Sunday, September 20, 2009

More Misrepresentations of Veganism in the Media

Canada's The National Post has recently started running a weekly piece in its food section called "A Meatless Proposal". It's about two sisters who move in together, one a "meat-loving gastronome" and the other a supposed "vegan who's just 'not into food'". The piece is written by the omnivorous sister who decides to "show her [vegan sister] how to like food, even if it means cooking vegan". So what about this token vegan sister?

For Emily, a vegetarian diet wasn’t a choice made for ethics or taste; she is simply uncomfortable with the thought of eating meat. “I consciously deny myself something I enjoy,” she said, by way of explanation. “It’s sort of masochistic.” She also, however, doesn’t eat cheese — with the bizarre exception of Parmesan — because she simply doesn’t like it. I know. Mind-boggling.
Although she's described as a "vegetarian" in this particular quote from the piece, it's made clear in the article's introduction that Emily is a "vegan". Yet, her veganism is presented as having nothing to do with ethics but everything to do with self-deprivation. Her veganism also has a Parmesan cheese exception (and apparently egg and anchovy exceptions, given the bacon-free Caesar salad she is mentioned as having recently eaten). My guess is that there's some bandwagon-hopping going on. At the very least, it's obvious that neither the article's writer nor her supposed sister has any idea of what veganism entails. It's a shame that this confusion and misrepresentation will be presented weekly in a major Canadian newspaper.


Adam Kochanowicz said...

Is there no journalistic integrity left in the world? If the writer had made a mistake on the country of origin of an individual, they would surely post an apology in the following issue.

Yet, a word which is well-defined by a long-standing organization is misinterpreted dramatically. What, if anything actually makes this person vegan? A vegan is someone who is ethically opposed to al forms of animal exploitation and consumes no animal products in any for whether it be meat, dairy, eggs, entertainment, clothing, labor, etc. This woman doesn't eat flesh and only because she doesn't care for its taste.

Ridiculously offensive. Thanks for posting this.

Rich R said...

Adam hit it spot on, what else can you say about this non vegan in a Vegan story :/

M said...

I was going to go leave a comment in response to the article just now and saw that Rebecca Tucker left the following comment today in response to one left yesterday by someone taking issue with her misuse of the term:

I guess it's worth clarifying that she's not actually vegan, but as stated, simply has an aversion to the taste of cheese (again, with the exception of Parmesan, which is why she eats caesars). So, because her diet is mostly animal product-free, A Meatless Proposal will stick to vegan cuisine.

It should be noted that the term "vegan", where used to describe her sister in the article's introduction, has not been corrected. I'm going to leave a comment, myself, pointing that out.

Vanilla Rose said...

Adam Kochanowicz is right to query if there is any journalistic integrity left in the world! It is soooooooo clear the woman is not vegan. Let us hope a retraction and apology follow shortly.

M said...

They've since changed the word "vegan" in the intro to "cheese-hating vegetarian". Unfortunately, if she was having Caesar salad, then she was likely eating fish, which really just makes her an omnivore. Ah well.

Vanilla Rose said...

Whilst it is lovely to think of an omnivore foodie determined to enjoy vegan food, it seems an odd-set up. By definition, if her masochistic sister likes the resulting food, she will henceforth avoid it.

Is is masochism or some kind of eating disorder?

Rebecca said...

So glad the feature is prompting some discussion.

The point of the feature — while perhaps not clearly laid out initially, I'll admit — is more an adventure in cooking than a feature dedicated to a discussion of veganism: Emily doesn't eat meat by choice, she doesn't eat cheese by virtue of her tastebuds, and I eat both. "Odd setup," indeed, but the 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 (a misconception of mine, of course).

For the sake of simplicity, because Emily eliminates most animal products from her diet (paradoxically, as you and I both point out, with little ethical reasoning), it's much easier for me to stick to vegan cuisine than to continually reiterate Emily's oft-perplexing dietary requirements.

That said, as a former vegatarian myself (as discussed in today's entry), 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 hope to flesh this out more in the coming weeks, hopefully in a way that both caters to those interested in reading about food, and those interested in learning varied perspectives on culinary ethics.

M said...

I think that the main concern with your weekly piece was that your sister, who is indicated in your first article as consuming cheese, and likely eggs and fish (i.e. in Caesar salad) was labeled "vegan". It was completely dishonest, and instead of pointing out your gross error, you just quietly corrected it.

From reading your second article, I seriously doubt that any of it will be of interest to anyone who takes nonhuman animals seriously. In it, you:

a) Present eating animals as a better ethical decision than not eating them,
b) Promote the idea of it being ethical to eat nonhuman animals you claim are raised "humanely, ethically and healthily" to end up on your plate,
c) Make references to how your supposedly vegetarian sister agrees with you that certain dishes would taste better with the flesh of animals in them, and
d) Conflate the ethics of involving yourself in the exploitation of animals with your own self-interest in avoiding processed foods.

The fact that you're cooking strictly vegetarian dishes is completely meaningless, since you insist on presenting eating animals as a better ethical choice and really seem to be more interested in defending your own choice to eat them than anything else. Your article presents the dietary aspect of veganism as being awkward and difficult, when the truth is that going vegan opens up a world of culinary possibilities, all of them more ethical than any way in which you could try to justify your own interest in continuing your involvement in the cycle of animal exploitation. I hope that your intention is to do better than that. I really do.

Rebecca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca said...

ED: 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.

Veganism — and, from my experience, vegetarianism — is a tough transition. Opens up a world of culinary possibilities? You bet. Closes a few doors? Oh yes. And I'll be exploring both of these angles, continuously, once a week, perhaps even in a way that appeals to you, if you give me a chance.

But maybe it won't, because — and I hate to reiterate it again — this isn't a feature promoting veganism, much like how My Face Is On Fire isn't a blog promoting the culinary arts.

Vanilla Rose said...

Frankly, I do not see the point of having a series of articles about vegan food written by a meat-eater! I find it bizarre the newspaper didn't actually find a vegan food writer.