Monday, August 29, 2011

Because the World Needs Another Article About Not Going Vegan

I'm not keeping track, but I'm sure that if I were the type to count on my fingers and toes that I'd long since have stopped being able to log these articles about nothing which present themselves as somehow having anything to do with going vegan. Tim O'Shea's bit in the Concord Monitor ("My so-called vegan life") is yet another to throw into the pit with the rest of them.

These articles, opinion pieces, columns or newspaper blog posts usually split into two general types. On one hand, you have those who are just trying to take a swipe on some level or another at vegans or those who in any way weigh the issues surrounding the exploitation of nonhuman animals seriously. The tone of many of these pieces ranges from mild mockery to outright hostility. On the other hand, you have the more innocuous-seeming articles by people who may (or may not be) be well-intentioned but who at least keep the barbs and schoolyard comments in check. Many of these articles are still these unfortunate fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants excuses to squeeze out copy that presents itself as offering up any sort of useful or valid information on veganism or on what's involved in going vegan. Too many are just heaps of misinformation cloaked in good intentions. Whether hostile or not, the articles frequently present veganism as a diet, often side-step animal rights issues as being at the heart of going vegan, invariably present eating vegan as self-imposed deprivation, and almost always go to great lengths to emphasis the deliciousness and irresistibility of meat, cheese and other animal products.

O'Shea's article definitely falls into the former camp, with the level of derision in it vacillating between gormless and mean-spirited. It's entirely focused on diet, and aside from a token mention of "ethics" as a motivator to go vegan (tucked in between "health" and "because, well, their girlfriend suggested it"), no time is wasted in actually discussing what animal use entails. O'Shea instead begins by bemoaning various things vegans can't eat (including mashed potatoes, for some reason) using words like "forbidden" to describe nonvegan foods and "hardcore" to describe those who avoid bone char-processed sugar. Avoiding nonvegan food = restrictive and extremist.

O'Shea's so-called vegan experiment was, of course, limited to food and was meant to last no longer than a whopping two whole weeks. How did he get ready for it? Apparently, with a few Google searches and by writing it all off as awful before he had even begun. He writes: "I didn't do much preparation other than find a paperback vegan cookbook, conduct some web research and brace myself for my first taste of soy milk." He bemoans his black coffee (because vegans obviously don't use sweeteners or whiteners in coffee) and plain brown rice cakes (because vegans obviously champion the taste of cardboard), as well as the wretchedly awful reality of being forced to eat meatless salads deprived of stinky blue cheese dressing (since salads without meat and stinky blue cheese dressing are naught but so much wilted lettuce). He bemoans the lack of vegan options spontaneously manifesting themselves his cupboards but adds that "we [sic] vegans are creative" and explains how to make a bowl of cereal using almond milk. Any other forays into cooking he makes, he portrays as disgusting, adding that "when you're subsisting on twigs and apricots, you'll seek any safe harbor". A vegan waffle is "supple burlap". A black bean burger ordered at a restaurant is the "vile bastardization of the all-American meal".

And somehow, it's after all
this that he asserts that "something went horribly wrong". After one week of a badly-planned attempt to eat a strict vegetarian diet, he throws a dinner party complete with the aforementioned purportedly irresistible animal products which customarily get referenced at some point in articles like O'Shea's, and of course O'Shea finds himself -- in his own home, at his own dinner party -- with nothing but cucumbers and bread to eat, so gives in and gorges himself with gusto on pig and chicken flesh. Shortly thereafter on a trip to NYC, still during his two-week-long supposed attempt at something he mislabels going vegan, O'Shea lumps himself in with vegans again while trying to excuse away what he asserts none but the most "pure" of vegans could possibly resist:

All the willpower in the world faded away as my environment surrounded me. I'd like to tell you I was pure, the pinnacle of principled veganism, but after the bagel with cream cheese, the steak slathered in garlic butter, the turkey BLT with mayo, the bucket of beef brisket nachos and the three pieces of classic New York pizza, I'd only be fooling myself. Yet I dare any vegan among us who's claimed to resist such temptation to cast the first fiddlehead.
Somehow, though, O'Shea insists on continuing to present himself as being "vegan" during the rest of his two-week experiment, post meat/egg/dairy-bacchanalia, mentioning trying to "reclaim [his] vegan pride" while complaining about the disgustingness of quinoa, potatoes, bananas and peanut butter and describing himself on his supposedly last day "as a vegan" as full of anxiety and in "gastric distress". He slips in that his wife even commented on his body odour, as if somehow not eating animal products was responsible. He sums the experiment up as a failure (no, really?) and leaves his readers with this summary of what being vegan inevitably entails:
I spent my days either dreaming of deli meat snacks as my hummus-filled stomach grumbled like low-rolling thunder, or I gorged myself on an anti-vegan menu in fits of delirious indiscretion, justifying my actions through a combination of deceit, rationalization and head fakes. It's no way to live - this vegan life.
It's unfortunate that O'Shea should fancy himself an expert mouthpiece on what being vegan is like when nothing -- not a single stinking thing -- about his experiment involved veganism on any level whatsoever. In the end, sadly, it's just one more article to throw on to the ever-growing pile of mainstream writings in the media both misrepresenting and maligning a way of life which is so simple, so right, so healthy and which is so far-removed from the self-infliction of misery that O'Shea would have you believe it is.

If you haven't already done so, please consider going vegan. By this I don't mean O'Shea's half-arsed newspaper-filler-producing temporary meat-fest fantasy take on it, but that you actually and earnestly go vegan.


Leah said...

You have a special way about you. Thanks for writing this editorial!

veganelder said...

Tim O'Shea's writing exemplifies superficiality. I've seen more depth and insight exhibited on the back of cereal boxes. Apparently the standards for columnists aren't too stringent at the Concord Monitor.

Nicola said...

How infuriating was this article?! Very. I had to stop reading half way through. Making a mockery of the whole idea of being vegan.

I loved your dissection of it.

I am going vegan, having been vegetarian for years I am not finding difficulty in gving things up, but finding alternatives, and constantly being shocked at the sheer volume of everyday items which contain animal products. Exhausting, but getting there!

sheree boyd said...

wow, I hope he'll enjoy that heart attack/stroke in his near future...all I could think of when he described his 'meat-fest' was how clogged his arteries must be. And lest I be seen as mean spirited; this country needs to wake and realize that are horrible diets are literally killing us and no pill will un clog those arteries.

I grew up eating meat (and potatoes) here in America and all I can say is it is some of the blandest food in the world. If meat drippings, butter and salt are your idea of a 'good meal' then I feel sorry for you.

I went vegetarian when I was 12 and became vegan two years ago and going vegan has introduced me to some of the best tasting food ever. It's a shame articles like this are written b/c it is such a mischaracterization of what vegans eat. (One can eat pancakes for breakfast!) And I make some amazing dishes with quinoa that my meat eating family raves about and has actually asked for the recipe and made it themselves.

I agree with veganelder and think the standards aren't too strict for that paper or any other. They just want to print something shocking to draw in as many eye balls as possible.

A Murder of Crows said...

As I was searching the internet for Vegan recipes I luckily came across you blog and read a point of view that I had not always considered, and I thank you for that. However, I don’t agree with everything, or should I say, I want to have a better understanding of your views.

I am one of those individuals starting a vegan diet for health reasons, and not primarily because of ethics. Unfortunately, and irresponsibly I allowed myself to become overweight by eating an unhealthy diet of meat and fried foods. Now, as a married father of three daughters I know that at forty-two years old the clock is ticking. I need to change my lifestyle or prepare for death. For me, growing up in a middle-class single parent household, meals were convenient and traditionally made up of a meat, starch and a vegetable, so on many levels I can sympathize with O'Shea's cravings as I am experiencing the same withdrawal from an unhealthy diet but does this make me a bad person.

My question is, does it matter? Do the ends not justify the means in this situation? I may not have the same ethical beliefs that you do but doesn’t my decision to eat vegan still ultimately benefits animals. After reading your blog I was left feeling attacked because of the reason for my diet choice and believed I would never be able to seek support from the vegan community in my journey towards a healthier lifestyle. Isn’t it more important to you as a vegan that embraces the diet from a health and ethical point of view that the lifestyle is supported, instead of why it is?

Leah said...

A Murder of Crows wrote: "I may not have the same ethical beliefs that you do but doesn’t my decision to eat vegan still ultimately benefits animals."

In the short run, you're helping animals by eating vegan. But when it's only a diet, there'll be instances where you'll want to "cheat", and someday you might decide a *little* bit of meat would be okay on a regular basis. When people go vegan because they want to abolish all animal use...because they don't believe it's our right to use animals in the first place...a lot more happens than just not *eating* animals. We don't wear animal products or use products that have been tested on animals, etc. We don't take any breaks from using animals (no cheating for the sake of convenience or flavor), and we try to help our families, friends, and even strangers see our point of view about animal use. Being a vegan involves a different mindset than going on a vegan diet.

If you still want support, however, to help you maintain what you're doing now, could I suggest you look up PCRM (Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine). They have an extensive website and are all about helping people stay vegan for health reasons.

A Murder of Crows said...

Thank you for your response. You bring up an excellent and valid point about the difference between a vegan diet and a vegan lifestyle. I must admit that at some point I probably will “cheat”, because the diet is for health benefits and not for ethical reasons. Having said that, in no way do I endorse animal cruelty and I do believe that there needs to be sufficient reforms in how animals are treated around the world. Perhaps, if more people could be encouraged to eat a vegan diet over time their perception of animals may change and lead to a vegan lifestyle.

M said...

veganelder: I couldn't have said it better, myself!

A Diary of an Animal Lover: Congratulations on having made the decision to go vegan! It gets easier, honestly. I find that trying to avoid processed foods except as conveniences or treats really helps.

sheree: Well said! I agree completely.

A Murder of Crows: Merely choosing to not eat animals or their secretions isn't veganism. I'd call it strict vegetarianism. Veganism is about avoiding all animal exploitation wherever possible -- not just the exploitation of animals raised and slaughtered to end up on our dinner plates.

You wrote: My question is, does it matter? Do the ends not justify the means in this situation? I may not have the same ethical beliefs that you do but doesn’t my decision to eat vegan still ultimately benefits animals.

Does it matter at all that some people choose to refrain from consuming some animal products or species, while continuing to consume other animal products or species? In terms of their presenting themselves as vegans, it certainly does. You ask if the ends don't justify the means and what needs to be pointed out here is that for vegans, the "ends" involve ending animal use and exploitation. If the "means" (e.g. eating an animal-free diet for health reasons) to which you refer involve a continued use of animals and their products in other areas of one's life, then those means ain't got nothin' to do with the actual ends I'm eyeballing, within the context of veganism. Veganism isn't about exploiting some animals while using others deliberately for completely unnecessary reasons.

After reading your blog I was left feeling attacked because of the reason for my diet choice and believed I would never be able to seek support from the vegan community in my journey towards a healthier lifestyle.

I'm sorry if you internalize this clarification as an "attack" on you or on someone like you who chooses to consume less animals for self-motivated health reasons. I think it's great that you're choosing to improve your health. I certainly don't think you're a "bad person", as you've hinted. I wish, however, that you'd give some thought to what's involved in animal exploitation and consider actually going vegan for the sake of the animals.

You wrote: Isn’t it more important to you as a vegan that embraces the diet from a health and ethical point of view that the lifestyle is supported, instead of why it is?

The thing is that I'm not just embracing a diet. The dietary aspect of veganism -- although it involves a large portion of the animal exploitation in which human animals participate daily -- is just one aspect of veganism. So why you choose to not eat animals and their products isn't really relevant to me as a vegan since the more pressing (and pertinent) question for me would be to ask why you are still continuing to consume and exploit other animals.

M said...

Others have weighed in. This blogger actually wrote to O'Shea, who more or less brushed her off.