Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"Why I No Longer Call Myself Vegan"?


Being Vegan

People who are vegan and who intend to remain vegan usually remember a moment, a conversation, a book or film -- something that finally helped to cement their previous thoughts about animal exploitation. Then they go about their business of becoming and then BEING vegan. It's a mindset. It's an ongoing action. It basically informs each and every choice you make as you go about your day. The decision you make is to step back and to remove yourself as much as it's possible to do so with having any involvement in animal exploitation. You make this decision because you have come to realize and to accept that other sentient beings do not exist for your convenience and pleasure. You realize and accept that they have lives of their own and interests of their own and that those interests don't include being trapped in the living hell which comprises most aspects of the "animal industry". All use is abuse. It's a meaningful conviction and it alters how you view others around you. It's not something that will change on a dime depending on which food item someone has tried to temptingly leave on your plate. And for the ever-loving sake of Pete, it's not something that reject in a huff or tantrum because some other vegan was a jerk to you. I don't kick puppies. I'm not going to wake up one morning and decide to go out and kick puppies just because some other person who doesn't kick puppies hurt my feelings or pissed me off.

"Former" Vegans 

How can you find the "former" vegan in a crowded room? He/she/they will be telling EVERYBODY that they are and why they are. They'll do this, of course, while whipping out each and every vegan stereotype or bad trope you've heard whenever the bacon-worshiping hoards descend upon vegan-positive comments on the internet. They'll pull out the long-debunked protein-myth and mention the visible signs of the abrupt and severe onset of nutritional deficiencies they experienced. They'll go on about never having anything to eat (not mentioning that their previous diet perhaps consisted of frozen pizzas and Chef Boyardi ravioli) or about how absolutely unaffordable it was because Beyond Burgers and shopping at Whole Foods are soooo expensive. You've seen the articles. There are at least 1-2 a month in newspapers, magazines, student papers, blogs. Heck, the big "reveals" happen so often in YouTube videos that they've rapidly become cliché. When a nobody makes the announcement, it's usually just to try to drum up controversy and sales; when somebody better known makes it, it's usually to drum up sympathy and sales.

“Wait, You Mean That I Have to be 'All In'?

Former" vegans are generally pretty bitter and determined to get their punches in and to attack other vegans. Very often, they'll blame "other vegans" for having turned them against veganism. They were "too strict", "too holier-than-though", "too militant", "too elitist", etc. We all know, of course that what this probably meant was that at some point, the "former" vegan had it simply pointed out that, no, sneaking a piece of cheese off her girlfriend's plate at a potluck wasn't, in fact, OK -- that viewing consuming an animal product as some sort of indulgence or reward wasn't, in fact, in keeping with veganism. Or maybe they just felt slighted reading or hearing discussions of why veganism isn't a part-time gig and the resentment just built up. The very same people who accuse vegans of being an "elitist clique" are often just upset that they can't honestly and accurately refer to themselves as vegans while continuing to deliberately participate in animal exploitation. I mean, how cliquey for vegans to have the audacity to shrug and say that you need to be vegan to call yourself a vegan! The absolute nerve!)

A friend of mine in an old-school online discussion forum used to say "If you're not vegan now, you never were." There's a lot more truth to that than most may realize. When someone announces to you that they've come to a different conclusion from when their supposed "journey" began, it's often wise to see where and what that "beginning" actually was. People like to say "we're all on the same journey" when referring to vegans and vegetarians or plant-based eaters (or flexitarians), when they issue is that they're assuming that everybody has the same goal. For vegans, veganism is pretty much a starting point. You're either vegan or you're non-vegan. If you're transitioning towards veganism, great -- but that doesn't make you a vegan. And if your not a vegan but just have some sort of variation of a lifestyle which eschews eating or otherwise using a particular species, or you abstain from using animals some of the time (e.g. some meals, some days, etc.) that doesn't mean that you have any intention of going vegan or that you've come to realize and accept that using other animals is inherently wrong. You follow a plant-based diet for health reasons but think animal rights activists are nut-cases who anthropomorphize other species? We're not on the same journey. We don't regard other sentient beings in the same manner and without having that in common and acting upon it accordingly, we're not "playing for the same team" and no, I won't just "agree to disagree" with you about what it is which we owe other animals so that you can co-opt a term. That doesn't mean I'm being judgmental, holier-than-thou, et al. but just that I'm sticking to the facts.

How NOT to be a “Former” Vegan

When you're working your way backwards from what someone positions as a different conclusion (e.g. becoming a "former" vegan) from that which they position as having been their starting point (e.g. being vegan), it's always worth taking a closer look at how they qualify that initial position and what took place between A and B. Take for instance, this opinion piece from a Boston University journalism student written for the website Study Breaks.

The author states that she went vegan at 15 and that five years later, she now "follows a plant-based lifestyle". She calls the latter a "relaxed" version of veganism which allows for the consumption of dairy. She insists that both are just awesome for the animals and for personal health reasons, but that veganism is "stricter and oftentimes more toxic". The word "judgmental" gets used to describe vegans. She talks about getting sucked into a vegan online community that "thrived on shaming non-vegans" and mentions that she got pulled into it because of her “youth”. Reading between the lines, I assume she is suggesting that she was naive and just didn’t know any better.  So, vegans are from the start portrayed as assholes.

It was "maturity" which led her to see that eating chicken nuggets doesn't plainly leave a person complicit in what happens to the chicken, she asserts. Then the same old tired arguments (which are intended to pass for maturity?) start.
[A] lot of areas of the U.S. don’t have access to the high-quality plant-based ingredients needed for a well-rounded vegan diet.  
Also, a lot of vegan food is expensive. Like, really expensive. For most Americans, a $200 per week grocery budget is just not feasible.
To claim "a lot of areas don't have access" makes it sound as if the majority of the US is a food dessert. Are there food desserts? Absolutely. Are they a serious issue? Absolutely. But to use the vague "a lot" is grossly inaccurate here. The rest of the quote makes it clear that the author thinks that eating a vegan's diet means needing to shop at Whole Foods for Beyond Burgers, Miyoko's cheese or Ripple pea milk — and that's simply untrue. A lot of processed vegan foods have gotten significantly more affordable over the years and can be purchased for cheap at the neighbourhood supermarket or Walmart. But over and above this, vegans don't need to rely on processed foods to get their nutrients.

Her effort to describe how unfair it is to ask people to go vegan goes even further with this gem. A few Google searches and a basic familiarity of plant-based nutrition enough for anyone to conclude that this is just an appeal to emotion.
Not to mention, cutting out meat and dairy means people with nut, soy or gluten allergies are basically left with nothing to fulfill their protein needs because the vast majority of meat substitutes include these ingredients.
This is just ridiculous. Around 1% of the US population has a tree nut allergy. Between 0.3 and 0.6% of the US population is allergic to soy. Celiac disease affects maybe 1% of the US population. Plus there are so many other sources of plant-based protein available so that this tiny percentage of the US population needn't worry about malnutrition if and when they should might attempt to go vegan. Between 96 and 98% of the US population isn't vegan, so that leaves a helluva lot of people who, if all they could eat to fulfill their protein needs were nuts, soy or gluten, could and would be just fine. Thankfully, this isn’t a bonafide argument of any sort against veganism.

The author then claims she struggled with whether or not to continue to call herself vegan while eating Chips Ahoy! cookies and other foods containing animal ingredients while in college, felt guilt, turned to her "trusty" vegan community for support (methinks sympathy) and was reminded that veganism was about the animals. Rather, as she snarkily puts it (because, keep in mind, we're so far operating on the premise with this article that matter-of-fact vegans are assholes):
I was harshly reminded that animals were being tortured all over the world and by not refusing to eat granola bars with honey in them, I was personally contributing to their suffering. 
So after not getting the answers she wanted from vegans, she looked to "former" vegans who had gone back to exploiting animals for I épuration and decided that the term vegan "no longer suited [her]". She was unable to go to Whole Foods (seriously, it's in the article). She found it too hard to "deny [herself]" the yummy non-vegan foods her friends enjoyed or the yummy non-vegan cookies family friends would send her. She went back and forth between eating plant-based and eating animal products for a during her college years and felt guilty and her vegan community didn’t assuage her guilt. So she decided that the solution to no longer feeling guilty was to just go ahead, shrug it off and indulge, since feeling guilty wasn't "healthy".

She ends her article advocating baby steps and small changes, citing her vegan heroes as those who are accepting of others' diets, adding that not all vegans are judgmental assholes and that the vast majority of us don't "shame and blame" non-vegans "for a host of environmental and ethical issues". She adds: "Does this mean any human who chooses not to go vegan due to dietary concerns, lack of access to nutritious vegan food, or any other perfectly viable reason is immoral? No." But according to her, nutritious vegan food can only be had from Whole Foods and "any other perfectly viable reason" can mean any single type of food craving you may get when you're out having fun. So?

So basically: Author decides to go vegan, won't give up easily avoidable animal products she regards as treats, turns to online vegans for a pat on the back, gets offended when she's asked to think of the animals instead of herself, feels guilty, grows bitter, finds inspiration in popular "former" vegans to stop feeling guilty for consuming easily-avoidable animal products and decides to stop calling herself a vegan as she continues to consume easily-avoidable animal products.

At least she finally decided to stop calling herself a vegan.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Normal


I remember while transitioning to becoming vegan when my former spouse and I traveled to my hometown to visit my family and of how he called me from my sister's (where he had been giving my oldest nephew a guitar lesson) to say that she had asked him to stay for lunch. When she dropped him off later at my mother's, she said to me that it was a lot easier to just have him over for a meal instead of both of us because he wasn't "as picky as [I was]".

I remember a vegetarian friend arguing with me furiously when I'd mentioned that the spouse and I were talking about having or adopting a child and that we planned to raise said child as a vegan. He insisted that I would be "forcing" my beliefs on this hypothetical child and that I should let them make up their own minds about whether or not to go vegan.

I remember just weeks after the end of my 10+ year common-law marriage (most of which I'd spent as a vegetarian), how over drinks one evening the ex told me that his mother had expressed relief at no longer having to take my diet into consideration for food at family gatherings anymore.

I remember the last Xmas dinner I attended at my sister's, watching my brother-in-law from across a crowded room glance around and then spoon chicken bouillon powder into pots of string beans and baby carrots I had been told would be suitable for me to eat, then shield the container of chicken bouillon from me with his body after we made eye contact and I approached him to verbally confirm he had done what he had done. I remember being told to please not make a big deal out of it. I didn't and I never ate there again.

I remember an old friend telling me that she might consider becoming a vegetarian, except that her naturopath had told her that she needed to eat meat because of her blood type. She told me that her naturopath had told her that I needed to find out my own blood type, since I was very likely killing myself. (We had the conversation about how the "Eat Right 4 Your Type" diet had long-since been debunked, but since I didn't have a piece of paper saying that I could officially peddle woo...)

I remember planning a small plant-based dinner party for a half-dozen friends, asking each one about dietary restrictions and food preferences or aversions and how one close friend asked me if they could bring a macaroni and cheese casserole because they couldn't see themselves having a meal where they couldn't "at least have cheese". I remember that friend declining the invitation when I asked them if they could for this occasion not bring anything containing animal products.

I remember the friends who told me that they hadn't invited me to their own barbecue because they didn't want the rest of their guests to feel guilt-tripped as I ate my veggie burger.

I remember my second manager at my last job holding a celebratory lunchtime pizza party for our staff of around a dozen, telling me that she couldn't order something different for "everyone" and that I was welcome to pack my own lunch and join them. (I passed.)

I remember years ago reconnecting with an old college boyfriend on Facebook and getting caught up with a couple of really long phone-calls, then how suddenly every few days he posted anti-PETA comments and when I explained to him that I (and many other vegans) have no love whatsoever for PETA, he instead posted articles mocking vegans or those news stories about child malnourishment court cases where the parents self-identified as "vegan" (never mind that they were feeding their child a diet consisting of nothing but water and potato chips or of rice milk and frozen berries -- it's always about their being "vegan").

I remember a cycling buddy of mine suddenly develop an interest in debating veganism with me at a local coffee shop (he particularly dug in his heels about plants having feelings and how avoiding animals but not plants was speciesist and made vegans hypocrites), and how he decided one day to say that he had purchased a fishing rod and planned to bring it on our long trail bike rides so that he could "bring back [his] supper", then how I told him that I'd probably bike further or do something else to not have to be around him as he hooked fish. I remember him getting angry and accusing me of "passing judgment" on him for merely stating I had no interest in being a spectator. We never went bike riding again.

I remember going to NYC with a moody non-vegan travel companion and meeting up with vegan friends of mine for dinner at an old Italian restaurant and how he grumbled at me later for having "deprived" him of an opportunity to have "good" pizza since we had decided to split everything we ordered and everything was, thus, plant-based -- including the delicious pizza.

I remember running into an ex of mine after an amicable split a year earlier and his asking me if I was "still vegan" and my jokingly responding with a "no" and how he told me what a relief it was that I'd "finally come to [my] senses" and how frustrating it had been to always have to find restaurants that had a plant-based item on the menu and felt unfair to him that we couldn't go absolutely anywhere he wanted to go because of it. I remember his telling me that he was "happy" that I'd "come back to normal". I didn't bother wasting the breath it would take to tell him that I hadn't been serious.

I remember another ex telling me that although he'd never complained about the dozens and dozens of meals I'd lovingly made for him while we were together -- food he had often praised at the time -- that  he'd never really been crazy about my cooking and that he was "happier without all the tofu and beans".

I remember being told that the hardest part of being vegan would be interacting with friends and family who chose not to be. Knowing doesn't prepare you for it, though, does it?

Monday, June 18, 2018

We're a Happy Family! (Or Why "Veg" Groups Don't Work.)


Backstory

I spent years as a vegetarian. I've talked about this before. I first decided to eschew meat when I was around 19 years old. I had become an environmentalist, reading up as much as I could on how human habits were wrecking the planet. I became a less wasteful consumer and then sought to do more. At one point, I wrote a weekly column for my hometown paper; later, I spent a summer working on a project to promote recycling. An old high school friend who'd become a vegetarian soon easily convinced me that not eating meat fit in with my environmentalist ethics and so I stopped eating meat. It's bizarre to me in hindsight that, as a lifelong animal lover, I never connected the dots about animal use and its effects on those very beings who are actually being used. I didn't even really think about it when I decided to stop eating their flesh to "save the planet". There was no World Wide Web yet.   


I remained vegetarian for a few years, focused intently on ensuring that I consumed enough legumes and whole grains to meet my protein needs. The "protein myth" was still being passed around at the time and the old second-hand vegetarian cookbooks I found also presented the need for carefully complementing proteins as a given. I also upped my consumption of dairy (mostly cheese) and although I had never really liked consuming eggs, I shuffled them in as a semi-regular part of my diet. I had to "replace" the meat I wasn't eating, after all. I began regularly scooping tofu out of the briny bin of my city's health food store and added it to absolutely everything. Usually plain and raw. I eventually lapsed a few upon starting a new relationship which led to my sharing a living space with a non-vegetarian musician. The trees would be alright without my help for a while, I figured.

I picked it back up again after watching a documentary on the Chinese fur industry with my cat Tarwater curled up on my lap. I watched footage of cats and dogs crammed into cages, listening to the reporter describe their fate. I started to cry and held Tarwater more closely. Then a few animal rights activists were interviewed and they mentioned vegetarianism and how killing cats for their fur was no worse than killing chickens for their flesh and that eating meat caused so much environmental devastation. That did it! I had to become a "vegetarian" again! 


My Introduction to Online "Community" and to "Those Pesky Vegans"


It wasn't long after this that I found myself with internet access for the first time ever. My reasons for re-exploring vegetarianism had become more animal-related than tree-inspired and I promptly located and joined a large and popular "veg" internet forum and found community. My life was spent interacting with non-vegetarians (including coworkers who constantly tried to challenge or debate me in the communal workplace kitchen and family members who viewed my vegetarianism as a rude social imposition on them at gatherings). The online forum I called "home" for the next couple of years was predominantly made up of vegetarians who avoided meat for any number of reasons -- health, the environment, allergies, religion, etc. There were some vegans in the community, but the terms "veg*an" and "veg" were tossed around a lot to lump together both vegans and vegetarians. The forum's vegans had their own separate "veganism" and "animal rights" discussion boards and were repeatedly directed to them by forum moderators. 

In fact, discussions of veganism felt as if they were more or less relegated to those boards. Whenever a vegan had the audacity to gently point out what was ethically problematic with a form of animal use brought up by a non-vegan, it only took one or two vegetarians to pipe up that they felt "judged" or "offended" for the vegan in question to be swiftly reminded that there were already designated "vegan discussion boards" to discuss vegan issues. A public scolding of the vegan usually ensued and everyone was reminded that the forum was "a place were all veg*ans" could "come together in kinship", since we all purportedly "shared common values" and were "all on the same path, but just at different points along our respective journeys"--as if we were all, in fact, moving toward some sort of common goal. Vegans who spoke up for themselves or for other animals were disparaged as whiny, disrespectful and combative and as ruining all of the hard work accomplished by the site's wealthy hosts. Vegans in general were often written off as being vegetarianism's extremist fringe-dwellers.

But you know what? As a young non-vegan vegetarian who was dealing with being mocked and misunderstood by those around me offline for choosing not to eat meat, I was grateful to find company with others who could relate when I shared my experiences. I wanted the comfort of community -- of peaceful community. Defending my choices and getting wrangled into debates offline could be exhausting. To be honest, I at first resented those pesky vegans for rocking the boat. They were upsetting the day-to-day camaraderie I enjoyed with others who'd also shuffled this or that animal product from their diets. They were upsetting people -- vegetarians -- by pointing out to us how we were not doing enough. "The nerve of them!" I thought. "Can't we all just get along? Isn't it bad enough to get attacked from people on the outside without having to be attacked by others 'like us' in what should be a safe space?" I was singled out as a weirdo in the offline world for choosing not to eat meat and (even though no comments were ever directed at me specifically) felt I was being singled out by vegans in this merged community for not doing more. I couldn't shut up my offline critics, but I was grateful that my fellow vegetarians and the moderators maintaining the peace on this site were able to shut up the vegans I felt were picking on the rest of us.

"Those Pesky Vegans" Re-examined


Veganism was portrayed as an extreme point at the end of a purportedly shared journey. Vegetarians (regardless of whether or not they had voiced intentions to actually go vegan) were lumped together with them, often protectively coddled as "potential" vegans. More often, they were condoned as "doing good" wherever they'd decided to "pause along their journey". So vegans were told to keep their "preaching" and "proselytizing" to themselves. In fact, those who failed to comply immediately were often heckled by a small handful of longtime regulars (who were often vague about their own animal use, while making it clear that they were financially well-off and tight with the site's financially well-off owners). Labels like "vegan police" and "holier-than-thou" were thrown around to shame vegans into silence. Many vegans left the forum altogether, since standing up for themselves (or for other animals while in "mixed" company) often escalated into a very public expulsion and (usually) banning. The vegans were viewed as the wrongdoers. Even within a so-called "veg" community, vegans were made to feel ashamed about expressing aloud (or in print, as the case may be) what they knew we really owe other animals if we take their interests--their lives--seriously. 

But you know what else? Watching what was going on had an impact. Hearing these "oh-so-extremist" vegan messages politely -- or passionately! -- pop up again and again? Watching vegans get shamed into silence for expressing themselves in what was supposed to be an inclusive community? It left me wondering why only the overlapping points -- the lowest common denominator, if you will -- were deemed acceptable to bring up. One way or another, even though I had not yet connected the dots to go vegan, the constant anti-vegan hostility was enough to make me look for a new community. I explored a few more places over the years, including one I helped build after experimenting with veganism and where (although the vegan vs. vegetarian dynamic was much healthier and much more respectful of veganism) I still found myself feeling as if I needed to censor myself. I had begun my transition towards veganism and I wanted to be able to talk about it without worrying about being accused of hurting the feelings of others who had no desire to go vegan. That said, being "around" other vegans was great, helping the vegan-curious who wanted to transition was validating. 


I couldn't as time went on, however, deal with the awkwardness of sharing a community with some folks who were vegetarian and who'd made it clear that they had no interest in or intention of going vegan. I was finally connecting the dots and finding myself meeting blank or incredulous stares when talking to friends or family about my decision. The community I needed at the time had to be more than a meatless mirror to what I was experiencing offline. I eventually stumbled across the Vegan Freak Radio podcasts and discovered the amazing online forum called "Vegan Freaks" where veganism was promoted, discussed and shared in a no-nonsense and unapologetic way. I'd finally found my cohort. No more excuses: I went and stayed vegan and it was a true relief.


Lather, Rinse, Repeat

With a perceived rise in interest in veganism on a local level, I recently joined a regional Facebook group set up for both vegetarians and vegans in my area. I thought it might be interesting to get to know other vegans offline. I soon got into a heated discussion with a vegetarian dog breeder who had stated outright that she had no interest in going vegan and that since the group was for both vegetarians and vegans, that she expected the vegans to respect her choice to continue participating in animal exploitation. She distorted my calm and objective criticism of breeding dogs for profit and human pleasure (particularly when millions are killed in shelters each and every year) and accused me of launching a personal attack. She, in turn, launched into a passive-aggressive defense of her "choices" calling me "judgmental" and insisting that I was making her feel unwelcome.

One astute member of the group messaged me to point out that the breeder had just recently appeared to be flaunting her animal use and trying to shame vegans into censoring themselves. She had criticized a photo someone had posted about the plight of dairy cows, outraged that it had been permitted in the group, insisting that it was offensive to those in the group who consume dairy. She'd then started up a discussion to get vegetarians to list off their favourite dairy cheeses. (Goading with gouda?) But her behaviour had been overlooked. Her outrage came to a head after my debate with her about dog breeding. 
As a result of my not bowing down and telling her that there's nothing wrong with using animals for pleasure and profit (or with breeding dogs into existence when so many are abandoned into shelters and killed each year), she made several furious posts threatening to leave the group and to form a separate group excluding vegans where "vegetarians wouldn't be judged".  It's one of the first hissy-fit tactics they'd teach you about in "Online Forums/Groups 101" if such a course existed. Make a lot of noise, play victim, garner sympathy and portray the person with whom you have a difference as a vicious bully. Many stepped up, showering her with her attention and reassurances that "different views" were respected in our group and that she should stay. She left anyway.I ended up getting a personal message from one of the group's moderators. I was told that I was being negative and "alienating" by calling animal use other than meat-eating unethical. I felt as if I'd been swooped back in time. I quote from the message: 

"We are all on the same page and our hearts are all in the right place. Some just aren't there yet and need love, encouragement and acceptance for the changes they do make and not criticism for the changes they haven't been able to make yet. Every little bit counts and should be encouraged. Something is better than nothing. Please keep your opinions about milk and eggs to yourself unless someone specifically asks you for them. Please do not criticize someone's livelihood or profession. This group is to unite us in our common cause and we should focus on the values we share and not on our differences. You're making vegans look unkind." 

It's sad enough that animals are used unapologetically by over 98% of the human population and that vegans are shamed into silence when walking around in the regular old world. To have the moderator of a group for vegans and vegetarians basically tell me to shut the fuck up about the ethics of animal use lest I offend someone who chooses to use them felt like way too many steps backwards.

Veganism Is Not Vegetarianism

It had been over 20 years since I had first encountered that sort of chastising in a "veg" community. Had absolutely nothing changed?
 But it got me thinking again about why these mixed groups don't work and wondering why on earth I had thought it would be any different at a local level. Basically, it was more of the same moral confusion I'd encountered over a decade earlier. Disagreements are pretty much a given whenever vegetarians and vegans share a space. Why? Because we're not the same. The truth is that you either deliberately choose to exploit animals for your pleasure and/or convenience or you choose to avoid -- as far as possible -- to exploit animals for your pleasure and/or convenience. Vegetarians who are not actively transitioning towards veganism choose to continue to participate in animal exploitation. Plant-based dieters who otherwise use animals and reject veganism as extreme or unnecessary choose to continue to participate in animal exploitation. They are no different than others who choose to do the same, whether those others are pescatarians, flexitarians, or eat-everything-arians. There are vegans and there are non-vegans. Sometimes there are non-vegans who are going vegan. But we need to stop assuming that all non-vegans are going vegan. We need to stop feeling obliged to lump ourselves in with non-vegans who are not going vegan and to sacrifice truth or to sacrifice vegan community because we're crossing our fingers that if we're nice enough, maybe those stubborn non-vegans will stop willingly participating in the torture and slaughter of other sentient beings.

And if we do share spaces, rather than choose the lowest common denominator as a guideline for behaviour or as a foundation for community standards 
(i.e. to act as if animal exploitation is OK), we should opt to raise the bar. I'm 100% behind helping others who want to transition. But these shared spaces -- if they are to successfully exist -- should be ones where vegans feel safe and where the non-vegans in them are actually actively and in good faith seeking help to go vegan. These spaces should be ones where vegan principles are respected, upheld and promoted. If a non-vegan hasn't gotten to the point where they are willing to behave accordingly in a space shared with vegans, then that individual has obviously not connected the dots about whether or why they should go vegan. That individual is no different from any other non-vegans outside of that space who thumb their noses at vegans or at veganism. And a space in which speciesism and exploitation are either condoned, shrugged off or promoted surely ain't the place to get anyone to connect any dots. This is especially so in "veg" communities or groups which are comprised of those who reject animal exploitation and of non-vegans who see no ethical issue with the continued human use of other animals.

You either reject animal exploitation or you don't. If you don't reject it, we're not "on the same team". We're not "on the same path". And you're not part of my vegan community. I don't want my vegan community to grow by using non-vegans as filler to make it seem larger than it is; I want my vegan community to grow by changing people's hearts and heads about what it is we owe other animals and to help them go vegan. I don't think that's unreasonable to ask.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Veganism (Which Isn't Veganism) Is All the Rage



It seems to be the standard now for online news publications to periodically -- or even permanently -- feature a column by someone who is either trying a plant-based diet for a predetermined period, or who is claiming to be going/to have gone vegan. I really wish that more of these columns would be written by folks who were actually inspired to authentically go vegan for ethical reasons involving their rejection of animal use, rather than seeing so many of them written by folks who have an interest in losing weight or have a half-hearted interest in appearing to care about the environment. Every so often, a passing reference is made to factory farms and animal welfare. There's often a paragraph with statistics about greenhouse gas tucked into these pieces and a quote from a dietician or nutritionist, but there rarely ever seems to be anything insightful or honest written about animal use. Basically, most of these columns are written by people who haven't really connected the dots and who are only interested in playing vegan for the sake of churning out some money-making words.

The UK's Swindon Advertiser, this week, offered up the same old, throwing in a few confusing spins for good measure. In "A more ethical way to go shopping", its news editor, Sue Smith, describes her dabblings in "the world of veganism". I am guessing that her "venture" into it in January was for a column describing her trying out a plant-based diet for a week or month. I haven't looked. I rolled my eyes at the very first line which includes the words "eat ethically" and "organic farm". Smith starts off in a confused mess by describing that she tried being vegan a few months ago, then decided to try to be mainly vegan (yeah, mainly vegan) moving forward, but treating herself to animal products "on high days and holidays". So, from the start it's made clear that Smith view animal-derived foods as tasty treats with which she can regularly reward herself. To figure out "where to shop" for these, she decides to go to an "organic farm".

Abbey Home Farm, her readers are told, is run by vegetarians. Although fruit and vegetables are grown there and sold in their shop, cows are also kept and killed to stock the shop with meat, milk, cheese, yogurt and butter. Long-term vegetarians who decided that they wanted "to produce food for the local people". So they took over a farm and added a shop on the premises: "
We wanted a shop where people could see the animals around them. They could see what they were eating," said co-owner Hillary Chester-Master. (I think she meant whom they were eating, but I digress... Vegetarians. Sigh.)

Then these two "long-term vegetarians" decided to set up a café on their farm. Smith calls it a "vegetarian café", adding that "
they do serve meat On Sundays – with just one choice of either chicken, beef, lamb or pork". It's ethically insignificant, of course, since there's no difference between producing dairy or meat for human consumption. But Smith has already shown veganism as being something which can make up a percentage of your diet (i.e. by being "mainly vegan"), so it should be no surprise that she would describe a café selling animal flesh as "vegetarian". I mean, why not at this point, since words and their definitions seem as insignificant to Smith as wether or not humans use or otherwise consume other animals. It's no surprise either that co-owner Hillary Chester-Master, "long-term vegetarian" would also refer to the café as "vegetarian" in the piece. I mean, she even refers to a chicken as "a week's worth of meals".

Smith then babbles about not wanting to support "intensive farming" after her "foray into veganism" and asserts that it's "satisfying (and important" to know the "origins of the animals whose lives would get taken for her pleasure and convenience and she describes herself as a kid in a candy store wandering around the shop and looking at the "food" around her. And so the rest of the article turns into an extended advertisement for Abbey Home Farm. 
Everything is 100% organic. It's up for a BBC food and farming award, the readers are told. Children are brought in to "learn about where their food comes from". The reader is basically lulled into embracing a charming, pastoral vision of what enslaving and slaughtering sentient beings can purportedly involve. The reader is presented this vision by someone who repeatedly touts vegan cred. And this is why I wish fewer non-vegans would make a buck pretending to be writing articles from a vegan-friendly angle. In the end, they're no better than speciesist endorsements for the reinforcement of the status quo. Smith is OK with that. Chester-Master is OK with that. The animals whose lives are stolen by both? Not so much.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On "Selective" Morality



It's Tuesday morning, so I've been sifting through various news articles and opinion pieces mentioning veganism. The headline "Why I believe selective veganism is the way forward" caught my eye. It seems an ongoing project for many to co-opt the term "vegan" and to water it down or otherwise alter it to include or promote deliberate animal use for pleasure or convenience. When I clicked on the link, the opinion piece's title became: "Struggling vegan? Why I believe selective veganism is the way forward" which better clarified the writer's likely angle to me. Veganism is haaard! Treat yourself with animal products to make it easier! I hopped that I was wrong, but these pieces have become so predictable.


"Selective Veganism" Explained


Lisa Bowman begins by defining "selective veganism" as "the vegan version of flexitarianism". Basically, she says that while the latter consists of people who are "mostly veggie" occasionally indulging themselves in meat, that "selective vegans" are people who are "mostly vegan" but who occasionally indulge themselves in dairy and eggs. Um. Yeah. "Here we go again," I thought.
Maybe you’re strictly vegan at home but flexible when you go out to eat? Perhaps you’re 100% vegan until you’re offered free food? Or maybe you won’t touch dairy unless you’re hungover as hell.
At least (i.e. at the very, very least) she acknowledges that "most vegans" would view this as a "cop-out" (no, really?), but she doesn't elaborate upon why they would any further, choosing instead to focus on all of the reasons most vegans would probably be better off cutting themselves some slack and, well, not be all that vegan.

Belonging (or How to Avoid Being an Outsider 101)


Bowman makes a huge -- and wrong -- assumption about vegans when she states that most of us she sees posting on sites like Instagram seem to have enormous vegan support networks. The truth is that most of us don't. Outside of major urban areas, most vegans with whom I've spoken have been fortunate if they've known more than 1-2 other vegans off the internet. Social networking helps with this a great deal, since it's a way for us to connect from a distance, or to meet up where we may not have otherwise crossed paths. Sadly, though, many of the new vegans who've written to me via the blog or my blog's Facebook page, though, have mentioned that they knew no other vegans "in real life".

So Bowman brings up socializing and focuses on eating out, saying that since her friends are all non-vegan, she can't eat at "vegan food joints" and finds herself left with only two options. She says she can either "
make do with what’s available for vegans on the menu, which invariably is either nothing or chips and a miserable side salad" or to eat animal products (she specifies that they be "vegetarian") and to not "stress about it". First of all, it should be pointed out that specifying that vegetarian dishes should be chosen is ethically meaningless, since there's no difference between consuming meat, dairy or eggs. In all cases, animals used for these are bred into existence for human pleasure and live wretched lives which end in slaughter. In the case of dairy and eggs, additional lives are taken whether they be of the calves removed from their mothers so that the milk meant for them can be stolen for humans, or the male chicks who end up killed at hatcheries. As for the rest of it? 

It's possible to socialize with people and to have it not involve food. However, if meals are involved, there can still be options which needn't involve what I'm guessing Bowman thinks would be strong-arming your non-vegan friends into a plant-based restaurant. Bowman says she's in Liverpool. As someone who lives in a tiny city (really a big town masquerading as a city) with a population of less than 57,000, I don't have the luxury Bowman mentions of even having access to a strinctly plant-based restaurant. That said, even my small city has at least a couple of vegetarian (and very vegan-friendly) restaurants, a café with half of its menu consisting of vegan-friendly options and then Middle Eastern or Asian restaurants with a good number and variety of dishes perfectly suitable for vegans, as well as pubs and restaurants with at least 1-2 dishes like stir-fries or veggie burgers whose condiments can be switched out if they're dairy-based. Heck, we have at least two pizza places offering plant-based cheese and a popular downtown restaurant offering Daiya and cashew-based mayo as substitutes. I can think of only 3-4 places in the downtown core out of nearly 30 eating establishments where you might find yourself stuck with nothing but french fries.

Is it really be so difficult in a city the size of Liverpool to suggest a place to friends which would have something suitable on its menu? Bowman makes it sound as if your choices are limited to either 1) depriving yourself of the company of your friends, or being with them and 2) depriving yourself of food unless you compromise your ethics to share a table with them. I mean, I just looked at the Happy Cow listings for Liverpool and am envious. 
Honestly, though, if it really came down to it -- if you really found yourself faced with eating fries or a salad with no other options available -- then, so what? I've been asked out to pubs by friends who've shrugged upon realizing that I had no other options but fries on a given menu and I've ordered the fries and made a mental note to avoid the establishment in the future. I don't understand how a vegan whould -- or should be made to -- feel obliged to purchase animal products in such a situation.

On Selfish Pleasure


In a section titled "So that you don't suck all of the joy out of eating" (i.e. another of the excuses she presents for not being vegan), she admits that her weakness is halloumi. She "loves" it, she reveals. She "loves it" when she's hungover and has it "three times a year" and those three times apparently "bring (her) so much happiness, it outweighs the ethical guilt (she feels). Basically, her own selfish pleasure trumps ethics. So what if kicking a puppy made her happy? Or tripping an elderly person to watch them fall? It's confusing when further along in the article, she cites this same halloumi consumption as having led to her feeling physically ill and then goes on to link eating a "clean" diet with eating a plant-based diet, and eating that plant-based diet with orthorexia and then deciding to continue indulging in halloumi and other animal products for mental health reasons. I won't write about this, since we've already seen plenty of the "I listened to my body" confessionals by "ex-vegans" and Bowman doesn't really provide any clear information that her anecdote was any different.

I don't think that Bowman ever clearly refers to herself as a vegan in the article (which is a good thing for many reasons), but it quickly becomes obvious that the piece is less a "how to help struggling vegans" one than Bowman's own self-defensiveness about her own personal choice to continue using other animals and viewing her doing so as somehow treating or rewarding herself. This self-defensiveness becomes even more obvious later in the article when it takes a more hostile turn.
 


A Good Vegan is a Quiet Vegan


Bowman writes that unless you're a "shouty" vegan, most people won't know that you're vegan so that having to disclose that one is vegan is "awkward". She brings up for instances of being invited to someone's home for dinner or where coworkers surprise you with food. The workplace awkwardness from the latter, I think, would be better avoided altogether if her coworkers simply knew she was vegan in the first place (although by this point in the article, it's obvious that she isn't). Perhaps her own awkwardness comes from having already eaten animal products in front of her coworkers and, thus, feeling hypocritical about calling herself a "vegan" at work, then having to explain why she arbitrarily shifts her boundaries in other circumstances. In this case, I think that being consistent about her ethics would probably be a better solution than using her inconsistency as an additional excuse to further consume animal products. But for an actual vegan, I think that simply clearly self-identfying as vegan could stave off a lot of possible awkwardness.

As for dinner invitations? It's pretty commonplace these days for people to identify or clarify their dietary requirements whenever sharing meals is brought up. But I guess I could see how someone who chooses to side-step ethics to feel a part of the non-vegan gang eating out might be conflicted about asking members of that gang to take her (non-existent?) ethics into consideration when they invite her into their homes for a meal.
Bowman also thinks that explaining that you're vegan entails explaining why you're vegan, and that explaining why you're vegan is "patronising" and to be avoided. (I'm guessing this is where she thinks the "shouty" vegans come in.) She states that rather than risk being patronising, she would choose to exploit other animals. (Note, though, that she again draws an ethically meaningless line here, asserting that she'd consume dairy "to avoid an awkward situation" but would not do so with "meat".)  She brings up travel and mentions that during a stint working at a yoga camp in India, all of the food made available to her contained meat and dairy and that she would have been a "pr*ck" to her hosts if she had abstained. Basically,

Bowman makes it clear, however, that it's not just a question of what she considers to be good manners to eat whatever food is provided to her as someone who presents as eating anything; she throws in somewhat flippantly that she'll eat non-vegan food that's free, since "free food tastes better". 


On Letting the Haters Keep Hating


Bowman also brings up that to avoid getting into a debate about veganism with people who might be antagonistic, she will choose to deliberately eat animal products in front of them and to verbally self-identify as not being vegan. This has got to be one of the most bizarre things I've read in a long while. Of course, at this point in the article, we know that she neither is, nor views herself as a vegan in the sense of the word in which most understand and accept it (regardless of how she later goes on to describe herself as "95% vegan"), so these reasons she continues to list off become more and more confusing. She's writing about how vegans should behave by explaining how she, as a non-vegan, opts to behave in certain situations. This one is no different. I think there are probably much better ways -- certainly more ethical ways -- to avoid or to get out of an unwanted debate about veganism for an actual vegan than to eat animal products and to distance oneself from the term. Bowman seems to have internalized so many negative anti-vegan stereotypes, though, that she can't even actually put herself in the shoes of an actual vegan to consider any other options.

This is evident in her stating that her so-called "selective veganism" allows you to "distance yourself from the extreme vegans". By "extreme" she cites vegans, who confided to other vegans in a Facebook group she had joined, that sitting at a table on Christmas day with non-vegan family members and watching them eat an animal was upsetting to them. She suggests that they should just suck it up
and "get on with it". She then misses the point made by these vegans entirely by insisting:
Just because someone eats meat or milk doesn’t make them a bad person. Their heart may just lie in other ethics.
So, ruining everyone’s Christmas by muttering ‘murderer’ darkly at the dinner table every time Gramps lifts a piece of turkey to his lips isn’t okay. 
There's a difference between leaning on fellow-vegans for support in a private setting (e.g. in a Facebook group) because something is upsetting to you, and being passive-aggressive and/or rude at a dinner table. Also, just because someone's behaviour is upsetting to you doesn't necessarily mean that you think they're a "bad person" in general. Vegans learn to compartmentalize when living the lives in which we constantly interact with other non-vegans. We know that exploiting others is wrong and we live with the reality that over 98% of the people around us actively participate in that cycle, including people who have been our loved ones since before we went vegan. We do still see the behaviour as wrongful, though. But what on earth does it mean to say "(t)heir heart may just lie in other ethics"? It's gibberish to me (but then so is much of this article, to some extent or another).

The "Takeaway"?


She finishes off the article with the typical reducetarianist arguments that "every little bit helps". She uses an argument I'm used to hearing from groups like the misleadingly named welfarist group "Vegan" Outreach, that eating some animal products makes veganism (sic) more "sustainable in the long run". Let's get this straight: Vegans don't deliberately consume or otherwise use easily avoidable animal products. So, if you deliberately consume or otherwise use easily avoidable animal products, you're not a vegan. Your continuing to deliberately participate in animal exploitation doesn't make your "veganism" more "sustainable"; it makes your continued animal exploitation more "sustainable" for you. It just reflects that you haven't taken a long hard look at your own speciesism and that you haven't rejected the notion that other animals exist for human pleasure or convenience. The former is quite significant and the latter is pretty much what going vegan entails.

Veganism isn't a diet imposed on you against your will. Vegans choose to go vegan because it's quite honestly the very least we owe other animals. It's not something you can adhere to 95% of the time while viewing it as a treat to gobble up this or that animal part or product for your own pleasure or convenience. If you view consuming or using other animals as a "treat" to which you're entitled for otherwise depriving yourself of using them, you really (no, really) need to ask yourself what's going on in your heart and head. Criticising veganism as being "too all-or-nothing" if it doesn't involve your choosing to gobble up your beloved dairy-based halloumi misses the point of veganism entirely. Bowman may view deliberately using animals as being a her being a "selective vegan" or "struggling vegan" when the plain truth is that it's neither. It's just ordinary ol' non-veganism.

Ultimately, the only valid thing Bowman has written in this entire article is that most vegans would view her position -- one advocating animal use for vegans as a means to stay "vegan" -- as a "cop-out". It's a "cop-out" at the very least. Sadly, though, Bowman's piece is a pretty standard example of the kind of speciesism reinforced and promoted by a wide number of purported animal advocates today. We need to do better. We need to do so much more.

Monday, January 09, 2017

On Whinging About Going Vegan When Not Going Vegan


Earlier this morning, on the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page, I posted a link to a Huffington Post blog by Lee Willscroft-Ferris, founder of TheQueerness.com. Its first post was basically an announcement to set it up, presenting the context behind it that Willscroft-Ferris -- a longtime vegetarian -- had decided that going vegan was the next "logical step" for them to take, describing the ethical reasons behind doing so. Although the blog title ("Veganism: My Journey Towards Ethical Eating") is unfortunate, Willscroft-Ferris does describe going vegan in terms of overall lifestyle choices and as a "political" act, so hopefully it won't ultimately hinge upon food, but will explore all aspects of animal use. I'm keeping my fingers crossed although sometimes when it comes to writings about veganism in mainstream media, doing so feels like waiting for crumbs to be thrown.

Usually, so very many of these types of opinion pieces in the media end up being insincere bandwagon-hopping attempts to just drop the word "vegan" in an article without the article's ever actually having anything to do with veganism. Someone will decide to put themselves on a diet without doing any research whatsoever, then spend the article or series whinging about how deprived and inconvenienced they felt because they had no ethical issue with using animals in the first place. This is almost always the case with anyone who adopts a different diet without preparing themselves for it, though. Throw into the equation that veganism isn't just a diet and that there's this little thing called "motivation" which factors into the decision made by those deciding to actually go vegan in earnest and it's no wonder that these types of articles so often present "going vegan" as an awful experience.

Take for instance this article on the German Deutsche Well (DW) broadcaster's website. In "Visiting vegan: Could you give up animal products for a week?", British Berlin-based reporter Louise Osborne decides to embark upon the #howgreenami challenge (which I think is an environmentally-focused short-term thing launched by someone or other on Twitter) by purportedly "living vegan for a week". I found myself shaking my head from the beginning of the article. She describes having to replace warm fur-lined leather boots for cold Converse sneakers (there are plenty of winter footwear options available on the market which aren't made using animal products and which still keep your feet comfortable warm). Thus, from the start, "living vegan" is portrayed as miserable. In fact, just two days and four paragraphs in, Osborne states that all she feels is "resentment".

That it's self-depriving is also drilled home as the Brit writes about having had to give up her morning tea, because she usually drinks it with "a splash of milk" and hasn't been able to subject herself to the absolute horror of trying out a plant-based milk in it. She writes: "I'm not quite that desperate … not yet, anyway." So much for even exploring other options. She just assumes that those options would be hideous.

She pauses at this point to drop some statistics at this point about the rise in veganism in the United Kingdom, mentions the oft-cited UN report on the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gases, discusses the popularity of veganism in her adopted home of Berlin, then jumps right back into writing about her woeful experiment.

She decided to point out the social inconvenience of going vegan by bringing up an unplanned and unresearched restaurant outing with friends. The restaurant chosen ends up being one specializing in cheese fondue and grilled meat and as her friends encourage her to "cheat", she orders up creamless pumpkin soup and french fries. As her friends indulge in fondue, she whinges that she feels "left out" even though she doesn't "even like cheese". At this point, the writer's tone seems more akin to that of a sullen or petulant child's than it does one befitting a reporter earnestly exploring an angle for a story. She admits to having "cheated" and to having had wine she knew was processed with animal products and writes that "(i)gnorance is bliss".

She complains about visiting a vegan-friendly restaurant and ending up with chocolate she felt was sub-par compared to the milk chocolate she loves. Then, back to this weird confusion about clothing and her choosing to portray vegans as suffering through the winter months, she complains about her cotton scarves failing to keep her warm. She brings up the word "deprivation" to launch into the token interview with someone presented as an authority on old-hat veganism, writing that she wanted to know how "they lived" with deprivation. So she goes to a market and talks to a purported "health" vegan, then to someone motivated by animal welfare and treatment.


Osborne takes the opportunity to discuss treatment, writing that although she's concerned about it, that she doesn't "
absolutely oppose animals being slaughtered for food". She then brings up that old overused "but if we don't use wool, we'd have to use fossil fuels to make clothing" excuse. She then returns to her token vegan expert, the welfarist, who admits to her that she still uses leather and believes in making her "own rules" about which animal products she uses. She tells Osborne that she doesn't like being told what to do. Osborne wraps up her article agreeing with this attitude, referring to veganism as overly "strict" and finishing her piece off on an "every little bit counts" note.


The (un)funny thing is that these days, many welfarist animal advocates would likely read this article and repost it, presenting it as a positive thing and as a "victory" in terms of veganism being written about in mainstream media. To me, articles like these just reinforce the same old tired lies peddled by large welfarist organisations that veganism is too hard, too extreme, too alienating to the general public, too inflexible, et al. It's articles like these which these organisations use as "proof" that going vegan should be presented not as the least one can do for other animals, but as the most. Articles like these get used to argue in favour of focusing public education on flexitarianism, reducetarianism and all other forms of what is, essentially, excusetarianism. What we need to remind ourselves is that articles like these aren't about going vegan and that if we don't speak up about what going vegan really is that nobody will connect the dots. If we don't dispel the lies and bust the stereotypes, nobody else will. Louise Osborne certainly won't.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

On Misguidance

(This was taken from a January 18 post on the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page. I'm posting it here because I encountered something similar again late yesterday evening, which left me sad again at how ineffective -- even counterproductive -- some of us are in keeping the focus on what's important as we welcome new vegans into our community and offer them our support.)

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In a small vegan Facebook group this morning, I saw a thread in which a young mother of a 5- and 7-year-old who'd just gone vegan reach out to ask about alternatives to some of the foods her kids have enjoyed as treats or as convenience foods. She pointed out that as a parent with a cooperative partner (who is open to following her lead) that it may very well be up to her to decide what to feed her little ones, but that one's a fickle eater and that she's hoping to transition them to plant-based foods with the least amount of hassle. She was asking about things like Daiya and veggie dogs, asking if tater tots were vegan-friendly, which ice creams were better, etc.

Instead of answers to her specific questions, she received a big mess of a lecture about feeding her kids junk food. When she pointed out that they also eat fruits and vegetables and that she had those covered -- that she needed help with her other questions -- 3-4 people basically made it clear to her that they thought she was a bad mom 1) for having fed her kids junk in the first place, and a bad vegan 2) for not completely switching them over to an organic whole foods diet instead of seeking vegan-friendly alternatives to the junk foods they enjoyed. She insisted again that she does feed her kids as much healthy stuff as she can and that she wasn't looking for information on how she should be feeding them from A to Z, but would be grateful for advice in response to her other questions.


A few people became indignant at this and one went so far as to tell her that she was the sort of person who gives vegans "a bad name" since her kids will "no doubt end up malnourished and the subject of (medical/legal) intervention". Not surprisingly, she told them to go stuff themselves with beans and left the group.

For the everlovin' sake of pete, don't ever let this be the sort of "support" you give other new vegans who seek community and guidance. Is proper nutrition as important for vegans as it is for everyone else? Of course. But going vegan doesn't mean having to embrace a whole foods, fat/salt/sugar-free, nothing-out-of-a-box diet. Most of us eat convenience foods from time to time and are doing perfectly fine. Most importantly, though, for someone who is new to veganism and who is earnestly trying to transition family members along with her, convenience foods can be useful. To shame someone for using them accomplishes nothing, especially when that someone is already very likely being shamed by non-vegan friends and family members around her for wanting to transition her kids in the first place. Vegan parents face enough invalidation from non-vegans around them; they should expect better from other vegans, shouldn't they?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

On Absence from Blogging

I've been talking about blogging with a friend whose advocacy I've respected for a long while. I've had more than a few people ask me why I haven't been writing for the last year. It's weird looking back at how I used to blog so frequently, whenever a relevant story or opportunity arose and then at how my own responses have diminished in frequency. To cite "burnout" would be obvious, I guess. The politics in animal advocacy have left me feeling a bit fried. I used to find strength in my involvement, but not so much these days. That's not to say that I haven't felt the urge to recognize or applaud others whose work I've continued to admire, appreciate and promote. A lot of my advocacy has shifted over to the sharing of articles on Facebook on My Face Is on Fire's page and I've spent a large chunk of time maintaining and moderating an international cuisine page there, as well.  I've commented there, for sure, often rambling on in status updates. I've just neglected to update the blog. I hadn't realized how much I'd stayed away from it until this week, when I noted that I'd only posted twice this year.

I hope to get back into blogging. I've spent more time being introspective, I guess, than in paying attention to the politics in the movement. I've kept an eye on some of the discussions had. There've been so many. I hope to feel more comfortable sharing my own insights into all of it as an abolitionist vegan, as I've done before, but adding more to it. I'd like, I think, to drill down a bit more, to explore how things affect vegans on a day-to-day sort of level -- to continue to offer support to fellow vegans who forge on and who strive to share the vegan message with others. I'd like to be more earnest about some of what that entails while continuing to share how essential and simple it is to make changes to our lives once we've identified and chosen to reject the speciesist views we're taught to embrace from the ground up our entire lives. We need to support each other as vegans. When it comes to animal advocacy, we need to support each other as abolitionists. I don't expect activists who've been hurt by others to support those others, but would like to see less of that hurting going on. I'm not talking about glossing over facts and honest discourse here, or about silencing valid criticism. There needs to be honest discourse. We need to be challenging each other. We do. But we need to consider being each other's sounding boards first and foremost. We can criticize constructively if we leave our egos out of it and focus on the fact that billions of lives depend on our getting our collective shit together. Particularly when the alternative for most who are paying attention is to listen, instead, to the blaring welfarist voices championing SICs and more "gentle" forms of animal exploitation.

I want to keep writing. I need to keep writing. That said, so many others are doing it so very well that I plan to spend some time here highlighting them. Their work as abolitionists has been inspirational to me, regardless of their political allegiances. I can't not continue trying to do something, because the overwhelming majority of the people around me continue to use others -- to contribute to their torture and slaughter. My friends and family contribute to the torture and slaughter of others. So this little bit that I can do to try to get people to reconsider their own participation in all of this is the least I can do over and above refusing to participate in it myself. It's the very least I can do.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Veganism is Ethics in Action


Striking at the Root

I've seen a few people on social networking sites post this recent article by Ginny Messina, aka The Vegan RD. It's called "Preventing Ex-Vegans: The Power of Ethics" and stresses the importance of raising the issue of ethics -- the moral reasons we should not participate in animal exploitation -- when talking to others about veganism. Basically, Messina points out what has seemed to me over the years to be obvious. Unless we strike at the root and address speciesism and make our animal advocacy about the animals, other humans are less likely to take animals seriously enough to leave them alone in a meaningful and permanent way. If one was to skim over the article and was already convinced that talking about ethics is key when talking to non-vegans about what we owe other animals, the takeaway from the article could very well be that Messina reiterates this.

Whatchoo Eating?

Messina points out how using health or dietary arguments can fail. So many welfarist groups concern themselves with health-related arguments, stressing that a shift in diet will lead to improved health and appearance -- to weight-loss and to a sort of untouchable state of being where mosquitoes will never again gnaw on you and you'll never again experience the sniffles and will forever safeguard yourself against cancer and any number of chronic diseases. It only takes one experience refuting any of such claims, whether from an ordinary lapse in someone's immune system to stave off a bad seasonal flu, the failure to become sylphlike or a symptom of something more insidious perhaps passed down thanks to genetics, exposure or previous habits to leave someone rejecting such arguments. Worse is when vegans who actually do get sick (as humans are wont to do) are singled out as having gotten sick because, of course, they've been deprived of proper nourishment and of the magical benefits of consuming various parts of another sentient being's decaying body or secretions. Worst is when vegans start shaming other vegans for not being glowing-skinned exemplars of perfect health or for not being of a weight deemed ideal by mainstream society.

Veganism = Vegan Diets = Vegetarianism?
It's problematic to me that Messina uses the terms "vegetarian" and "vegan" interchangeably and that she seems to equate eating a plant-based diet to being vegan. The term "vegetarian" involves the likelihood of continued involvement in animal exploitation, so it seems weird to talk about how to motivate people to remain either vegetarian or vegan with a focus on ethics being key. Plant-based eating or following a so-called "vegan diet" also involves animal exploitation in other areas. The thing is that the animals who are exploited and/or killed don't care whether or not they end up in our bellies. Vegans realize that it's not that animals and their secretions are eaten that's the issue, but that animals are exploited and treated as things in the first place. Veganism isn't just a diet. So when Messina writes that "[o]ne of the reasons people abandon vegan diets is that they lose faith in its benefits" she's right in the sense that people's interest in fad diets waxes and wanes according to results and expectations, especially if those expectations rest upon claims which are "far-fetched". But it's when she equates following a plant-based diet to being vegan -- i.e. to losing one's interest in a plant-based diet as potentially leading one to become a purported "ex-vegan" that the article becomes a bit problematic for me. She writes that "health" arguments may motivate people to go "vegan", but the truth is that all health-based arguments do is motivate people to change what they put into their mouths, mostly. Vegans reject participation in animal exploitation. A health-based argument may lead someone to eschew -- to some extent or other -- eating animals and their secretions, but it won't convince anyone to stop buying leather shoes, wearing beeswax lip-balm, taking the kids to a petting zoo or to not buy a purebred puppy from a professional breeder.

Messina states that "the problem of ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians is a serious one". Honestly, I'm perfectly alright with ex-vegetarians and don't see them as a problem at all. I'd love vegetarians to become ex-vegetarians and to choose, instead, to reject their participation in animal use and to go vegan. There is absolutely no ethical difference between someone's eating and otherwise using other animals on all levels (e.g. your average non-vegan), someone's partially limiting the animal products they put in their bellies and otherwise continuing to use other animal products (i.e. your average vegetarian), or someone's completely limiting the animal products they put in their bellies and otherwise continuing to use other animal products (i.e. your average plant-based diet follower). They're all speciesist. They all involve complicity in the continued victimization of other sentient beings for humans' pleasure and convenience. So, yes, Messina is right that there needs to be a focus on the ethical arguments to not use those other sentient beings. Except that you can't really use ethical arguments in any sort of clear, consistent and unequivocal way to bring about permanent change to how humans view others in terms of their being ours to use when you lump in deliberate exploiters with vegans.

In her concluding paragraph, which seems to deliver the clear message that ethics should drive vegan advocacy, Messina unfortunately again focuses on variations of animal use, talking about "vegan and vegetarian diets'. Yeah, ethics is important. But so is figuring out where we should be consistent and unequivocal. It's stilly to talk about ethics when promoting a so-called "vegan diet" and even more so when talking about a "vegetarian diet". I mean, if you're going to talk about ethics, how on earth can you talk about propping up what are, honestly, choices which allow for animal exploitation? If Messina wants to deliver a message concerning how to get people to both go and stay "vegan", then it really confuses the issue when she focuses on diet or says "vegan or vegetarian" without explicitly emphasizing that what we need to accomplish in talking about ethics is educating folks that using animals at all, whether we're eating them or their secretions or otherwise contributing to their exploitation, is wrong.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How Not to Be an Annoying Vegan?



College Education Fail? 

Hot on the heels of her article from November called "How to be a vegan without being annoying", Castleton State College's The Spartan's own staff writer Jorah McKinley has offered up yet another badly-written rant to serve as filler for her paper. In an attempt to drill home the point to all that standing up for yourself (never mind standing up for other animals) is annoying, McKinley copied and pasted her previous article into a new document to submit to her editors who, in turn, managed to prove that either 1) Castleton State College's journalism program is in trouble, or 2) The Spartan is in desperate need of a proofreader with a minimum elementary school education. McKinley omits the first sentence from her previous article to update her reader that she has apparently been "a vegan" for a whopping eight months now. 

Of course, she misrepresents veganism as a diet, self-identifying as having herself "adopted a vegan diet", so at least it's clear that she's writing about vegans from the outside looking in. (Although it may explain some of what seems to be her animosity towards vegans, it neither excuses it, nor does it excuse what's ultimately just poor writing all 'round.) She begins by introducing her reader to all kinds of hostile stereotypical caricatures of vegans (whom she lumps in with vegetarians).
I realized that there are a lot of vegans and vegetarians who are just terrible. We all know the type. They’ve got their condescending tones and their upturned noses and their crunchy vegan granola. Nobody likes these people, no one. Don’t be one.
It's sort of amusing that she should use the term "condescending" to describe tone, given the tone of her own article. Worse, though, is that she actually encourages her non-vegan readers to pass the article along to non-vegan friends. You know? To help them not be annoying. It's pretty simple, McKinley tells her vegan and non-vegan readers. She writes that the "one rule" that's not meant to be broken lest you become one of those awful creatures is that you never talk about veganism. In case you might not get it, she spells it out in caps for you: "DON’T TALK ABOUT IT!" It's not meant to be discussed in your "everyday life", she tells us. It's a "personal choice" she repeats to her readers (while reiterating that she interprets veganism as being a "diet").
They [sic] way you choose to eat is a personal choice. Not every single person you come into contact with needs a full description of the moral high ground you think you’re standing on. So DON’T talk about it unless someone asks, which they probably won’t, because no one cares.
Because obviously saying anything about veganism is preachy and awful and should be kept to oneself unless someone asks. And if they ask? Then for the loving sake of pete, don't have the rudeness to give someone an honest answer! You can either (according to McKinley) 1) be an asshole and freak out on them, or 2) keep it to yourself. There's really no grey area, McKinley makes clear. You're either a stealthy vegan or you are condescending scum, "[p]ushing you’re opinions on innocent and unsuspecting bystanders".

This is the message McKinley not only seeks to deliver to those she would view as her "fellow" vegans to more or less shout them down, but the message she wants to make clear to all of the non-vegans at her school, to spread her own animosity by fostering it in the rest of Castleton State College's students. What a true hero she is to her school's vegan students, staff and faculty, no? (Ssssh!)

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Vegan Food Bloggers


I Love Vegan Food Bloggers, Yes I Do!


I love (love, love, love!) vegan food bloggers. I appreciate and respect folks who have the time, energy, creativity, knowledge and skill to concoct all kinds of amazing plant-based dishes, whether to appeal to novice cooks or hardcore foodies. In past years, I would often just go through my list of favourite food blogs and write up posts, organized by theme or a particular ingredient, with links to the various scrumptious recipes from the sites I have perused and loved. I loved promoting food bloggers and am quick to cough up links to favourites to anyone who asks.

In the past when I've promoted vegan food blogs, I've sometimes been asked by the odd animal activist: "Is it an abolitionist site?" Almost always, I would shrug and say: "It's a recipe blog, not a philosophy or political blog." As far as I was concerned, as long as someone did a fine job of creating and presenting tasty and tempting recipes, that's all that really mattered. In fact, I've generally preferred blogs whose writers steer clear of any philosophical or political discussions. My reason for this isn't that I don't think a vegan food blog is a great place to do vegan advocacy. In fact, I do. I've talked to many vegan food bloggers and cookbook authors, though, who've pointed out that it's time-consuming enough to figure out a recipe, test it, perfect it, plug it into step-by-step instructions, take mouth-watering photos of it and then present it in a complete well-edited package to appeal to vegan and non-vegan readers.

I'll Pass on the Welfarism, Thanks!

I'll admit that I usually side-step food blogs where groups like HSUS or PETA are very obviously promoted. I do understand that one of the ways in which some food bloggers end up increasing their readership is to catch the attention of some of the welfarist movers and shakers. I'm guessing that a single mention in an article by some of the talking heads of the welfarist movement could easily not just triple or quadruple a blogger's audience, but take that blogger from being virtually unknown outside of a small circle of loyal followers and launch her (or him) to vegan foodie superstardom with ad revenue, donated products, cookbook deals, et al. More than one vegan food blogger has mentioned to me that as much as they wish they could actively promote abolitionist principles, that the welfare-bashing associations that go with it usually leave them passed over by the wide majority of vegans (or others seeking out plant-based recipes) who align themselves with welfarist groups and causes.

"I'm out to share yummy vegan recipes and to make life easier for those who aren't handy in the kitchen," said one food blogger to me recently. "I'd rather leave the ethics and politics to those who have the time, knowledge and patience." And quite honestly? I have no issue with that. I'd rather see a vegan food blogger be focused and successful at what (s)he does and stay apolitical than promote welfarist organizations. I'd also rather see a food blogger be focused and successful at what (s)he does than see that blogger engage in awkward or half-hearted advocacy that ends up just confusing his or her readers.

And When Something Like This Comes Up?

Around a month ago, I was scrolling through my vegan food blog feed. I follow a lot of them, primarily since (like many vegans) I love to cook, but also since I manage an international vegan recipes page of sorts on Facebook and am always looking for recipes to share there. The headline "10 Ways to be Vegan" grabbed my intention immediately. It was on a blog called Namely Marly. Expecting the best, I was left sighing and shaking my head just a few paragraphs in. I shared a link with a vegan friend, quipping: "Could have been straight outta The Onion, no?" and finished the article. It was so nonsensical that I kept waiting for a "punch-line". I found none.

The tip-off should have been Marly's celebration of the latest celebrities to go on a short term plant-based diet weight-loss cleanse. Oh golly, oh gee! The fact that they stuck to it for 22 whole days left Marly giddy with excitement and referencing Jay-Z as left pondering whether he's stay on a "plant-based diet or become a semi- or part-time vegan".

Marly proceeds to ask if we can be "vegan by degrees". When I saw this, I thought that she would perhaps discuss transitioning and how it happens in steps in an obvious and deliberate manner towards eliminating our consumption of animal products. Instead, Marly chooses to use "vegan by degrees" to describe humans who don't, in fact, intend to remove themselves from the cycle of animal exploitation. First, she keeps conflating veganism with "a vegan diet". (If you're actually reading this blog post, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that you already know that veganism is not a diet, right?) She mentions people to whom she's spoken who "started a vegan diet" and then found it too hard to do every day and to commit to for the long haul. She quips: "And all this thinking led me to a conclusion: you don’t have to be 'whole hog' to be vegan."

Marly then goes gets entangled in the same-old "all-or-nothing" argument that anti-vegans often use to try to undermine veganism by insisting that we shouldn't bother even trying to go vegan, since there is purportedly no such thing as a 100% vegan. You know the ones? They argue that since there are unavoidable forms of animal use in the world that we should excuse away indulging in the avoidable forms? For instance, they will sometimes argue that since insects and small mammals are destroyed in fields in agriculture, that it's hypocritical for vegans to eat vegetables and then point out that it's unethical to consume meat, dairy, eggs, to support circuses or rodeos, et al. She begins with the straw-manish premise that the definition of veganism "is to eat or behave in a manner that causes zero animal suffering" and then after offering up examples of unavoidable animal suffering caused by humans, concludes that it's only logical that anyone who acknowledges that these (unavoidable) forms of animal use and abuse exist should easily "understand [her] concept of [what she calls] Vegan by Degrees". Her ten "ways" to be vegan?

1) Dietary Vegan

Marny's first pick falls in line with the understanding of veganism she presents earlier in her piece, which is of veganism as a diet. She specifies that that the only forms of animals use of concern to these "vegans" involved what they put into their mouths and bellies.

2) Ethical Vegan

Here she describes actual vegans who (gasp!) apparently take veganism "to the next level" by eschewing animal products they don't put into their mouths and bellies. They're the hardcore extremist vegans, of course. This second point of hers really serves to remind me of how I loathe when animal activists (even if innocuously so) qualify the term "vegan" with the word "ethical", since it leaves the door wide open for others to insert different qualifiers (e.g. see Marly's first point for an example).

3) Green Vegan

These are apparently vegans who eschew all animal products, just like ethical vegans, but do so for environmental reasons. Because apparently visiting the zoo contributes to global warming. But seriously, folks... There have been so many pro-animal use arguments and justifications made on behalf of saving the environment, that trying to argue that there's such a thing as a "green vegan" who rejects all forms of animal use that a so-called "ethical vegan" would is bizarre. I've heard people argue over the benefit of using leather -- a slaughterhouse by-product -- rather than using fossil fuels or other chemicals to make synthetic replacements. Some have even argued that the energy used up in making and distributing processed meat substitutes leave a heavier ecologically destructive footprint than growing, slaughtering and consuming your own backyard bunnies. The list goes on...

4) Raw Vegan

See #1 but unplug your oven..

5) Plant-based Vegan

This is apparently a "dietary vegan" who won't eat processed foods. Even if those processed foods are plant-based. This is a new one for me. The term "plant-based" has been used widely by all kinds of cookbook authors, athletes and so on during the last few years who've at least been candid about their promotion of a strict vegetarian diet versus trying to pretend that they are promoting a type of veganism. Why Marly has chosen to try to redefine this is just plain weird. Although I guess that when you are attempting to try to fabricate a list of ten supposed "degrees of veganism" that you're bound to yank anything out of the ether that you can. No bonus points for originality here, though.

6) The Paris Vegan

This. This made me chortle. Marly references the so-very-often-mocked Peter Singer's "Paris exception", which is where Singer says that it's OK to exploit animal products if you're on vacation or a guest in someone's home and don't want to appear rude. I have heard vegan eyes rolling in unison from hundreds -- thousands -- of miles away over this one. (OK, so there's a bit of hyperbole involved in the previous sentence...) It's funny that Marly would bring it up as a legitimate type of veganism, but I suspect that this would be completely lost on her.

7) VB6

Vegan Before 6 -- Mark Bittman's fad diet. You know, the one where you can call yourself vegan as long as you don't consume animal products for 1-2 meals a day. Then for the third, you can have the bacon double-cheeseburger and milkshake with a side of foie gras and still pat yourself on the back for being... ungh... vegan.

8) Weekday/Weekend Vegan

So this is for those for whom something like the Vegan Before 6 "type" of veganism would be just too dang hard. Marly's offering you a better option: Just go vegan on the weekends or somethin'. It's like Meatless Monday X 2 (but presumably with dairy and eggs, though Marly hasn't really specified this and given all of her other so-called definitions, I hardly dare speculate as to how fast and loose she's chosen to play this one. I'll err on the side of caution and guess that it may very well involve just not eating meat on weekends. Or maybe just not eating white chickens who've been raised in Maryland. Yeah. That's it.

9) Virtually Vegan

This is basically a lacto-ovo vegetarian. But Marly uses the entry as an opportunity to argue on behalf of eating honey: "You know, if you think about it, honey is a very natural sweetener and bee keepers are very motivated to take good care of their bees."

10) Travel Vegan

This is sort of like the so-called Paris Vegan mentioned earlier, except instead of option to consume animal products to perhaps not inconvenience a host while you're travelling, you opt to consume animal products to not inconvenience yourself and to not deprive yourself of a beautiful cultural experience involving the torture and slaughter of another being.

Yes, she really wrote that list. Yes, she is actually serious about it. In fact, the rest of her piece is devoted to encouraging her readers to take it easy on themselves and to be flexible about their "vegan" participation in animal exploitation, outing herself as a comfortable "90-95%" vegan. She writes:
At some point in time you’re going to have to make a decision about what percentage of veganism you can afford or be happy with. For me, that 90 – 95% range works just fine. On a day-to-day basis I don’t eat any meat, dairy, or eggs. I even read the labels on my garments and shoes and do my best to avoid the ones made with leather. But I stop there. I don’t call the manufacturer to find out if the glue that was used in the shoe I want to buy was made from animal products. And I don’t ask the server if the bun that comes with my veggie burger has egg in it.
Marly even takes it further by engaging in that old familiar vegan-shaming that groups like Vegan Outreach engage in to make vegans feel guilty about actually making an effort to avoid animal products. She begins by bringing up a scenario where a vegan is served non-vegan food by a family member, choosing an example where a soy cheese containing dairy has been used. She presents two possible reactions to this: 1) Eating it "with gusto" and shutting the fuck up about it, or 2) A scenario where the vegan foists upon the hapless family member "a lecture or some kind of patronizing comment about how the cheese they used was only 98% vegan". Other than devouring the food in happy silence, Marly informs her readers that "any other reaction would be rude".

But the thing is that if a family member had actually gone to the trouble, had actually taken your ethical beliefs so seriously that he or she would have tried to prepare a dish which was appropriate for you, is it so unthinkable that the family member might understand completely if you politely declined to consume the animal product? Furthermore, since Marly is opposed to questioning servers -- people to whom she is not emotionally attached -- about animal ingredients in her food, I can't help but wonder how on earth she would have even found out about the dairy in her host's dish. You know? Since asking people what they are handing you to put in your belly is a pain in the arse.

She counsels her "well-intentioned" readers to loosen up about their consumption choices and to not let those choices be governed "by restrictive, arbitrary rules". (Because asking a server whether the veggie burger on the menu is actually vegan is restrictive; being expected -- as a vegan -- to at least make a simple effort to avoid easily-avoidable animal products in a restaurant is the needless self-imposition of an arbitrary rule. And Marly makes it clear that self-imposition is an unnecessary burden. "If giving up mozzarella feels like pulling out a fingernail then just relax about it," she tells her readers. "It's all good," she reassures them, postulating that she is perhaps "brilliant".

But you see, it's not enough for Marly to out herself as a non-vegan "vegan" and to present her readers with many non-vegan types of "veganism". If you have ever read similar articles before, you know that they always come with a good self-protective dose of shaming. Those of us who have the incivility to both be unequivocal about veganism, as well as to -- gasp! -- point out that deliberate participation in avoidable animal exploitation (whether indulged in gleefully or not) isn't vegan? Well, Marly tells her readers to swing those awful, mean and critical vegans a wide, wide berth. "They don’t eat white, refine sugar because it was processed using bone chard [sic]. So they think you shouldn’t either." (Said no vegan ever about a cane sugar manufacturer switching to leafy greens to filter its sugar!)

But on a more troubling and serious note, Marly (after managing to direct a dose of the aforementioned shaming at the actual vegans who left comments in response to her post) calls upon the "community" to be "inclusive" rather than "exclusive" and tells her readers to toss aside those horrible restrictive and arbitrary "guidelines" (uh... like avoiding animal use for selfish pleasure?) and to just suss out what they're comfortable with on their own and to (I guess) call that their own personal form of veganism. She praises all of the readers who agree with her wholeheartedly that the "options" she's presented make (what she still insists on calling) veganism more easy. She ignores most of the more thoughtful and well-reasoned points brought up to explain what veganism is or isn't, though my favourite comment from The Rational Vegan goes completely over her head. Instead, she basks in the adoration of her non-vegan readers who've felt vindicated in their continued use of animal products.

Although I love (love, love, love!) vegan food bloggers, a vegan food blogger Marly surely ain't. Popularity is important for a food blogger, vegan or otherwise. As indicated at the beginning of my post, I get that. I really do. But, for the ever-lovin' sake of all that's left that is good in this world, when that popularity is built upon the blood and bodies of other sentient beings? That's where I draw the line and become that supposed "hater" and "ideologue". But you know what? That's my own "authentic swing" and Marly? She's just been chiseled away from my recipe blogs reading list. There are puh-lenty of other actually "authentic" vegan food bloggers out there whose work I would much rather follow and support. If that makes me a "judgmental" meanie, I'm pretty comfortable with that option.