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.

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