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?


DS said...

Great post. I get so tired of people assuming veganism is hard too, and that's a question I get asked a lot. It reminds me something that Gary told me, which is basically that, knowing what he knows regarding the sentience and moral personhood of animals, it would be hard, in fact, impossible, NOT to be vegan.

c said...

Great post, once again. This kind of reminds me of one of the Vegan Freak podcasts and how they were annoyed by "vegan" martyrdom. The "ugh. I have to give all this up but I have to do this for the animals" concept.

You don't give anything up, you move on and find new loves.

what if summer... said...

Honestly, I had a cheeseburger the night before I decided to go vegan, and I seriously haven't looked back since. I look past dishes in restaurants that contain animal products the way I used to look past dishes that had things I just plain didn't like when I used to eat meat. I was surprised at how easy it was for me, and now I find myself rolling my eyes at people who swear even giving up meat is the end of the world. It's the same as people who just refuse to try new food. They think we're missing out, but they're the ones that are really missing out.

Kerry said...

Hear, hear. Great essay, Mylène! And while we're at it - I really wish vegans would reclaim the word 'vegetarian'! There really is nothing 'vegetarian' about a diet that includes animal secretions and causes the death and suffering of sentient beings. Ugh.

LiveVegan said...

Another excellent essay. Thanks Mylene

Unknown said...

Brilliant essay, Mylene. Thanks!