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.


Ben said...

Look, if you can't see the connection between eating a dead bird and celebrating the birth of your spiritual savior, then I feel sorry for you.

Vanilla Rose said...

Couldn't someone send Graham Norton a fake letter saying, "My grandson says he is gay, but I know he is straight and just doing it for the attention"? Do you think he would get the point??????

M said...

Just to show how confusing the Bickel piece was (from The Daily Collegian), they recently published this letter to the editor:

She's either illiterate or believes that vegetarians eat animals. Such a shame.