Monday, June 07, 2010

Veganism in Online Media

Marieke Hardy of ABC (i.e. the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) wrote a piece yesterday about her recent Twitter tango (or tangle) with an MTV VJ called Ruby Rose ("Vegan, schmegan: you are what you tweet"). It seems that the Sydney Confidential celebrity gossip section of the Daily Telegraph had quoted Rose as having announced that she was "veganese":

The prolific presenter... told Confidential yesterday she now considers herself "veganese" - her own variation of the vegan lifestyle. "I don't eat any meat, I don't drink milk, but I do eat cheese and fish, just to get my iron levels back up," she said.
Hardy, a self-described vegan, tweeted about it and received a response tweet from Rose asserting that she'd never told them that she was vegan: "i didnt say i was vegan. i laughed and said not anymore because i eat cheese and the doctor told me i need fish". Hardy continued her piece by discussing the ridiculousness of the various labels people use these days to distinguish this or that animal consumption from other forms of animal consumption, often trying to attach some mention of vegetarianism or veganism to their choices even when neither is applicable. For instance, Hardy brought up that her friend calls fish eaters who cling to the vegetarian label "fish and chippocrites".

Near the end of her piece, though, Hardy did an about face, both apologizing to Rose and then stating that the plethora of labels
do help sort confusion (um, that's debatable). She also missed out on an opportunity to promote veganism by stating that those who "choose alternative diets" (and she includes herself in this category) are "all still just trying to do [their] bit". I can't help but wish she'd gone a little "bit" further.


Vegan cookbook author Jae Steele was recently interviewed in Toronto's National Post ("Making Love in the Kitchen: Meet Jae Steele") and took an unfortunate stand on veganism that reflects a focus on environmentalism and a disregard for animal rights:
I am an advocate for plant-based diets, but I never try to convert people to veganism. [...] I think there are more and less sustainable ways to eat meat and other animal products. Factory farming has got to go – it’s not good for anyone, or anything (animal, vegetable, mineral) but the money-makers, and even then it’s only in the short term. Sure, a vegan diet is more sustainable – they say it does more for the planet that switching to a hybrid car would, but I’d rather see everyone eat 25% fewer animal products each week than have 4 or 5 people become strict vegans.

How focusing on environmental reasons when discussing the ethics of consuming animals or their products is problematic becomes even more clear in an article from last week on
The Atlantic's website ("Can Meat Eaters Also Be Environmentalists"). It's by Nicolette Hahn Niman, wife of giant "happy meat" producing Niman Ranch's founder Bill Niman. If you've read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, you'll recall his praise of the Nimans whenever he gushed over his animal exploiting "heroes". As it turns out, she's a vegetarian who, along with being an environmental attorney and wealthy rancher, spends much of her time publicly picking apart environmental arguments against animal consumption. She did so again in a recent debate in Berkeley with vegan former rancher Howard Lyman, and her article in The Atlantic focuses on the views she presented in this debate. Somewhat ironically, although it describes Lyman as being an animal welfare activist, Wikipedia describes Niman as being an animal rights activist. Niman quickly made the opposite evident in her article (as if being an animal exploiter didn't make it evident in the first place):
Although I've been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, I have never accepted the view that eating meat is morally wrong. It's just never made sense to me that something humans and our ancestors have been doing for some 4 million years—something that's a major component of the natural world's system of nutrient recycling—could be immoral. And the more I've learned about ecologically sound food production, the more I've come to appreciate the important role animals play in it, both here and around the world.
I don't know vegan Lyman's politics. I do know that he advocates veganism, but that much of his vegan advocacy focuses on human health and the environment. In their Berkeley debate, Niman countered his environmental arguments by defending animal consumption as an integral part of the earth's ecology and then countered his health arguments by presenting the consumption of animal flesh as a likely necessary component of human evolution.

In the Berkeley debate, Lyman compared animal agriculture to human slavery and to the Holocaust. In response to this in her article, Niman chastised him (and made evident her speciesism) by stating how "many Jews and African-Americans would strenuously object to slavery and Holocaust analogies" in discussions of the ethics of non-human animal use. She then called upon her pal Foer to get his purportedly authoritative assessment of Lyman's analogies:
He agreed with me that the analogy is offensive and, in his words, "intellectually cheap." "It implies that one is incapable of explaining or understanding what is wrong with the meat industry on its own terms," he told me. "I am convinced that if the average American were to have an honest and clear-eyed introduction to the truth about factory farming, he or she would have no problem understanding what's wrong with it. To reach for a human catastrophe is not only repugnant, it's unnecessary."
Of course, what's funny about Foer's indignant reaction is that Foer, himself, is "incapable of explaining or understanding what is wrong with the meat industry on its own terms" as well as unwilling to generally just take the rights and interests of non-human animals seriously.

Niman continued by arguing that
while it's natural for animals to kill those of other species for food, that "throughout nature, killing members of one's own species is rare and aberrant behavior" and that humans have as much right to kill non-human animals for food as non-human animals have to kill other non-human animals for food. I wondered for half a heartbeat if she'd extend this to non-human animals killing humans for food? I'm guessing not, even though she insists that she doesn't see people as "standing at the top of some hierarchy with animals beneath them".

It's no wonder, given the stuff that comes out of various "happy meat" propaganda machines that Niman chose to finish up her piece with a phony kumbaya moment, bringing up that as an animal exploiter, she purportedly shares "common ground" with vegan advocates -- i.e. the need to "rid the world of factory farms". Unfortunately, what Niman leaves out is that her interest in the world running out of factory farms is tied into increased profits from her own sale of animal parts to fill the demand.

Go vegan. Talk to
others about veganism. Heck knows that with all of the confused (and confusing) messages going out on the internet and in the media concerning the ethics of animal consumption that the general public really could use some solid information and that those seeking to change their consumption could use some guidance. At the very least I know that the non-human animals Niman considers property would appreciate some extra voices speaking out on their behalf.


Lucas said...

"It's just never made sense to me that something humans and our ancestors have been doing for some 4 million years—something that's a major component of the natural world's system of nutrient recycling—could be immoral."

Perhaps Niman should brush up on her logical fallacies in order to understand why tradition does not necessarily make something correct or morally justified.

"Appeal to Tradition is a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or "always has been done."

She also might be interested in checking out

"The basic idea behind the fallacy is that the fact that most people do X is used as "evidence" to support the action or practice. It is a fallacy because the mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable"

Vanilla Rose said...

Links, links. link to thing about tradition. Re the other Rose, why do people believe these ill-informed doctors who insist they "need" fish or whatever rather than listening to the Vegan Society or Viva???? They have done their homework!

Vanilla Rose said...

PS "Veganic" (single N is a real word). Veganic gardening is now more commonly known as vegan-organic gardening/growing. I believe "Veganese" is a hair conditioner made by Lush, and although they are vegetarian rather than vegan, they are careful. If they call a product Veganese, then it is vegan.

Meg said...

"...but I do eat cheese and fish, just to get my iron levels back up"

Sure...*just* for the iron -- because cheese is SUCH a great source of iron. Funny, I've never seen cheese listed on any of those "best sources of iron" lists (and only some fish make the lists), but I HAVE seen whole grains, some nuts, some seeds like pumpkin seeds, blackstrap molasses, spinach, and some other vegan sources.

I'm so sick of the "but I need animal products for the iron!" argument, especially from people who don't seem to know much at all from nutrition. If you've tried supplements (and you can take them with other things to counteract the possible common side effects), seen a real *nutritionist*, eaten a vegan diet high in plant iron, and STILL have unhealthy levels of iron, then that's one thing. I really don't expect anyone to sacrifice their health. But most of the time it seems like people are using nutritional reasons as an excuse without really trying to overcome them in a vegan manner.

Anonymous said...

All it takes to know what veganism actually means is Google and a click!
C'mon, we can't buy those people are innocent or confused "vegans" who don't know what veganism is!
The media is paid by corporations, among which animal users have a big stock.
Thanks for your great work, Mylène!
Vegan (non-use of any sentient being, just to promote clear definitions) hugs!

Patrick said...

Thank you Mylène.

I've been vegan for seven years and haven't been stronger. I don't mean to brag, but since I've switched to a "living" vegan diet I've started to do "dead-man's drops" (a gymnastic maneuver I think). The argument that a vegan diet is somehow lacking in iron would be taking a donut approach to nutrition.

Whether it's immoral or not is irrelevant. The point that Niman misses is that it is unethical, impractical, and destructive to eat animals - not to mention completely self-centered (speciesist).