Monday, May 02, 2011

Either / Or?

It's exasperating the number of people who exert so much energy to try to justify a lesser degree of animal use as a fair and reasonable alternative to simply not using them at all. The increasingly undiscerning folks at Huffington Post recently let one such person, marketing consultant Val Brown and self-identified friend of Kathy Freston's, have her say about veganism and whether it's really all that warranted ("Is Half a Vegan Better Than None?").

As so many of these articles start out, Brown falls all over herself to try to establish her credibility as a warm-hearted lover of fluffy non-humans. She posts "cute animal videos on Facebook", she tells us, and she has a soft spot for her cat. If that doesn't convey her earnestness, Brown delivers a KO by waxing nostalgic over her more innocent days:

My favorite childhood journey was to the Catskill Game farm, where you fed little bottles of milk to the baby lambs, pigs and deer. The pigs and I both squealed with delight.
Of course, it's easy enough to love the animals we call "pets" or "companions" and who doesn't love a cute animal video to tug at our old heartstrings and entertain us? And of Brown's warm fuzzies over her squealing bottle-feeding visits, she fails to elaborate that the Catskill Game Farm was a zoo filled with exotic animals and that when the zoo closed down because of financial problems, just under a thousand animals ended up auctioned off in single day to the highest bidders -- many of them sold off to organizers of canned hunts. "Clearly, I am an animal nut," says Brown. Indeed...

So with her solid lover-of-cute-fuzzy-animals cred established, Brown slips into semi-confessional mode to display her inconsistency and absolute moral confusion to all by talking about her own set of limits and loves when it comes time to choosing which animals she will or won't use:
My love for animals led me stop eating meat and poultry 15 years ago, but I've never been able to make the leap to veganism, and I constantly feel guilty about it. Am I weak, cruel, vain? Perhaps. I love ice-cream, omelets, and salmon; shoes, belts and bags. I draw the line at buying leather coats, which is really just to save face -- I don't want what I'm wearing to scream "dead animal carcass." Leather shoes are smaller and less conspicuous.
One is left to wonder what sort of bandwagon she's on, since it seems clear that she almost seems proud or flippant in describing how she occasionally self-flagellates over her "love" and continued consumption of dairy, eggs, fish, leather.

Brown goes on to weave her "friend" Kathy Freston's Oprah-hyped purported vegan cred into her article, mentioning how Freston recommends moving towards a "vegan diet" in increments to "improve your health, the environment, and of course, lessen animal suffering". Brown admits that that in 15 years of her supposedly -- and she adopts Kathy Freston's catch-word here -- "leaning in" towards veganism, she's mostly engaged in self-deception to excuse away her use of animals:
For years I blindly (and somewhat intentionally) operated under the incorrect assumption that in buying leather products I was simply utilizing the by-products of meat eaters. I now know that's not true. And while I do seek out 100% man-made shoes [...] if really taken by a pair of leather boots, I will buy them. For the most part, I buy non-leather handbags [...] and belts if they're decent looking. But again, if I fall in love with something leather, I seem unable to keep myself from buying it.
She admits that her possible impulse control disorder is all about vanity. She asserts that she's just plain ol' powerless to resist, regardless of the fact that she claims, herself, that most of the animals used to satisfy her leather fetish come "from nations where animals are notoriously badly treated" (a distinction here being akin to pointing out that someone was tortured on a plank rather than being tortured on a badly-inflated air mattress). Even making this meaningless distinction in her head, though, leaves her claiming that she just can't help herself. For Brown, the lure of a cute purse trumps the torture of a sentient creature -- however "notorious" she qualifies said torture to be.

Her confusion becomes even more apparent when she starts justifying her eating fish. She draws the line at boiling lobsters alive (who are not fish, but I digress) and at eating farmed fish (for health reasons, because of the "murky, chemical laden water" in which they're raised). The rest are on the menu for her since they're "harder to relate to than [cute] furry mammals, our brethren". (Obviously, Brown's brethren don't include animals whose skin is used to make her shoes and purses.) She then once again focuses on the treatment of animals typically raised for food by asserting that unlike farmed mammals, fish lead good lives -- up until they don't. Yet even then, she admits that she is aware that the manner in which those fish have their lives taken is heinous and she asserts that even knowing this is not enough to keep her from continuing to consume them.
Perhaps a day on a fishing boat watching nets full of fish squirm and jump and gasp for life might cure me of my fish habit, or seeing the unfortunate sea turtles, dolphins and other lovely aquatic creatures that get caught in the nets.
She basically discusses animals in terms of the degrees she perceives in their treatment, then admits that treatment is actually mostly irrelevant to her. She writes of her awareness of the meaninglessness of the expression "free range" in the egg and dairy industries. She describes how chicks are habitually ground alive and the conditions under which chickens are kept. She writes of the repeated impregnation of dairy cows, who live, in her own words "miserable lives" and whose offspring fare no better to keep up with the human consumer's demand for dairy.

So what's Brown's solution? Although she seems to have bought into and understood the arguments that groups like HSUS and PETA use when targeting areas in animal agriculture in need of so-called brand spanking new and improved regulations, or when they single out specific forms of animal use as worse than others, Brown merely muses about a less "cruel" manner in which to continue raising them for her use.
Maybe we're meant to use some animal by-products -- eggs and milk and wool [...] -- but to do it without cruelty could perhaps only be accomplished on a small farm. The size and needs of our society make it difficult to meet demand. But still, there are many ways it could be done more humanely, even with mass production, though the agriculture lobby is strong and resistant.
Brown herself asserts that when it comes to going vegan, she "stop[s] short". All of this talk of the cruel treatment of animals has merely left her admitting to repeated self-deception or in portraying herself as being otherwise too helpless to resist. It's left her musing about a world where "cruelty" could (purportedly) be taken out of the equation so that she could continue to buy her leather purses without feeling "guilty". This is what all of the information she's absorbed about the treatment of animals has left her wanting -- guiltless use. And it doesn't happen, she'll still continue using some animals and compartmentalizing her justifications as she goes along. For Brown, it's about her -- not about non-human animals. Referring to herself as too selfish and as just not having had that epiphany that would leave her considering going vegan, she calls out to (Kathy-vegan-catch-word) "veganists" and attempts to bond by getting them to share their stories and then asking them for absolution until she is able to "surrender [her own] selfishness", pleading: "[I]s half a vegan better than none?"

In Brown's world, either you use animals a little or a lot and they're either treated badly or treated "humanely". Hopefully she can let go of her self-cajoling long enough to realize that the real either/or involves the decision to either continue using them, or in weighing the rights and interests of all non-humans seriously enough to choose not to use them at all. And this is why when we talk to Val Browns, we really need to deliver a clear and unequivocal vegan message.


Adam Kochanowicz said...

It's really quite remarkable to see this disconnect in her writing. She describes her policies as if they are altruistic, but every measure she takes to supposedly withdraw demand for animal products lies in the realm of her own personal convenience.

I think the word you used, "vanity" is right on the mark. I mean, "as long as they're fashionable," Oh, excuse me for your inconvenience. Really. Let's come over here and stop this person's heart so you can keep your pants up. So sorry about these perfectly vegan belts, they're really out of style. I understand.

But as misanthropic as I sound, I get where's she's coming from. I've been there, and I think that's why I am so harsh about it. Animal people think about the animal issue the same way they think about doing their recycling, "well, I recycled a plastic bottle today and I reused a glass, so there's one for me."

But instead of counting up "philanthropy" points for ourselves, we need to to overcome this moral schizophrenia we have that animals are objects of property whose pithy suffering is something we, as their overlords, shall so graciously alleviate. What wonderful owners we are! You're welcome animals.

Thanks, I feel better now.

Unknown said...

Everyone wants to be Frodo, but no one wants to go to Mordor.

Kathleen said...

Thank you, Mylene, for your analysis of this frivolous HuffPo article. I posted a comment there and other vegans have also posted. Brown seems to ignore most of the comments, except to validate one person's comment that "baby steps" are the answer to her dilemma.

Brown has toddled long enough. Agree with everything you say about her. I especially dislike all her tepid disclaimers. It seems like she is pandering to nonvegans. You're correct about her jumping on the "veganist" bandwagon.

What disturbs me most about Brown's article is that she has no spiritual or moral framework for her almost-veganism.

LadyAshley said...

I will never understand people like her. I find it hard to blame the ignorant because, ignorance is their defence but how can someone who knows full well the impact and atrocities they are contributing to, still continue to do so because she is "selfish". When will humans realize that we need to put our own self-interest aside-- if animals are being mistreated, why isn't that enough for everyone to go vegan?

Vanilla Rose said...

There is no such thing as "half a vegan", unless we are talking about an episode of "CSI" where a convention of vegans has, (like many conventions in Vegas), gone spectacularly wrong, and both halves of the unfortunate vegan end up on the autopsy table.

Kate said...

This ladies ignorance disgusts me - what kind of superficial bubble is she living in?!

M said...

There is no such thing as "half a vegan", unless we are talking about an episode of "CSI" where a convention of vegans has, (like many conventions in Vegas), gone spectacularly wrong, and both halves of the unfortunate vegan end up on the autopsy table.

Heheh! :-)

M said...

The Geologizer wrote: "Everyone wants to be Frodo, but no one wants to go to Mordor."