Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Link Updates

I just wanted to take a second to mention recent link updates for the "Ethics of Consumption and Otherwise" list on My Face Is on Fire. I've recently added:

  • Ánima (Spanish/Portuguese/English)

I've also added the following two links to the "Vegan Cooking and Nutrition" links:

(If any of these sites belong to you and I've misnamed them, please do leave a comment or drop me a line at m.of.the.maritimes at Thanks!)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Things Overheard

Sometimes you hear someone say something and it makes so little sense that you almost do a double-take. Think "Dan Quayle". In this case, something I read had that effect on me:

[T]he treatment of animals that land on our grocery store shelves each day is deplorable. [...] While I am not vegetarian, I do make vegetarian choices on a regular basis in an effort to lessen my meat consumption.
What on earth does it mean to make "vegetarian choices"? Eating an apple? Having a bowl of cereal with soy milk? Having a bowl of cereal with dairy milk? Eating an apple somewhere between having pepperoni pizza for lunch and a T-bone steak with egg salad for dinner? This is where concern about treatment seems to fall short, with the "every little bit counts" mentality shows itself to be ineffective, as does this half-hearted lip-service to animals called 'vegetarianism'.

I'm just sayin'.


Speaking of paying lip-service to animals: In an article on "flirting" with Alicia Silverstone's Kind Diet, an aspiring foodie was no doubt chuckling to herself at her own cleverness when she wrote:
I decided to be kind to myself and try this diet in moderation. After all, who can go cold turkey from donuts, ice cream and fried onion rings? Plus, Easter is coming and I can’t miss pigging out on the Easter ham.
It seems to have become the latest thing to review vegan cookbooks and intersperse parts of the actual review with references to delectable animal flesh--where eating animals (or animal products) is presented as the equivalent of eating a decadently fattening slice of cake. Such is the new interest in so-called ethical eating.

Monday, March 29, 2010

What Other Abolitionists Have Been Doing

This is something I should do much more often, and will try to feature at least monthly from now on. There is so much being done right now to promote vegan education and abolitionist animal rights all over the world. I often share links to other abolitionists' blog updates or new projects on Twitter and Facebook, but think that having a monthly rundown in one spot of some highlights would be beneficial. There's more room this way for me to provide context where it's warranted, and it makes it easier for others to weigh in and discuss what's being shared. I'll start with a few mentions today, but will post many more later in the week.

So, where to start?

Prof. Gary L. Francione
has a new book coming out in May. The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation was co-written with Prof. Robert Garner of the University of Leicester (U.K.), and will be published by Columbia University Press. In the first section of the book, Prof. Francione defends an abolitionist approach to animal rights; in the second half, Prof. Garner defends the new welfarist approach (what Garner calls "protectionist"). I'll post the exact release date as soon as it's revealed (or you can go right to the source by keeping an eye on the Abolitionist Approach website, or by following the man himself on Twitter). Prof. Francione's also been busy updating his site with various essays over this past month:

  • "Eight Animals" was about an AOL news story on the shockingly high number of animals relinquished to its shelters killed by PeTA.
  • "Partners in Exploitation" was an essay on various animal welfare organizations' rubber-stamping the so-called "humane" consumption of animals and in doing so, merely effectively perpetuating the status quo by making consumers feel more comfortable about continuing to consume and otherwise use non-human animals.
  • "Euphoria? For Whom?" was an elaboration upon the previous essay. This one singled out a group called Humane Farm Animal Care and how it misleads the public, through its certification or labelling program, into thinking that dairy cows can lead delightfully happy lives as they're enslaved and used for their secretions.
Prof. Francione also recorded and shared his 16th Abolitionist Approach Commentary podcast this month. A short while ago on Twitter, he had asked people to submit questions to him for the podcast and in this commentary, he responded to those concerning single-issue campaigns, as well as "with the issue about why many of those who promote violence are opposed to the abolitionist approach". You can listen to it here.


Along with participating in
ARZone's Live Guest Chat as a featured guest on March 9 (and later being invited to join its moderation team), Dan Cudahy wrote a couple of pieces for his popular Unpopular Vegan Essays blog:
  • "On Veganism and Being Fully Human" provided some insight--written quite beautifully and succinctly--into how accepting or rejecting speciesism qualifies the traits we customarily understand or present as typifying what it means to be "human".

Kerry Wyler set up a Facebook page for Vegan Maine, to promote abolitionist animal rights through creative and non-violent vegan education in the state of Maine.


Elizabeth Collins recently recorded and made available Episode 54 of her New Zealand Vegan Podcast! In it, she talks about her street activism with fellow-abolitionist William Paul. She also mentions Veganicious Barbara Degrande's brand new podcast and highlights a couple of new YouTube videos by Ben Frost, which feature him performing his songs "I Am Someone - A Call for Veganism" and "Killed for Taste, Loved for Companionship - The Notes of Moral Schizophrenia".

If you haven't yet checked out the New Zealand Vegan Podcast,
do so now--there's a wealth of information and interviews to be enjoyed. Also check out the numerous links her blog provides to sites and presentations by abolitionist vegan activists around the world.


Check back in later this week for more updates on what other abolitionists have been doing and remember:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Waiting for the Great (Vegan) Leap Forwards

Here's a video posted a little over two years ago that I stumbled across of a reworking of a classic Billy Bragg song to promote veganism and abolitionist animal rights. It's by a guy called Ben Edwards. The sound quality is a little iffy at times, but have a listen!

Animals Don't Need Our Pity

Here's another great video from porolita22's YouTube channel.

Non-human animals don't need our pity; what they need is for us to stop using them and to talk to others about not using them.

Go vegan and talk to someone else about veganism today!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Vegan Eats?

Back in September, I traveled to a town around an hour or so outside of Philadelphia to visit with a certain floppy-haired boy. The trip involved a lot of firsts for me. Aside from the fact that I hadn't ventured out of the country in well over seven years, it was my first time traveling through the US on a bus and setting foot in the states of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It was the first time I've ever fallen asleep listening to a loud chorus of cicadas. I also met a couple of vegans for the first time since going vegan, myself, when we got to share a meal in a fantastic and unassuming little vegan restaurant. The trip also provided me with rare (for me) opportunities to explore a wide variety of other vegan options.

Online vegan friends and acquaintances from the Philadelphia area had recommended Govinda's Gourmet Vegetarian to me. More specifically, they'd recommended the fast-food / takeout part of the restaurant called Govinda's To Go. Although it had been described to me as a vegan establishment, I soon discovered that it wasn't. When the floppy-haired one and I arrived, I noticed that the menu posted on their wall stated that they offered (dairy) mozzarella cheese as an option for their sandwiches and other dishes. Having had their cheese steak sandwiches recommended by one of the vegan friends who'd suggested the place, the floppy-haired one ordered their Chicken Cheese Steak and I ordered their Pepper Steak Sandwich, both of us making sure to confirm that we wanted dairy-free cheese on them.

After a short wait, our food was ready and we carried it outside to eat, due to limited seating inside. I then noticed that we'd each been prepared Chicken Cheese Steak sandwiches, and after my sweetie and I
discussed our disappointment with the amount of filling in them, I took a bite. We'd spent part of the ride into Philly laughing over his stories of the notoriously sky-high-piled classic Philly cheese steak sandwiches he and his family had enjoyed when he was a kid; these sandwiches had a modest amount of "chicken" in them, with some grilled peppers and just enough of a very, very tasty gravy to moisten them. The bread was whole grain, hearty and delicious and to make my sandwich a little less "dry", I eventually took some of the small bit of plain mesclun mix on the side and tucked it into the bread. Don't get me wrong--it was good. In fact, it was good enough that I took yet another bite before remembering to either stuff in the mesclun mix or take a photo.

When we got home, I took a look at the takeout menu I'd grabbed as a "souvenir" and noticed how the words "vegan" and "vegetarian" were both used as descriptors in it, but that although the front of the menu had the words "fresh", "healthy", "vegan" and "fast" written on it, the back of the menu stated that all items on the menu were either "vegetarian or vegan". I decided to visit the Govinda's website to see what it had to say and found the following general disclaimer:

All of our Selections are Either Vegan or Vegetarian - No Meat, Poultry, Fish or Egg products are used in the preparation of our dishes although for familiarity we utilize the names of meat products. We are committed to the protection of animals.
I then noticed that the menu on their site also mentions that "Authentic Mozzarella Cow Cheese" or casein-free soy cheese are both offered as options for their sandwiches. What was really disappointing, however, was reading that the meat substitute used in their version of the classic Philly cheese steak--the Philly Pepper Steak Sandwich I'd initially ordered and (thankfully) not been given--is not vegan. Curious, I did some searching using Google and brought up a few ads for the restaurant where they described their menu as "90% dairy-free".

I live in a small city where vegan options in restaurants or other eating establishments are limited to a small handful of decent ethnic places or the local pita place. I rarely eat out aside from the occasional workplace-related lunch (and even then, I often opt out). The bottom line is that the very few times a year I do eat out, it's at the few places in my city where I know the menu and know the staff and am sure that there's little chance of cross-contamination. I know that many vegans feel that eating at non-vegan establishments is wrong since it entails supporting businesses that also profit off the exploitation of non-humans or that some vegans make exceptions for "vegetarian" non-vegan restaurants.
There are no "vegetarian" restaurants here in my city, and even if there were, I wouldn't view them any differently than I would ordinary restaurants (i.e. where animal products including flesh are served) and wouldn't feel compelled to support them any more than I would ordinary restaurants. I have mixed feelings about consuming animal-free products at establishments that otherwise profit off the sale and use of animal products, hence my generally refraining from eating out here, since although I can't avoid buying groceries, I can avoid restaurants. For years, I felt that it was important to provide a demand for vegan options at ordinary establishments, but I'm no longer sure of how (or even whether) this is effective.

I'd been excited about Govinda's, as I'd been excited getting to eat at SuTao Cafe earlier in my visit, where for the first time since going vegan, every single thing on a restaurant's menu was up for grabs. I'd been excited and my disappointment with the place ended up being twofold: First, given how the overwhelming majority of their menu offerings are vegan, I don't understand why on earth they couldn't go the extra step to eliminate the rest of their animal-based options. Secondly, I felt that for a place that half-markets itself as vegan,
they should really be more forthright about the animal products contained in their dishes. The fact that the meat sub in their Philly Pepper Steak Sandwich is described as being "not vegan" on their website, while no mention of this is made on their posted or paper menus is disconcerting and--whether deliberately so or not--misleading to vegans. I should have done it months ago, but I do intend to contact them about this over the next few days to get clarification and to express my disappointment.

Govinda's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hegans, Indeed!

Vegan-friendly Twitter streams were abuzz with snide exchanges yesterday about an article on so-called "hegans" that had just appeared in the Boston Globe. What is a "hegan"? According to Boston Globe writer Kathleen Pierce, it represents:

the new face of veganism: men in their 40s and 50s embracing a restrictive lifestyle to look better, rectify a gluttonous past, or cheat death.
So according to Pierce, the "new face of veganism" focuses on animal products you eat, and on improving your own health or appearance. Animals shmanimals! Pierce presents this as a departure from ordinary veganism (in this case, it's really strict vegetarianism), leaving one to think that vegan men had, up to that point, mostly consisted of effeminate and emaciated shells of human beings.

Salon writer Thomas Rogers picked up on this, yesterday, and shared a few of his own thoughts on Pierce's invention of a new word to describe "the supposed hot new trend of the male vegan -- men who refuse to eat meat and animal products and yet somehow manage to hold on to their masculinity" . He quips that "the succinct catchiness of the word is almost enough to forgive the weaknesses of the article". Me, I think that Pierce is just another in a long line of food writers hopping on the recent interest in variations on purported ethical eating, who attempt to bring attention to themselves by inventing new terms -- like former vegetarian Atlantic food writer Max Fisher did last year, while failing abysmally to carve out a niche for himself as a vegan-hating pseudo-vegetarian.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Us and Them

I read an article in the food section of AlterNet this morning that I felt needed to be addressed. Heather Wood Rúdolph wrote about her recent "slimming detox diet" ("6 Things I Learned When I Went Vegan for a Month") . Self-described as having been raised vegan, the writer went on to follow "some version of a vegetarian diet for most of [her] life" (albeit a "happy fish-and-poultry eater for a few years"). She was seeking something to make her feel clean--to make her feel less "full" after "each meal". So? She cut animal products out of her diet for a month, but upon finding herself craving things like tuna, she decided that "eating this way all the time wasn’t for [her]--at least not right now".

What things did she learn from refraining from eating animal products for a month? To become a better cook, that increasing plant-based sources of fibre in one's diet clears out your (
uh) system, that when you force yourself into eating something you don't want to be eating (e.g. "when faced with another soy-based dinner or carb-loaded breakfast") you'll crave something else, you can find tons of fresh produce at the farmer's market, that "wine is vegan" (uh, it's actually not all vegan) and, that "[i]t's OK to eat dairy and meat--if you do it responsibly". She elaborates:

Realizing I don’t want to be totally vegan all the time makes the meat/dairy choices I do make seem that much more valuable.
Knowing that you want to keep using animals makes your choices to use animals more "valuable"? What does she mean by this? Perhaps she's been reading Michael Pollan (or Jonathan Safran Foer, since I think it's meant to sound sort of profound). What does she mean by "responsibly"? Basically, that since dairy leaves her bloated, she should eat less of it. Oh, and that she should ask grocers or farmers "how the food they’re selling was raised, processed and shipped", since letting oneself get talked into believing that an animal hop-skipped her way to one's plate joyfully absolves one of any moral accountability to consider whether or not one should be consuming them at all for one's own pleasure. What did she not learn? Sadly, for someone who claims to have been raised vegan, she didn't seem to learn what veganism is really about.

I write articles about pieces like hers on my blog because it confounds me how people conflate things when it comes to discussing (or referencing) veganism. It confounds me that so many are eager to co-opt the term "vegan" and apply it to any variation of actually eating and otherwise using nonhuman animals. A friend of mine who sometimes reads my blog tells me that I'm mostly just nitpicking and judging when I write about this sort of thing. I'll admit that after hearing someone self-identify as a part-time vegan by virtue of having an occasional animal-free meal, that the sound my eyes make when they roll probably finds some way to nestle itself between the lines of text that I write. I'm not perfect and am as prone to frustration as the next critter. The thing is, though, that when I write these articles, it's because when others write about veganism and confuse it with variations of the deliberate use and exploitation of animals, however much (or little) of it, it makes it really hard for me to talk to people about veganism.
"But, this-or-that famous celebrity wears leather pants and she's vegan!"

"But, Mark Bittman says you can be 'vegan before six!'"

"You're just being an absolutist by telling me that I can't be like them and call myself a vegan!"
The thing is that if I talk to you about veganism, I'm not trying to interfere with your ability to choose. I'm not trying to tell you what to do. I'm merely trying to give you the information to make the best possible choices that will take into account the interests nonhuman animals have in not being enslaved for our use. If I tell you that veganism means eschewing the deliberate use or exploitation of all animals at all times as much as is it is possible for you--in good faith--to do so, I'm just explaining the meaning of a term to you. Part of that involves pointing out when and where people are completely mangling the definition or meaning of veganism and setting things straight. When I tell you that not eating meat on Mondays doesn't make you a part-time vegan, I'm not trying to make you feel bad for not eating meat on Mondays, but am just trying to explain to you that part-time animal consumption is not vegan. As a vegan (particularly, as an abolitionist vegan who strives to educate people so that they make the decision to stop using nonhuman animals), it makes no sense for me to condone the use of animals; in condoning the part-time use of animals, I would condone the use of animals. "But every little bit helps," you say?

If I convince a housemate to give up eating eggs for a month, there may be one less chicken (out of the millions of laying hens used in North America each year) thrust into the hellish existence of being kept to produce eggs for human consumption that month. But what about the next month? And the following year? If that housemate kept a cat she'd raised from a kitten in a shoebox all year-round and agreed to let the cat out for one single month, what about the rest of the year? "Of course one month is not enough," most would respond. "It's 'cruel' to keep a cat in a shoebox and the housemate should be made to stop it altogether." But for some reason (let's call it what it is:
speciesism), most don't get the same warm fuzzies when considering chickens than they do when considering the animals we usually like to cuddle on our laps. To say that one egg-free month was one of those "every little bit helps" actions, or acknowledging the housemate's effort as having had any moral significance in terms of the rest of that chicken's life (or the lives of the millions of other chickens who continue to be used) makes as much sense as it would to praise the housemate for having let the cat out of the shoebox--much less so, even, considering what chickens go through. We're outraged that a cat would be treated as such, but not so outraged at the treatment of chickens enslaved to provide us with "food".

The problem is that when we get hung up on discussing
treatment, we filter it through this preset notion we have of nonhuman animals existing for our use--as our property. While one type of animal (e.g. a cat) is understood to exist as our "pet", another (e.g. a cow) is understood to exist as our "food". We love our pets and eat our food, and to reconcile ourselves to doing either, we deem one worthy of different treatment than the other. But the truth is that chickens and cats (like humans) are sentient; both chickens and cats (like humans) will react to and avoid pain if permitted to do so. When it comes to sentience, the only thing that differentiates a chicken from a cat is what we humans impose on them when we follow through with our need to classify our "things" into convenient categories to make sense of how we use them. It's artificially imposed by us. This is why the root of the problem, when it comes to addressing the moral confusion we humans have when considering what we do--or more often "hire" others to do on our behalf--to nonhuman animals, is that we think of them as our property. We need to focus on their sentience and acknowledge that a chicken is no more a "thing" than a cat and that a cat is no more a "thing" than is a human.

We humans go through most of our lives justifying our moral actions in a ruthless game of "us-and-them", by which we're perpetually imposing a "them" on others with whom we interact. This has been made obvious through justifications given to repress women for centuries, to enslave fellow-humans, to discriminate against gays and lesbians, and so on. It's at the root of racism, sexism, heterosexism
and speciesism. Where nonhuman animals are concerned, they become the "other"--different from us, and therefore fair game to be used by "us".

What's become alarming is how some non-vegans--particularly vegetarians--have come to filter abolitionist vegans through this whole "us-and-them" manner of thinking. For instance, you may think as a vegetarian that I'm lumping you into a convenient "them" to set you apart and vilify you when I assert that I won't condone any sort of animal consumption or exploitation, when in fact, I'm trying to include you in my "us" by showing you that nonhuman animals are
also "us". By talking to you about veganism, I'm trying to give you the information you need to understand this--not vilify or condemn you for not seeing it, but waving you over to talk to you and to give you the facts so that you can give up your own "us-and-them" mentality. By trying to talk to you about veganism, not mincing words or couching facts, and not trying to acknowledge anything less than not using other sentient animals as being the right thing to do, I'm telling you that I truly believe that you're like me--that you want to do the right thing. I'm trying to convey to you that I believe that you're courageous enough to look at the facts and admit that what we put nonhumans through when we treat them as ours to use is simply awful and that it needs to stop.

When I refuse to listen to other vegans who insist that a vegan message is too hard for you to handle, and who insist that that calling for veganism as the absolute least we can do for nonhuman animals, I'm trying to tell you that I think that you
can handle it. I'm not making you a "them" to my abolitionist vegan "us". I'm trying to tell you that if you can move beyond speciesism that you're capable of coming to the same conclusions and that I'm ready and willing to do whatever I can to help you get to those conclusions and to help you act upon them once you do. That's what vegan education is about to me; that's what it means to get rid of the "us-and-them" mentality and to tackle speciesism. And at the very least, to be able to get to that point, we need to have a clear understanding of what is or isn't meant by "veganism".

Learn more at Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Vegans Eat

OK, so it's two "What Vegans Eat" posts in a month. What can I say? I have food on the brain and food bloggers I follow have been cooking like mad. I can't help but share some of the things that caught my attention:

Krista over at
Disposable Aardvarks Inc. has been posting more photos of the bento meals she prepares for her family, sharing logs of what she consumes and reviewing restaurants in the Boston area. Check out her latest post from just yesterday.

Batgirl at
Veganincognito recently shared a recipe for "The Best Blended Salsa of All Time".

Over at
This Busy (Happy!) Vegan, Allison posted about her love of DIY vegan pizza. I'm a homemade pizza fan, myself. With the right tasty toppings, it's actually become pretty irrelevant to me whether the pizza is cheeseless, or topped with homemade or store-bought cheese subs. Although sometimes I'll shred some Follow Your Heart mozzarella over it or add a bit of nutritional yeast "melty cheeze" sauce, I just as often add a few dollops of hummus or just nothing at all except the sauce and vegetable toppings. Favourite toppings of mine include: bell peppers (green, yellow or red), zucchini, red onion, crushed garlic, spinach, hot banana or jalapeno peppers (fresh or pickled), olives (green or red), broccoli, pineapple, sundried tomatoes, kale and capers--but not all together!

Melissa from
The Papaya Chronicles posted a delicious recipe for "Three Sisters Stew" a few days ago, complete with suggestions for different variations on it depending on the ingredients at your disposal or your taste preferences. I made it yesterday and loved it!

Vegan Mafia blog continues to offer upbeat product and Salt Lake City restaurant reviews, quick meal ideas, and the occasional mention of the ever elusive and lovely pooch Darby.

Since no "What Vegans Eat" post feel write without the inclusion of something sweet and decadent to round things out, I'll refer you to Jessy's happyveganface blog, where last last month she posted a recipe for "Gluten-Free Chunky Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies". Enjoy!

If you have any vegan food blog recommendations, recipe requests or vegan cooking advice questions, please feel free to ask away by leaving a comment. I'll do my best to answer or lure in someone else in who'd be better able to weigh in.

Terry Bisson's "They're Made Out of Meat"

I'd posted a snippet from this Nebula Award nominated science-fiction short story by Terry Bisson a couple of years ago. It first appeared in OMNI in April 1991. It provides an interesting twist on how most humans view other animals. (Yes, I'm outing myself as a sci-fi geek!)

A short film adaptation of it by director Stephen O'Regan won the Grand Prize at the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame's 2006 Film Festival. It's available on YouTube:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Veganism in the Media

Veganism Is _______?

In Long Island University's The Post Pioneer yesterday, its features editor Diane Agulnick shared a couple of paragraphs describing veganism and why she's a vegan ("Veganism Is Not a Religion"). She starts off emphasizing that being vegan is a personal choice for her, writing: "I'm not trying to convert you, I'm not trying to convince you, and I'm not trying to persuade you." She contextualizes this by describing how people often react defensively--even apparently fearfully--upon finding out that she is vegan. What is a vegan? According to Agulnick:

The truth is, a vegan is just an extreme vegetarian. I'm sure most of you know that a vegetarian is someone who does not eat any animal meat, including beef, chicken, fish, etc. The difference between vegans and vegetarians is that vegans also don't eat any dairy, eggs, or any animal products whatsoever.
So after defining veganism as dietary, Agulnick goes on to emphasize the horrible conditions of factory farming to explain why she would refrain from eating animal products other than meat, adding that cow's milk is for calves and that both cows and chickens are "pumped full of hormones" and forced to make them "lactate or shoot out eggs multiple times a day". For emphasis, she adds:
Girls know how hard it is to deal with that one egg once a month; having to go through this on an even more regular basis doesn't sound too pleasant, does it?
I'm not sure I've ever heard this approach used to appeal to either people's empathy or sense of justice to get them to reconsider using nonhuman animals, but then again, as Agulnick restates at the end of her piece to make it clear, it doesn't bother her if people agree or disagree with her "reasoning" since it's just her personal choice. (But hey, if anyone happens to rethink their "carnivorous" ways, it's a bonus.)

Although I appreciate that more people are discussing veganism in mainstream media (or college papers, as in this case), I find it troubling that the "go to" places for so many vegans talking about their veganism is still to overstate how they've no intention of changing others' minds about exploiting nonhuman animals--as if it's rude or shameful to either do so or seek to do so. Adopting this posture does nothing but perpetuate this mindset amongst vegans--and non-vegans alike--that a good vegan is a quiet vegan and that merely talking to a non-vegan about veganism is somehow wrong. How can we possibly educate others about the interests of nonhuman animals within this context?

The Difference Between Man and Animal

Yesterday, on the website for First Things, a publication of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, I found a short opinion piece by a guy called David Wills. He wanted to throw in his own two cents after having attended "a forum on the ethics of food animal product hosted by the National Catholic Bioethics Centre (and after having read a Times Literary Supplement review of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals). He doesn't talk about veganism, necessarily, but after bringing it up and discussing it with a few people on Twitter, I went back to his piece a few times yesterday sort of amazed at intensity of the man's speciesism, as he takes issue with what he calls "a lack of clarity about what man is and animals are". Particularly, he takes issue with Foer book's reviewer's assertion that what Wills calls "food animals" deserve to live long fulfilling lives:
The reviewer seems to assume, but does not even try to argue, that food animals deserve a long and fulfilling life (whatever fulfilling means for them), and therefore to kill them for our use is wrong. But since they have no real consciousness or memory, how can they know, much less care, that their life is shorter than it might have been?

Would a beef cow fall into despair if told he was being slaughtered on Monday? Would he start lamenting the books he had not read, the symphonies he had not written, the fact that he won’t be grazing in the field with his great-grandchildren? Animals don’t live in time as man does, and therefore being deprived of time is not an injustice.

In its blurring the fairly obvious difference between man and animal, that argument is typical of the kind of argument often offered against the current use of food animals. Whatever is the argument for treating food animals better than we do, that is not it.

So nonhuman animals "don't live in time as" humans do and therefore have no interest in living lives of their own and we should thus view their use as justifiable? One could say the same of humans who are senile.

That Wills misses the point of why nonhuman animals deserve to live long fulfilling lives makes itself evident in that he describes them as having "no real consciousness or memory". Anyone who has spent any long stretch of time with any nonhuman animal can certainly refute that nonhumans have no memory. As for consciousness, I think that Wills convolutes the issue by focusing on intellect (e.g. "lamenting the books he had not read") rather than acknowledging its most basic and important aspect: Sentience. That nonhumans are able to feel or perceive things around themselves, seeking pleasures and avoiding pain and developing / maintaining relationships with kin and others, is what truly irrefutably reveals their similarities to humans. Wills chooses to ignore this altogether in his short piece, however, finishing it off instead with some martini-phobic ramblings.

He's Not a Vegan... Because He Eats Fish

Finally, I just wanted to throw in this short mangling of the meaning of "vegan" I found in a short review of a weight loss book by the actor who provided the voice for the captain of the Axiom spaceship in the hit animated movie Wall-E (a movie I thought was tremendously overrated, by the way--something I've always wanted an excuse to say aloud or write somewhere), The Oregonian's Jeff Baker gives us some insight into what a vegan is or isn't:
Garlin eventually managed to start losing weight by eliminating meat, chicken, sugar and processed foods from his diet. He is not a vegan because he eats fish, but he is in that neighborhood and happy about it.
In that neighborhood, huh? Uh, OK. Is that like calling the state of Texas or the city of Los Angeles "neighbourhoods"?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shuffling Out This or That Animal Part as Self-Deprivation

I stumbled across an upbeat little lifestyles piece in the Denton Daily news early this morning ("Lenten sacrifice prompts family to try vegetarianism"), which had I been caffeinated, would have possibly left me shaking my head a little. Just a little. As a vegan, I sometimes encounter people who will say things to me from across a table like: "It's a real shame that you can't try this; you don't know what you're missing!" More often than not, the mindset underlying this is revealed more clearly when folks come right out and tell me that "it must be so hard to not be able to eat anything normal". I always reassure them that when it comes to what I eat, I do just fine, and that if anything, going vegan has left me eating a wider and more healthy variety of foods. I hardly view it as a sacrifice to have made changes in my life that leave me lessening the role I had previously played in the cycle by which animals are bred and then slaughtered for our use--whether as food, personal care products, clothing, entertainment (and so on). So it irks me when I see mainstream media articles describing veganism as hard, or as being about self-sacrifice, when veganism is actually quite easy once you get the hang of it, and is less self-sacrifice than it is a relief.

When I read articles like this one conveying that vegetarianism is difficult, particularly about it being hard to eat vegetarian in restaurants, I really have to roll my eyes. As many vegans know, if anything, the reason non-meat options in restaurants are generally also non-vegan is that they're generally saturated with dairy or eggs. Shuffling animal flesh out for other animal products certainly didn't leave me lacking options in most restaurants I'd encountered back before I became vegan. This article irked me a little, as well, because of its reiteration of what's now become standard in most food-related articles discussing so-called ethical eating--presenting the eating of animal flesh as either funny or sexy. In this case, the piece's writer quotes her youngest daughter as quipping in response to their discussion of going vegetarian for lent: “Are you kidding? I’m going to the grocery and getting a steak!” I mean, in someone's mind, is this really a Hallmark moment?

Another thing the article illustrates is how the slippery sloping involved in the shuffling out of one animal product for another that led to the big fish-eating 'vegetarian' trend has now led to the mainstream acceptance of the definition of 'vegetarianism' as including the eating of fishes. This is less ethically problematic, really, than it is irksome that the definition of a term that denotes a diet excluding the consumption of animal flesh is now assumed to include the consumption of the flesh of some animals deemed less worthy. The pescatarianism thing used to really get under my skin, but the truth is that now it pretty much makes sense to me that it evolved and that many once-upon-a-time vegetarians are now also shuffling fish in and out of their diets and not viewing it as morally inconsistent to do so.

The truth is that it's
not. All of this just merely adds more weight to the argument that if you do really take the interests and rights of nonhuman animals seriously, you should go vegan. It also adds weight to the argument that it really makes no sense for vegans to promote a vegetarian diet. Animal exploitation is animal exploitation, whether it involves using animals for their flesh, their secretions, their skin/fur, their ability to entertain us, et al. To condemn one and condone the other is inconsistent and confusing. Don't we owe nonhuman animals more than that?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Speciesism and the Silencing of Vegans

Yesterday, I wrote a critique of Emily Weingarten's shaming of out-of-the-closet and vocal vegans at the website ("We're vegans, not freaks"). This morning, I left a comment in response to her article:

Hi Emily. I just wanted to point out a couple of things that concern me about your article.

You write that to get respect, vegans need to "be able to eloquently state their reasons for being vegan and to be consistent in their diet and lifestyle." Then in your subsequent points, you imply that vegans shouldn't discuss their veganism with non-vegans unless they're actually approached by them, lest they offend them ("What we can do is support the people who are interested in learning more about vegan lifestyle and possibly becoming vegan without alienating ourselves by projecting our vegan philosophies on others who may not be interested at all.") and that vegans should be morally inconsistent by eating animal products when offered, lest they offend non-vegans. So which is it? Should vegans "eloquently state their reasons" or should we shut up about our reasons, lest we "project [our] vegan philosophies on others"? Should we be "consistent" or should we be willing to display to people (as you suggest we should) that politeness trumps honesty, integrity in our moral choices?

By definition, vegans refrain (to the full extent they can knowingly do so) from consuming and otherwise using nonhuman animals and their secretions / products. You state in your piece that "being vegan" might lead someone to consider stopping to wear "leather, wool, and silk". There's no "might", though. Being vegan actually entails not wearing lather, wool and silk since they're all animal products. In writing that that you choose to knowingly eat animal products when friends and family offer them to you and chiding other vegans, stating that it's the correct thing to for them to do, you're basically stating that you're not vegan and that other vegans shouldn't be, either. Or you're trying to redefine "veganism" as something that somehow involves the deliberate consumption of animal products, which by definition, it doesn't.

You seem to go to great length in your article to convey to vegans that they should keep their veganism to themselves--to not talk about it unless approached to do so and to toss their ethics aside when faced with having to refuse vegan products lest they hurt others' feelings and come off as judgmental, but the truth is that in your article, you're actually shaming and judging vegans--for being openly, honestly and consistency vegan.

Weingarten responded, basically repeating the same points with which I'd taken issue in my comment, while at the same time denying that it had been her intention to make those points:
Thanks, everyone, for your comments thus far. To address Mylene's comment, I'd never suggest vegans to be embarrassed of their lifestyle choices or be "in the closet," as you say in your blog. My intended message here is that no one wants to hear vegans project their views on others or pass judgments about non-vegans, just as vegans don't want meat eaters or vegetarians criticizing their choices. Certainly, it's important for vegans to be as consistent as possible in their lifestyle choices, from food to clothing and personal care products. As vegans, we need to understand that we are a minority and getting respect is all about giving it.
So, figuring that she'd either misunderstood or misread either what I'd stated in my comment or in my blog post about her opinion piece, I gave in and offered up clarification of what it was about her opinion piece I found disconcerting:
Thanks for responding, Emily.

I certainly didn't mean to suggest that you were implying that vegans should be "embarrassed" of their lifestyle choices; I did, however, mean to express that you you seemed to be shaming and judging vegans who choose to communicate honestly and openly with non-vegans about their lifestyle choices and the reasons for them. You make it clear even now in your response that vegans should keep their reasons for being vegan (and thus, their opinions about the ethics of consuming or otherwise exploiting nonhuman animals) to themselves when you write that your "intended message here is that no one wants to hear vegans project their views on others or pass judgments about non-vegans".

Basically, you're saying that no one wants to hear why anyone who is vegan chooses to be vegan, particularly if that explanation involves telling non-vegans why it's immoral to treat other sentient animals as things. Between that and telling vegans in your article that if they're offered food that contains animals body parts or secretions that they should buck up and eat it, you make it fairly clear that vegans should not let on in any way whatsoever either *that* they are or *why* they are vegan around non-vegans--unless they're asked by someone who somehow manages to guess that they're vegan in the first place. Because that would just be disrespectful?

What if your article had been another ethical scenario? Take child abuse, for instance. If you were against child abuse and yourself refrained from abusing children, would you lecture other people who are against child abuse and who refrain from abusing children, telling them that they should keep their opinions to themselves since they shouldn't project their "anti-child abuse philosophies" at others around them who do choose to keep abusing children? Of course not. Would you suggest to someone who is against child abuse and who refrains from abusing children that if he or she was offered a child to slap around a little that he or she should do it, lest he or she hurt the feelings of the person who offered up the child?

As vegans, we are indeed a minority. This is why we need to be open and honest about the ethics of using other sentient animals as things. We shouldn't be shaming each other into silence about it. Furthermore, to normalize it and bring an understanding and acceptance of it into the mainstream, every opportunity that can be taken in good faith and with patience to educate others about animal exploitation should be taken. It's not a "personal" choice. For many, veganism is a response to a deeply entrenched speciesism in society that needs to be altered as soon as possible. This speciesism is is no different from racism, sexism or heterosexism and we should be as open and honest about our rejection of it as we are about our rejection of other forms of discrimination or exploitation that involve sentient animals.
A few hours later, I received an email from Stephanie Murray,'s Community Director, informing me that my second comment had been removed:
Good afternoon,

I’ve removed the following comment from for the comparison between Emily Weingarten’s article and child abuse. This is not a fair comparison takes the conversation off-topic. You are welcome to remove that reference and repost.


Stefanie Murray
Community Director,
And on the website, in the comments thread was a message from Paula Gardner (listed as staff) stating: "A comment was removed due to a personal attack."

So on one hand, looking for answers and clarification by unravelling the multiple layers of a writer's confused and contradictory statements was apparently unfair and took the conversation "off-topic". On the other hand, attempting to defend vegans against Weingarten's attempt to shame them into silence with her opinion piece somehow ended up labeled a "personal attack". And why? Because it was deemed absolutely audacious and unacceptable to draw a comparison between the exploitation or abuse of human children and that of nonhuman animals.

This, my friends, is speciesism.

(Edited at 5:00 pm AST to add: An anti-vegan commentator posted in response to Weingarten's piece mentioning that his or her comment may have been construed as a "personal attack", so it seems that it's possible that I've only been deemed guilty of "going off-topic" by trying to get a straight answer out of Weingarten. Since being on-topic is deemed off-topic, however, I've decided to refrain from commenting further on Weingarten's piece, lest I waste my time and merely end up having yet another comment removed. Thanks for reading!)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

No Emily, Veganism Isn't Just About You or Me

A self-described vegan called Emily Weingarten wrote a fairly negative review of Bob and Jenna Torres' Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World for the website yesterday ("We're vegans, not freaks"). I admit (with a small amount of embarrassment) that I have not yet read the book. It's been on my "must read" list since I first stumbled across their Vegan Freak Radio podcast a few years back. The podcast was where I first learned about abolitionist animal rights and Bob and Jenna were the first two vegans I'd ever heard discussing veganism as anything other than a "personal choice". I had spent years wandering about in various online vegetarian communities where vegans were often labeled "extremists" and where vegans having the audacity to talk about veganism were often chided for hurting others' feelings by suggesting (or even rudely asserting) that consuming dairy or eggs or using any other animal product was wrong. Hearing Bob and Jenna's podcast was a relief; Bob and Jenna's were the first two voices I'd ever heard presenting veganism as the absolute least we can do if we're serious about the rights and interests of nonhuman animals, and they did so in this matter-of-fact way that made veganism sound normal and the consumption and use of nonhuman animals sound extremist.

Their podcast also led me to the serious and earnest study of Prof. Gary Francione's writings and of his abolitionist approach to animal rights, which has the sort of clarity that left me sorry I hadn't had it pointed out to me sooner, so that I wouldn't have wasted years fooling myself into thinking I was doing enough for animals. (It's kind of funny and completely coincidental, actually, that with the exception of
a brief mention of my interest in Prof. Francione's work a few months beforehand, my first actual post discussing it in any way was almost exactly two years ago.)

So why am I writing about a review of a book by a couple whose advocacy literally changed my life, when I haven't in fact read it? It's not so much what Weingarten said about the book itself that I want to address, as much as what she makes obvious feeds into what she's said. Before she dives into that, Weingarten says of the Torres' book that

Vegan Freak is a sort of vegan manifesto in which the authors [...] attempt to instill vigor and commitment into already-vegans and inspire non-vegans to take on the lifestyle. There isn’t anything wrong with this. Sometimes the only way for vegans to get respect is to be able to eloquently state their reasons for being vegan and to be consistent in their diet and lifestyle.
After what to many might sound a fair and reasonable statement, Weingarten continues, throwing in the "however" which is the raison d'être for her entire piece: "Inspiring others to be vegan is OK, so long as it doesn’t go too far." What could she mean by "too far"? She provides one example of it in pretty explicit detail when she states that it's not her intention to focus on that particular example of it:
I don’t want to write a blog entry criticizing Vegan Freak because the authors spend so much time criticizing anyone who is not vegan and using a variety of other negative tones such as cursing profusely and making bad sexual jokes.
Now, I don't want to write a blog post criticizing Weingarten for criticizing Vegan Freak's authors for engaging in what she views as their unacceptable behaviour or delivery, partially because she cites no specific examples of it (and I haven't read the book). Most importantly, though, since I haven't read the book and since humour and tone are such subjective things I could get lost in trying to deconstruct what she means by "criticizing anyone who is not vegan" and discussing the thousands of increments between words like "tasteful" and "prudish" that would come up in discussing language use and sexual references. Instead, I want to focus on the remainder of Weingarten's review, which isn't so much a review of the book, as it is a lecture on appropriate behaviour for vegans--her own "manifesto" of sorts.

Weingarten writes, first, that "[a]ny reasons for being vegan are great, so long as they are motivated by a desire to create some sort of positive change." I sort of agree with that. I mean, environmental and health factors are certainly valid motivators to go vegan, for a variety of complex reasons. She writes this, however, as if wanting to criticize the Torres' focus on what is ultimately the most important reason anyone should have to stop using nonhuman animals--the basic immorality of using them at all. It's a tiny shaming, really, that could be overlooked if not for the fact that it becomes a recurring theme in her piece. She goes on to emphasize the "green" factor further in a second point by making the mistake of creating a false dichotomy, asserting that "[e]nvironmental vegans are just as valuable as ethical vegans". As seen in a recent essay on the Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website, it's not an either/or situation ("Veganism: Morality, Health, and the Environment"). For further reading on veganism, animal rights and environmentalism, do check out Vincent Guihan's essay from last August on his We Other Animals blog ("I would throw 1000 ancient redwoods out of the lifeboat to save one kitten! It's not because I'm bad; it's because plants aren't sentient").

Weingarten really goes downhill from there. Her third point is "Veganism is about you", and in it--never mind the wrongheaded title of the point itself--she makes two errors. The first is that she more or less contradicts a statement made in her first point, where she asserted that one's reasons to go vegan should not be selfish ones--that they should not be "vain". In explaining her third point, she writes about veganism being about making yourself feel better and reassures her readers that "[i]t’s OK to be proud of yourself for making these personal choices". So... it both should and shouldn't be about patting yourself on the back. Her second error involves trying to redefine "veganism" to include the option of deliberately choosing to use animal products; if you have any doubt of how "personal" she feels these "choices" are, note this particularly confusing statement:
Being vegan might also make you consider how the clothes you wear make you feel, and you might stop wearing leather, wool, and silk.
I'd like to think that Weingarten slipped and actually knows that "being vegan" means that you don't wear leather, wool and silk--not just that "you might stop wearing" them. Maybe her slip-up was due to the fact that those words were mostly filler leading up to the bona fide punch of her point (i.e. another otherwise easily overlooked tiny shaming of the Torres' or of other vocal vegans that just adds to the small pile that is her recurring finger-wagging theme) where Weingarten reminds vegans to act with "modesty and humility around non-vegans". (Disapointingly, though, Weingarten does indeed go on to further illustrate her confusion about what is meant by "veganism" a bit later in the piece.)

Weingarten's issues with vocal vegans who choose to educate others about veganism become even more apparent as she goes on to explain that since the "whole world isn't going to stop eating meat" and we "cannot expect our entire society to adopt a vegan lifestyle when meat and dairy are central components of most Americans’ diets", we apparently need to 1) manage our expectations of others' behaviour and (hey, since everybody else is doing it anyway, and we don't want to look like unreasonable extremist "freaks" or anything) 2) change our own behaviour to better adapt to the expectations of others that we be more like them when it comes either consuming or not consuming animal products. Weingarten's opinion of vegan advocacy is summed up when she says:
What we can do is support the people who are interested in learning more about vegan lifestyle and possibly becoming vegan without alienating ourselves by projecting our vegan philosophies on others who may not be interested at all.
Let me translate: Go be vegan in the world and if someone happens to notice and to express curiosity about it, great, but otherwise, shut your pie-hole about it, because telling people that using animals is wrong is preachy and rude. Have any doubts about Weingarten's opinion being that avoiding being rude to your fellow humans trumps the rights and interests of animals? Read on:
Yes, the dairy industry can be just as cruel and unethical as the meat industry, but vegetarians and vegans have many common values, and as vegans, we must respect that in order to be respected.
She admits that although consuming dairy is unethical that to obtain respect, vegans in turn need to "respect" (i.e. turn a blind eye to the fact) that vegetarians continue to engage in this unethical behaviour and opt to exploit animals since we apparently have "common values" (which obviously exclude those values that lead vegans to refrain from continuing to voluntarily and knowingly use animals as things). But according to Weingarten, in yet another little shaming, merely voicing the obvious truth would be disrespectful.

Furthermore, one's so-called "personal choice", as Weingarten so adamantly described it, suddenly becomes a public and political one when faced with whether to leave aside our ethics to instead consume animal products offered to us by others. According to Weingarten, it seems that non-vegans are emotional messes incapable of processing someone's being consistent about his or her ethics; suddenly, the "no, thank you" involving eating animals or their secretions becomes a selfish choice. To illustrate this, Weingarten, the self-described vegan, writes:

It might make me a speciest [sic] to say this, but people are much more important to me than animals. So if on my birthday, someone makes or buys me a non-vegan cake, I’m going to have a slice to avoid offending that person or causing hurt feelings.
So, on top of not talking to non-vegans about veganism, lest you offend them, being a really good vegan also means eating animal parts or secretions, lest you "offend" that non-vegan by refusing to do so. Yet, strangely, at the beginning of her piece, Weingarten herself wrote that
Sometimes the only way for vegans to get respect is to be able to eloquently state their reasons for being vegan and to be consistent in their diet and lifestyle.
Weingarten then wraps up her piece by going back to the book and claiming that it lacks the "compassion, humility, peacefulness that is [sic] inherent to a vegan lifestyle". The truth is, though, that Weingarten's article displays a lack of the sort of consistency, logic and understanding (most notably of veganism, itself) that are inherent to actually being able to comment with any sort of authority (or sense, really) on veganism or on how vegans should behave in the world.

Her piece isn't so much written in good faith as it is a passive-aggressive reprimand of vegans who don't stay in the vegan closet. It ends up conveying a sense that vegans are outcasts who should keep their veganism to themselves unless asked (although if vegans should hide their veganism, one is left to wonder how non-vegans would even think to ask about it). It conveys that that vegans should keep their veganism to themselves, even if it means compromising their ethics to avoid hurting the feelings of those who choose to keep treating nonhuman animals as things for human use and enjoyment. I don't know about you, but I think that we owe nonhuman animals more than to agree to behave as if it's somehow improper to assert that it's wrong to use them as our property. Weingarten, on the other hand, makes it clear that she thinks that we owe nonhuman animals less.
That, in fact, is a shame.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"What Farmed Animals Are For"

During my customary morning tea-drinking and Google News perusing this morning, I found yet another reason to roll my eyes at Jonathan Safran Foer. I'd mentioned a few times around the holidays that I was reviewing his book Eating Animals. The review grew more and more lengthy and then my issues with it became so numerous that I decided to hold off on blogging it and to instead turn it into a paper for school. Once I'm finished with it, I may share it on the blog in installments (if it turns out half-decent). But back to this morning...

The British trade website Farmers Weekly Interactive ran a short article by a guy called Adam Bedford today ("My pint with a vegan") that calls for a shrugging off of the "meat vs. no meat" approach to considerations of raising animals for human consumption. Bedford's piece has all of the typical elements of pro-animal industry and anti-veganism articles that show up in this sort of context. First, there is a reference to a real or fictional encounter with some token and/or stereotypical vegan(s). Bedford describes his encounter with unfettered derision as a "vegan love-in" where he claims to have shared "a pint" with a couple he admits are "generally nice people" albeit "militant vegans". What exactly he mans by "militant", the reader is left to fill in himself / herself depending on his or her preconceptions of vegans. I figure that it was merely a trite attempt to reinforce a stereotype , since he describes the most "scary" and "uncomfortable" thing about them that they held a "deep-seated and fundamental opposition to the farming of livestock".

The next typical element in such articles is the token unapologetic (and very often exaggerated and sensationalistic or even sexualized) reference to the tastiness of (or to the vital act of devouring) this or that animal body part or secretion. In this case, Bedford counsels his domestic partner to help him muster up the wherewithal to get through a newspaper excerpt of Foer's Eating Animals he coincidentally comes across the morning after his outing with the "militant vegans": "'Best chuck a couple of extra rashers in there love,' I cried wearily, 'and 3 kilos of beef dripping. I need some psyching up.'"

The next typical element in such articles is where I often mention that the author has completely missed the point or has engaged in something akin to speaking in tongues. Often, it's merely the author's indulgence in using a
straw man fallacy. In Bedford's case, he goes on to cite Foer extensively to make his point that when considering the use of nonhuman animals, we must move away from (he quotes Foer) an '"all or nothing framework on food choices"', going on to say that he agrees with Foer that doing so could " help the industry to engage in a better, more sensible debate", but tipping the scales in adding that it would be "very useful for British farmers". Bedford calls this "[s]ubverting an ethical argument used as a justification for not eating meat". (I choose to call it regurgitating Foer honestly, instead of pretending that Foer is not actually condoning the consumption of animals, but I digress.)

Bedford, you see, views Foer's watered down rendition of the ethics of using and consuming animals as a great opportunity for farmers to grab to promote--
the use and consumption of animals! Bedford doesn't acknowledge that the use of animals is an issue. He is no promoter of humane choices or of "happy meat". He makes it very clear that enslaving and slaughtering nonhuman animals for human consumption is perfectly legitimate. He does, however, give the slightest token nod to Foer's mention of "factory farming" as presenting a potentially valid ethical quandary worthy of being weighed. However, clarifies his stance by saying:

"Factory farming" aside, I personally don't think eating meat or not eating meat is an ethical decision, it's a food choice. One's views on capital punishment, supporting Manchester United and kicking a cat are an ethical decision. I have no issue with someone who doesn't eat meat, as that is a personal decision for them to make. I personally choose to eat meat because I believe that that is what farmed animals are for.
No, Bedford views Foer's "arguments" and assertions as great stepping stones to talk to consumers about "the system in which UK meat is produced, the environmental credentials of livestock farming in the uplands, and the provenance and localised nature of livestock production". What's particularly noteworthy is that he seems quite fond of the fact that he found fodder for those in agriculture to promote the cycle of enslaving and slaughtering nonhuman animals for human consumption in what he calls "the arguments used by the 'anti-livestock' lobby". Go, Foer, go!