Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bits and Blurbs About Veganism: Getting it Right

With a sigh of something akin to relief, I stumbled upon some articles here and there that left me feeling a little hopeful this morning while sipping on my gingery morning tea. Hofstra University's The Chronicle had a short piece by contributing writer TJ Edouard today, in which he offers some informal tips on dining out as a vegan. Of his own decision to go vegan, he writes that even after watching sensationalist videos, he wasn't completely swayed. Although they had a bit of an impact on him, his cultural background of the dairy and meat-laden sort left him first shunning other animal products instead (e.g. leather, fur). The turning point for him, he writes, came when he realized that "standing for something that you believe in is better than disregarding it because you are too selfish to pretend to care". So, he went vegan.

His article is interesting, because he talks about obvious (e.g. Parmesan cheese in sauce) and sometimes not-so-obvious (e.g. eggs in pasta) animal ingredients, and also about cross-contamination (e.g. when foods otherwise described as animal-free end up cooked in the same grease as animal products). As he states, the important thing is to get used to asking questions. Not only is the onus on you to inform yourself of what it is that you're eating, but in asking, you're also educating wait staff about animal ingredients and the dietary aspect of veganism.

(Some would argue that vegans should avoid all non-vegan restaurants in the first place to both ensure that they don't inadvertently consume animal products, as well as to avoid supporting businesses that mostly (or in any way at all) profit from animal exploitation. This is something I hope to write about in the near future and in the interim, I'm very interested in hearing others' thoughts on the subject.)


In an informative piece in The Daily Princetonian today ("The daily value of veganism"), Senior Columnist Miriam Geronimus addresses nutritional concerns some of her family and friends have volleyed at her since she made the decision to go vegan last semester. Dispelling a number of myths ranging from the all-too-common "vegans get inadequate protein" to "vegans are all underweight", Geronimus does a fine job of educating her readers that it's not only not unhealthy to consume an animal-free diet, but that it can actually be more healthy. As she puts it: "Myths that veganism is unhealthy abound, but they are no reason not to be vegan if you otherwise would want to be". She's right!

With a little bit of self-education, it's easy to enjoy an animal-free diet; it's also easy to otherwise avoid consuming or using animals. The thing is that even if it weren't, it would be the right thing to do. It's not about convenience, but is about conviction--about doing what's right. Furthermore, as articles like Geronimus' illustrate, concerns over convenience when it comes to eating a nutritionally balanced diet are generally total bunk.

No more excuses, 'K? Just go vegan.


MikeyPod said...

Thanks for this post. I have been bogging myself down in negativity lately, and am so happy for the opportunity to remember that there are some ways that veganism is really happening and working.

As far as not eating at non-vegan restaurants, this is a tricky one for me. I recently became a "fan" of a local omni restaurant in my neighborhood. A vegan friend (kindly) questioned how I could be a fan of a place that proudly displayed pictures of "dead birds on sticks" on their website. She was right. I was (and am) excited about this place, because the chef understands veganism and provides options for me, but I realized that even though he is accommodating to my diet, he is still profiting from animal suffering and death.

My knee-jerk reaction to your question is "it's just not realistic to eat only at vegan restaurants," but then, I said that about going vegan at one time too, and now I never look back.

No real answer to your question, I guess, except that it is something worth thinking about.

Anonymous said...

I would love to support only vegan restaurants, but this is a slippery slope to supporting only vegan businesses in general. There are no vegan restaurants in my town. And, like almost everyone, I have to shop at non-vegan grocery stores. Since over 99% of the population is non-vegan, every time I pay for any product or service I am at least indirectly (usually directly) giving money to non-vegans. The only way to get out of this would be to boycott the economy all together, and while I'm not saying that's a bad idea, its certainly impractical, and would reduce the visibility of veganism.

I can't wait to move to a city where I can go to vegan restaurants and order anything on the menu without having to ask any questions.

Anonymous said...

I visit a variety of restaurants ranging from the entirely vegan to a pretty mainstream fast food place. What they all have in common is that they make me feel welcome there as a vegan. Yes, my black bean burrito may come from the "home of the fish taco," but they're happy to substitute rice for cheese, there's no lard in their beans, and they get my order right.

We have a great Middle Eastern restaurant in town that makes a mouthwatering falafel and the best hummus I've ever tasted. They also serve lamb kebabs, but there's a V on the menu next to everything vegan, and the staff is knowledgeable about veganism.

A bunch of caf├ęs around town serve some vegan items, and I feel that buying vegan items from businesses that aren't exclusively "for us" is a form of vegan outreach; they're reaching out to vegans, and I'm rewarding that effort. Vegans are a growing minority, and establishments should want our business. If we don't reach back when they put some vegan food on the menu, they'll take it back off. If they see that those items are selling, they may add more. Segregation doesn't help our movement. Integration does.

That said, if I'm in the market for something I can get from a purely vegan business, like Cakewalk Vegan Bakery and Grocery, it's better to buy my vegan cheese or birthday cake through her than through Whole Foods.

c said...

I always like to think of the root of the problem. This isn't necessarily a bad thing but as humans (who are also the oppressors of nonhuman animals), we often take it on our level and see how it affects us rather than the animals whom we are fighting for.

This is usually found in our enthusiasm towards mainstream, exploitative companies/businesses/ products who nod in our direction by offering something for us alongside the nonvegan stuff. That in itself perpetuates our utilitarian attitude towards nonhumans. Sure, we're the ones benefitting from plant-based(?) versions of things but who's the one getting paid to enslave and murder animals? The oppressor whom we are paying. Sure, some of the nonhumans are spared because of that line of products but in the end, the animals don't win. I find that the movement is too concerned about us--how we feel, how we benefit, and how it may scare us. I can acknowledge that we talk about the exploitation of nonhuman animals but it seems like it stops there. The "Go Vegan" message is often lost in unnecessary debates on how we should be grateful that a well known business is nodding in our direction by offering us a half hearted product alongside nonvegan stuff. If we want veganism to be mainstream, we have to get to the grassroots level of it: push the vegan businesses into that direction rather than rely on the mainstream's half hearted efforts. After all, the vegan places are the ones who were vegan from day 1 and who went out of their way to cater to fellow vegans. A mainstream business doesn't really care unless they see an increase of profit.

There are many ways to go vegan even if you don't have a restaurant or health food store around. For instance, if you're in NYC, there's no excuse to not be vegan--there are tons of restaurants but if you're in a little town that has nothing but nonvegan eateries, there are things that can be done. Look up recipes and cook, order food online, hold vegan potlucks and encourage others to do the same, or start a catering company or restaurant. It's also fair game to request vegan options in those nonvegan places until someone takes notice. Small towns are probably the only ones who can get away with this. As for suburbia and major cities, there really isn't any need to go into a restaurant that is serving every animal part and fluid under the sun. Not to mention, their vegan options are usually something you could've made at home as a snack.

I also see that dining at those kind of places is kind of a lose-lose--paying someone to directly or indirectly exploit animals and getting a crappy meal that keeps you wondering if it's the vegetable broth you're tasting or something else.

sheree boyd said...

Really good post and articles as always! Miriam's piece was well thought out...i thought it sad that some of the comments to her article were juvenile and more of an attack; although was grateful to see intelligent comments as well.

I rarely go out to eat...a habit from my childhood. I grew up in a household that rarely ate out and saw it more as a 'special' thing to do rather than an every day affair.

I also love to cook so that helps. and i do have the time to cook which i realize many people lack.

However, if i do go out to eat it is usually at a Japanese restaurant as I know I can order a good salad, some edamame, and sushi rolls like avocado and cucumber. I also just discovered sweet potato rolls so that makes my day. :)

I find Korean food to be accommodating to vegans as well. My bf is Korean so we shop at a local korean market every once in awhile.

Alexandra Jones said...

On whether or not vegans should eat at non-vegan restaurants, I'm a bit torn. It's something I discussed recently with a friend, who has decided she will only eat at vegan restaurants. I can totally see where she's coming from, but personally I do eat at vegetarian and omni restaurants from time to time, depending on the situation. I think it's really important to support vegan businesses whenever possible, but on the other hand, it's also important to get out in the omni world and be visible as vegans. I'm reminded of a gay rights campaign that was underway back in the 90's which consisted of stamping your $ bills with a pink triangle and the words "queer money," or something to that effect. The idea was to let businesses know that LGBT people are part of their clientele and that we are deserving of the same respect as any other customer. I think the same principle can apply in this case, that we should be visible when we go to restaurants and make it clear that we are vegans. I think doing so raises the profile of veganism and will result in restaurants becoming more accomodating, which in turn will mean more vegan options on restaurant menus which in turn will make veganism seem more mainstream and "easier" in the eyes of the average restaurant patron. (I know that one of the things that held me back from going vegan when I was vegetarian was the fear that eating in restaurants would be difficult.) And while I'm adamantly *not* of the school of thought that vegans should try to make veganism look easy at any cost (such as by not asking "too many questions" in restaurants), I do think that we need to be somewhat mindful of the impression we create for the non-vegans in our lives. The city where I live has, maybe, four or five totally vegan restaurants. If I were to insist to my non-vegan friends that I will ONLY eat with them in those restaurants and no others, I think I would be making veganism look harder and more restrictive than it actually is.

c said...

Sometimes I follow and there was a recent posting about a vegan restaurant closing down. It was a great reminder regarding the importance of spending one's dollars on a vegan business.

I (finally) became vegan back in October and became a full on abolitionist back in November or December. I noticed that you don't necessarily have to go out of your way to start engaging in advocacy. Vegan curiosity is almost inevitable. As soon as you say "I'm vegan" or "does it have any animal products?" (or any other variation) within earshot of a nonvegan individual, they will either start asking questions or go into defense mode. More often than not, they will ask the questions and that's where vegan education and awareness begins. So judging from my experience, it's not so necessary that we demand existing restaurants to sway our way in hopes of making veganism accessible. It's a matter of taking whichever existing vegan businesses there are and promoting them exhaustively. I truly believe that when veganism is literally built from the ground up in a community, it will eventually make its way. Not to sound like I am criticizing here (I am not) but it also sounds kind of defeatist because there has been so much negotiation in the animal rights community that we are succumbing to low measures.

Unknown said...

Only eating in vegan restaurants implies that you're privileged enough to live in a place that has vegan (or even vegetarian) eateries.

Almost every time I spend money, it's probably going to profit someone that isn't vegan somewhere. Even my university's semester student fees go to things as ridiculous as Stable upkeep for the Equestrian team.

That's why I favor the idea of creating a vegan presence in nonvegan places (like vegansalt said). I'm not going to KFC or anything, but I have no problem with asking the local Mexican place to leave off the cheese and sour cream.