Monday, July 26, 2010

Veganism in the Media

Food writer Jason Sheehan got a passing mention on My Face Is on Fire last November when he pumped his fist in the air and grunted something about wanting to eat a cow. I read another one of his pieces today, this one in Seattle Weekly ("Two (Seriously TWO) Suggestions for Vegan BBQ"). In it, he goads vegans in his area for not having been able to meet his challenge to find him a restaurant that serves a non-animal-based product identical to the flesh of barbecued pigs. Of course, Sheehan's set-up is merely an excuse to disparage vegans and to engage in a fair bit of name-calling and insult slinging:

You guys suck.

No, for reals. The OTHER reason for me posing this challenge to Seattle's meatless community was that I was sick of getting Gestapo'ed by the vegan Fun Police every time I wrote about getting a little pig in me. I was sick of all the ridiculous comments by militant jerk-offs trolling around the site and trying to convert people like a bunch of pasty, Moosewood Cookbook-toting missionaries. I was sick of people talking all about the "delicious vegetarian alternatives" to pulled pork, a rack of ribs and some brisket without ever, you know...mentioning a single fucking one. This was my olive branch--my attempt at reaching across the divide and trying to walk a mile in the hemp sandals of my tofu-loving brethren.

Sheehan basically sets up a no-win scenario by more or less conveying that unless someone can find him an identical product that isn't animal-based, that they should shut the hell up and let him continue to eat barbecued pigs:
I think it's time for you to stop pretending there are actual options for vegan 'cue out there and let me and my friends all eat our pig in peace. After all, it's not like we come to your parties and mock you for eating carrots.
Of course, arguing that one should be allowed to engage in a specific immoral activity unless a nearly identical substitute for it can be provided is ridiculous. Consider how much sense it would (not) make if Sheehan had a habit of punching his neighbour's 4-year-old daily and expressed pleasure at doing so, and then issued a challenge to those who don't punch 4-year-olds (and who advocate that others don't punch 4-year-olds) to find him a nearly identical non-animal-based substitute to that 4-year-old, so that he could punch it and be left feeling the same amount of pleasure. If you failed to come up with an adequate substitute for Sheehan, would it make sense for him to claim victory and assert his right to continue punching that 4-year-old neighbour's kid "in peace"?

Any vegan will happily tell you that there are thousands of nutritious and satisfying meals that can be assembled without animal products and without direct substitutes or analogues for those animal products. I suspect, however, that Sheehan's rant had very little to do with actually wanting to find the perfect fake pig flesh, but more to do with fine-tuning his vegan-bashing.


How could I resist a title like "What is a Vegan or Vegetarian -- How to Become One"? The article was published yesterday on Allvoices, which I think is sort of like The Examiner in that any member of the general public can become a regular contributor, with monetary compensation hinging on the number of hits the article gets, rather than on any actual expertise of the writer. In this case, considering that writer Kelly Woodcox's other recent piece for Allvoices was a story on how Angelina Jolie got into "tip top perfect shape for her new movie", I couldn't help but feel a little cynical before I had even started to read her piece.

Although she sets vegetarianism apart from veganism at the beginning of her article, Woodcox begins by defining veganism strictly in terms of diet. Then, sharing a story with her readers about a "vegetarian" she once met who explained her reasons for having become a
vegetarian, Woodcox illustrates how she is completely clueless about animal rights issues and particularly of what's involved in the dairy or egg industries (the same could, of course, be said about the vegetarian she mentions or of anyone who chooses to continue consuming eggs and dairy):
I heard a vegetarian say one time that she parked her car at a field and watched the cows. She said, “After watching the cows and how they interacted with with each other, and also just plainly looking into their eyes, I just knew I could never eat an animal again”. She does however eat bi-products of the animals because it does not harm the animal. Meaning she will eat eggs and dairy.
Let me repeat that: "She does however eat bi-products of the animals because it does not harm the animal. Meaning she will eat eggs and dairy." Right. Because cows scamper freely in fields, then spontaneously produce milk and then walk themselves over to buckets into which they giddily squirt their milk and when finished, they go scamper some more. Right? Wrong! To suggest that using animals for their secretions does not harm animals is inane.

The article goes downhill from there, if you can imagine that. She mentions those who cite passages from the Bible to justify their vegetarianism and goes on to say that "people in the Bible did start eating meat with God's approval" and then goes on about how some say that God doesn't exist, but that they've yet to prove it. She writes about how
most vegetarians and vegans apparently eat organic food, implying that they're motivated by health reasons and suggests ways to go about obtaining it more cheaply. She also asserts that soy is important for (vegetarians or) vegans and that they need to get used to the taste of soy products:
Another thing you should do if you want to be a vegetarian or vegan is acquire a taste for soy products. They are actually very good and good for you. You just need to eat them until you like them. Once you do it for awhile you will more than likely end up liking them.
The rest of the article is mostly babbling, really. One gets the impression that in a last-ditch effort to meet a word count, she decided to weave whatever she could into her article, regardless of whether it was on-topic. She argues that people--vegan or not--should drink more water and then ends by plugging a friend's bio-feedback business in Indiana. What bio-feedback has to do with ascertaining what is or isn't a vegan or how to become one is lost on me, but what can I say? 'Tis the internet where anyone (present blogger included) can write about anything. Here's hoping that discerning vegan and potentially-vegan readers will be smart enough to avoid garbage like Allvoices when seeking out information about veganism and animal rights.


Adam Kochanowicz said...

Where to begin with Sheehan? I think the thing that struck me the most is that he is imposing his own impossible criterion (as you noted) for vegan food being worthy enough to forgo enslaving and killing animals for food.

Basically, veganism has to *be* omnivorism. Omnivorism is assumed to be what veganism strives to be in the first place.

It's like when people tell me "Well, I just don't know if I'd like x or y (vegan products)" Simultaneously, I want to defend x and y as good products while I want to make it clear that veganism is not supposed to be marketed as merely an improvement on the taste of animal products. It's about ending slavery. It's about recognizing other sentient beings are not just things for us to use.

Writing moronic articles like that of Sheehan is just a way of avoiding serious dialogue, instead making it all about making his tastebuds happy. Animals are removed completely as subjects of conflict in his worldview. There is only people like him, and others who act as "fun police," interfering with his consumption as if animals were an inanimate natural resource.

M said...

Well said, Adam. I agree.

Unknown said...

I issue Sheehan a challenge: find an animal product that has all of the characteristics of a banana.