's being discussed in entertainment and fashion magazines, in food and health columns, in news stories about rates of chronic illness or the environment. Of course, people are mostly talking around it or using it as a buzz-word, misrepresenting it or taking it out of its ethical context. More than ever, now is a great time for ethical vegans -- for abolitionist animal rights advocates -- to submit opinion pieces on veganism to their school papers, to volunteer to write food articles for their local papers, or to comment on articles we see where veganism is maligned, misinterpreted or lumped together with some other food fad.
Take for instance this short bit in Carlisle, PA's The Sentinel, in which vegan writer Lisa Wardle shares a recipe for homemade black bean burgers and fluffs it out by talking a little bit about veganism. Great opportunity for a wee bit of education, right? Except that she touts it as being good for your health and good for the environment, with nary a single mention of how it's actually remarkably "good" for other animals who'd otherwise end up on someone's plate. Her focus in the article is on food and she presents veganism as being more akin to having an apple a day (y'know, to keep the doctor away) than what it actually is, which is a commitment to rejecting animal exploitation. Indeed, she mentions "not eating animal products once or twice a week" and being "an occasional vegan" as quite beneficial to one's health.
Of course there are indeed health benefits to lessening one's consumption of animal products -- but lessening one's consumption of animal products from time to time doesn't make one "an occasional vegan" any more than not pressing a female employee for sexual favours in exchange for a job promotion a few times a week would make a male manager "an occasional feminist". Think of the seeds that may have been planted in readers' minds by simply changing two or three sentences.
An Opportunity Taken
In Newfoundland & Labrador's The Independent, Jess Dawe went a more elaborate route to write about veganism. I like the piece. It's well-written and a fair amount of thought and research were put into it. She starts off explaining that veganism "is a lifestyle choice" and that it involves avoiding animal use going beyond food and extends to the avoidance of other animal products. Where Dawe unfortunately confuses matters, though, is with her insistence that all kinds of reasons can lead someone to become vegan. For her article, she focuses on health, the environment and then ethics and she then writes:
What I’ve provided here is an overview of three of the most popular reasons someone may adopt a vegan lifestyle. The reasons explored are by no means exhaustive, as there are many other reasons why someone may choose to adopt a vegan lifestyle.While there may indeed be various triggers to get people thinking about different aspects of their animal use, I doubt that concern for one's health will lead to one's avoiding an animal-using circus or to eschewing leather belts. Dawe seems aware of this herself as she specifies that switching to a "vegan diet" would be the result of being motivated for either health or environmental reasons. This seems to suggest, though, given that the health and environmental reasons are listed as two of three of "the most popular reasons someone may adopt a vegan lifestyle" that becoming a strict vegetarian and simply not eating animal products (while otherwise continuing to participate in other facets of animal exploitation) qualifies as being "vegan". Veganism isn't just a diet.
Which takes us back to Dawe's introduction, which states outright that veganism isn't just a diet, so why she would list "reasons" that may lead one to merely change one's diet as "reasons" people go vegan is quite confusing. It is no doubt even more confusing to her readers who are constantly bombarded in mainstream media by stories about strict vegetarian Bill Clinton being "vegan" or of other celebrities who've adopted a completely (or mostly) plant-based diet purportedly being vegan. Is it any wonder when we run into leather or wool-wearing folks (I'm looking at you, Kathy Freston).
I do love many of the points she raises, though -- about being vegan not necessarily meaning you're more healthy, about the ethical reasons one may go vegan not merely revolving around the horrors of factory farming, and so on. The points she raises about the health and environmental aspects of rejecting animal consumption are valid, but health and environmental arguments are really just ancillary when it comes to veganism, whose focus is not on ourselves but is instead on other animals -- or at least it should be if we expect to convince others to respect the rights and interests of those other animals. So reading her article is kind of like reading a pretty decent book, then finding a chapter missing and the order of a few others jumbled.
What about you? Have you thought about writing about some aspect of veganism for your local or school paper? Have you started a blog? Have you considered publishing a 'zine? There are all kinds of opportunities to get the word out there whether in a stealthy or overt way. Others would not be writing about it if the public was not interested in reading about it. Why not give it a shot?