Friday, October 30, 2009

Veganism in Online Media

Tongue-in-cheek advice columnist Graham Norton of the UK's Telegraph addressed veganism briefly in his "Agony Aunt" feature yesterday (Norton basically encourages readers to send in creative letters that present problems for him to solve). A reader wrote in complaining of her 13-year-old granddaughter's having become a vegan and wondering if she should take a stand against the granddaughter over the issue of Christmas dinner.

It goes against the grain of everything our family stands for. We're (dare I say it) classic hunting, fishing, shooting types.

I met my husband on a grouse moor in Perthshire 45 years ago and have been plucking game birds ever since. I've spoken to friends and it seems that veganism is all the rage these days among the young. I can't understand it at all.

His response is sort of all over the place, chiding the letter-writer for having worked herself "into a frenzy beyond reason" and suggesting that she merely get the granddaughter to bring her own food, but then referring to vegan food as "kitchen waste on a plate", suggesting as a positive thing that the granddaughter may be too "lazy" to bring her own food and may end up abandoning her "faddish diet" to indulge in the feast after all. He finishes off writing:

It is ironic that people with dietary requirements (what we used to call fussy eaters) think it makes them in some way interesting when in fact it renders them as dull as what they eat. I know there are serious issues about hormones in meat and overfishing but is eating a free-range organic turkey so very wrong? It is Jesus's birthday after all.
I have as much of a sense of humour as the next person and am used to seeing people poke fun at things they don't understand. I wonder if the general public would find it half as funny if that sort of letter and response were written with roles reversed -- a vegan grandmother dealing with an omni granddaughter. I suspect that it would only work if the poke was yet again taken at the vegan.


Ari Solomon caught my attention back in September with a piece he wrote for Huffington Post ("Who You Calllin' Vegangelical?") that addressed eye-roll inducing accusations that veganism is extremist and cultish. As he (so aptly) put it,"[i]nstead of vegangelical, the word [used to describe it] should be veganlogical. A week later, he wrote a piece ("Down With the Truth") discussing the torturous process of plucking birds to fill coats and comforters. His piece the following week ("The Feminist's Dilemma") was an insightful examination of feminism and the dairy industry and his most recent piece ("Animals Are Stupid") is one of my favourites. It addresses the significance that we attribute to intelligence when determining the value of nonhumans' lives -- particularly how we impose our own limited understanding of 'intelligence' on them to judge them. I'm looking forward to further articles by Solomon and definitely recommend keeping an eye on what he's up to at Huffington Post for the next while. You can also find him on Twitter (@VeganAri) to stay up to date on his latest work.


In a stellar example of experiment-induced failure, Chris Bickel of the The Daily Collegian ended his month's flirtation with vegetarianism with a victory dance and a complete lack of understanding of what it means to not eat animal flesh. In his series instalment last week, Bickel complained that people associate vegetarianism with veganism, which he portrayed as being extremely limited in options. In this week's installment, he provides a shining example of why a foray into vegetarianism is in no way a step on the path towards veganism. He also provides a good example of how vegetarianism is really just no more than a shuffling around of the animals products someone following an omnivorous diet would eat, minus a bit of (or all) flesh:
I've shocked myself realizing how easy being a vegetarian has been, with all the health benefits tagged onto the lifestyle as well. But there is one stipulation to my new outlook. I'm not going to keep it as strict as I have this month. If I have to identify myself with a specific type of vegetarian, it'd [sic] label myself as a pescetarian, a vegetarian who still eats fish -- starting after a celebratory burger on Nov. 1.
To be fair to Bickel, he does make it clear that ethics are off his radar and that he's chosen to sometimes eschew eating animal flesh solely for the health and weight loss benefits:
I just want to make it clear that I'm doing this strictly for the dietary benefits, not the ethical reasons at the heart of some vegetarians' choices. And admittedly, because I'm not keeping strict regulation on my diet now, I can foresee a taste of meat on special occasions. (I mean, Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same with out some turkey with my grandma's delicious gravy.)
It's just a shame that in his article, in which he professes to have learned a lot about negative connotations and prejudices that his only passing references to veganism and following a diet completely free of animals had to be--well--negative and sort of prejudiced.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wayne Pacelle, Get That Elephant Out of Your Living Room, Will You?

It seems that Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS, has been busy traveling coast to coast, spending some of HSUS' millions to field pre-submitted questions from HSUS supporters. According to his blog post on October 22, many people have been asking what they can "do to help The HSUS and animal protection". Pacelle's enthusiasm was definitely infectious at the beginning of his blog post; I have to admit that I got a little excited, myself! I thought, "50 whole options! Surely one of them must be..." and then found myself shaking my head a little sadly as I made my way through the items.

Pacelle asserts that the "movement" can only succeed if millions "take these positive actions" and adds that "we can all pitch in to raise funds to support the vital work of The HSUS and allow it to grow and be a more powerful and effective force" (i.e. please send bigger donation checks). So what are the positive actions? Pacelle presents them under different categorical headings:

In Your Community:

  • Encourage your local media to run information and PSAs from HSUS and distribute HSUS leaflets at events.
Get Training -- Get Activated:
  • Take advantage of HSUS' various humane education programs to learn to spread the HSUS message, attend HSUS conferences and awards ceremonies, volunteer at HSUS events, take a course through HSUS' Humane Society University.
Volunteer To Help Animals:
  • With HSUS' Wildlife Land Trust and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Field Services program. It's also mentioned that you can volunteer at your local shelter, although it sticks out a little as a non-HSUS option.
Political Activities:
  • Lobby, lobby, lobby for HSUS campaigns and initiatives.
Work with Local Schools:
  • Get kids involved in HSUS initiatives and help get HSUS into your local schools.
Give Us Your Moolah:
  • Support HSUS corporate sponsors. Buy things through HSUS.
Speaking of Moolah:
  • Give HSUS more of your own money, organize HSUS fundraisers to raise additional money for HSUS, and finally, host a social event and invite an HSUS representative to come talk to your friends and family about why they should be giving money to HSUS.
How About What Wayne Pacelle Thinks You Should Do on a Personal Level:
Four of the other suggestions Pacelle makes are sound enough: Adopt or foster from your local shelter, keep your cats indoors, learn to co-exist with wildlife without resorting to killing said wildlife and establish a "pet care trust" for animals in your care lest anything happen to you.

The remaining suggestions about what you can do on a personal level to "help The HSUS and animal protection" were just more of the same old stuff I've come to expect from this welfarist group. Pacelle basically lists off a bunch of half-hearted things that are more about making yourself feel better than they are about taking the interests of animals seriously. He does so while walking around the big ol' elephant in his living room (or swank HSUS office, whichever the case may be). That elephant is veganism.

In a list of 50, there is no mention made of simply not using or exploiting animals as a viable option to "help" them. Instead of suggesting that you purchase animal-free cosmetics, he says to ensure that the cosmetics you use haven't been "tested" on animals. Instead of suggesting that you frequent vegan restaurants, he suggests that you try to talk restaurants into carrying more "cage-free" eggs. Instead of suggesting you go vegan, he suggests you reduce your meat consumption and avoid factory-farmed products. He does mention replacing "meat and other animal-based food with vegetarian food", which is confusing. By "animal-based food", does he mean things that contain animal flesh and that these should be replaced with eggs or dairy? I mean, if by "animal-based food" he meant eggs and dairy, then he should have said that they should be replaced with VEGAN food instead of side-stepping the issue and treating 'vegan' as if it's a dirty word.

What's HSUS going to do about that elephant in your living room, Wayne? 'Cause surely, ignoring him isn't humane. Isn't it time for an HSUS "Go Vegan!" campaign?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kierkegaard On Our Relationships with Others

"Most people are subjective toward themselves and objective toward all others, frightfully objective sometimes--but the task is precisely to be objective toward oneself and subjective toward all others."
-- Søren Kierkegaard

Monday, October 26, 2009

Veganism and Moral Confusion in Mainstream Media This Week

In an interview in Springfield, Missouri's today, Registered Dietician Adam Pruett, describes veganism as a class of vegetarianism and when asked how children fare on vegetarian or vegan diets, he states that

[t]ypically, children following a vegan diet if they are under 5 years of age can obtain enough nutrition to maintain growth, but it will be slower and in the low-normal category.
I'd like to find some more information on this since the anecdotal evidence I've received over the years from vegan parents generally shows that there isn't much difference, or, that the overemphasis on fitting kids into very rigid growth ranges to assess how they're doing has become less of a focus over recent years. Since he cites no sources, I'll have to guess that his own evidence is anecdotal or a guesstimate and since the sample of vegan kids in that age range is probably small (particularly in Missouri) that he may very well just be perpetuating a myth about veganism more than anything. Furthermore, even if the statement were true, I'm not even sure it's relevant; it may amount to some scaremongering, though. In the interim, if someone can find some stats on this, feel free to share them in the comments.

ETA: After a brief exchange on Twitter, Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, had this to say about the article ("Vegan Issues in the News: Meeting Nutrient Needs and Growth of Vegan Kids").


The New York Times had an article in its "Fashion & Style" section on Friday about the rising trend of DIY butchering classes. According to the article:
DIY butchering [...] allows self-conscious carnivores — who in the past were candidates for vegetarianism — to justify their flesh-laden dinners. By learning to slaughter and butcher, they say, they can honor their pigs and eat them, too.
Also, according to PETA's 2004 Proggy Award winner, Temple Grandin,
[p]eople who slaughter their own animals can spare the animals the horrors of the factory killing floor, where animals often meet their end in a state of panic.
So, then, the best way to deal with an urge to dis-involve oneself from animal exploitation and the cruelty inherent in it is to slaughter an animal yourself? And by getting your own hands bloody, you're not only saving the animal from a frightening and grizzly slaughterhouse death, but are purportedly "honoring" this animal whose life you've taken to prove that you can "face the ugly realities of eating meat"? This is nonsensical and disturbing, at the very least.


Speaking of PETA...

We've become used to single-issue campaigns by animal welfare groups such as PETA targeting designers who incorporate fur into their fashion shows or fashion lines, this will surely be getting a bit of attention from animal people (and even squeamish ordinary folks) on the interwebs this week. The only thing that sets this apart from other forms of animal exploitation is that the juxtaposition is a little out of the ordinary.

We're used to seeing people wearing leather, wool, feathers and fur; we're used to seeing raw animal flesh on little styrofoam trays or in big frozen chunks at the supermarket. The general population doesn't react to this. Let the two overlap and there'll surely be a fair amount of indignation (or even outrage) voiced concerning this over coming days, by vegans and (somewhat ironically) non-vegans, alike.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

On the Abolitionist Approach

"Veganism is an act of nonviolent defiance. It is our statement that we reject the notion that animal are things and that we regard sentient nonhumans as moral persons with the fundamental moral right not to be treated as the property or resources of humans.

If you are not vegan, go vegan. It’s easy. It’s better for your health. It’s better for the planet. But, most importantly, it is the morally right thing to do.

You can become an abolitionist today. Right now. Right this second. You do not need a big organization or expensive campaign. You do not need to sit naked in a cage. You do not need any leaders to tell you what to do. You just need to say no to violence and let that refusal to cooperate with oppression start with what you put in and on your body."

-- Prof. Gary L. Francione

Read the rest of it here ("Some Thoughts on the Abolitionist Approach") in the latest blog update on Prof. Francione's Abolitionist Approach website. You can also read it on the Opposting Views website and leave comments.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vegan Book Club

This is just a quick update to point out that a vegan book club has been set up at the Goodreads website by a fellow-vegan called Andrew (aka @dripsandcastle on Twitter). You can find the book club here. The group is currently discussing what sort of format we'd like to have, and members are in the process of making book suggestions. The plan is to discuss books on both veganism and animal rights. Membership is currently open to anyone with a serious interest in either topic.

You can also follow the group on
Twitter or on Facebook. Join soon, since the book suggestion process should wrap up by Sunday, October 25 and things will be starting shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Getting it Wrong in Australia

The Whittlesea Leader had an article this morning ("Bundoora Vegan Hits the Mark") about an upcoming World Vegan Day event in Melbourne and interviewed one of its organizers, Mark Reece. One particular snippet with Reece reminded me of why it is that I get a little apprehensive when the significance of the dietary aspect of veganism (such as in this article) is stressed, more so than on all of the possible ways in which vegans refuse to exploit nonhuman animals (e.g. not wearing clothing made of animal body parts, avoiding personal hygiene products that contain animal products, etc.). In the article, Reece explained veganism by stating that it is "a plant-based diet excluding animal products, with some vegans also choosing not to wear animal products such as leather and wool".

To a vegan, there is no difference between either eating part of a nonhuman animal or wearing part of a nonhuman animal. In both cases, the animal has been treated like a thing and exploited. In both cases, the nonhuman animal has been enslaved, made to suffer and slaughtered.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

(Former) Celebrity (Non) Vegans

OK, so the title of this post is on its way to looking like a math equation. I had to pipe in for a second to go off on a tangent from my recent post on the cons of attaching any significance to celebrities self-identifying as vegan. Back in June, I'd written a blurb about former Blossom star Mayim Bialik and of how in an interview with Celebrity Baby Blog, she'd stated:

I’m technically a vegan, but I do eat egg if it’s in things. And that’s how we raise Miles, too. I cook meat for my husband, which is Kosher, but we don’t have a vegan house, just Kosher house that has vegan options for everyone.
This morning, I read on the Vegetarian Star website("Mayim Bialik: Politically Incorrect Vegan") that Bailik is once again describing herself as vegan, although she admits not doing so around real vegans (or rather, what she seems to imply are merely "politically correct" vegans):
I don’t call myself vegan in political vegan circles, because I do eat eggs if it is in something, or dairy if it is in something and I taste it, it is okay with me. Our son is raised pretty much the same. As I said, in political circles, vegans don’t consider me vegan, but I don’t eat dairy or eggs, or fish or anything with a face or a nervous system. If I am around vegans, I say I am a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy or eggs. I also don’t wear leather
Blossom, sweetie, actually adhering to a definition isn't about being political or politically "correct" -- it's about being consistent. Adhering to it and stating that you are doing so isn't about being political, either -- it's about being honest. If vegans don't "consider" you vegan, it's because by knowingly consuming animal products you are not a vegan. It's not a question of politics; it's a question of understanding very basic statements of fact. I also hate to break it to you that calling yourself a "vegetarian who doesn't eat diary or eggs" in the same breath as just having stated "I do eat eggs if it is in something, or diary if it is in something" and saying that you're OK with it... Well, I'm a little worried about you're ability to disassociate your descriptions of your actions with your actual actions. I'm sure that there's a technical term for it that some therapist or other could provide for you. It would somewhere between your being a "liar" and your being "delusional".

Furthermore, shame on the
Vegetarian Star for taking off running with this with and trying to undermine basic honesty and consistency with its passive-aggressive endorsement of Bialik's feeble attempt at excusing her BS by falling back on the old political correctness cliché and then trying to goad its readers by asking: "What are some of your politically incorrect vegan habits?"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Montreal's Vegan Day Fashion Show Host Sets Things Straight

Some people have been mentioning here and there on the interwebs that November 1 is World Vegan Day. Of course, I'd like to think that every day should be world vegan day, but I can be a little demanding that way (and after all, we need to set aside days for things like International Talk Like a Pirate Day or World Math Day). Maybe the truth is that something like taking the interests of animals seriously should be an 'everyday' thing and that it doesn't really need one single annual 'day' to be promoted. That being said, World Vegan Day is actually a celebration of the anniversary of the creation of the Vegan Society, which I think is indeed worthy of celebration.

So, I came across an opinion piece this morning by a woman called Nat Lauzon, a writer and radio host. She was writing about how she'll be hosting Montreal's World Vegan Fashion Show on November 1. I figured that this would likely go either of two ways: It would either be an upbeat fluffy pro-vegan piece or be a confessional of sorts. As it turns out, it's mostly just a lot of pro-welfarist assertions mixed in with the--at one point overtly hostile--perpetuation of stereotypes of people who take the rights of animals seriously.

Lauzon starts off with a typical and confusing cred vs. confessional bit. You know the one, where someone asserts that she's made some sort of change in her life that somehow proves that she has some sort of compassion towards nonhuman animals ("[w]hen I was 16 I read a book about how animals are slaughtered for human consumption. Shortly after that [...] I stopped eating red meat") and has some sort of credibility with regards to speaking about animal issues, but then self-identifies as being a hypocrite and self-flagellates mildly for show by expressing that she either a) feels guilty or b) acknowledges that she at least maybe-sorta-almost should. Yeah, that bit. Sometimes, instead of expressing guilt or the sense that there should or could be guilt, it all ends up getting brushed off by pointing out that majority rule trumps critical thinking:

I guess some might call me a hypocrite considering the genesis of my "white meat only" decision. What's the difference between a cow or a chicken being slaughtered? None really, but I've obviously swaddled myself in some form of ignorant bliss all these years. I'll admit it. And I bet I'm not the only one. I think we'd think differently about that slab of meat if it didn't come already cleaned and tidily sealed on a square of styrofoam. When it's all packaged up like that, it looks a lot less...well, breathe-y.
So, she seems to be challenging people to call her a hypocrite, then forgives herself for her self-swaddling and then to emphasize how forgiveable she actually is, points out that she's just like everyone else who tends to disconnect animals from those sterile little packages in which their parts are sold at the store.

Feigning surprise at her non-vegan self being asked to host the event, she then justifies her interest in hosting it as being that the proceeds go to an SPCA fund for a single issue campaign involving puppy mills:
I've seen first hand the cruelty that is often leveled against innocent animals in the name of profit. I've been outraged by the shoddy enforcement of punishment for offenders. So anything I can do to help that cause, I will.
Then Lauzon goes on to justify (vaguely) why the shows organizers would have involved her--a non-vegan--in the first place:
If you think about it, what better crowd would vegans want to attract to such an event than meat eaters? After all, this is the demographic that vegans are aiming to inform!
So, we have it established that in Lauzon's world, cute puppies trump chickens, pigs, fish and any other nonhuman who doesn't moo, and that she, as a meat eater, is just the perfect sort that vegan activists would want to reel in and educate. Or is she?

Lauzon then does that other bit that those in the media who seem to be promoting veganism invariably end up doing. You know that one, too -- the one where the reasons for being vegan are identified as having almost nothing to do with simply and ordinarily taking the interests of animals seriously, in and of itself. She points out that "all" of the pro-veganism arguments are "sound" to her but ignores the very definition of of veganism as put forth by the Vegan Society whose anniversary is, in fact, being celebrated by World Vegan Day. Her arguments for veganism include that veganism makes you feel / look better, makes you healthier, helps the environment and redirects grain from cows to the world's hungry humans. And what of concern for animal rights?
The night is not to shove some extremist animal rights mandate down your throat. No one's gonna throw red paint on you. In fact, it's not even entirely about veganism, per se. It's about cruelty-free alternatives as a general rule. To demonstrate that there ARE alternatives to the way we live. Easy, accessible, beautiful, environmentally-friendly and cruelty-free alternatives! Whether you make the choice to not wear fur or leather. Whether you buy cruelty-free make-up. Whether you replace milk with soy. There are small things we can do every day to make our world a better place for all it's [sic] living creatures. You don't have to change your entire life, just how you think about spending your dollar.
So yeah... It's not even entirely about veganism, per se. It's not even about promoting animal rights, because only violent nutjobs do that, according to Lauzon. Instead, according to its omnivorous host, Montreal's Vegan Fashion Show to mark World Vegan Day is about making "small" changes and getting you to change "how you think about spending your dollar". Choosing to not spend that dollar to support animal exploitation, however, is optional.

For more information on what veganism is or isn't all about, check out these recent blog posts:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vegan Noms

Gracious! The recipes that have been posted online over the past while and all of the recent developments regarding vegan food blogs have left me really, really happy.

First of all, I want to announce that a half-dozen of my favourite abolitionist vegans have decided to start up a blog specifically devoted to testing recipes from Robin Robertson's 1000 Vegan Recipes. With everything from Tempeh Satay to Pear Fritters w/ Caramel Sauce, they're off to a great start. Buy the book and bookmark the blog and watch for updates!

The Comfort Food Vegan blog featured a recipe for a dark and decadent looking avocado-based Soy-free Chocolate Mousse yesterday. I've never made a raw mousse or pudding before, but will be trying this one out quite soon.

The Vegan Dad has been blogging up a harvest-season-related storm over the past while. I want to highlight something that particularly got my attention from a week and a half ago, though -- his Perfect Pumpkin Custard. I can almost taste the ingredients coming together to make these and the custard looks absolutely scrumptious in the photo he included.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Blurbs About Veganism or Animals in the Media

In a fairly upbeat article this past Thursday ("V is for vegan and very well-fed"), the Douglas Dispatch included a couple of animal-product-free recipes--one for Pad Thai and one for Hearty Potato-and-Leek Soup. Unfortunately, less than a few lines in, it becomes obvious that the article is actually about "part-time" veganism (and a "part-time" veganism that is solely concerned with food). The Pad Thai recipe is from a book called The Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein, a "self-described omnivore who runs a vegetarian restaurant" who encourages people "to embrace not a complete vegan diet but a sampling of vegan dishes". The soup recipe is from "flexitarian" Pat Crocker's The Vegan Cook's Bible (of which I'd blogged back in June, mentioning that she promotes the consumption of both fish and honey in it).


This piece ("Slaughterhouse Rules") is just a plain old bizarre example of how people condone the use and slaughter of animals if they're able to reassure themselves that any sort of regulation is in place (i.e. that supposedly protects those slaughtered animals). The disassocation involved, even in this insignificant little piece, is unnerving.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Celebrity and (Non-)Veganism

Ecorazzi announced some of this years annual VegNews awards winners today, including that Ellen DeGeneres won for Favorite Celebrity readers' pick (you can read it here). Aside from the fact that it seems that you cannot be an American celebrity and not endorse and / or shed your clothes for PETA in recent years, I've always really wondered what the sense is in attributing any sort of significance to public figures who decide to flirt with animal advocacy while sending mixed messages about animal exploitation. Unapologetic meat-eater Oprah Winfrey, for instance, comes to mind, having won PETA's 2008 "Person of the Year" award.

Things become even more problematic (and often confusing) when veganism is thrown into the mix. For instance, DeGeneres, who was also honoured by HSUS earlier this year, may have won readers choice for "Favorite Celebrity", but she's a spokesperson and model for Cover Girl, a company owned by Proctor & Gamble that both uses animal products and engages in animal testing. So, DeGeneres, who is currently profiting from the exploitation of animals, somehow gets a few back pats from the odd welfarist organisation or two and suddenly vegetarians and vegans the world over assume that she's an exemplar of sorts. We're also left with the general public viewing her non-veganism as being vegan.

Ecorazzi's story on this also features a link to their own Top 5 Vegan Celebrities list from this past June. DeGeneres, the "vegan" who profits from animal exploitation, is on it. So is "vegan" actress Ginnifer Goodwin, who came under fire this year for wearing an assortment of animal products for a magazine photo shoot for a piece about (wait for it...) her veganism. Then there's NBA star and PETA supporter John Salley, a "vegan" who went vegan for health reasons and whose activism involves promoting vegetarianism. Then? Alicia Silverstone, another solid PETA supporter who is now making the rounds promoting her new book, The Kind Diet, in which she subcategorises veganism into three levels, one of which includes eating animal products. Then there's actress Emily Deschannel, yet another vocal PETA (and HSUS) supporter who, when interviewed, mostly focuses on the environmental reasons to be vegan. (Not that there's anything wrong with promoting all pluses of abstaining from eating animals, but is it too much to ask that these self-professed vegan celebs actually talk about the problem at hand -- animal exploitation?)

In short, these supposed vegan celebrities are touted as exemplars of veganism. Most of them are vocal and public supporters of welfarist animal organizations that don't promote veganism as any sort of necessary moral baseline in advocating for animals and some of them have otherwise additionally misinterpreted and misrepresented veganism. Is there any wonder that the general public is confused? At the end of the day, should vegans really be applauding these celebrities outing themselves as vegans (i.e. regardless of their confusing things) since "it brings veganism into the mainstream", or should we actually be concerned (or in my case, sort of irritated) that these folks are just further warping people's understanding of what it means to take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hearts and Minds

The heart deceives, because it is never anything but the expression of the mind’s miscalculations… I don’t know what the heart is, not I: I only use the word to denote the mind’s frailties.

-- Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Hope in Human Animals

I think that a lot can be gleaned from this video below within the context of how vegans should consider engaging non-vegans around them about speciesism. It shouldn't follow that in loathing another's behaviour that we somehow need to loathe the person herself, should it? It's also less than conducive to facilitating vegan education to treat non-vegans as 'untouchables' and to expect our fellow-vegans to do so, as well. I say this with the full understanding that it can be anything from saddening or maddening for vegans (particularly those who support abolitionist principles) to watch their loved ones fail to connect the dots--to fail to take the interests of nonhuman animals seriously. And I say it with the full understanding that most vegans struggle with this issue every single day of their lives and deal with the issue in such a wide variety of ways that we likely won't all see eye-to-eye on this.

I don't have a checklist of answers, myself, concerning how best to cope with a lack of success in getting loved ones to come to understand that it's wrong to exploit nonhuman animals. (Some respondents to my previous blog entry mentioned success in bringing family members around to veganism; I would love to have some of them chime in to share those experiences!) I do think that it's important to acknowledge that we'd be lying to ourselves in refusing to admit that not succeeding at vegan outreach with the people closest to us in our lives is harder on the head and heart than not succeeding when leafleting or staffing a booth, and that the emotional entanglement that's involved can often end up loading the issue or even conflating it with other matters driven by underlying or unrelated relationship dynamics. I'm no expert; I've just a hunch based on my own interactions.

I do know with certainty that you cannot and will not educate a single person about a single thing if you choose to cut her off. A few people who responded to my previous post stated that you can't choose your family, but that you can choose your friends and partners and that this can somehow guide our decisions whether or not to walk away from others who, even after we've tried, choose to continue exploiting animals. As an adoptee who is by no means incredibly close to those who legally qualify as my own kin, I'm not so sure that a decision concerning whether or not a vegan should accept or reject an individual for holding speciesist views should rest on blood ties or a traditional concept of what should count as familial ties. I've actually chosen my family over the years and continue to build it up with people who've proven themselves worthy of my hope and love. Would it not make more sense to be more patient with them?

In response to my expressing a fair amount of dismay on Twitter one day several weeks ago at not having convinced a vegetarian friend to go vegan, Prof. Francione responded saying that I had planted a seed. Call me naive or call me speciesist, even, but I think that in my own interaction with my loved ones that I'd like that to be my focus. Rather than write off an attempt and a loved one as a failure, I'd like to hope that I've managed to at least plant a seed.

Here's the video:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Being an Abolitionist Vegan in an Omni World

This post is meant to ask questions rather than provide answers. It's meant to stimulate discussion rather than to divide. I write it with the sort of earnestness that comes from a) the exhaustion of feeling as if I've been pounding my head into a wall over these questions, b) wondering about the effectiveness of said pounding, and then c) feeling judged for not having accomplished anything in that pounding and for d) trying to find a way to be comfortable with that outcome rather than getting tied up in knots over not having been an effective agent. I write it not just for myself, but for my fellow vegan abolitionists who end up dealing with the reality of living in an overwhelmingly omni world. Take it or ditch it for what it is.

A common discussion topic for vegan abolitionists involves the necessity of creative nonviolent vegan education as the primary tool to bring about an end to the exploitation of nonhuman animals. It is generally agreed that (as Prof. Gary L. Francione points out)

[i]f we are going to make progress toward a greater acceptance of veganism, we must educate. And we must educate in a nonviolent, non-confrontational way that takes into account the social, religious, and “movement” realities. This does not mean that our use of animals is anything but a moral outrage; it means only that our efforts to educate about that moral outrage must take into account how the vast majority of humans see this issue.
So who and how do we educate? For some, opportunities arise in everyday situations with strangers, while others set out to do more deliberate outreach work with the general public. I've written here back in August about the need to educate vegetarians about veganism (and you'll find numerous links to what others have said concerning education vegetarians in that older blog post, as well).

Many abolitionists, like Vincent J. Guihan from We Other Animals, agree that it goes beyond being a necessity and that educating others about veganism is actually a moral obligation for abolitionists: We owe animals more than to just not eat (or otherwise exploit) them ourselves:
We all have blood on our hands. I wish I could tell you that the feeling of shame that comes from that blood goes away. I've been vegan for a decade, and still, I can't tell you that.
So we go about deciding where to start and who and how to educate, and the how needs to involve striking a balance between blunt honesty and not forgetting that those around us have spent their entire lives taught or told that it's a given that nonhumans exist for humans to do with what we will. As Prof. Francione points out:
Most people have been raised to think that it is “natural” or “normal” to eat animal products. They have grown up in homes where an important part of family life has involved sitting around a table and consuming animal parts. Their memories of a deceased and beloved grandparent or other relative are connected to some meat dish that the relative prepared for holidays. They have been raised in religious traditions that have taught them that nonhumans lack “souls” or otherwise are spiritually inferior to humans.
This is a common-sense realization of what can be gleaned from taking a good hard look at those around us. Most of us who now eschew the consumption of animals held that mindset at some point, ourselves. Or, rather than holding a "mindset", I guess it should be said that we took things as givens without questioning them.

That being said and realizing that there are some who will just be incapable of or unwilling to listen to why the exploitation of nonhumans is as wrong as the exploitation of a human cousin or neighbour, where do we, as abolitionists, draw our own lines in the sand concerning who we choose to educate? Guihan himself states:
I'm not saying you have to tell everyone you meet everyday of your life to go vegan. I'm proposing that you tell a mother, a sister, a brother, a father, a friend or a stranger that nonhuman animals have a right not to be used as property.
So where do we draw our boundaries where that's concerned? Do we raise the issue once or twice and then walk away from it? And what happens when an abolitionist vegan attempts to educate others about veganism--particularly loved ones--and that attempt fails?

I once had an abolitionist I respect terribly tell me that he'd no sooner get emotionally involved with a non-vegan--a speciesist--than he would get involved with a racist. This weighed upon me quite heavily, since it was voiced within the context of my having brought up my involvement with an omnivore I'd come to adore. I've had more than a few abolitionists echo this sentiment since then. On a plain and ordinary level, I've always found myself agreeing with others that racism=sexism=speciesism. However, the association made concerning this person for whom I'd come to care didn't sit well, especially where I felt myself being judged for having allowed myself to accept this person regardless of his speciesism. I'd felt I'd been deemed inconsistent--a bad abolitionist.

So why the disconnect? I felt like a hypocrite. But then I didn't. I have an omnivorous mother. I have an omnivorous sister and two omnivorous nephews. I've explained to them my reasons for going vegan and those reasons have bounced off of them. Should I feel shame for continuing to love them or continuing to associate with them? Is the onus somehow on me to keep pressing them to change, however uninterested they've seemed thus far? Where does one draw the line with regards to one's obligation to educate others about veganism? Particulary when it comes to your personal relationships? And what of the aftermath? What if you fail? Do you "tsk-tsk" and walk away? Or do you acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of humans--whether strangers or loved ones--don't view nonhuman animals as anything other than things to be used? Does compartmentalizing this make you a bad abolitionist? Does it make you a hypocrite? Does it make you a realist?

I envy those who end up embracing the abolitionist approach to animal rights in tandem with a partner. I envy those who've been successful educating their family members about veganism and in bringing them around to veganism. But what of those who don't? How do we come to terms with the reality that the overwhelming majority of people around us, even loved ones or potential loved ones, are not and may never become vegan? Do we need to absorb these as personal failures? Do we need to judge those others around us who are just living their lives the way over 95% of humans do, taking it as a given that nonhumans exist for our use? Do we need to adjust our own boundaries and standards to reflect abolitionist principles and to cut people out who don't come around? Should there be shame in loving speciesists? Should a non-vegan need to fear that I would eventually dismiss him for being a non-vegan?

I look forward to reading your thoughtful comments.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

'Plant-Based' Fail!

Or could it just be that mainstream media is picking up on the fact that there's no significant ethical difference between vegetarianism and omnivorism? From this story on a so-called vegetarian society's monthly potluck (and according to the "vegetarian" group's coordinator):

Members brought dishes fit for all types of plant-based diets, including vegan (no dairy products), pescetarian (plant and fish products only) and fruitarian (fruits and nuts only), Dyches said.
So, since when are fish plant-based?

Avoid the confusion and go vegan!

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Sexy Vegan's Episode #14: Mock Tuna Salad

I've made reference to The Sexy Vegan cooking videos a few times over the past several months. I realize that their humour may not be to everybody's liking, but I can't help overflowing with a chortle or two when I watch some of them. For instance, in Episode #14 from a few months ago, he shows his audience how to make mock tuna salad:

Conflating Veganism and Vegetarianism in the Media

While scanning the internet for articles of interest, I came across a title that caught my eye this morning. "Do Vegan Fad Diets Cheapen the Vegan Lifestyle?" by Kelly Turner, a health and fitness writer and personal trainer, ends up disappointing. I'd hoped to find some earnest musing, but instead Turner mostly ends up conflating vegetarianism with veganism while briefly focusing on how some use these two "socially acceptable" labels to hide behind when they are merely seeking to lose weight.

Turner uses the descriptors 'vegetarian' and 'vegan' as if they are mostly interchangeable, although she does specify at one point that vegans avoid the consumption of dairy and eggs. She then writes:

This often extends past food into other areas of life, such as refusing to use leather products or support companies that they believe to treat the environment or animals cruelly.
The implication in stating "often extends to" instead of "always extends to" when it comes to vegans wearing animal products like leather is that veganism is primarily dietary (which, of course, it is not). Additionally, although there are definitely serious reasons why vegans should be concerned about their impact on the environment, to present environmental concerns as being driving motivators for people to choose to become vegan really misses the point altogether about veganism, which is specifically about taking animal rights seriously. (To hear a bit more about veganism and how it doesn't necessarily overlap with environmentalism, have a listen to Vincent J. Guihan's We Other Animals Radio podcast from a few weeks ago.)

It's just not a terribly well-written piece and any effectiveness she might have had in getting an answer to her question is lost thanks to the lack of clarity in her article. After all, how can one ascertain whether fad "vegan" diets "cheapen" veganism when one doesn't really have a solid understanding of the very basics of veganism? This ends up most obvious at the end of her article when she asks if "half-hearted vegans and vegetarians dilute the name down to nothing more than a fad diet". There's no such thing as a "half-hearted" (i.e. part-time) vegan and since vegetarianism has nothing to do with veganism, "half-hearted" vegetarians (i.e. omnis) should really have no bearing on anyone's perception of veganism.

The unfortunate truth is that, if anything, badly written articles about veganism are what actually dilute the meaning of the terms 'vegan' and 'veganism'.


I received an email this morning from a self-described vegetarian reader who told me that I'm getting it all wrong. She said that when she visits my blog, she would rather find tips on how to become vegan (e.g. information on whether certain ingredients or behaviours are vegan). She also suggested that I should be posting more recipes (with "nice photographs") of things that I make to eat. She said that she found it unhelpful that most of my posts are about the failure of animal welfare or about misuses of the term 'vegan' and that if I used a different approach, that I could convince more people like her to go vegan.

I do appreciate feedback, of course. I often do feel that I should be leaning more toward 'vegan education' blogging of a more basic sort and I try to remind myself of that from time to time and to post accordingly. The thing is, though, that there are tons of resources available online, from innumerable lists of animal ingredients to sites focusing on vegan nutrition. As for My Face Is on Fire not focusing on recipes much, well, the truth is that this isn't a food blog. I do spotlight other vegans' food blogs once or twice a month and periodically post about my own experiments or post links to recipes found on newspaper websites, but there are so many other things to write about concerning veganism without my feeling any need to focus on recipes.

Right now, where the abolition of the exploitation of animals and of their treatment as property are concerned, I think that it's crucial to focus on where animal advocacy does or doesn't work. With veganism as the moral baseline for the abolitionist movement, I also think it's crucial to ensure that the meaning of 'veganism' remains clear to all; there seems to be as much confusion concerning it among those who profess to espouse it as there is among those who choose to dismiss, mock or vilify it. So, my writing about these things may seem like nitpicking and may seem inconsequential to some, but I think that they fit somehow. At least I'd like to think so.