Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Veganism in the Media

Sports Writers Should Stick to Covering Sports

The University of New Brunswick's
The Brunswickan publication left me shaking my head a little last week. I was sitting in a local coffee shop with my Pennsylvanian friend, who was examining the spoils of our recent trip to the library. Sipping on some organic coconut water and leafing through "The Bruns" (as it's known in these parts), I hadn't counted on finding fodder for a blog post on the term veganism's being misinterpreted or misrepresented in the media, but there it was in the form of an article called "Weighing in on being vegetarian: pros and cons". In fact, its very opening paragraph contained the typical "veganism is a diet" assumption:

Vegetarian, Vegan, Ovo-lacto, Semi-Veg, all these terms are used to describe varying levels of commitment to a similar cause; the removal (to some degree) of animals or animal by-products from the diet.
Of course, veganism is not just a diet, but involves abstaining from the exploitation of animals over and above merely refraining from consuming their flesh, milk and eggs (or other secretions). And it's not one of "varying levels of commitment to a similar cause" to be lumped in with the occasional or customary consumption of animals.

Personal Choices as Personal Bubbles

The sports writer goes on to make a wrongheaded statement concerning ethics, proclaiming that "[a]nimal rights or animal cruelty is in a bit of a grey area depending on personal belief and the source of a person’s animal by-products". In conflating considerations of the treatment and the use of animals and injecting this consideration with relativism, the writer is basically asserting that the concept of "rights" is subject to each individual's personal interpretation. His statement also seems to presume that the violation of one's rights can become a non-issue depending on how one has been treated. It's no surprise to read such misunderstanding wrapped around the notion of rights given how adamantly so-called animal advocates like Jonathan Safran Foer insist that there are some who raise animals for slaughter who should be regarded as heroes for the manner in which they enslave and kill other sentient creatures.

On Health and Experts

The piece's writer then jumps to a discussion of the nutritional pros and cons of being vegetarian or vegan and of not eating animals or their products. He quotes a dietitian who lumps vegetarians and vegans in together, saying that vegetarians tend to weigh less, have "lower cholesterol, lower incidents of heart disease and lower blood pressure levels" and benefits to their kidneys in consuming non-animal sources of protein. She then dismisses the consumption of animal flesh as being a significant factor in terms of obesity and brings up the supposed prevalence of iron and B12 deficiency in her vegetarian clients. The writer of the piece reemphasizes this, stating:
This is a common theme for many vegetarians or vegans; removing meat from the diet adds certain challenges to insuring that the body receives enough protein, iron and B12.
He then paraphrases his token expert as calling B12 "the real challenge" and as stating that "[t]he only source of B12 that humans can naturally absorb is found in [animal-derived products]". This makes it sound as if humans have difficulty absorbing B12 in supplement form or in fortified foods, although he paraphrases the dietitian he interviewed as in fact recommending a B12 vitamin supplement, albeit as also expressing that there are "absorption issues in fortified foods". However, the UK's Vegan Society's Vegan Society -- in a statement on vegans and B12 endorsed by over a dozen internationally renowned medical experts -- asserts that "[v]egans using adequate amounts of fortified foods or B12 supplements are much less likely to suffer from B12 deficiency than the typical meat eater".

Reasons and Justifications and Learning to Look Beyond Ourselves

The sports writer's conclusion, based on his misunderstanding and dismissal of animal rights issues and on what are either incorrect or incorrectly interpreted statements of the dietitian quoted in his article, is that "deciding to become a vegetarian or vegan to simply 'improve your health' is not a justified reason". I
sort of agree with this statement in the sense that going vegan to purportedly improve one's health doesn't seem to make much sense, particularly since (going back to the first paragraph of this post) veganism involves eschewing the exploitation of animals beyond those whose flesh or secretions one chooses (not) to eat. Personal health reasons would never, in and of themselves, really compel one to not ride a horse, visit the circus or to not wear a leather belt or wool sweater, would they?

What the writer is actually getting at, though, has nothing to do with this. His conclusion is that if the reason you cite for going vegan is that you'll be healthier, that not eating animal products will not necessarily lead to this. I agree with his final sentence that animal products in moderation can be a healthy part of a diet. However, just because something can does not mean that it should. Additionally, as demonstrated in Dr. T. Colin Campbell's
The China Study, most omnivores in the West don't consume animal products in moderation and instead do so in a manner which leads directly to increased incidence of completely preventable diseases and that even slight increases in the consumption of various animal products can lead to a direct increase in the incidence of those preventable diseases.

Regardless of this, going vegan and not exploiting animals wherever and whenever possible -- including those we raise for human consumption -- should not be dismissed because not exploiting them may not lead to amazing personal benefits in terms of health and wellness. Going vegan should be weighed in terms of the rights and interests of the non-humans whose lives we affect when we opt to remove ourselves from the cycle of exploitation. Going vegan isn't about you or me -- it's about them.

Visit Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach to learn more.


Vanilla Rose said...

To be fair, the fact it was written by a sportswriter doesn't seem to have affected the quality of the writing, since it is no worse than other instances of similar nonsence that you have documented!

Happy New Year.

Wendy A.M. Prosser said...

The problem is, so few journalists have the background in science (or even rational thinking) needed to report such issues accurately and sensibly.

The Compassionate Hedonist said...

wow all this time my anemia of B12 deficieny HASN'T been cured with a plant based diet. I guess the blood test MUST be wrong if this sports writer says so...

what about nutrional yeast? Miso? seaweed? supplements(like the majority of non vegans need for their bad health)