Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Bandwagon's Getting Crowded

A Californian friend who's a regular and thorough reader of the New York Times fell into the habit a while back of sending me links to veganism-related articles he would come across. Given the number of pieces that have been run over the past several months on food ethics -- ranging from clumsy pokes to hostile swings at veganism -- he's been kept busy. Some low points came earlier this year and included "Wellness" writer Tara Parker-Pope's unforgivably sloppy piece in April on the supposed difficulty of going vegan, and the fiasco that same month which was the ridiculous mini-essay contest to defend meat eating in its "Ethicist" column also in April (which was followed by that column's writer's leaving her post). The ongoing sometimes overtly anti-vegan and sometimes "66.66%" vegan writings of Mark Bittman (including his 2009 "Wellness" guest-post bemoaning his having supposedly become protein deficient from skipping meat at lunch and breakfast) set the stage for it early on, as did various one-sided articles on things like the popularity of hobby butchering classes.

It was hardly much of a surprise this morning to get an email with a brief "Have you seen this?" and a link to yet another story that fits into what seems to have become commonplace in the New York Times. This time 'round, it was a Mark Bittman interview with a woman called Sherie Rene Scott who is apparently a former vegetarian who's decided to stage a one-woman show called "Piece of Meat" to talk about her return to meat-eating after having spent "her entire adult life as a vegetarian". Scott sums up the show in her interview as being about "desire". The one word I'd probably choose to sum up the show? "Opportunistic". Or maybe "shuffling". I'd hardly use the words "innovative" or "creative".

The article's started to go around online animal advocacy circles with some advocates focusing on how apparently awful it is that Scott's gone public with her return to meat-eating and then attempting to profit off of it by turning it into entertainment. As ended up being discussed over the course of the day on Gary Francione's Facebook page, there are many things problematic with both Scott's actions and interview and few of them really have anything at all to do with the fact that after 26 years of consuming animal products she decided to start consuming yet another animal product.
Vegetarianism was a part of my being, not just something I identified with politically; it was who I was, a part of my nature. And for it — for this desire — to come up in me, I had never been tempted in all of that time. So I looked at every aspect in my life to see what could I possibly be lacking. A lack of nourishment artistically? Was I hungry for another type of flesh, like a middle-aged lady hot to trot? But then my doctor said that female vegetarians over 40 do not get enough iron, and he said, “It’s eat meat or you get treated for anemia.”
Where to begin with this, really? So consuming animal products (i.e. eggs, dairy, likely otherwise using them in skin care products and so forth) was a part of her "being" -- a part of her "nature" and so she ended up opting to consume other animal products (i.e. animal flesh). She speculates about it having been triggered by some sort of artistic lack and makes a tacky ageist and sort of sexist comment about middle-aged women, not very cleverly comparing sex to meat-eating. I mean, seriously? Yet Bittman describes her show as "quite feminist".

She then tacks on that some authority figure made the scare-mongering claim that "female vegetarians over 40 do not get enough iron". Now, do I really, really need to start linking to the multitudes of authoritative documents that will provide sufficient fodder for the nose-thumbing that claim deserves? Even the most mainstream of medical and nutrition-oriented organizations in North America have long-since offered up official positions confirming that a well-planned vegan diet (never mind a vegetarian diet's like Scott's) can not only be perfectly healthy, but may even be more healthy than one in which animal products are consumed. Do a Google search. I dare you. Also, this whole ultimatum (i.e. "eat meat or you get treated for anemia") she uses as justification is almost funny. Oh gosh! Treatment for anemia -- the horror! Faced with the hardship of perhaps having to take iron supplements for a short while and to then (gasp!) increase her consumption of awful things like quinoa, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, collards and spinach, she was left with no choice other than to go back to consuming the one animal product she had (perhaps) not been consuming.

Of course, as most of these folks do, she tries to dredge up some sympathy, expressing that when she  gobbled down her first bites of animal flesh in 26 years, she shed tears. But this soon swings to the old familiar and very, very trendy presentation of meat-eating as some sort of visceral and sexy thing -- a touching base with one's predatory self that in Scott's case comes out sounding like some victim's twisted need for revenge:
I’ll align myself with the prey. I want to enjoy my flesh, and other people’s flesh, when it’s my choice. I don’t want to constantly be treated like a piece of meat. And I had to look at how I had treated others as a piece of meat, too. When have I been the predator?
So having felt like a victim of violence, her logical response is to choose to adopt what she describes herself as a predatory nature? (Don't people usually go to therapy for this sort of thing?) She chooses to embrace her animal exploitation, and following in the steps of many others who've cashed in while doing so, perpetuates this weird, weird notion that so many others have been flinging around, that it's somehow more ethical to do something if you do it wide-eyed and deliberately. Using other sentient beings is OK, according to Scott, "[a]s long as you're doing it consciously". So if I punch you in the nose deliberately and having weighed doing so beforehand, it's somehow less wrong than if I just did it without thinking? 

What really gets to me is how hilarious it is that the end of the interview that she claims that although so many talk about their journey toward vegetarianism, "no one talks about leaving the fold". I mean, has she not read the New York Times in the past 3-5 years to see that rather than come forth shamefully, others like her have seized the opportunity to jump on a bandwagon to flaunt their exploitation of others? The fact that Scott merely chose to shuffle around how she exploits animals -- whether eating or wearing their flesh or drinking their secretions -- matters little. What's unfortunate and a real shame, though, is the New York Times' continuing indulgence in presenting to its readers this constantly lopsided take on animal exploitation issues. Scott? She's just another drop in the bucket.

We have so much work to do. Please talk to someone about going vegan today.


Elizabeth Collins said...

The subject wasn't vegan in the first place as you said. [This comment by the author is incorrect: "Ms. Scott’s recent conversion to omnivore, after spending her entire adult life as a vegetarian" - she already was an omnivore.]

All she did was eat a "vegetarian" diet That is A. unhealthy and B. indicative of someone who has no recognition of the moral personhood of animals i.e just your nonvegan. The one thing this article illustrates once again is the ridiculousness of vegans claiming that Mark Bittman is a great advocate for veganism.

I am however grateful that for a change there was no mention of happy meat

Vanilla Rose said...

I am a female vegan over 40. I gave blood in the spring and am scheduled to do so again next month.

NatalieZ said...

I really enjoyed this post, it gets very tiring hearing nonsense from all these "ex-vegetarians" who went back to meat because they felt like it.

M said...

NatalieZ, thank you! It is a whole lot of nonsense, isn't it?

Vanilla Rose, no kidding. The whole anemia thing is such a lame excuse. It's not rocket science to make sure that you eat right and she's either lying or has a thoroughly incompetent doctor (or both).

As Ms. Collins points out, though, it wasn't much of a leap for her to go back to eating meat. It doesn't even hold any symbolic value. She went from exploiting animals to... exploiting animals. She's trying to create some sort of false distinction to cash on on some sort of "former veg" cred to sell her show. No surprise that Bittman was the one offering her up to the public.

DeafSociety said...

The facts about the human diet are simple. Here in the UK 67% of all food produced is fruit and vegetable, 26% is dairy and only 6% is meat, albeit according to 2005 stats. Spoiling for a fight with purported meat-eaters when they are more than likely vegetable-based omnivores, with a slight bit of meat in their diet is a waste of time. Being vegan is often derided on these grounds alone and objectors pull off meat eating stunts deliberately to goad vegans. The problem with veganism is often simply veganism when the world's diet is predominantly veg-based anyway. Apart from a few very isolated tribes and people such as the Innuit of the Arctic and Siberians who feed entirely upon fish and meat, the whole world has a veg-based diet. I read an interesting article yesterday about Mongolian vegans. here's the link:


2500 descendents of the great warrior, Genghis Khan left in Mongolia have turned vegan, according to this article and there are 25 vegan restaurants in the capital city Ulaan Bataar.

I dont eat meat or dairy or use animal products. It makes me very ill but this locking of horns with tigers teeth I find depressingly predictable. If veganism is ever to work, it has to be inclusive of the majority and not just an eco-recluse of trendy weirdies and animal rights campaigners

M said...

"Spoiling for a fight with purported meat-eaters when they are more than likely vegetable-based omnivores, with a slight bit of meat in their diet is a waste of time."

"I dont eat meat or dairy or use animal products. It makes me very ill but this locking of horns with tigers teeth I find depressingly predictable. If veganism is ever to work, it has to be inclusive of the majority and not just an eco-recluse of trendy weirdies and animal rights campaigners."

I don't get what it is that you're trying to get across. You're saying that omnivores eat mostly vegetables anyway, so their consumption of animal products shouldn't be challenged? That this is akin to "spoiling for a fight" from which you think those engaging in vegan and animal rights advocacy should instead walk away?

How will it make veganism "work" if, as you suggest, it be "inclusive of the majority" and merely lumps in anybody whose diet is as least 67% plant-based?

Could you clarify what point you're trying to make if it's other than what I've guessed you're trying to say? It sounds as if you're saying that for veganism to work, there should be no vegan advocacy.