Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Such Thing as a Vegan?

A friend of mine who likes to play devil's advocate occasionally sends me articles or other materials he stumbles across online that appear to challenge veganism. Last week he sent me a graphic from the Gizmodo website with the headline "There Is No Escape from Cows" and with the smug sentence "There's no such thing as a vegan" running across its bottom (see below).

The one thing that is certain is that the graphic illustrates quite well how pervasive the use of animal products is in our daily lives. What's not certain, however, is that this is a reflection in any way of whether or not a person can be vegan. The thing is that veganism isn't about maintaining a state of absolute purity. It's about making informed choices to refrain from using animal products so that you remove yourself as much as it is possible from the cycle that perpetuates a demand for the continued exploitation of non-human animals -- and by "possible" I really, really don't mean "convenient".

As most vegans already know, animal-free alternatives to many of the items listed off can be found quite easily (e.g. shampoo, vitamins, cosmetics, deodorant, detergents, candles, candy, fertilizer, pasta, cake mixes, et al.) and many are just altogether easily avoidable (e.g. anti-aging cream, matches, et al.).
It may not always make life convenient to look for alternatives or to refrain from using certain products, but veganism isn't about doing what's convenient for us. Veganism is about not using non-human animals as things that exist for our convenience.

In cases where animal-free versions of certain products cannot be found and where the use of such products is unavoidable and necessary (e.g. certain medicines), then we all do what we need to do to stay healthy and alive. It's important to remember that with certain medications contain animal products used as fillers or inactive ingredients (e.g. gelatin capsules) that it is entirely possible to seek out and find versions that do not contain any by simply sourcing the medication from a compounding pharmacy. This should always be explored and chosen if it's an option. On the other hand, there are cases where a medication's active ingredients are animal-derived and where the use of this medication is required. In those cases, such use may not feel "right", but it can certainly be excusable (and even justifiable). I have as much interest in continuing my life as any other human or non-human animal, no?

That this is so by no means entails that "some use" of non-human animals can always be excused or justified, of course. Context is everything. Is it possible in this overwhelmingly speciesist world to live a life that is 100% free of the use of animal products? Of course not. Does this mean that it's OK to sneak in the occasional chicken wing for kicks and still call yourself a vegan? Again, of course not. But veganism is a lifestyle that's the hands-on application of an ethical framework where every single day you need to inform yourself so that you can assess situations and make the proper choices. Some of those choices we make as vegans when it comes to our own self-preservation end up being very personal ones, but those decisions we take and those choices we make need to be taken and made in good faith.

To learn more about going vegan and about the abolitionist approach to animal rights, check out the Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website and stop by its brand new discussion forum.

(Note: Edited to clarify a few potentially confusing points.)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What Vegans Eat: Soup!

The time for iced drinks and cold soups has passed. At least it has in these parts where it's no longer unusual for me to spot frost on the neighbour's car as I hop on my bicycle to go to work in the morning. After having spent most of September with (and cooking for) a house guest, I seem to have gotten back into the habit of making slow-cooking tasty pots of warm goodness -- soups, stews and other improvised dishes. The timing is right with the seasons changing. The cats and I now end up spending a fair bit of time chatting each other up in the kitchen while I hover around the stove, adding a pinch of this or that and getting back into a routine of cooking from scratch that's more than I have in years.

Here are a few recipes for soups that some of my favourite food bloggers have been sharing recently or that I've dug up on their blogs or websites as I've looked around for new ideas:

I stocked up on coconut milk a few weeks ago when a local grocery store had an unbelievable sale. It made me particularly happy to find this recipe last week from Claire at Chez Cayenne for a Thai Tofu Noodle Soup that is absolutely delicious. I topped it off with the maximum two jalapeno peppers suggested as optional because I'm bent on upping my spice tolerance. I love a soup you can handle with chopsticks and this one really hit the spot!

Speaking of spices... Keri at I Eat Trees featured a recipe for a tomato-based slow cooker Fiesta Soup not long ago. Fragrant with chili powder and cilantro, it's uncomplicated to make with its mere handful of ingredients, most of which you might already have in your cupboards. I'll be testing this one out over the weekend, but have a hunch that it will be a keeper.

The prolific and ever-cheerful Jessy at happyveganface posted about a more soothing "comfort food" sort of soup her sweetie made for them recently. I love using butter beans / lima beans in soup since they do indeed cook up so incredibly creamy, so I look forward to trying out his Creamy Butter Bean-Potato-Kale Soup. In her post, she also links to a simple little Red Lentil Soup w/Lemon from another blog that sounds really easy to make (not to mention that it also sounds really yummy).

I've been enjoying the photos of her feline family shared by Renae at i eat food. She included some wonderful ones in her post a little over a month ago about her Roasted Tomato Lentil Soup. Check it out!

And then? Oh gosh, and then there's the Vegan Epicurean website, where I could spend hours sifting through the wide variety of recipes there. Some -- but not all -- of them are a bit more elaborate than what you'll find on most vegan food blogs, but trust me that the extra effort ends up worth it. Just yesterday, she posted a recipe for a Lightly Smoky Mushroom and Corn Soup in a Tomato Sage Broth that sounds so luscious. A little over a week ago, there was a Creme of Tomato and Brown Rice Soup that caught my eye. If you search the blog's archives, you can keep yourself in soup and stew for months, I swear. You'll find recipes for German Inspired Kale Soup with Whole Wheat Spaetzle, Shitake Mushroom and Barley Soup, Creamy Broccoli and Kale Soup, Italian Tomato and Onion Soup and so on.

If you have any favourite soup recipes from vegan food blogs you enjoy, please feel free to share them below. 'Tis the right time of year to curl up with a hot bowl with some crusty bread and I plan to indulge a lot in the coming much colder months.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Hilarity of Losing Property

A friend sent me a link to an article a week ago and I've been meaning to write about it. His email's subject line was "Grist" -- and indeed, the article was grist (as far as the ol' idiom goes, anyway). It was a link to an October 6 piece written by Marci Riseman on the website ("My chicken's $300 vet bill") and it was overflowing with fodder for me to try to process to address in a blog post. My disgust with the piece left it on the back-burner until today.

The article starts off with Riseman's family taking in chicks left over from her son's first-grade classroom experiment -- chicks otherwise destined for a farm after having "outlived" their educational use. The chicks went from being a classroom experiment to Riseman's "urban farming experiment" and grew into four Plymouth Rock adults, two of whom she named, albeit admitting that she couldn't tell one apart from the other. They became commodities.

Riseman describes how her family has been providing the chickens with basic necessities so that they could collect and use their eggs -- eggs she says they "feel a bit smug about" since the members of her family are purportedly "masters of [their] urban farm". She insists that they live in "harmony" with these chickens, but that they draw a line concerning how they perceive them:

I can't quite say the chickens are our pets, not in the way our cat is our pet. Yet they are somehow part of the family[.]
And it is while keeping this strange jumbled explanation of her relationship with them in mind that Riseman tells of coming home one day to find one of the chickens "listless" in their backyard coop. For the sake of the article, she calls the chicken Tallulah and proceeds to write of her decision to take Tallulah to the vet's. Out of sincere concern for her ailing chicken? Uh... right.

My friend Patrick was visiting from Boston, and I'd dragged him along[...]. Patrick and I looked at each other and tried not to titter in this somber place where people brought their beloved pets, a place where we had brought a farm animal.
As they listened in on other patients' conversations with the vet, their hilarity overflowed and they "glanced at each other and couldn’t contain [their] nervous laughter any longer". When Riseman goes on to describe her own turn in the examination room, she first mocks the vet's somber and earnest tone during Tallulah's examination, and then conveys her own near-inability to suppress her laughter over the chicken's predicament:
I bit the inside of my lip to keep from giggling. [...] I pressed my lips together and flared my nostrils in a moderately successful attempt at mirth suppression.
And then:

The vet was so earnest, so impassive. She did not know whether we considered Tallulah to be livestock or a treasured pet; I wasn't sure either. I just knew that when the vet proposed the options, they sounded absurd -- and I chose among them anyway, the way I would have for our cat[.] Extreme measures for our cat made a certain amount of sense. She was our pet, we slept with her at night, she purred and loved us back. I was not going to let her go blind. In that spirit, I agreed to an X-ray and a fecal analysis. I thought: That makes sense.
Was there some sort of epiphany where Riseman suddenly saw that the chicken's life was worth anything outside of her use to Riseman's family (i.e. worth that was either earned through eggs or snuggles)? Did she suddenly feel concern for Tallulah's condition? Not really.
It was not until I was in the car driving home that I was overcome. Not with a giggle, or a chuckle, but with crazed, swerve-into-oncoming-traffic laughter as I understood the ridiculousness of this situation. For authorizing exorbitant tests, I was ridiculous. For not feeling more pain over Tallulah's obvious distress, I was ridiculous and wicked.
And it was with these thoughts that Riseman informed her husband of the predicament -- of the tests and associated costs, and he too became "maniacal", pointing out to that for the $300 or so they'd be spending, they could "buy 150 new chicks".

Riseman makes sure to assure her readers that the $300+ wouldn't be spent for the chicken's sake, but the sake of her human children who would obviously be more distressed than their mother. The vet finally called with a nightmarish diagnosis of what was wrong: Tallulah's stomach had literally exploded and its contents had spread throughout her body "causing widespread infection", and although surgery was possible, the prognosis wasn't great. And Riseman? Riseman fought back the temptation to ask about the cost, fearing she "would not be able to ask without chortling".

Riseman had left her friend with the chicken and he went through the motions of dealing with the euthanasia. In her article, Riseman mocks the thoughtfulness and consideration of the staff at the veterinarian's office. They treated the friend as someone who'd shared some sort of emotional bond with the hapless chicken and if any of you have ever gone through the sad, sad experience of having to say your goodbyes to a beloved non-human in this setting, you may--as I did--feel a bit of extra disgust for Riseman's derision for these professionals who help people deal with actual loss on a daily basis.

When the chicken was gone and Riseman's friend was released from his temporary role as token pretend care-giving human, they "dissolved into peals of laughter" with "tears streaming down" their faces. The vet bill, you see, would have covered the cost of "191 chicks, 128 dozen supermarket eggs, or 55 dozen of the most expensive, organic, free-range farmer's market eggs". Riseman says of herself at one point: "I was aware that I was a small-hearted person who did not deserve to own chickens." The sad truth, obviously lost upon Riseman, is that nobody deserves to "own" anybody.

One chicken's life broken down into dollars and cents; one chicken's life for a day's worth of hilarity. That's w
hat happens when we allow ourselves to view sentient beings as things.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Veganism in the Media

A solid little article debunking some assumptions or stereotypes about veganism in Milwaukee's
UWM Post got my attention this morning ("Not your regular '-ism'"). In it, Sarah Hanneken writes about how veganism isn't a religion (although veganism and religious or spiritual beliefs are certainly not mutually exclusive), that true animal rights advocacy isn't about sensationalist propaganda, that veganism isn't about asceticism and self-deprivation and that advocating for the rights of non-human animals doesn't mean that you're against human animals. In describing what veganism and the animal rights movement actually are, Hanneken clarifies that the "goal is to put an end to prejudice and bigotry based on physical differences" -- to end speciesism. She emphasizes that animal advocacy is essential for "dissemination of the truth and an end to ignorance" about animal exploitation and asks us to question our moral schizophrenia:

In addition to disseminating the facts, veganism encourages people to question the societal norms we’ve been brought up with. Why is it socially acceptable to kill and eat a chicken or a pig but not a dog? It’s the same kind of arbitrary distinction that whites used for centuries to rationalize the enslavement of blacks and other racial minorities. This all goes back to ending discrimination. We cannot justify our arbitrary categorization of sentient beings for the sake of convenience or pleasure.

Veganism is about deconstructing popular worldviews that involve discrimination and subjugation and extending compassion to all living creatures, regardless of their genetic similarity to humans. Sentience is similarity enough.
After making these points, Hannekan ends her piece by referring to what she calls "poor ambassadors for the cause".

She describes the "Oh woe is me!" vegans who cling to martyrdom, constantly whinging that veganism is difficult. The truth is that this sort of behaviour isn't exactly conducive to getting non-vegans around us to stop treating non-human animals as things and to go vegan; it makes something logical and doable seem incredibly daunting. Hannekan then mentions "preachy" or "self-righteous" vegans, who certainly
do exist and are often people who would be bragging up other things about themselves if not doing so about their veganism.

The sad truth, though, is that speciesism is so deeply entrenched in our society that even merely
talking about not using animals is often viewed as proselytizing by non-vegans and non-vegans toss the word "preachy" around to shame and silence those who speak up for non-human animals. Asserting that using others is wrong when you refrain from engaging in exploitation as much as you can yourself can also lead people (who may or may not feel guilty about their own complicity in exploitation) to label you "self-righteous". I think that it would have been effective for Hannekin to contextualize her comments because of this. Otherwise, for non-vegans who assume that all vegan advocacy is unwanted and self-important preaching, her comments at the end may merely feed into that unfortunate taboo against vegans' speaking up for non-human animals.


The Huffington Post featured yet another opinion piece yesterday by someone trying to convince the world that she is a concerned and conscientious animal exploiter. In "Meat, greet, eat", Ellen Snortland talks about the importance of getting to know the animal whose body parts end up on your plate:
Some of you might recoil at the idea of being on a first-name basis with your dinner. I understand that reaction. However, I think being intimately involved with your food is important and far more empowering than buying factory-farmed meat or produce shipped from another hemisphere.
Snortland goes on to say that she doesn't "take food for granted" and is careful not to waste any bits of the plant or animal she prepares for human consumption. Basically, efficiency and lack of wastefulness is somehow meant to convey a more ethical sort of animal consumption. Lest you worry whether she may actually have some sort of reverence for the animals that end up on her plate, she throws in the obligatory insensitive pun when she mentions that "we've all got a major steak -- err, stake" in where our food is sourced.

Something this opinion piece accomplished was to reaffirm my strong belief that animal advocates pimping the works of guys like Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer as gateway books to veganism are ultimately just leading non-vegans into a speciesist fog. Snortland recommends both and writes:
[y]ou may become a vegetarian from your research, or you may be like me, an often-conflicted yet steady omnivore deeply concerned about the care of our food sources. I go out of my way to "do the right thing," to buy "organic" or "free range," and I'm furious because, according to Safran Foer, consumers who try to be conscientious are being duped over what "cage free" or "free range" often means. Since there are no government standards for these terms, they can be abused.
So basically, Foer (who repeatedly praises "happy meat" farmers in his book and in interviews about it) has purportedly educated her about the fact that consumers trying to "do the right thing" -- but stopping short of considering not using animals -- are somehow being done wrong by fraudulent claims of "happy meat" production. The focus is on how non-human animals are treated, and the knowledge that treatment is generally heinous and that even those claiming to be treating animals better (which in and of itself is completely meaningless, since all use is abuse) doesn't sway Snortland. Nope! She absolves herself of any accountability by just conveniently blaming fraudulent producers for misleading her. Of course, even these so-called horrors of animal treatment haven't been enough to convince Foer himself to go vegan, so her reaction to his work isn't much of a surprise.

Nevertheless, Snortland claims that falling short of not using animals, we can still "get moral about our food" by eating locally, choosing animal products that are
"certified humane" by the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) program. She plugs them emphatically and ends her article conveying perfectly just why it is that animal advocates desperately need to keep talking to the public about going vegan and need to shift their focus to educating others about ending the use of non-humans -- not just changing how we treat those we use:
If you can handle being vegan, do it. So far, I can't, but you can certainly learn to make vegan dishes for your vegan loved ones. Meanwhile, I continue to thank Bluebell and every sentient being that has ever helped me grow and live.
Please spend some time this week talking to people about how easy it is to cut animal products out of their lives and of how eating animal flesh and secretions is unnecessary for either human health or taste bud satisfaction. Talk to them about sentience and about how "thank[ing] Bluebell" doesn't change the fact that non-human animals aren't ours to use any more than our fellow humans are ours to use. For more information, please visit the Abolitionist Approach website.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Introducing Jamie Oliver -- Erik Marcus' New Favourite "Food" Activist

I don't read read Erik Marcus' blog. After having listened to the podcast interview in which he embarrassed himself gushing all over "happy meat" promoting Jonathan Safran Foer (read my previous posts about it here and here), I realized that what everybody had been telling me was true, and that Erik Marcus is probably one of the most anti-vegan vegans writing online today. I'm not sure if it's just misguided self-promotion or if he's really that twisted up inside about animal rights advocacy--maybe it's just a clumsy combination of the two. His vitriolic swipes at those who take the interests and rights of non-humans seriously enough to actually advocate not exploiting them are unfortunate. On the other hand, his continuous praise or spotlighting of celebrities who promote eating animals and their secretions is just plain bizarre.

A vegan friend sent me a link to something Marcus wrote a few days ago in which he reveals he has a new potential bosom buddy. Marcus compares himself to poor famous Jamie Oliver, another "extraordinarily sensitive" bloke with whom Marcus feels a sense of kinship since they're both subjected to "misguided and vicious appraisals of [their] work" by people who "deliberately misunderstand [their] efforts". What brought about this sense of kinship is a recent article in The Guardian about Oliver's "food" activism (which involves pretending that there is such a thing as the ethical consumption of non-human animals). Of course, Marcus clarifies this by juxtaposing his thoughts on Oliver with his customary whine against people ("pseudo-activists" he call them) who criticize his ongoing maligning of unequivocal vegan advocacy. On the other hand, Marcus calls the Guardian article on Jamie Oliver "the most important activist piece [he's] featured all year". Heck, Marcus even goes so far as to say that "[i]f you care about animal advocacy it’s a must-read". (Of course, he said that about Foer's "happy meat" endorsing book Eating Animals, as well, so his judgment calls when it comes to reading recommendations for animal advocates is somewhat questionable.)

Oh, and Marcus? You're not in my "tribe", buddy. If being part of that scant 1% you say is "actually working to create change" means actively promoting those who profit off of and perpetuate animal exploitation, then I really have to wonder what "change" it is exactly that you're trying to create. I'd like to see a world where people stop treating non-human animals as things: What sort of world is it that you really want? Is promoting anything-other-than-veganism really "what you see is working"? I don't see it working for those people around me who are intelligent enough to handle an actual vegan message. I certainly don't see it working for the non-human animals whose lives are taken to end up part of your kindred spirit Jamie Oliver's Easy to Go meals. This may come as a surprise to you, but advocating for non-human animals should be about the non-human animals. It shouldn't be about self-promotion. And it definitely shouldn't be about playing martyr.

Please visit Gary L. Francione's Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach website for some tips on how to start educating others about veganism today.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Another Animal-Eating Celebrity Animal Rights Icon

(If you follow me on Twitter or read the
My Face Is on Fire Facebook page, you may have read about all of this earlier today.)

The Woman and Some Context

An abolitionist friend posted a photo on Facebook earlier today of Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple. She was described as being vegan. This isn't out of the ordinary, since Walker is often quoted by animal activists of all sorts -- whether animal rights or animal welfare proponents -- and by vegans and vegetarians alike. Perhaps her most famous quote?

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.
With the fascination most have with celebrities perceived as delving into animal activism, speculation has naturally gone 'round for years--and some assertions have even been made--concerning whether Walker is vegan. Even the IVU has chimed in and states on its site that she's vegan (citing an autobiographical work of hers which I think IVU has mistitled). Meanwhile, others content themselves to wonder whether she is even vegetarian. All of this speculation isn't just wrapped around a quote, of course. For instance, at some point a few years back, Walker wrote the foreword to a book comparing the slavery of humans to the slavery of non-humans--a book comparing racism to speciesism.

The Truth

So back to that Facebook friend's photo: I'd never heard Walker confirmed as a vegan, so I decided to do some Googling and discovered the links I've posted above, and then I found out that she maintains a blog. In her own words in a post from November 29 of last year, she wrote:
And it isn’t as if I’m vegan, as Wikipedia claims. I’m just an ordinary run of the mill mostly vegetarian person who still eats chicken soup when I’m sick and roast chicken when I can’t resist.
After I got done rolling my eyes, I saw things go from confused and contradictory to completely sick and twisted. In a lengthy April 20 post from this year addressed to the chickens she enslaves for their eggs and in which she refers to herself as "Mommy", she wrote that "[y]ears ago [she] was vegan for five months".
Then things get more, uh... involved? "Mommy" talks to her chickens about how delicious their eggs are and then talks to them at length about Gandhi--a long convoluted spiel about Gandhi not eating meat and wearing a loincloth, going bald and losing his teeth. And then she tells the chickens all about how she's been eating other non-human animals:
Mommy interrupted her primarily vegetarian diet to have a meal of roast goose [...]. The goose was delicious and helped Mommy’s body and spirit as she crossed the ocean coughing [...]. So in this case, with the roasted goose, Mommy was fine. She thanked it with all her heart for giving its strength to her when she so needed it. Mommy had learned to avoid most vegetarian meals on planes because in the early days, at least, they seemed to be comprised of two tiny bales of hay with unsweetened applesauce smeared over them. She ordered regular fare and carefully picked her way around the flesh.
She then goes on about being brought chicken soup while still sick and although she "could not bring [herself] to eat the chicken, [...] very much enjoyed the broth". And then she, once again, thanked the non-human animals who'd (actively??) "added their strength to [hers]". Then her partner brought her beef stew from a magical place where the food "has a reputation for being from farms where compassion for animals is the rule", which in turn left "Mommy [feeling] energized eating it, rather than depressed".

And it's all downhill from there, kids. Walker lists off--to her beloved chickens, don't forget--the many other animals whose flesh she's savored. Numerous vegan friends who read her blog post today when I shared it on Facebook and Twitter called it "sick", "disturbing", "obscene", "a disappointment" and so on. And as for that oft-repeated Alice Walker quote, Doris Lin who writes for clarified back in April that Walker was merely summing up part of what the author of the aforementioned book comparing racism to speciesism was trying to say. You can read more about it here:
"That Alice Walker Animal Rights Quote".


To celebrate World Vegetarian Day, The Irish Independent decided to let Lisa Jewell, a so-called "veggie", list off and tackle a series of questions asked of her fellow "veggies" ad nauseum by omnivores. "Veggies" refers to her lumping in of vegans and vegetarians together as variations of people who don't eat certain animal products and she lists off the usual things people lob off at those vegans and vegetarians without thinking (or worse--thinking they're being clever), for example: "Wasn't Hitler a vegetarian?" and "Wouldn't you just love a big steak?" or "Do you eat chicken or fish?" She responds to them in the usual manner in which many would, but what caught my attention was where she brought up the question "Does it upset you to see people eating meat?" and responded to it by shrugging it off with an "x is a personal choice" mentality, including a self-described vegan's voicing his own support of that attitude:

We can't speak for all vegetarians here but why would seeing someone eating meat be offensive to veggies? It's not like we have to eat it ourselves.

"I wouldn't find that an annoying thing to hear because it's actually nice of the person to be sensitive about it," says Conor. "I wouldn't mind someone eating meat in front of me because it's all up to the individual. They make a choice to eat meat and I make a choice to be a vegan."

You'll find that most vegetarians have a 'live and let live' attitude to people who eat meat -- we just also happen to have a 'live and let live' attitude to animals!

It's somewhat ironic that she calls it a "'live and let live' attitude", considering that what she should really be saying is "'live and let die' attitude", wouldn't you agree?

Logically, I can see where it would make sense for someone who consumes dairy and eggs to shrug off another's consumption of animal flesh, since there is as much suffering involved in the dairy and egg industries as in the meat industry and since all three involve animal use. However, that vegans are presented as shrugging off any animal use outside of their own personal use, I think misses the point of veganism altogether. It baffles me, still, that a vegan would view the ethics of eating animals and their secretions strictly in terms of his own personal use. I find it unfortunate that this whole "live and let live" thing gets perpetuated as the baseline for most of us. It's just one more thing in the media that leaves some vegans thinking that they should shut up and keep their ethics to their fringe-dwelling selves and accept that it's normal for other humans to use and consume animals. But tell me, how's that attitude going to change anything for non-human animals?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

My Life, I Swear

Only multiply it by three...