Thursday, August 14, 2008

Deconstructing the anti-veg formula in today's oh-so-trendy opinion pieces

The Miramichi Leader (OK, decidedly not so trendy in and of itself) featured an opinion piece yesterday -- a glorified blog post, really -- that's essentially just an immature, ill-informed and condescending dig at vegans. (What's up with all of these newspapers reprinting blog posts or hiring on their own volunteer bloggers, anyway? Are they just too cheap to pay people to write about news anymore? Is it that so many more people are relying on blogs for their information these days that the newspapers are just desperate to stay hip and cling to their readership?)

These post-Pollan anti-veg pieces, in particular, are becoming so commonplace and so formulaic. Here's what I mean: There are the obligatory references to how scrumptious meat is (e.g. ''if they started selling Raisin Bran with two scoops of bacon bits, I'd be sorely tempted''). Since all omni dishes purportedly revolve around a fleshy bits centerpiece, an assumption is presented that vegan dishes should also, by default, revolve around a meat substitute (e.g. ''as I can tell, the main staple of their diet is tofu) and then, a description is put forth of how inedible that obligatory meat substitute actually is (e.g. ''it tastes just like gym socks''). There is also, of course, the token quote from some sort of food ''expert'' to back this or that aspect of the writer's dismissal of veganism, usually from a non-veg chef, cookbook author or nutritionist who either a) knows little or nothing about vegetarianism, or who is b) known to be prejudiced against it:

I called my son-in-law, who is a chef, and asked him for some vegan recipes. He just chuckled. "Good luck with that," he said. He asked what kind of vegan she was.

Add to that the general mocking of veganism simply based on an ignorant assumption or bit of misinformation the writer perpetuates (e.g. ''maybe vegans only eat vegetables that die of old age or something'') and then, of course, the old slap on the back and ''hey buddy, can't you take a joke?'' ending (e.g. ''I'm kidding, of course, and I hope all you tofu-lovers won't throw your healing crystals across the room in anger'') that never fails to bring to mind every unimaginative and transparent passive-aggressive former co-worker I've ever had. Presto! You have today's typical trendy anti-vegetarian newspaper blurb. Am I not right?


mv said...

You are right. I can't stand the straw man arguments either. Particularly the tofu one. I don't even remember the last time I had tofu. It's gotta be at least six months. I had a veggie burger at some point this summer and a few scattered veggie dogs here and there out of sheer laziness, but this misconception that meat substitutes are what we feast on regularly drives me batty.

Some veg*ans who suck down daily doses of multivitamins also annoy me because they give the wrong impression by making vegetarianism seem incomplete without the almighty vitamin pill. Vegans taking B12 supplements I don't mind. It's the rest that rub me the wrong way (unless, of course, they have a disorder or verified deficiency that requires a multi). I strongly believe that a healthy vegetarian diet needs not be supplemented by multi's. There are close to a billion veggies in the world (counting Hindus) yet only Westerners (vegetarian and omni alike) seem compelled to pop vitamins like they're candy in an attempt to prevent what a healthy diet will prevent anyway.

Sorry about the mini-rant.

M said...

No need to offer apologies for ranting in response to my own rant!

I've been fighting a losing battle trying to gently and matter-of-factly dispel some myths about vegetarianism that keep popping up over at a non-veg community I frequent lately, so I think I've become a bit more sensitive to the spreading of anti-vegetarian misinformation. And of course, they always insist that vegetarians (and especially vegans) need to gorge themselves on supplements or iron, calcium and B-12 deficiency, and that they need to carefully complement their proteins to get "full" proteins (which is a myth that's been passed around so much that people no longer question it). I share your "argh".

J said...

I hate this assumption too - but I must say, they are really kind of right for the most part that many veg*ns dinner plates are centered around a "meat substitute". At least this is what I have seen in my browsing of veg*n blogs, now of course, this is not the case with ALL veg*ns, but many do rely on these things. I am also biased here - I do NOT like tofu and I agree with the description as to the flavor of meat substitutes, I personally think they are disgusting, and have never understood why someone who doesn't eat meat out of principle, for ethical reasons, would want to have a mock up of it on their plate, whether it comes from an animal or a soy bean. This is just my personal opinion, and I am not an ethical veg*n, but I didn't stop eating meat so I could eat overly processed replications of it, which is why my diet does not include any of those things.

But I agree, these stereotypes and assertions about our diet get old, and a very clear pattern emerges.

M said...

I guess that it's just never really been the case with me, which is probably why I see it as such a non-veg habit. I'll throw chickpeas or tofu into a stirfry, but I'll rarely have a separate fake-meat centerpiece for a meal. Ask any omni what they had for dinner last night, though, and chances are they'll say chicken, or porkchops, or fish, et al. The meal revolves around the meat. When someone asks me what I had for dinner, I'll usually list off things like salad, a baked sweet potato, steamed kamut berries, etc.

When I visit my mother, she almost panics if I don't cook a soy patty of some sort to accompany the variety of vegetables, grains, et al. she's prepared for a meal, mostly because she see's the meat as missing that way -- her own meal revolves around the meat, so she assumes that mine should revolve around a replacement for it.

I haven't nosed around as many veggie eating blogs as you have, so I was mostly reacting to it based on my own somewhat more limited experience in that sense, so I'll assume that you're completely right.