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:


Unknown said...

Very interesting essay and thanks for the link! You could trade the link you have for a link to my older essay: "Doo00dz, are free range veal, flea circuses, second-hand leather shoes, horseback riding, honey or placenta vegan? What veganism is and is not" It's a more substantive explanation of my views on veganism.

The appropriation of terms often leaves us with less than optimal choices about what we can/should describe as legitimately vegan. I think we have to be careful not to exclude people from identifying as vegan even if they exist in a state of moral confusion as to why they are vegan and as to what exactly they own nonhuman animals (that would draw us into precluding most vegans from identifying as vegans). On the other hand, I don't consider a deliberate but deliberately amoral abstention from animal use sufficient to consider someone vegan.

On the other hand, I would describe my cupcakes as vegan, even if a nonvegan ate them, although that wouldn't make the person who ate them vegan for the brief moments they were eating my vegan food. My shower this morning was perfectly vegan insofar as the products I used were plant based and I decided to not use animal products for moral reasons. But if someone had used my shower and my shower products, he or she would have had a vegan shower as well, even if s/he could not be meaningfully said to be vegan during the course of the shower.

All of which is only to point out that the use of the term vegan is often very problematic, especially in the media, even by other animal advocates.

M said...

Thanks for the comment, Mr. Guihan! I'll trade the links. I was honestly just looking for an excuse to promote recent blog posts on the general topic (i.e. à la blog roll) seeing as how whatshername did a pretty good job of avoiding any positive reference to strictly animal rights related reasons to go vegan).

Niki said...

Ugh. How can anyone take Lauzon seriously at promoting a Vegan event if she doesn't quite believe in it herself or understand what it's all about?

Daniel Wilson said...

Talk about a watered-down definition of veganism! But having spent a great deal of time at environmental events, I can tell you that veganism isn't the only issue that's misunderstood.

And asking a non-vegan to host a vegan event is beyond ridiculous.

We certainly have our work cut out for us!

Lucas said...

In 1951 Leslie Cross, Vice President of The Vegan Society, issued a statement titled "Veganism Defined" to "clarify the goal towards which the movement aspires." Other than the use of overarching terms such as "man" and "his", etc., I very much enjoy this definition.

Simply put, "'The object of the Society shall be to end the exploitation of animals by man"; and 'The word veganism shall mean the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals.'"

Therefore veganism, or the vegan movement, has always been abolitionist in nature.

Cross continues:

"The effect of this development is to make veganism unique among movements concerned with animal welfare. For it has crystallised as a whole and not, as are all other such movements, as an abstraction. Where every other movement deals with a segment - and therefore deals directly with practices rather than with principles - veganism is itself a principle, from which certain practices logically flow."

If, for example, the vegan principle is applied to diet, it can at once be seen why it must be vegetarian in the strictest sense and why it cannot contain any foods derived from animals. One may become a vegetarian for a variety of reasons - humanitarian, health, or mere preference for such a diet; The principle is a smatter of personal feeling, and varies accordingly. Veganism, however, is a principle - that man has no right to exploit the creatures for his own ends - and no variation occurs. Vegan diet is therefore derived entirely from "fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and other wholesome non-animal products," and excludes "flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and animal milk and its derivatives.'"