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!)


ludditerobot said...

Wow, that's outrageous. Good post.

Crystal said...

I find it's best to watch what you say about veganism very carefully if you want to maintain your sanity and any sort of relationships with non-vegans. If you were to ever compare animal product consumption (or education on animal product consumption) to child beating in real life, you'd probably isolate everyone and get them to shut off.

It's harder than we realize to create a balance between being approachable, friendly, and non-isolating and then also being honest and actually educating people about veganism. People do automatically shut themselves off to things if you push too far or hard.

c said...

Crystal, I'm going to have to respectfully disagree. Will Tuttle, author of The World Peace Diet, is probably the most gentle vegan educator out there. Yet someone accused him of being morally superior. No matter how kindly you put things, someone's feelings are going to be hurt if they are in denial.

Mylene, I'm frustrated for you. It makes me wonder, like a poster on your previous submission said, "...then why the fuck are you vegan?"

100%vegan said...

If you are a leader and NOT a follower
if you actually have something of value to say AND
follow that up with consistent action
than strong people will be inspired by that
weak cowardly miserable people will be threatened and try to
shut you up
this can happen with any situation weather you speak up and out and in action
stand up for yourself, for gay rights, for a woman's right to choose,
for non human animals, for the kid/co-worker, person half way across the planet  or stranger on the street
there is A LOT of unnecessary bullshit, tragedy and cruelty on this planet
that is created by a human race that lacks humanity.
Those who recognize this and have the courage to address it and oppose it
are often penalized as the masses are indeed asses.
An individual can understandably be anything from hurt to angry about that
but we must never let the masses who are fear filled, ignorant, arrogant and limited
to make us stop us from being ourselves, and doing as well as living in ways that we know as right, moral, just and honest.
People who stood up for Jews/African Americans/gypsies and Gays in the Holocaust were persecuted as well , as was anyone who aided those through the underground railroad or those who stood against Apartheid in South Africa.
IT takes a small group of individuals to make a HUGE positive change.
Animal cruelty is the longest most widely accepted widespread mass murder done to any one species (not that one violation or injustice is worse than another as they are all bad).Animal Cruelty is severe and extreme thus a polite sugary sweet timid reaction to animal cruelty would be ludicrous.
I am never meek about opposing animal cruelty,speciesism. homophobia, racism or sexism.Those who are silent or dainty or two faced about their opposition to any of those are as bad as those who are guilty of having such mental sickness and soul less actions.
People should feel uncomfortable, disturbed and horrified at what they discover is the truth about the cruelty murder and torture of nonhuman animals as it IS horrific to say the least but no amount of so called uncomfortable feeling a human may feel compares to that feeling of the non human animals who have died or are being tortured and murdered.
All truth is good because it can all be used as tool , facing the facts about animal cruelty and animal liberation both human and non human IS empowering.For one can than choose to be a part of the solutions and not the many problems that plague our society.
Being Vegan is one of the best ways anyone can live and being outspoken about that with courage and conviction is a privilege , an honor and a blessing.

100%vegan said...

it is EASY to be silent about Veganism
when most but not all of what non human animals go through is hidden.
That rabbit being cut open while alive, that cat with her skull cracked open, that cow with heavy metal machines sucking the life from her as her son is squished in a wooden box and his muscles atrophy, that chicken who is drowning in manure, that horse who's corner's of her mouth are being violently pulled back and her ribs kicked, that pig who has his balls and tail ripped off ,that bull who has hot sauce smeared in his eyes and arrows gauged into his body,that elephant chained to a cement block as he goes crazy,those fish who commit suicide and refuse to eat at "sea world" aka sea prison, those puppies with mange and birth defects at any breeders, that Chinchilla who's neck is snapped (TO NAME A FEW OF MILLIONS)
maybe none of these beings are directly where we can see,& hear them but THEY ARE THERE , they do exist -BARELY.
next time anyone feels nervous or uncomfortable or doesn't wish to upset or alienate humans about animal cruelty and animal lib-remember these beings.
They are smeared all over the faces of society, sprayed on their necks, gobbled down, sucked up, worn on their backs and feet, in the "fresh scents" of their homes and gleaming all over their shiny house.
Animal Cruelty as all injustices and crimes to any animal is a sick vile accepted way of life for most.
That will NEVER change if people stay silent or politely bring it up.

Vera said...

Well said, Mylene! Your blogs are excellent and on behalf of all animals.

JⒺssica said...

Hey Chastity C. glad you agree with that comment I made. Her views are so mixed up it's flabbergasting. The best way to describe how her review made me feel would be *frustrated sigh.*

She had no logical response to anything she said.
I had a conversation with someone like this once accept we were debating on wether veiling was oppressive. I blogged it of course, go look !

dj said...

The other day I was in a restaurant vegan-izing a menu item to a waitress, (you know what I mean, the old give me the number 6 without the cheese and mayo bit we all have to do from time to time) but the waitress started to offer me things to replace the cheese with because she assumed that I was lactose intolerant.

When I explained to her that her suggestions wouldn’t work for me because I’m vegan and can’t eat any animal products, the woman seated next to me jumped in and said “ my friend is vegan and she eats fish sandwiches from Burger King, they have cheese on them” At this point my brain was firing about a billion red hot neurons per second and I just wanted to run up a friggin’ tree!!! But instead I tried to explain, as gently as I could that if her friend is eating “fish sandwiches from Burger King then she is, without a doubt, NOT VEGAN!!!!!

When so-called vegans just go along to get along and don’t assert their right to exist in this world and live according to their beliefs and convictions they make it hard for every “orthodox” vegan.

I think at this point we need to establish a new denomination for people who claim to be vegan but eat whatever is offered so as not to offend. Let’s face it, we can’t stop them from calling themselves vegans even though their behavior defies the very definition of Veganism as well as common sense. So when someone tells you some idiotic thing that their so-called “vegan” friend eats you can adopt the same condescending tone that Mylene used when she extolled the virtues of vegan self-oppression in her article and say “oh, that’s because your friend belongs to one of those charismatic vegan cults, I’m an orthodox vegan!!! … LOL

unpopular vegan essays said...

The only way child abuse could be legitimately compared to what non-vegans contribute to is if the child had his or her throat slit open to bleed out after a severe beating. It would then be a sound comparison.

Even us outspoken vegans are so gentle with the fragile psyches of non-vegans.

It's amazing how much bigotry there is in the go-alone, get-alone "vegans", much less the non-vegans.

Vanilla Rose said...

Re the woman's friend who eats fish and cheese and claims to be "vegan", I do wonder why people want to be vegan without actually being vegan. Odd, odd, odd.

Vanilla Rose said...

PS To add to the comment I just left, I should say that I am not referring to people who want to be vegan, but are for whatever reason not yet vegan, AS LONG AS THEY DON'T DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS VEGAN. We may wonder why they are finding it so hard to be vegan, but perhaps they have to battle a lot of emotional blackmail, or misinformation, or allergies, or a combination thereof.

Vanilla Rose said...

I just saw a poster on Facebook with a picture of a rifle and the words "This is a f***ing war/Vegan straightedge". I found it more than a little off-putting. But it does put things into perspective. telling people politely that one does not approve of animal farming is NOT being hostile.

unpopular vegan essays said...

It was irresponsible of me to post a comment before I woke up this morning. I meant “go-along, get-along” in my previous comment.

I’ll also add that it’s fine to get along, as long as we don’t also go along.

To slightly modify what Gary Francione has said, if you’re not vegan around non-vegans, people don’t think you’re being polite or making veganism look easy; they think you don’t take it seriously.

KD said...

If we stop the conversation, if we stop talking about our veganism, we loose a precious opportunity. The opportunity to enlighten someone else. You never know who's life or heart you might change by a simple conversation. But you will know who's life you will change if you don't have the conversation- no ones.

Rich R said...

I think too much truth is only effective at closing minds in most people, some people might have looked at your comment and seen its clarity and realised there is no real distinction between the two (we call these people open minded and reasoned).
Most people will see it and stop at child abuse unfortunatly, it was a valid point and although I'm not surprised it was removed from the forum (as in lots of forums are run like mini dictatorships) im surprised it was labeled a personal attack, ah well I might pop over and post a comment. (a nice one ofc)