Friday, September 25, 2009

"Educated Animal Consumption as an Ethical Dietary Choice"

On Sunday, I wrote about a new weekly foodie piece in Canada's National Post. In response to a couple of comments left on the original story, the description of the non-foodie sister in the introduction was quietly changed from "vegan" to "cheese-hating vegetarian". Then Rebecca Tucker, the writer of "A Meatless Proposal", responded to my post about it here at My Face Is on Fire by clarifying that the series'

purpose is — and will remain — a frank discussion of developing Emily's palate in terms of her extremely discretionary dietary restrictions, and developing mine in terms of my skepticism regarding "tasty" vegan food [...].
Fair enough. But then she wrote:
That said, as a former vegatarian [sic] myself [...], I am entirely sympathetic to misrepresentations of varied ethical approaches to food consumption, and maintain strict standards still regarding what I put in my fridge and my tummy.
I think that's shmancy talk for "since I have veg-cred, I can now justify my choosing to eat animals". Off on a tangent from this (since she is talking about having been a vegetarian, which is really no morally different from being an omnivore), her throwing it in there brought to mind vegan blogger Dan Dunbar's recent and fabulous post "I Used to Think the World Was Round", which discusses the intentions of (and reactions to) people who sometimes feel the need to preface conversations by saying that they used to be vegan.

Isn't it a little bizarre, though, to portray oneself as being sympathetic to "varied ethical approaches to food consumption" by virtue of having once
not eaten certain animal products and then having gone back to eating those animal products? I've read enough foodie articles over the past year by people who out themselves as former vegetarians or vegans to know that they almost invariably do so to try to add the weight of "experience" to their claims that there are ways in which eating nonhuman animals can be deemed ethical. Tucker confirmed my suspicions with regards to her own intentions in a subsequent response to my blog post stating the following:
There is in fact a culture of food-minded individuals who do as I have done: Promote the idea of educated animal consumption as an ethical dietary choice. I think there's something to be said here for the conflation of focusing one's food-minded energies on the suffering of animals and considering the farmers and dairies making a conscious effort to oppose the wrongdoing of large-scale factory farming. Vegans abstain from the whole industry — and that's commendable. I simply make sure my grocery dollar supports a more pastoral approach to farming. I'm comfortable with my decisions regarding the consumption of animal products, and have the right to defend them as much as any vegan has the right to defend his/her abstinence from them.
So she intends to promote the idea of "educated animal consumption as an ethical dietary choice" (i.e. happy meat). Basically, this means promoting the idea of using every excuse in the book to delude oneself into thinking that there are such things as "humane" animal products, as well as using every excuse in the book to stop short of facing the fact that simply not consuming or exploiting animals for their flesh and excretions is the most logical option when it comes to so-called "ethical dietary choices".

Tucker also left me further convinced of how she intends to use her weekly series to promote this mindset in its second installment, where she (wait for it!) outs herself as a former vegetarian and states her stance concerning the ethics of consuming nonhuman animals quite clearly:

[T]he more reading I did about the impact of my food choices, the more I realized cutting meat out entirely wasn’t going to be the most ethical dietary decision for me. I began voting with my dollar: by purchasing products from independent grocery stores [...] and limiting my consumption of meat (and other animal products) to products purchased from local farms, on which the animals are raised and treated humanely, ethically and healthily.
She then goes on to describe her awkward attempt to veganize poutine and tourtière and slides in that her sister Emily "admitted that while she’d never had tourtiere before, she could tell it would taste much better with meat".

Tucker uses her sister's convenient confessional moment to jump into her next characterization of veganism (and justification of her own eating of nonhuman animals):

Eliminating animal products from your diet is a tricky thing. There are only so many ways to replace meat without compromising taste and, in some cases, nutrition. Ultimately, I decided to resume meat-eating because I could no longer abstain from certain things.
So, although she may have asserted to me that the series' raison d'être is to be "a frank discussion of developing Emily's palate in terms of her extremely discretionary dietary restrictions, and developing mine in terms of my skepticism regarding "tasty" vegan food" ; I have a hunch based on what she's written so far, that it's really more of the same trendy foodie obsession with portraying veganism as difficult and promoting the consumption of happy meat. The bottom line is that if you remove the text of the recipes themselves from this second installment in her series, she devotes almost half of it to lauding the consumption of nonhuman animals.

I guess that time will tell. In the interim, watch this poutine-making video by The Sexy Vegan. For vegan tourtière, try this recipe from The Vegan Dad. No kidney beans or mushrooms were harmed in the making of either.


unpopular vegan essays said...

Thanks for this post, Mylène.

Tucker seems believe that the ethics of animal product consumption is a matter of balancing gustatory preferences with animal suffering. That’s like balancing the optimal profitability of human chattel slaves (the slave owner’s preference) with slave suffering, including how many hours the slaves work, how many times they’re whipped, and when it is optimal to kill them near old age.

Just as the slave owner never questions his ‘entitlement’ to own slaves, Tucker never questions her ‘entitlement’ to exploit and kill (or provide for the killing of) innocent sentient nonhumans.

The arrogance of human, white, and patriarchal supremacy never ceases to amaze me, even after I see such arrogance displayed regularly.

Alexandra Jones said...

Our violence towards animals for food is, as far as I can tell, the *only* form of violence we would ever try to justify in terms of our enjoyment of it. We would never say that rape is okay if the rapist gets pleasure from it, or that spousal assault is fine because it gives the abuser a chance to "blow off steam," so why is it acceptable to insist on eating animal flesh and secretions because it "tastes good?"

And if Tucker really thinks that you have to sacrifice taste or nutrition in order to be vegan, I would suggest that 1). she should take the time to learn something about nutrition, and 2). she might not be as great a cook as she thinks she is.

Anyway, those are my $0.02. Great blog, keep up the good work.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Regarding the "formerly veg" cred, this factor is stated to make veganism seem more like a prison sentence, as if we vegans are putting ourselves through tortureto see who goes the longest.

I once heard a woman say she's "done her time" referring to her formerly going vegan.

I'm very put off by the author's appeal to considering non-vegan diets as members of a nice happy multicultural family of "ethical" dietary choices.

If we were to look at any other response of non-violence, I think the absurdity of happy togetherness is more obvious. Are those who do not beat their spouses and those who are on a strict regime only to verbally abuse their spouses each one of many varied ethical approaches to marriage?

Anonymous said...

"I'm comfortable with my decisions regarding the consumption of animal products, and have the right to defend them as much as any vegan has the right to defend his/her abstinence from them".

Tucker's *right to defend* her 'decisions' completely negates any recognition of an animals' right to defend their observable(decision)to want to go on living.
Veganism is not just about *our* abstinence, its about recognizing *other's* right to life,and to defend them as ends in themselves (just as humans want to be treated).

Erin said...

WOW! She's so special and enlightened! It's a lucky animal indeed who gets the privilege of ending up on HER plate! Bah! Typical speciesist double-talk.

Cavall de Quer said...

Leaving aside all those cretinous omnivore comments and concentrating on the recipes, am I the only person who finds the texture of seitan when cooked with anything resembling stock or sauce (liquid, in a word) utterly disgusting?

Vanilla Rose said...

Yes, I once read an article about a former vegetarian who started eating meat because "the battle had been won". I wondered what battle she meant.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

(Re: Vanilla Rose) I'm wondering what "won" implies.

Ben said...

Best part: "I realized cutting meat out entirely wasn’t going to be the most ethical dietary decision for me."

How is that not doublespeak for "I realized I wanted to eat meat"? In what way was abstaining from all meat consumption not as ethical for her as it is for others?

I'd like to see the Calculus of Ethical Behavior she must have consulted.

Vanilla Rose said...

Yes, Adam, the article didn't make much sense to me. I think the author was saying that people are taking animals seriously now, so it's okay to eat them. But later on, she admitted that she ate any type of meat, whether it could be classed (by meat-eaters) as "humanely reared" or not. Her other main argument seemed to be "they taste nice", something about a lust for life, blah, blah.

M said...

By the way, Tucker sent me an email a few days ago to forewarn me that she intends to mention my criticism of her series in this week's installment (which I think should be out tomorrow or Friday) and intends to link to my posts about it.