Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hey Vegan, Can't You Take a Joke?

And so, yet another non-vegan has weighed in on what is or isn't proper behaviour for vegans. A few days ago in her "Plant Strong Diva in Chicago" column on Chicago Now's website, Ashley Gilday (who?) took a poke at vegans with a heap of exaggeration served up with a good dose of shaming. She describes herself in her bio-blurb as having had a spiritual awakening a year and a half ago which has supposedly left her following a "predominantly plant based diet" so that "the foods [she decides] to eat actually help others". She calls her column a "hub to educate", yet in her list of 
"11 signs your vegan diet may be out of control", Gilday replaces an opportunity to educate with one to merely reinforce stereotypes and to both ridicule and guilt-trip actual vegans for their personal lifestyle choices (i.e. even in situations where no other people around them are even remotely affected by these choices).

The first "sign" she describes perpetuates the stereotype of the screeching angry vegan who has apparently been left friendless for constantly verbally assaulting his friends and family members at meal-time when they consume animal products. The funny thing about this is that, the odd social maladept aside, most vegans probably actually try to shift the focus from themselves at mixed meals with non-vegans. I tend to just focus on eating what's on my plate, not really caring to have someone start in on why the X or Y on her own are too delicious to give up, or--if it's known or comes up that I'm vegan--challenging me to explain why I think eating X or Y is wrong in the first place. I remember how an ex's mother would always tell everyone at the table "what a shame" it was that I couldn't have this or that item to see for myself what I was missing, which would always lead to some new-to-me relative of the ex's asking "why" I "couldn't". These are not conversations I wish to have when sitting across a table from most non-vegans. It's neither the right time nor place and leaves me just as uncomfortable as it might the non-vegans who'd get honest answers out of me. But I imagine that even merely responding honestly at all might be deemed offensive or inappropriate by Gilday.

Her second "sign" shames vegans who prefer to keep their food separate from animal products when it's prepared on something shared, like a grill. This reminds me of a story I shared in a blog post a year ago:
"I remember years ago how an ex had been questioned about my veganism by a friend who was hosting a barbecue to which we'd been invited. I think my ex had mentioned that there was no need to worry about me and that I'd just bring something to eat that needn't sit on the grill. His friend asked what the big deal would be in having food which had been cooked on or alongside ground meat. Without skipping a beat, my ex asked:
'Do you find the idea of eating feces revolting?'

'Well, yeah.'

'What about eating something cooked on something that had just been covered in feces?'
The conversation ended. I got a chuckle out of how he'd handled it, crudely--yet effectively--comparing one form of revulsion (e.g. stemming from moral reasons) to another. The comparison obviously doesn't apply for all vegans and it is quite a bit more nuanced than that. But to some, myself included, the idea of biting down into a piece of flesh that once belonged to a living someone is really no different than the idea of biting into something covered with a little bit less of that someone's body, and I'd no sooner voluntarily do either than I would if feces were substituted for the animal flesh. If that makes me extreme of difficult, then so be it."
As someone who admits that she continues to consume animal products, Gilday obviously cannot easily wrap her head around the idea that someone else might not want to eat food with another animal's fat or blood splattered on it. It's alright that she doesn't "get it" since she hasn't connected the dots where her own consumption choices are concerned. It's really unfortunate, however, that her supposed "spiritual awakening" left with an urge to ridicule those who actually do take other animals more seriously than she does.

A third "sign" perpetuates the whole "health nut vegan" stereotype, making a joke about one's skin being permanently tinted orange from drinking too much carrot juice. Har har.

A fourth perpetuates the decades-old "hippie eco-nut vegan" stereotype with a joke about living in a hemp-based tent in your parent's backyard. (I can't help but wonder at this point if Gilday has even ever met a vegan.)

The fifth exaggerates ingredient sourcing for vegans with a joke about only drinking wine "from an organic, sustainable farm that is 100% vegan". The funny thing about that is that I have non-vegan friends who will actually seek out organic wines from small producers, mostly to avoid additives. And so what if somebody wants to consume more ethically-grown products, including those grown using veganic farming methods? Everybody's on a "conscientious consumer" kick these days -- not just vegans. (Maybe she's just watched too many Simpsons episodes.)

The sixth "sign" is just a mean-spirited dig in which she takes another kick a the "hippie eco-nut vegan" stereotype. "You've stopped bathing," she writes. What does bathing or not bathing even have to do with veganism? Right. Nada.

Her seventh "sign", a joke about side salads, might be funny if not for the eye-roll inducer which preceded it. It's left seeming totally out of place on her otherwise unfunny list.

Her eighth "sign" about only eating raw fruits and vegetables is a dig at raw foodists and also has nothing to do with veganism.

Her ninth "sign" is just another take on the fifth, again mocking those who opt to source veganically-grown produce as if this somehow offends her. (I guess that Gilday may just have some strange personal attachment to animal faeces. Who knows?)

Her tenth "sign" involves a topic that too few (and yes, most especially Gilday) take the time to research adequately before passing judgment. It involves feeding cats and dogs plant-only foods. She says it's "cruel" when vegans do so. The truth is that dogs thrive on a "vegan" diet. Like humans, they are omnivores and their nutritional requirements can all quite easily be met eating a variety of plant-based foods. As for the issue of feeding cats, who are obligate carnivores? I've been on the fence about it for years and have generally avoided weighing in on the topic. Part of the reason is my own lack of success with my feline family, part of it involves a few frightening stories from trusted fellow abolitionists whose own cats have experienced medical complications after being fed plant-based fare. That being said, Gary L. Francione has recently been endorsing the work of Dr. Andrew Knight, who promotes carefully planned strictly vegetarian diets for both cats and dogs. Knight is a European Veterinary Specialist in Welfare Science, Ethics and Law and a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and his website contains detailed information based on extensive research.

Her final "sign" was pretty much the last straw for me. She dredges up the stereotype of the neurotic and emaciated vegan to set up how restricting your diet too much is akin to suffering from orthexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by the avoidance of foods deemed unhealthy. References are often made to it in anti-vegan articles in mainstream media to undermine the validity of our not shrugging off the occasional eating of animal products, as if it's unthinkable that someone would actually want to be consistent in his or her ethical choice to reject animal exploitation.

You don't even have to go through the entire list to realize that her main goal in writing her piece was more malicious than educational or informative. She ends the whole thing using words like "balance" and counsels her vegan readers to not "let [their] new diet and lifestyle isolate [them] from [their] friends, family and peers". The not-so-hidden message is the same one Vegan Outreach spews, arguing that vegans should opt to play fast and loose with their ethical choices when around others lest they alienate or offend non-vegans and convince them that veganism is "too hard" or just plain kooky and extremist.

Want to convince someone that animal exploitation is wrong and to go vegan? Don't ask about the eggs or dairy in that restaurant veggie burger. Accept that slice of cake from your coworker with a smile, pretending that's not cream cheese frosting on it. Perish the thought that you should not guzzle down that iced tea because you noticed honey listed in the ingredients! I mean, they're only bees, right?

They're only chickens.

They're only cows.


Nadine said...

This stuff makes me so mad. There's already so much anti-vegan crap in the media why do these people have to add to the heap? If she really had a spiritual awakening, she would know that making fun of others and perpetuating steareotypes are definitely not enlightening.
Recently at a vegetarian and vegan potluck, a bunch of vegetarians ganged up on me and made jokes at my expense and all related to veganism. It was so mean. Where's the empathy?

M said...

I suspect that she's just defensive about her own not choosing to go vegan. By portraying actual vegans as extreme, mentally ill, anti-social, etc. she's trying to make a case for herself so that her readers view hers as the baseline position. She's trying to make herself sound like THE reasonable authoritative voice on the subject. Same with your potluck. They were likely just defensive. Plus whenever you get a handful of defensive people together, you know that they bond and fall into the whole "mob mentality" thing. Their IQs always seem to drop simultaneously. :-)