Tuesday, December 03, 2013


I think that it was the summer of 2000 that a young, muscular black cat became my close gardening companion. I knew that he came from the apartment above mine. It concerned me that he seemed to almost always be outside, which left me uneasy given that we lived on a busy downtown street corner where I'd already watched one cat die from a hit and run. The parking lot adjacent to our yard was also a spot where kids attending all-ages shows at the Elk's Club across the street used to congregate to drink, fight and break bottles. The summer was hot and the cat I came to call "Sammy" -- an abbreviation of the horrible name the upstairs neighbour had given him -- had little other than a half-filled and filthy water dish at his disposal, a tipped over box of dry kibble left out 24/7. I offered him water. I filled a dish with proper kibble. He, in turn, would stretch lazily in the grass beside me as I pinched and plucked various plants. Several times, I observed the neighbour parking her car and Sammy running out from a bush beneath which he spent much of his time out of the sun, eager to greet her and her two children. She would instruct the children to ignore him and he would be left in the yard staring after them as they went inside. It broke my heart. He was alone.

I noticed scratches from what I assumed were scraps with neighbourhood cats. There was a feral colony a few blocks away. There were several roaming toms all over, some who'd walk into the yard. Late in the summer, one scrap left Sammy with an infected bite, swollen and pus-filled. He allowed me to drain it and to treat it with antibiotics. I mentioned it to the neighbour, who expressed annoyance at my having brought it to her attention. Over the next while, I continued to spend time with this friendly and neglected cat, discussing with my ex what I felt might be done. We had just that previous summer adopted kittens Zeus and Sophie to add to the household we shared with six-year-old siblings Tarwater and Almonzo. Bringing yet another cat wasn't something either of us sought.

Another abscessed wound later and as summer turned to fall and the evenings became colder, we confirmed that Sammy was in fact being left outside 24/7 and I began to let him into our attached shed at night to stay warm. Halloween was coming and a three band bill had been announced at the Elk's Club. Sammy was outside just after dusk as I was putting gardening tools away. I heard some kids in the parking lot laughing and someone drunkenly calling "Here kitty, kitty!" and I immediately called out "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy!" and he came running and I let him into the shed. I decided that moment that I wasn't going to risk losing him again.

The neighbour ended up confessing that she'd left him out in the yard, hoping he would "go away". So when we approached her about keeping him, she was relieved. I learned that he was "around four years old -- maybe older". At this point, he had another bite wound and would need veterinary attention -- tests and immunizations. She agreed to cover the cost of the initial vet bill, but later put up a big stink about it and we let it go, relieved that Sammy was finally safe. We quarantined him a while after his initial FIV test. When we eventually let him out of the office to interact with the other cats, he snapped at them constantly, defensive and so used to having been picked on. The rest of the gang, after tentative approaches, kept their distance. Sadly, this would set the tone for his interaction with most of the cats for years to come.

We heaped love on him and worked around his defensive nipping issues. We respected that he didn't want to be picked up or otherwise restrained and worked on winning his trust. I was always most sad watching him looking out the window at the upstairs neighbours and her kids in the backyard. He fell victim to additional heaps of my affection whenever that occurred. Sammy came to dote upon Sophie, adoring her so obviously to everyone who witnessed his behaviour, but he was never fully accepted. The humans tried to make up for it as much as we could. We hammered out an existence together and in later years, once Tar and Monzo passed, Sammy actually came to bond with Zeus quite closely. It took a visit from a friend from Pennsylvania who pointed out their moments of play for me to first realize it. Later, Sammy and Zeus would nap together comfortably. It was a relief.

Sammy and I fell into our own routine. He would regularly wake me an hour to an hour and a half before I needed waking, insisting on his breakfast. His preferred methods were either to bat at or knead my scalp. Occasionally I'd wake up on my side with Sammy's face inches from mine, my cheek damp from having been licked awake. Weekday mornings, he would follow me to the bathroom and wait for scritches after I showered, watching me get ready for work, at first along with Zeus and later by himself.  

Earlier this year when Zeus died, Sammy ended up alone in my apartment for the first time in a decade. I was out of the country and unable to return for a week. My cat sitter Vadini upped her presence to comfort him (and for that, I am so grateful to her). My friend Tanya promised to come visit, as well. When I returned, Sammy was ecstatic. I was the last of his family and had come home. For the next few weeks, we cuddled almost constantly. Afraid, I think, to be left alone again, he would follow me everywhere. I realized that after his having spent his entire life in this home with the company of other feline companions that he needed another friend. I brought home Eli, whose great enthusiasm for play soon exhausted my poor old guy. A few weeks after skittish Eli had begun to settle in and when it became clear that Sammy was alright with his company, but in need of respite from his many insistent attempts at rowdy play, I brought home Minou to distract Eli and to add a gentle third to my feline family. 

Several months later, Sammy was diagnosed with chronic renal failure. Because of his strong aversion to being handled (and thus medicated) and since he was eating, drinking and appeared content -- particularly because of his age -- the vet agreed that I should watch him closely until a decision needed to be made concerning palliative care. His weight continued to decline, but his appetite was still voracious. Sammy's condition worsened quickly these past few weeks. During his last few days, he barely ate and became incredibly affectionate, seeking constant attention and reassurance -- all of which I gave him. Last Thursday he let me know that he'd had enough and so, on Friday morning, I made the decision I had so very much dreaded and called the veterinary clinic to book an appointment. I was stuck at work, but my friend Tanya agreed to come over to spend the afternoon with him so that his final hours would be with someone who'd loved him and known him almost as long as I had. And for his last hour I held him close. My beautiful old man would not be alone.

Friday, November 29, 2013

So Al Gore Has Gone 'Something'?

Who's Done What?

Over the last 48 hours, I've seen excited status update after excited status update in my Facebook feed over the news leaked out that Al Gore may have gone vegan. What started it was a passing reference to the supposedly "[n]ewly turned vegan Al Gore" in an article by Ryan Mac on the Forbes website. Since that reference, the websites of just about every imaginable major news publication have been passing this on and elaborating upon it, although all of the reports I've seen thus far have yet to offer up an official confirmation. According to The Washington Post:
An individual familiar with Gore's decision, who asked not to be identified because it involved a personal matter, confirmed that Gore opted a couple of months ago to become vegan. Gore's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Speculation over his decision to go vegan is mostly centred on what would be assumed to be the most obvious "reason" for someone like Gore. According to The Washington Post, folks "usually become vegan for environmental, health or ethical reasons, or a combination of these three factors" and Al Gore so very obviously champions at least one of these causes, so I'm guessing that onlookers are drawing the conclusion that Gore has gone "vegan" for the planet. After all, he's been heavily involved in environmental advocacy for the last several years, publicly pushing for policy reforms geared towards slowing the rate at which the planet's climate is changing thanks to what we've been spewing into the air for decades. In 2006 he won an Oscar for his documentary An Inconvenient TruthIn 2007, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against global warming.

As he's persevered, reports confirming the link between large scale animal agriculture and global warming have been repeatedly highlighted in the media. Given this, it was really no surprise when animal advocates began to call on Gore to do the logical thing and to go vegan (or to at the very least stop eating meat, since meat production is often singled out as being more environmentally problematic than are other animal products). Gore himself was often referenced in the media as intending to at least reduce his meat consumption, so given his public prominence and the low anticipatory buzz that's surrounded him for a spell, it's no surprise that this news of his apparently having gone vegan has a lot of animal advocates excited.

He's Gone What?

When someone drops the word 'vegan' into a news story these days, it's essentially meaningless to me until it's explicitly defined. The Washington Post may very well have connected to an insider who is close enough to Gore to be able to confirm this or that tidbit of information about his personal decisions, but the problem is that along with occasionally being used properly, the word has been tossed around so very often to describe strict vegetarians, people who go on 3-4 week diet cleanses, those who eat periodic plant-based meals at certain times of day, as well as celebrities who may at some point have been vegan (or doing any of the other aforementioned things listed). Basically, the term is very often used to describe people who indeed do choose to consume easily avoidable animal products. All it takes is one well-circulated press release to announce that this or that celebrity has "gone vegan" and the details -- the actual facts -- become irrelevant. They get buried in all of rest of the chatter.

The Clinton Example

A while back, Bill Clinton decided to change his diet. "Bill Clinton Goes Vegan!" was proclaimed over and over again in the news, on animal advocacy websites and blogs, and by excited vegans everywhere. Advocates viewed the press exposure for veganism as positive. Except that Bill Clinton didn't go vegan. For a while, he adopted a strict vegetarian diet and did so for health reasons. These days he's no longer even following a strictly vegetarian diet -- or any sort of vegetarian diet at all. Earlier this fall, in an interview with AARP for an article called "Bill Clinton Explains Why He Became a Vegan", Clinton admitted that
Once a week or so, he will have a helping of organic salmon or an omelet made with omega-3-fortified eggs, to maintain iron, zinc and muscle mass.
So in an article about why he purportedly became 'a vegan', Clinton admits to once-a-week (or so) meals of fish or eggs. Never mind that completely unsubstantiated nutritional reasons are given for it, but the fact that Clinton, the article's writer and the writer's editor all three saw fit to call Clinton 'a vegan' although he admits to eating fish and eggs? Well, if that isn't proof that not taking the word 'vegan' as a qualifier seriously until whoever uses it fills in the blanks with details, I honestly don't know what is.

In the numerous articles about Gore's supposed recent shift, his 'going vegan' is repeatedly compared to Clinton's (e.g. the recent LA Times article "Al Gore is now vegan, just like Bill Clinton"), but Clinton isn't -- in any sense of the word -- a vegan. He probably never was a vegan and now he is not even technically a vegetarian (although ethically speaking, whether it's salmon or eggs he's consuming is irrelevant). Yet, groups like PETA applaud madly and laud him for having supposedly 'gone vegan'. Animal advocates who missed the AARP article and/or the ensuing string of articles and blog posts about it by those animal advocates who didn't miss it are still calling him a vegan. Once the buzzword has been dropped, advocates seem to latch on to it.

The facts are overlooked, further dietary changes are ignored, and until the day when Bill Clinton is photographed gnawing hungrily on a roasted lamb shank, he will no doubt continue to be called 'vegan'. As for what Al Gore may be doing? If it truly is anything that involves following in Bill Clinton's footsteps, what is there for animal advocates to celebrate? Until he fills in his own blanks, I'll hold off on clapping my own hands together in delight. Right now, Clinton's own situation as reported by the media and animal groups seems to have done nothing but to confuse the public about what 'veganism' actually means.

The 'Why' Behind the What

Of course, it will be great that he will likely be seriously curtailing his consumption of animal products. In Clinton's case, health was the factor which led to his shuffling around a lot of what he eats. In Gore's, until he actually speaks up and elaborates upon what he has done and why he has done it, we can only speculate that he will be curtailing some of his own exploitation for environmental reasons. Until then, we have two political celebrities who are still exploiting other animals and who are each limiting the extent of their exploitation for reasons that have nothing to do with the rights of those other animals themselves being taken seriously.

Clinton has already shown that shuffling animal products back into his diet in isn't a concern for him in terms of his health and as far as I know, he hasn't stopped wearing leather belts or silk ties to keep his weight in check. If Gore truly has gone vegan, great, but so far reports suggest that he's just changing his diet. If he's merely changing his diet for environmental reasons? Sneaking in the odd bowl of ice cream or fillet mignon won't ultimately have that much impact on global warming. As long as neither of them actually care about the ethics of of animal use in and of itself, they will likely continue to use them.

To use the term 'vegan' to describe either of them is incorrect. It's a simple question of definition. Worse, though, is that the term is now more and more commonly being used to describe behaviours which 1) have nothing to do with consideration for what it is that we owe other animals, and 2) which involved the unapologetic exploitation of these other animals through the continued use of their bodies and products for the sake of pleasure.


As an abolitionist, I hold veganism as a moral baseline in my advocacy. This extends to whom I choose to salute or applaud in terms of his or her actual, perceived or hoped for involvement in -- or impact on -- changing the status quo for other animals in a meaningful and permanent manner. It seems bizarre to me applaud a non-vegan as possibly facilitating society's shift away from speciesism when this non-vegan's own behaviour is, in fact, mired in speciesism.  Some may balk and protest that "It at least gets the word 'vegan' out there and leaves people thinking about veganism." The real truth is that the so-called word that someone like Gore's diet change gets out there just becomes more watered down and meaningless. The actual ethical reasons behind the coining of the term become lost altogether. What gets out there is more confusion about a label people who avoid animal products use as shorthand to self-identify when eating away from home or as descriptors when we seek to purchase various products.

It's not only something that I cannot applaud, but it becomes something worrisome to me. And when I see other advocates for veganism -- abolitionist advocates for veganism -- pointing out that this news about Gore is something worth celebrating, I'm really left wondering how it is that we've become so desperate to grasp at each and every little thing we can, rather than sticking to the simple and clear message that convinced me to finally stop fucking around and to go vegan six and a half years ago.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

On Ribbing

It was around two months ago that I pulled up in front of my small local grocer's just as it was starting to sprinkle. I was on the way home from an hour-long bike ride on the dirt and gravel trails around my city and had stopped to pick something up to throw into a salad. Radishes? Scallions? It had rained earlier and a long narrow puddle had formed alongside the curb where I was hitching up my bike to a lamppost. I squatted to thread the lock's cable through my back wheel and noticed a flutter in the puddle. A large moth was flapping madly and, without skipping a beat, I reached out to scoop him up out of the water. He continued to flap and flap and I cupped my hands to shelter him from the breeze which had picked up and I observed him for a bit. One of his wings was jagged and so I couldn't tell if he was just too wet to fly or if he was, in fact, seriously injured.

A little girl ran over and I looked up to see her mother following, smiling. "She wants to see," she told me. I lowered my hands and the girl looked and asked if he was alright. I told her that I wasn't sure and her mother waved her away. As I stood up, the breeze caught him and blew him out into the street. It had all lasted less than a few minutes. I finished my errand and checked my Facebook messages and posted a status update about my encounter. Although I'd felt sort of compelled to share the brief experience, I also felt a little apprehensive about sharing it after I had done so.  Mostly, I had this niggling feeling that someone -- likely one of a couple of non-vegan friends -- would no doubt take a poke at me to garner some likes or laughs. And? Someone obliged.

I'm not super thin-skinned. Having grown up in an extended working class French-Canadian family that included a lot of older male cousins, being teased is old hat to me. I don't even remember what the words used in his poke had been. What was written seemed an attempt to use "Operation Moth Rescue" to paint me as being a soft-hearted "flaky vegan". Another non-vegan friend quickly "liked" the poke... then another. A few more pokes ensued, woven through the thoughtful comments left by those vegan friends (and a couple of closer non-vegan friends) who'd understood my impulse to reach out -- such a simple gesture -- to scoop up a fellow being.

I usually shake my head and respond with an attempt at humour when I become the subject of someone's gentle ribbing. Over a decade as a vegetarian and a smaller handful of years as a vegan have left me dodging barbs, attempting to slip off the radars of more than a few workplace lunchroom clowns, hearing the periodic "plants feel pain too, you hypocrite" comments, being told each and every rare time I catch a cold that my immune system would be stronger ''if only I ate meat'', et al. Every once in a while, I find myself smiling that sort of "You're an asshole, but it would just be too unbecoming of me to dismantle your assholery right now" sort of smile. If you've ever been sucker-punched by someone about your veganism at an inappropriate time and it was obvious that that individual was just trying to be a bully and to make you squirm, you've no doubt worn that very same smile.

But then there have been those gentle pokes from well-meaning friends who may very well be just teasing the way they would tease you about any other story or subject, whether or not it's related to veganism or animal issues. For years I would just smile and shrug, mostly because I'm generally a non-confrontational person and found deflecting less stressful than asserting myself and then merely being told that I obviously couldn't "take a joke". The thing is that these mostly well-meaning friends have not experienced those less-than-gentle pokes vegans get from other friends, coworkers, family or even strangers. They don't taste the hostility in the mean-spirited anti-vegan articles that often show up in mainstream media, saturated with mistruths and ridicule.

As a blogger and as someone who's been involved in online activism for a while now, I've heard again and again from new vegans that the most difficult part of transitioning and settling into being vegan for them has involved dealing with other people. It's most markedly alienating when its people who are -- or were -- loved ones who become antagonistic. Sometimes it's not so much that those loves ones are consciously disrespectful or deliberately antagonistic, but that their words just end up thrown on the pile of all of the rest of the negativity we sometimes encounter from others. And sometimes those words smart more simply because they're from people from whom we expect validation rather than humiliation. The truth is that for those of us who have come to a point where we have chosen to reject participating in the inherently brutal exploitation of others, veganism is a matter of life or death. Tease me about the ABBA on my iPod. Kid me about the piece of kale stuck between my teeth. However, please don't attempt to undermine the seriousness with which I build the ethical framework within which I live my life.

I was on the tail end of a couple of weeks of what had felt like almost persistent ribbing and had ended up in a couple of ridiculous -- and exhausting -- debates in the days leading up to "Operation Moth Rescue". When that (later) self-professed well-meaning non-vegan friend decided to take a public poke at me on Facebook, I felt disrespected. I also felt that all of my fellow vegan Facebook friends had been disrespected and that I had allowed this to happen again and again by not addressing the taunts and pokes which had begun to increase in frequency and insensitivity. I wrote the following :
It's funny how some non-vegan friends will take gentle digs at my veganism, knowing that I blog about it, knowing how serious I am about it, knowing that many of my vegan Facebook friends will read the comments they leave on my wall. I know them well enough to know they're not trying to be mean, but I can't help but wonder where they would draw their line about disrespecting someone else's ethical... stance. If I were Jewish and keeping kosher and talking about it, would they take digs at me for that? If I was against child abuse and writing about that, then what? I don't expect all of my friends to agree with my reasons for being vegan. I don't expect all of them to understand why I choose to cause the least harm I can in whichever way I can and sometimes do things that seem silly to them like rescuing a stunned mouse from a road and sitting on a curb a half hour to make sure he's OK before setting him free, or taking the opportunity to scoop a drowning moth out of a puddle -- or adopting a traumatized skittish cat from the shelter (or fostering/adopting a large number of them in the past, something for which I've been chided by friends and family because it left me "going without").

Maybe it all seems silly to some, but it isn't to me. I take suffering and death seriously. I take trying to make some sort of difference seriously. It's meaningful to me. This time last year, I made the decision to euthanize my cat Sophie whose asthma became too much for her to bear. This time -- this very week -- six years ago, I lost my cat Monzo to hyperthyroidism and my father to cancer. So I know suffering and I know death. Oh fuck, do I ever know both intimately. I do what I can to alleviate some of it or to disinvolve myself from causing it as much as I can. It's who and what I am and I'm unapologetic about it. I was the 10-year-old kid who scooped up the cat mauled by the collie on the corner and knocked on several doors until an adult would help. I'm now the adult who refuses to participate in any animal exploitation to the best of her ability because this is the best possible life that I can lead -- the life that makes the most sense to me. I don't expect non-vegan friends to agree with everything I do, but I'd like to think that on some level that they could acknowledge that there's some good in this, whether or not they choose to do it themselves.
Many of my vegan friends responded with empathy. Many also expressed gratitude (some in private asides) for my having voiced what they too-often felt. Rather than use my post as an opportunity to trigger a dialogue or earnest discussion where we might come to an understanding of sorts, my non-vegan friend expressed that he'd felt censured and stated that he would self-censor moving forward when feeling the urge to share "funny" things. He expressed regret that I had been offended, but with neither an understanding of, nor a desire to understand, why it had been offensive.

I had overreacted. I had been thin-skinned and emotional. I had been the stereotypical humorless vegan, even though I had previously always responded with a smile and a shrug.

Hey vegan, can't you take a joke?

Hey, you?


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

When ''Debunking'' Misconceptions Merely Reinforces Them

It has been a while since I've cracked my knuckles and leaned over my keyboard to write. I have over a half-dozen pieces I've started over the last few months, but have been distracted by summer and my city's bike trails, my new feline family members Minou and Eli, as well as by a bit of recent travel to the city of Montreal where I got to eat wonderful food and to meet some fellow Canadian vegans. I've also had a food blog project simmering on a back-burner and have been doing some research for it. It's easy to get bogged down when you have too many different things on the go, so I was grateful this morning for an opportunity to put them aside to write a bit about a recent Readers Digest article called "11 Convincing Reasons that Going Vegan Isn't Crazy". The article is more of a slide-show, actually. My friend Dale forwarded the link, suggesting that I'd probably have a few things to say about it. He certainly wasn't wrong.

Slide 1: So what's going vegan?

Perri O. Blumberg starts the whole thing off by describing veganism as a "philosophy that can extend beyond the plate" to include not wearing animal products and to avoiding other animal or animal testing. Right off the bat, the idea presented is that although some may take it further, there are somehow forms of veganism restricted to diet.

Repeat after me: Veganism isn't a diet.

Slide 2: Even eating vegan part-time can benefit your health.

Yes, there are health benefits to veganism, but veganism is about the rejection of animal exploitation. Vegans don't restrict their rejection of animal exploitation to a particular time of day or a particular day of the week. The phrase ''eating vegan part-time'' perpetuates this whole ''veganism as flexitarianism'' thing that folks such as Mark Bittman have been promoting. If a person is against capital punishment, would it make any sense to suggest that they could limit their ethical beliefs to only being against administering the death penalty before 6 pm? Thankfully, the author does write ''[v]egans and those who avoid animal products (even part of the day, or part of the week)'' which seems to suggest Blumberg's distinguishing between vegans and ''those who avoid animal products'' sometimes.  However, given the first slide, the author may very well be distinguishing vegans from those who avoid non-food animal products. The writing is confusing.

Slide 3: You'll get enough protein from plants.

This slide was quite informative, pointing out the possible of consuming excess amounts of protein (particularly animal protein) can be unhealthy and linking to the website for T. Colin Campbell's The China Study, as well as to a list of plant-based sources of protein from the Vegetarian Resource Group.

Slide 4: Vegan recipes are cheap, plentiful and tasty.

I had no issues with what was presented here. The author mentioned the book Eat Vegan on $4 a Day by Ellen Jaffe Jones. I'm not familiar with it, although a quick glance at a review pointed out that it focuses on using whole grains and legumes and seasonal fresh produce. I frequently tell people that eating a strict vegetarian diet can be ridiculously inexpensive if you're not afraid to cook and you don't rely on costly processed foods.

Slide 5: Plenty of grocery store staples are vegan.

There is useful information here, including the issues inherent in the production of alcoholic beverages and how they're sometimes clarified using animal products. A link to the Barnivore website is provided for readers to identify vegan-friendly alcohol by brand or label.

I won't dwell on this, but the author also brings up PETA's ''accidentally vegan'' list which includes Oreo cookies. A few years ago, I contacted Oreo's manufacturers and was told at the time that they cannot guarantee whether or not the sugar used in any given package of their Oreos was processed with bone char. I can't help but wonder if other items on PETA's list also contain bone char processed sugar or are otherwise problematic, but I haven't spent any time looking into it. (That being said, plenty of ordinary grocery store staples are indeed vegan and, as the author points out, sometimes certain products you would not expect to contain animal ingredients end up doing so. It just requires a little bit of research.)

Slide 6: Change your plate, change the world.

The focus here is on the environmental devastation caused by meat consumption. I won't argue with the facts presented but was disappointed that the vegan-shaming misnamed group Vegan Outreach was cited as a source. I also found myself starting to wonder how it was that halfway into a slide-show purportedly about veganism, no mention whatsoever had yet been made about the horrors of animal exploitation and that veganism involves the rejection of animal use for the sake of the animals themselves.

Slide 7: Vegans make a winning grilled cheese.

The point made in the blurb for this slide is that we don't need milk or eggs to make everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to muffins, cakes and other sweet desserts. Blumberg points out that vegan versions of these have even won mainstream awards in cooking competitions. (A friend who was a pastry chef insisted to me recently that he is convinced that it is impossible to use plant-based ingredients to replicate the science involved in baking with things like eggs. I should send him links to some of the absolutely decadent vegan dessert recipes that vegan food bloggers and cookbook authors have been churning out for years.)

Slide 8: You can ease into it (and out of it)

Blumberg links to info on 30-day vegan challenges here, but the slide's title suggests that rather than being introductions to permanent change, these challenges can just as well be temporary dabblings. Going vegan isn't just about going on a month-long diet, but she presents it as such.

Slide 9: Veganism is not a fad diet.

OK, I'll admit that I actually laughed out loud at this, given the previous slide's title. The author's intent, though, was to show that people around the world have been vegan throughout history and that it's not just a phenomenon that's ''gained momentum recently as a backbone of certain environmental and health movements''.

(Nine slides in, I found myself wondering once again why although mention was made of health or environmental interests that no mention was being made of animal rights reasons for not eating or otherwise using animal products.)

Slide 10: Vegans who eat well don't need to buy additional supplements.

I have concerns whenever someone with no discernible background in nutrition makes such an off-the-cuff generalization when it comes to matters of health and safety. The author mentions that vegans require Vitamin B12, but suggests obtaining it through fortified products such as nutritional yeast. The main problem with this is that vitamin levels in fortified products (especially especially the B12 in most nutritional yeast other than Red Star's Vegetarian Support Formula) are often all over the place and aren't reliable. If you obtain your nutritional yeast from a bulk bin in a health food store, you're not even certain of what you're getting unless you ask for its nutritional breakdown. I would certainly anyone using them as her sole source of Vitamin B12 to overcompensate and to periodically get her levels checked. Honestly, I would suggest just regularly popping the occasional B12 supplement to stay safe. Why take risks?

That said, I'm no expert either, so I recommend having a look at this article (written by someone who does indeed have a background in diet/nutrition) before ruling out either B12 or other vitamin supplements.

Slide 11: Guess who's gone vegan?

For this slide, Blumberg lists as ''vegan'' celebrities like Mike Tyson (who eats a strict vegetarian diet but participates in a television program about his breeding and racing pigeons) and Bill Clinton (who doesn't even follow a strict vegetarian diet, but has admitted to regularly eating both eggs and fish). As if the focus on celebrities who hop on and off bandwagons isn't problematic enough, Blumberg also manages to perpetuate mainstream media's mangling of the word ''vegan'' by identifying celebrities who have never even really been vegan at all as exemplars of the word.

Slide 12: You can make friends.

Yes, as the author points out, there are all kinds of meet-up opportunities to find community with other vegans if you're not finding it within your own immediate circle of family and friends. Having that sense of community is important for new and seasoned vegans alike. For many of us, opportunities to sit across a table from someone who can truly relate to why we make the decisions we do concerning other animals are scarce. It's sometimes a relief to be able to be able to be open and ordinary about our rejection of animal exploitation without eliciting eye-rolls or snide comments. Even more so, it's heartening to be able to discuss our veganism without eliciting the too-often blank looks (particularly from loved ones) that can leave us feeling a little isolated or alienated.


Perri O. Blumberg's piece is purportedly about going vegan and is presented as intending to clarify ''myths and misconceptions'' about veganism. Although her piece is peppered with some really good information and links, the bottom line is that she fails horribly at clarifying some of the worst present-day misconceptions about veganism. In her piece, she informs her readers that veganism can be limited to diet, that it can be a part-time gig and that it can be temporary. It's none of those things. Blumberg illustrates that she doesn't really comprehend what veganism really is.

Perhaps if she had at any point looked into the ethical and animal rights based motivators which actually do provide the foundation for adopting a vegan lifestyle, she may have realized how describing it as involving degrees of continued animal use truly makes no sense and that. It only ends up confusing the public further and given that the piece was published on the website of such a widely-read publication like Reader's Digest? That's a true shame.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What This Vegan Eats

It's been a while since I've splattered food photos all over the blog. Here are some of the things I've been whipping up over the last few months. Over the next few months, I hope to start work on another blog which will be specifically geared towards food and with recipes and tips on eating healthily and inexpensively as a single vegan. I'll keep you posted!

Lentil dahl with onions, spinach, tamarind, a bit of coconut milk, chilies, various Indian spices, garlic, ginger and lemon juice (and potatoes added). Yu choy sauteed in a wee bit of olive oil and hot curry paste. Multigrain flatbread.

Tater tot poutine. Tater tots, mushroom-nooch gravy, Vegan Gourmet mozzarella, organic ketchup.

Whole wheat pita pizza w/tomato sauce, crushed garlic, oven-roasted zucchini and red bell pepper, corn, crumbled tempeh (pan-fried w/tamari), mozza Daiya and corn.

Mushrooms, red bell pepper and Spanish onion marinated in a fig balsamic on organic mesclun greens. Grilled open-faced sandwich of jalapeno-garlic Daiya and breaded Gardein "chicken" strips on organic cranberry-apple spelt bread. Merlot.

Romaine, cuke, plum tomato, mushrooms, scallions, radishes, chopped Gardein breaded "chicken" strips, black olives, sesame & chia seed, French dressing.

Homemade tempeh and mushrooms in a maple-soy marinade and pan-fried. Spring greens topped with strips of red bell and drizzled with remainder of maple-soy marinade.

Maccheroncelli topped with mozza Daiya and a chunky homemade sauce.

Kimchi noodle soup. Tofurky Italian slices, tahini-nooch kale salad, cashew Camembert, tomato and sweet-red-pepper-mustard on multigrain bread.

Mushrooms and hot banana peppers marinated in fig balsamic vinaigrette, tahini-nooch kale salad and chipotle-speckled mushroom-y quinoa.

Nori rolls for dinner! I used 4-5 each of avocado, oven-roasted red pepper, shredded raw carrot, scallions, pan-fried smoky-sesame tofu, cucumber and cooked butternut squash.

Gardein Meatless Ground pan-fried with onions, broccoli, cheddar Daiya and chipotle seed. Vegenaise and locally-made sauerkraut. Whole wheat pita.

Potato-tofu Indian coconut curry over quinoa (also w/carrots, peas, tomatoes, onion, garlic and various seasonings).

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Eat Your Icons: Matt Frazier

I have a lot of vegan friends and acquaintances who have very well-established and well-enjoyed exercise routines and who get a thrill out of pushing themselves to be as fit as they can. They twist and balance at yoga class, run half-marathons, participate in triathlons and have clocked in enough kilometres on their bikes that I'm sometimes embarrassed to refer to myself as a cyclist. I follow and applaud their accounts of participating in triathlons and am often envious of their resolve, thinking that in the right context (i.e. with a motivated cycling buddy) I could probably end up pushing my own self further. It's easy to make excuses when life's filled with distractions, of course, but I'm straying a little from my topic.

Many of these athletic vegan friends and acquaintances are familiar with the names of the more popular vegan or strict vegetarian professional athletes and of those who are currently writing books or otherwise maintaining programs in which the public can participate to shape up. They drop names like Scott Jurek, Carl Lewis, Brendan Brazier and Matt Frazier and mention books, performances, interviews. I have to admit that aside from my French-Canadian genetic predisposition to keeping my ear to the ground on some hockey-related matters that I don't pay much attention to sports or to athletic competitions. Those names are "familiar" to me, but I couldn't tell you if they were runners, body-builders, football players (and so on) without playing with Google.

One of those familiar names came up a few times yesterday -- Matt Frazier's -- and I couldn't help but visit his website to see what all the fuss was about. Someone had posted to an animal rights email list of which I'm a member that Frazier had recently posted "rules" on his website for his vegan fans to follow. What Frazier's in fact done is share the rules that he follows as a self-described vegan in a piece called "My Rules for Navigating Vegan Life in a Non-Vegan World" -- and yes, I wrote "self-described".

Eight Rules

Before he even begins his list of rules, Frazier hauls out those old tired vegan stereotypes -- the ones usually brought up to shame vegans or shut them up. Although he says that he's fed up with how "we" vegans are seen as "extreme, preachy elitists who think we know what's right for everyone and that the world should be forced to eat like we do" he's quick to add that we apparently collectively bring it upon ourselves. He uses the words "militant" and "inflexible" and tells his readers that his list is an attempt to illustrate that vegans don't have to be like that. He says his list of rules developed from "habit". Let's have a look at just what those "habits" are.

Rule #1 Don't Eat Animal Products

Duh. That's a no-brainer, right? If you're going to be a vegan, might as well not eat animal products, right? Except that Frazier has exceptions. He will still "knowingly buy and eat something with honey in it". He's "working" on this, he says, but right now for the sake of convenience, he will still knowingly consume it, knowing all the while that it's not vegan. Then there are other exceptions...

Rule #2 Don't Turn Down Non-Vegan (but Vegetarian) Food That's Offered at a Friend's House

If it's "butter [...], sprinkled cheese or eggs", Frazier says he'll "eat the meal and be grateful". Grateful for what? That he didn't bring something vegan to the meal to eat himself just in case a situation like this came up? 
Most vegans learn early on that it not only takes some of the heat off your host to bring something, but it ensures that if mix-ups occur, you can still all eat and be merry. Is he grateful that his relationship with his friend is so fragile that his friend would blow a gasket or be forever deeply wounded if Frazier didn't compromise his ethical beliefs for the sake of appearances?

Frazier almost draws the line at meat, saying that the situation "hasn't arisen yet" but the thing is that there is no difference between consuming dairy, eggs or flesh. Frazier presents non-meat animal products are more permissible or ethical and in the process guilt-trips vegans who are consistent about not putting animal products, whether flesh or secretions, into their mouths.

Rule #3 If a Restaurant Screw up the Order and Serves Non-Vegan (but Vegetarian) Food, Either Give it Away or Eat It

Quantity matters, says Frazier. An entire cheese pizza, he'd give away. A little cream drizzled on a dish? He would eat this and states that he has. He talks about "honoring" the animal and about how not eating what's presented is tantamount to "making a scene" and is counterproductive for veganism. Funny, but I thought that consuming animal products was counterproductive for veganism, but I guess that I have an altogether idea of what it means to be vegan than does Frazier. He talks about "wasting food" but I can't help but recall a quote from my friend Dan, an excellent former blogger, who once wrote: "I am vegan for precisely the same reason that I am not a cannibal." Would Frazier be talking about so-called food waste if he was offered up a dish sprinkled with a tiny amount of flaked flesh from a human baby's arm? Or breast milk taken from an enslaved woman forcibly raped and who's had her baby taken from her? Would consuming that dish or giving it away "honor" that enslaved human victim? Why is it different for other animals to Frazier?

Rule #4 Don't Make a Scene

A good vegan is a quiet vegan, according to Frazier, and too many vegans. Given Frazier's previous rule, one is left to assume that making a "scene" is pretty much just saying anything at all and sending back a dish rather than eating it. Frazier talks about how this makes vegans look "weird" and that being seen as "weird" leaves veganism off-putting to non-vegans.

Rule #5 Don't Complain About not Having Options

I tend to agree with this to a certain extent. Frazier's delivery is of the severe finger-wagging variety, but the thing is that if you get yourself sucked into a situation where your options will be limited, it really is up to you to contact (for example) a restaurant in advance to make arrangements or to ensure that you have food. You can always email a place after the fact to suggest to management that they include more vegan-friendly options on the menu, but inform yourself of your situation and options beforehand and just figure something out.

Rule #6 When Someone Asks About Healthy Eating, Don't Pounce

Frazier here expects vegans to high-five someone for eating "healthier" animal products and says that he won't bring ethics into the discussion. There's absolutely no reason whatsoever that vegans should feel compelled to tell someone who's cut out bacon in favour of chicken breasts "That's great!!!11". There's also no reason to view someone's choosing healthier animal products as in any way whatsoever leading to veganism, which is grounded in ethics. By all means, don't pounce, but don't applaud animal exploitation, either.

Rule #7 Don't Argue About Diet

Basically, Frazier says here that whether you bring up health or ethics, that debating whether a strict vegetarian diet is better will result in failure because people are just too emotional to hear what you have to say. So there goes tabling and leafletting or doing anything whatsoever that's education and involves engaging others. According to Frazier, it just won't work. Just become an awesome athlete, Frazier suggests, so that people become envious and want to copy your diet. Uh... yeah.

Rule #8 Don't Buy Non-Food Animal Products

I was surprised to read this heading since I figured that Frazier was pretty focused on the whole notion of veganism as a diet. But even here, Frazier talks about not bothering to research products -- deliberately opting to not inform himself -- and he lumps beer and alcohol into this, as well.


To his credit (kinda, sorta), Frazier admits that his list is incomplete. But he talks about "moving towards 'pure' veganism" as if his deliberately choosing to ignore and gobble down animal ingredients is a sort of ordinary veganism. He also brings up that he hasn't given much thought to circuses and zoos and to "keeping animals as pets" (which he says he now has second thoughts about, when 3-4 million animals are needlessly killed in shelters in the US alone each and every year, just for the horrific "crime" of being unwanted).

Let's face it. Matt Frazier's so-called personal rules are an absolute mess. They present vegans' choosing to consume animals as not just "OK" but as desirable -- as the right thing to do in situations that are easy to avoid and easy to handle in ways where you're neither left having to compromise your ethical beliefs, nor looking like an asshat while remaining consistent. But like so many other self-described vegans who've become icons, Frazier's trying to appeal to a larger audience, so it's probably more expedient for him to excuse away people's awkwardness and balking, rather than giving them the encouragement to do the right thing and to not let themselves be embarrassed about it. It's a shame, but it's really no surprise, is it?

Note (2013-07-18): Frazier has since posted an update to his article, stating that rules #1-3 no longer apply to him and that, moving forward, he won't be making exceptions to consuming animal products. No mention of rule #8, however, where he discusses not researching ingredients in alcohol or non-edibles. In the comments to his article, he says that although his own feelings have shifted re: rules #1-3 that he would still advise others to feel OK with lapses or exceptions. Even more problematic is that he also reiterated that he no longer thinks feels right about adopting "pets" now that he's vegan and he stresses that non-vegan "vegetarianism" is still better than eating meat. Hopefully he will come around, but I'm happy to see that he's at least expressed an interest in seeking some degree of consistency in his own practices while self-identifying as a vegan.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Feeling the Love, Whole Foods Style

Abby Bean from over yonder at A (soy) Bean shared a particularly well-captioned photo on Facebook this morning that left me slowly shaking my head. "Now they're just purposely being antagonistic," she wrote of it.  It's a shame they couldn't share some of that love with the cows.

(Check out her review from late last May of Saf Restaurant, an actual vegan restaurant located in Whole Foods Kensington in London in the UK.  Between the mediocre fare and the "happy meat" signs lining its stairwell, it sounds like a bit of a joke on the vegans who haplessly wander into it.)

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Finally: Abolitionist Animal Rights at AR2013

Gary L. Francione (to the right) addresses the crowd during his debate with Bruce Friedrich.(Photo sourced from FARM's Facebook page.)
(The following is a guest post by New York City vegan and environmental activist, Demosthenes Maratos, who attended the conference and presented on a panel discussing "Externalities of Animal Abuse". Demo very kindly agreed to let me share his experience at the conference with My Face Is on Fire readers and I'm very grateful that he took the time to write down all that he did. I truly wish I had been able to attend, but Demo's words leave me feeling as if I have.)


I’m not at all a morning person, so in my truest form, I was late making it down to the 500-seat Plaza room at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center Hotel Saturday morning.

When I arrived, the room was already filled to the point where people had assembled outside the door and in the hallway to hear Professor Gary Francione’s first-ever presentation at the National Animal Rights conference. I pushed my way through the crowd assembled in the hallway and found a spot way in the back to stand for the presentation. It took me a minute or two to comprehend just what was going on.

Some back-story: At least a month and a half earlier a friend and I were exchanging email messages about whether this day would ever actually happen. There was some concern expressed about whether Professor Francione would be given the freedom to present whatever he wanted or whether he would in any way be censored by the organizers. I remember my friend distinctly saying that Francione would likely just give his usual talk on veganism as the moral baseline and that the organizers need not be concerned.

Back to the Plaza room: I quickly realized that every single chair in the 500-seat banquet room was filled and that more had been brought in to accommodate the assembled crowd. Still not enough, attendees of the conference were standing, kneeling and sitting in the last remaining bits of floor space unoccupied by chairs or other attendees. I found out later from the organizers that they estimated the room to have had 800 or more individuals in attendance that morning. After having taken in the magnitude of the crowd, I focused on what was being presented. I remembered the conversation with my friend about “his usual talk about veganism,” but that was not the case today. To their credit, the organizers (Farm Animal Rights Movement or FARM) allowed Francione to present exactly what he wanted. And boy, did he. Within minutes of my arrival, right there on the screen in front of the packed Plaza room was a PowerPoint slide showing the now infamous 2005 Animal Rights International letter to Whole Foods’ John Mackey. The letter, written by Peter Singer and signed by practically every major animal welfare organization, praised Whole Foods for having adopted “humane” treatment standards for raising and killing sentient creatures.

Allow me to put this all into perspective. The mainstream animal advocacy movement has wholly shunned Professor Francione since his 1996 book Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement critiqued the emergence of “new welfarists” as doing the animals more harm than good, and animal welfare reform as ineffective in ever leading to animal liberation. For 17 years he has been called controversial, divisive, or a traitor by many in the mainstream animal advocacy movement. And as I would find out later from a conversation with Francione, he was also on the receiving end of death threats after the book’s release.

While continuing his writing and lecturing (the author of four additional books since 1996, including the newly-released e-book, Eat Like You Care: An Examination of the Morality of Eating Animals), Francione had never been asked to speak at FARM’s National Animal Rights Conference. When I inquired as to why that was the case at last year’s conference, the answers from FARM organizers ran the gamut from “we don’t think he will come” to “we think he will go over his allotted time” to “we think he will be critical of the work of other groups”. They were right on the last one, but without ever asking, they would never have known whether he’d accept an invitation or go over his allotted time. For the record, going over one’s allotted time is something pretty much every presenter at the conference does. Myself included… oops.

But now Francione was standing at the podium, 800 people in attendance, including a veritable who’s who of animal welfare leaders (Paul Shapiro from HSUS, Nathan Runkle and Matt Rice from Mercy For Animals, Melanie Joy of Carnism Awareness, Action Network, Bruce Friedrich, Nick Cooney and Gene Bauer from Farm Sanctuary, Erica Meier of Compassion Over Killing, and others from Vegan Outreach, PeTA, The Humane League, etc) - in other words, some of the very people whose work Francione has very strongly disagreed with. Of course, he wasn’t simply standing there. He was now meticulously outlining how the mainstream animal rights movement had lost its way, how welfare reforms were a giant step backward, and how industry collaboration had drained the movement of its integrity. And he was doing so with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation, which Francione admitted to be doing for the first time ever.

His hour-long presentation discussed, among other things, how welfare reforms would happen anyway as industry strived to cut costs and increase market share, how activists should never seek to aid industry in making animal exploitation more profitable, how welfare campaigns actually make the public feel better about animal exploitation and how they actually encourage continued animal use by making people think that they can discharge their moral obligations to animals without ending animal use in their own lives, how incongruous sexist campaigns like “Veggie Love Casting Session” are to a movement seeking to liberate one group of oppressed individuals by exploiting another group, and how making moral distinctions between different forms or exploitation (i.e. single issue campaigns, the promotion of Meatless Monday) does not shift the paradigm from animals as exploitable things to beings worthy of our moral concern.

Francione’s presentation was met with spontaneous outbursts of applause throughout and ended with a rousing standing ovation from at least half of the jam-packed room. Considering the welfare-dominated environment in which he was presenting, it was spectacular to be party to it all.

An hour later, I was back in the Plaza room witnessing a similar scene. Having this time arrived early I saw the 500 seat room being packed to capacity with more than a hundred additional chairs being brought in to accommodate the crowd, and still a few hundred others having to sit, stand, or kneel on the floor. My partner and I grabbed two of the chairs being brought in and were seated in the front row, to the left of the dais awaiting the debate between Gary Francione and Farm Sanctuary’s Bruce Friedrich. After a brief welcome, introduction, and explanation of the debate format from moderator and World Peace Diet author, Will Tuttle we were under way. The format: Francione and Friedrich each had 10 minutes for an opening statement, followed by 25 minutes of audience questions and answers, and concluding with a 2-minute summation from each presenter.

Francione presented his position first, and without the aid of a PowerPoint presentation this time he carefully began by outlining, as he’d done in his morning plenary, that veganism should be the moral baseline of any movement concerned about animal rights. He continued that there is no evidence to indicate that making exploitation more 'humane' advances toward the abolition of exploitation, and offered the comparison of placing animals that will inevitably die for palate pleasure in bigger cages being akin to torturing a prisoner on a padded water board. He went on to argue that we have had animal welfare laws for nearly two hundred years, and yet we now exploit more animals in more horrible ways than at any time in the past. He added that “to the extent that animal welfare reform raises consciousness about animals, it merely reinforces the notion that animals are things that we are entitled to use if our treatment of them is 'humane' and facilitates the continued acceptance of exploitation, which is characterized as meeting that standard." Later, Francione concluded his statement by saying that there is no way one could advocate for bigger cages (or another reform) without taking the stance that those conditions are morally desired and that consuming animals produced under those conditions is ethically acceptable. “You promote "happy" exploitation whether or not you think you are,” he said.

Again, Francione’s 10-minute opening statement was met with outbursts of applause from the assembled crowd, and another stirring standing ovation from half of those in attendance.

Bruce Friedrich then took to the podium and began, as he so often does, with the same joke, “Did people hear that Bill Gates bought the Seattle Times this morning?” But before he could deliver the punch line, someone from the audience shouted it out, “Yeah, he buys it every morning.” Friedrich appeared disappointed.

Friedrich’s presentation began with statement that he was abolitionist and that he and Farm Sanctuary were working towards their ultimate goal of animal liberation. He failed in my estimation, however, to convince me of that fact. Simply saying something doesn’t make it so. But I digress. He continued that animal welfare reforms do help animals and that they shift the paradigm towards animal liberation. With the use of PowerPoint he juxtaposed a slide of pig in a gestation crate with a slide of a group of pigs in cage free confinement and claimed that this was a significant improvement for the animals suffering right now. He did the same thing with a slide of hens in battery cages and hens in cage-free confinement and added the claim that the switch from one form of confinement to the other would spare millions of animals from misery. He attempted to prove his point by presenting the Kansas State University study entitled U.S. Meat Demand: The Influence of Animal Welfare Media Coverage, which he argued, demonstrated that media attention to animal welfare issues in the past decade resulted in “significant negative effects on U.S. meat demand” and were leading to veganism. Or as Friedrich said, vegetarianism, since he continues to use those terms interchangeably.

In what appeared to be a attempt at winning audience support, Friedrich, unfairly in my opinion, used another slide depicting a pig named Julia and said that she and her babies were saved as a result of a gestation crate ban and were now living out their lives at Farm Sanctuary. How does that work exactly? This went unexplained and unquestioned and seemed to imply that pigs get to go to sanctuaries immediately after a crate ban. 
Friedrich’s presentation also received sporadic and supportive applause throughout, and at its conclusion, it garnered a standing ovation by half of the attendees in the room. It seemed more boisterous to me and included hooting and hollering. More on that later.

When it came time for audience members to ask questions and/or comments, better than twenty individuals made their way to the microphone positioned near the front of the room. Of the questions I remember, one was from a woman employed by The Humane League and who has a relevant interest in the outcome of the debate. She asked both debaters to talk about what type of vegan outreach they’ve done, but specifically asked Francione, “What do you do besides Facebook?” Clearly intended to imply that all Francione does is use Facebook, it was obviously a “planted” question. After all, Francione has written numerous books, he teaches and lectures internationally, he blogs, he podcasts, and let’s face it, he doesn’t subscribe to the model that one needs to work within a organizational structure to be effective. Yet, here he was having to defend his use of Facebook, which he did commendably enough in outlining how without much in the way or resources he was reaching thousands and getting 400 emails a day concerning the abolitionist approach. But the question was clearly designed to set up Friedrich to rattle off a list of welfare campaigns and claim that it was abolitionist vegan education.

For anyone astute enough to notice, it was a contrived question with the intention of supporting Friedrich’s position. Another audience member commented that he felt the debate seemed to center around either promoting welfare reforms and/or promoting veganism. He added that there should be another position presented, and if I understood him correctly, he was interested in seeing bans on different forms of exploitation rather than simply regulating conditions within that exploitation. Friedrich responded by thanking him for his question and different point of view and added that Francione and he admittedly did not go over every position during the debate.

Towards the end of the question and answer portion of the debate, Nick Cooney, Founder of The Humane league and now Compassionate Communities Manager at Farm Sanctuary was either given or somehow commandeered a wireless microphone to ask a question from the back of the room. It was not only rude (at least 15 audience members were waiting patiently in line for their turn to ask a question,) but it was also very much another “planted” question.

Unknowing attendees may not have realized who was asking the question or that Cooney, who remember works for the same organization as Friedrich, was asking the question of his colleague, but it seemed clear to me that it was an attempt to bring the conversation back to the Kansas State Study. I don’t remember his exact phrasing, but his “question” went something like, “Bruce, can you elaborate further on the study you referenced earlier about how welfare reforms save millions of animals?”

As an aside, and for those who may not know, Cooney has a history of this sort of disingenuous behavior. In August of 2012, Paul Shapiro, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States wrote an article for the online blog, Food Day in which Shapiro encouraged readers to eat more vegetables. Among the “planted” comments by many of Shapiro’s colleagues and friends (all of which are still there to be read,) Cooney, using his own name, posted a comment that said something to the effect of, “Thank you Mr. Shapiro, I’m glad you brought this issue to my attention. I’ve been eyeing all those yummy looking meat alternatives in my grocery store and you’ve encouraged me to try them.” After being summarily criticized by others in the animal rights community as dishonest and disingenuous to have pretended to be an omnivore (Cooney is vegan) who just happened upon the article and was influenced by it, the comments were taken down.

Friedrich used this “question” to again make the case for the validity of the Kansas State Study, which Francione quickly challenged. Saying, that the study does not say that welfare campaigns have resulted in any actual decrease in consumption. Rather, he explained, “it says that demand, measured over an approximately ten-year period, did not increase as much as the authors would have thought if media attention on welfare issues had not increased.” He added that animal consumption is increasing but it did not increase as much with respect to pigs and chickens and that may or may not have had anything to do with animal welfare measures, and any decrease in demand may very well reflect a shift to fish, eggs, dairy products since the authors defined those as non-meat 

Friedrich kept insisting that the study indicated both an overall reduction in animal consumption and that it was the result of welfare reform. Francione again challenged that this was theorized, and with zero evidence to back it up it was merely correlation not causation. Francione went on to encourage the audience to read the entire study for themselves and not take any one’s word for it.

More than a handful of attendees were left without time in the schedule to ask questions and they were asked to return to their seats.

Friedrich received the most raucous applause from the assembled crowd, which was again filled with a veritable who’s who of animal welfare leaders and their supporters. I wouldn't base it all on cheering, however. Francione, to my knowledge, did not even announce publicly that he would be speaking at the conference. And remember, this conference has long been dominated by welfarist organizations. All of which employ colleagues, friends, and peers of Friedrich, and all of whom knew to show up in opposition. Some of them were visibly not very happy to be hearing disagreement with their work, especially in front of a crowd that normally fawns all over them. Their cheers were the only way to voice their dissatisfaction. It was expected.

After the debate, Francione made his way to the spacious foyer outside the Plaza room where conference sponsor tables were set up. Francione was provided with his own table to promote his new eBook. Once there, a seemingly endless stream of conference attendees had gathered in a line to seek him out to talk to him, to discuss points he made, or to meet him for themselves. In some cases it was an orderly line where people waited their turn, in others instances attendees had gathered around the table informally for a group conversation. This scene literally went on for hours, five straight hours to be exact. Person after person after person wanted to engage him in conversation. It wasn’t until the foyer began to fill up with those attending the conference banquet and awards ceremony that Francione and his assistant could think about making an exit. That however, was short-lived as they could not walk more than a few steps before being stopped again.

The distance from Francione’s table to the escalator leading to the main lobby and hotel exit was no more than a hundred and fifty feet. But it took them another hour to walk that distance as more and more people wanted to ask questions and interact with Francione. Finally at the foot of the escalator and the group gathered at just about five or six individuals, Eddie Lama of The Witness recognized Francione. The two made eye contact, but the old friends couldn’t believe whom they were seeing. They embraced and someone snapped a picture. Shortly thereafter-another old friend walked by. This time it was Shirley McGreal, founder of International Primate Protection League, who recognized both Francione and Lama and the three had their picture taken together. After all was said and done, Francione left the Hilton Mark Center nearly 12 hours after he arrived.

My take on the debate: At a conference that has traditionally been dominated by regulationst ideologies, Gary Francione had everything to gain, while Bruce Friedrich had much to lose. Regardless of how any of us might have called it (I personally happen to think Francione's arguments were and are more effective) the winner was Francione. Exposing 800 people to the abolitionist approach, many of who are brand new to the movement, there were bound to be people who were moved to consider his point of view, and for him to win over new supporters (I spoke to a number of them). That's a win in my book. In Friedrich's case, attendees learned nothing new and I spoke to no one who was moved to reconsider their position and support his. His supporters remained his supporters. Having witnessed the events of the morning, afternoon and into the early evening of Saturday June 29th, I can honestly say it was a thing of beauty to behold.

In the hours after the debate, while many of us conference goers were discussing the day’s events and our thoughts on who had won, I heard something interesting from a friend. He happened to overhear a conference sponsor tell a colleague that if Francione were invited again, he and others would pull out of next year's conference. It seems evident that some felt threatened by Francione’s presence and did not take kindly to being challenged on the merits or their work.

Of course being challenged isn't about posturing and nitpicking so much as it is a very much warranted criticism of how many organizations are going about setting things back for the very animals they claim to be "helping". Frankly, when welfare reform is criticized, the response is too often to ignore the substance of the argument and claim that the critic is being “divisive” or “too idealistic”. This is not helpful to a useful discussion and seems only designed to prevent people from considering the message. Abolitionists like Francione have for far too long been painted with that broad brush. It’s insidious and it needs to stop.


For those of you who weren't present at AR2013 to hear the Francione/Friedrich debate, here's an unofficial video taken of it by an audience member. Enjoy!