Monday, October 20, 2014

I Love Vegan Food Bloggers

I Love Vegan Food Bloggers, Yes I Do!

I love (love, love, love!) vegan food bloggers. I appreciate and respect folks who have the time, energy, creativity, knowledge and skill to concoct all kinds of amazing plant-based dishes, whether to appeal to novice cooks or hardcore foodies. In past years, I would often just go through my list of favourite food blogs and write up posts, organized by theme or a particular ingredient, with links to the various scrumptious recipes from the sites I have perused and loved. I loved promoting food bloggers and am quick to cough up links to favourites to anyone who asks.

In the past when I've promoted vegan food blogs, I've sometimes been asked by the odd animal activist: "Is it an abolitionist site?" Almost always, I would shrug and say: "It's a recipe blog, not a philosophy or political blog." As far as I was concerned, as long as someone did a fine job of creating and presenting tasty and tempting recipes, that's all that really mattered. In fact, I've generally preferred blogs whose writers steer clear of any philosophical or political discussions. My reason for this isn't that I don't think a vegan food blog is a great place to do vegan advocacy. In fact, I do. I've talked to many vegan food bloggers and cookbook authors, though, who've pointed out that it's time-consuming enough to figure out a recipe, test it, perfect it, plug it into step-by-step instructions, take mouth-watering photos of it and then present it in a complete well-edited package to appeal to vegan and non-vegan readers.

I'll Pass on the Welfarism, Thanks!

I'll admit that I usually side-step food blogs where groups like HSUS or PETA are very obviously promoted. I do understand that one of the ways in which some food bloggers end up increasing their readership is to catch the attention of some of the welfarist movers and shakers. I'm guessing that a single mention in an article by some of the talking heads of the welfarist movement could easily not just triple or quadruple a blogger's audience, but take that blogger from being virtually unknown outside of a small circle of loyal followers and launch her (or him) to vegan foodie superstardom with ad revenue, donated products, cookbook deals, et al. More than one vegan food blogger has mentioned to me that as much as they wish they could actively promote abolitionist principles, that the welfare-bashing associations that go with it usually leave them passed over by the wide majority of vegans (or others seeking out plant-based recipes) who align themselves with welfarist groups and causes.

"I'm out to share yummy vegan recipes and to make life easier for those who aren't handy in the kitchen," said one food blogger to me recently. "I'd rather leave the ethics and politics to those who have the time, knowledge and patience." And quite honestly? I have no issue with that. I'd rather see a vegan food blogger be focused and successful at what (s)he does and stay apolitical than promote welfarist organizations. I'd also rather see a food blogger be focused and successful at what (s)he does than see that blogger engage in awkward or half-hearted advocacy that ends up just confusing his or her readers.

And When Something Like This Comes Up?

Around a month ago, I was scrolling through my vegan food blog feed. I follow a lot of them, primarily since (like many vegans) I love to cook, but also since I manage an international vegan recipes page of sorts on Facebook and am always looking for recipes to share there. The headline "10 Ways to be Vegan" grabbed my intention immediately. It was on a blog called Namely Marly. Expecting the best, I was left sighing and shaking my head just a few paragraphs in. I shared a link with a vegan friend, quipping: "Could have been straight outta The Onion, no?" and finished the article. It was so nonsensical that I kept waiting for a "punch-line". I found none.

The tip-off should have been Marly's celebration of the latest celebrities to go on a short term plant-based diet weight-loss cleanse. Oh golly, oh gee! The fact that they stuck to it for 22 whole days left Marly giddy with excitement and referencing Jay-Z as left pondering whether he's stay on a "plant-based diet or become a semi- or part-time vegan".

Marly proceeds to ask if we can be "vegan by degrees". When I saw this, I thought that she would perhaps discuss transitioning and how it happens in steps in an obvious and deliberate manner towards eliminating our consumption of animal products. Instead, Marly chooses to use "vegan by degrees" to describe humans who don't, in fact, intend to remove themselves from the cycle of animal exploitation. First, she keeps conflating veganism with "a vegan diet". (If you're actually reading this blog post, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and hope that you already know that veganism is not a diet, right?) She mentions people to whom she's spoken who "started a vegan diet" and then found it too hard to do every day and to commit to for the long haul. She quips: "And all this thinking led me to a conclusion: you don’t have to be 'whole hog' to be vegan."

Marly then goes gets entangled in the same-old "all-or-nothing" argument that anti-vegans often use to try to undermine veganism by insisting that we shouldn't bother even trying to go vegan, since there is purportedly no such thing as a 100% vegan. You know the ones? They argue that since there are unavoidable forms of animal use in the world that we should excuse away indulging in the avoidable forms? For instance, they will sometimes argue that since insects and small mammals are destroyed in fields in agriculture, that it's hypocritical for vegans to eat vegetables and then point out that it's unethical to consume meat, dairy, eggs, to support circuses or rodeos, et al. She begins with the straw-manish premise that the definition of veganism "is to eat or behave in a manner that causes zero animal suffering" and then after offering up examples of unavoidable animal suffering caused by humans, concludes that it's only logical that anyone who acknowledges that these (unavoidable) forms of animal use and abuse exist should easily "understand [her] concept of [what she calls] Vegan by Degrees". Her ten "ways" to be vegan?

1) Dietary Vegan

Marny's first pick falls in line with the understanding of veganism she presents earlier in her piece, which is of veganism as a diet. She specifies that that the only forms of animals use of concern to these "vegans" involved what they put into their mouths and bellies.

2) Ethical Vegan

Here she describes actual vegans who (gasp!) apparently take veganism "to the next level" by eschewing animal products they don't put into their mouths and bellies. They're the hardcore extremist vegans, of course. This second point of hers really serves to remind me of how I loathe when animal activists (even if innocuously so) qualify the term "vegan" with the word "ethical", since it leaves the door wide open for others to insert different qualifiers (e.g. see Marly's first point for an example).

3) Green Vegan

These are apparently vegans who eschew all animal products, just like ethical vegans, but do so for environmental reasons. Because apparently visiting the zoo contributes to global warming. But seriously, folks... There have been so many pro-animal use arguments and justifications made on behalf of saving the environment, that trying to argue that there's such a thing as a "green vegan" who rejects all forms of animal use that a so-called "ethical vegan" would is bizarre. I've heard people argue over the benefit of using leather -- a slaughterhouse by-product -- rather than using fossil fuels or other chemicals to make synthetic replacements. Some have even argued that the energy used up in making and distributing processed meat substitutes leave a heavier ecologically destructive footprint than growing, slaughtering and consuming your own backyard bunnies. The list goes on...

4) Raw Vegan

See #1 but unplug your oven..

5) Plant-based Vegan

This is apparently a "dietary vegan" who won't eat processed foods. Even if those processed foods are plant-based. This is a new one for me. The term "plant-based" has been used widely by all kinds of cookbook authors, athletes and so on during the last few years who've at least been candid about their promotion of a strict vegetarian diet versus trying to pretend that they are promoting a type of veganism. Why Marly has chosen to try to redefine this is just plain weird. Although I guess that when you are attempting to try to fabricate a list of ten supposed "degrees of veganism" that you're bound to yank anything out of the ether that you can. No bonus points for originality here, though.

6) The Paris Vegan

This. This made me chortle. Marly references the so-very-often-mocked Peter Singer's "Paris exception", which is where Singer says that it's OK to exploit animal products if you're on vacation or a guest in someone's home and don't want to appear rude. I have heard vegan eyes rolling in unison from hundreds -- thousands -- of miles away over this one. (OK, so there's a bit of hyperbole involved in the previous sentence...) It's funny that Marly would bring it up as a legitimate type of veganism, but I suspect that this would be completely lost on her.

7) VB6

Vegan Before 6 -- Mark Bittman's fad diet. You know, the one where you can call yourself vegan as long as you don't consume animal products for 1-2 meals a day. Then for the third, you can have the bacon double-cheeseburger and milkshake with a side of foie gras and still pat yourself on the back for being... ungh... vegan.

8) Weekday/Weekend Vegan

So this is for those for whom something like the Vegan Before 6 "type" of veganism would be just too dang hard. Marly's offering you a better option: Just go vegan on the weekends or somethin'. It's like Meatless Monday X 2 (but presumably with dairy and eggs, though Marly hasn't really specified this and given all of her other so-called definitions, I hardly dare speculate as to how fast and loose she's chosen to play this one. I'll err on the side of caution and guess that it may very well involve just not eating meat on weekends. Or maybe just not eating white chickens who've been raised in Maryland. Yeah. That's it.

9) Virtually Vegan

This is basically a lacto-ovo vegetarian. But Marly uses the entry as an opportunity to argue on behalf of eating honey: "You know, if you think about it, honey is a very natural sweetener and bee keepers are very motivated to take good care of their bees."

10) Travel Vegan

This is sort of like the so-called Paris Vegan mentioned earlier, except instead of option to consume animal products to perhaps not inconvenience a host while you're travelling, you opt to consume animal products to not inconvenience yourself and to not deprive yourself of a beautiful cultural experience involving the torture and slaughter of another being.

Yes, she really wrote that list. Yes, she is actually serious about it. In fact, the rest of her piece is devoted to encouraging her readers to take it easy on themselves and to be flexible about their "vegan" participation in animal exploitation, outing herself as a comfortable "90-95%" vegan. She writes:
At some point in time you’re going to have to make a decision about what percentage of veganism you can afford or be happy with. For me, that 90 – 95% range works just fine. On a day-to-day basis I don’t eat any meat, dairy, or eggs. I even read the labels on my garments and shoes and do my best to avoid the ones made with leather. But I stop there. I don’t call the manufacturer to find out if the glue that was used in the shoe I want to buy was made from animal products. And I don’t ask the server if the bun that comes with my veggie burger has egg in it.
Marly even takes it further by engaging in that old familiar vegan-shaming that groups like Vegan Outreach engage in to make vegans feel guilty about actually making an effort to avoid animal products. She begins by bringing up a scenario where a vegan is served non-vegan food by a family member, choosing an example where a soy cheese containing dairy has been used. She presents two possible reactions to this: 1) Eating it "with gusto" and shutting the fuck up about it, or 2) A scenario where the vegan foists upon the hapless family member "a lecture or some kind of patronizing comment about how the cheese they used was only 98% vegan". Other than devouring the food in happy silence, Marly informs her readers that "any other reaction would be rude".

But the thing is that if a family member had actually gone to the trouble, had actually taken your ethical beliefs so seriously that he or she would have tried to prepare a dish which was appropriate for you, is it so unthinkable that the family member might understand completely if you politely declined to consume the animal product? Furthermore, since Marly is opposed to questioning servers -- people to whom she is not emotionally attached -- about animal ingredients in her food, I can't help but wonder how on earth she would have even found out about the dairy in her host's dish. You know? Since asking people what they are handing you to put in your belly is a pain in the arse.

She counsels her "well-intentioned" readers to loosen up about their consumption choices and to not let those choices be governed "by restrictive, arbitrary rules". (Because asking a server whether the veggie burger on the menu is actually vegan is restrictive; being expected -- as a vegan -- to at least make a simple effort to avoid easily-avoidable animal products in a restaurant is the needless self-imposition of an arbitrary rule. And Marly makes it clear that self-imposition is an unnecessary burden. "If giving up mozzarella feels like pulling out a fingernail then just relax about it," she tells her readers. "It's all good," she reassures them, postulating that she is perhaps "brilliant".

But you see, it's not enough for Marly to out herself as a non-vegan "vegan" and to present her readers with many non-vegan types of "veganism". If you have ever read similar articles before, you know that they always come with a good self-protective dose of shaming. Those of us who have the incivility to both be unequivocal about veganism, as well as to -- gasp! -- point out that deliberate participation in avoidable animal exploitation (whether indulged in gleefully or not) isn't vegan? Well, Marly tells her readers to swing those awful, mean and critical vegans a wide, wide berth. "They don’t eat white, refine sugar because it was processed using bone chard [sic]. So they think you shouldn’t either." (Said no vegan ever about a cane sugar manufacturer switching to leafy greens to filter its sugar!)

But on a more troubling and serious note, Marly (after managing to direct a dose of the aforementioned shaming at the actual vegans who left comments in response to her post) calls upon the "community" to be "inclusive" rather than "exclusive" and tells her readers to toss aside those horrible restrictive and arbitrary "guidelines" (uh... like avoiding animal use for selfish pleasure?) and to just suss out what they're comfortable with on their own and to (I guess) call that their own personal form of veganism. She praises all of the readers who agree with her wholeheartedly that the "options" she's presented make (what she still insists on calling) veganism more easy. She ignores most of the more thoughtful and well-reasoned points brought up to explain what veganism is or isn't, though my favourite comment from The Rational Vegan goes completely over her head. Instead, she basks in the adoration of her non-vegan readers who've felt vindicated in their continued use of animal products.

Although I love (love, love, love!) vegan food bloggers, a vegan food blogger Marly surely ain't. Popularity is important for a food blogger, vegan or otherwise. As indicated at the beginning of my post, I get that. I really do. But, for the ever-lovin' sake of all that's left that is good in this world, when that popularity is built upon the blood and bodies of other sentient beings? That's where I draw the line and become that supposed "hater" and "ideologue". But you know what? That's my own "authentic swing" and Marly? She's just been chiseled away from my recipe blogs reading list. There are puh-lenty of other actually "authentic" vegan food bloggers out there whose work I would much rather follow and support. If that makes me a "judgmental" meanie, I'm pretty comfortable with that option.


Jack said...

Excellent! Thank you for confirming my reactions!

Jenni said...

Oh I am so happy I found your blog! I'm not particularly new to veganism but I live in the deep south and info and resources are scarce.

I started as one of the "plant based low fat" vegans. I had gotten so fat I just couldn't walk my little dogs and while I always leaned towards avoidance of animal foods I grew up down here in an environment where such cruelty was not only not honored but my views were chastised as unhealthy. So, as I began my weight loss journey and found the Esselstyne material I began to gain knowledge and therefore confidence that my vegan ideas were healthy. I've lost a bit over 200 pounds and continue to do well learning about my new-ish lifestyle.

One thing that strikes me about people like the young lady you write about here is that they are so very concerned with what their fellows think of them. I know humans have evolved to care about such things but at some point one has to grow up and get over allowing what others think to rule them. While I often feel self conscious about my questions or requests I would never sacrifice my principles for someone else's mental comfort. I mean, exactly how far does this go for her? Would she rob or murder to keep from feeling obnoxious and fitting in?
How about how uncomfortable meat eaters make me and how obnoxious I find their cavalier attitude towards the murder of their fellow earthlings? How about the fact that that pig with the apple in it's mouth is as horrendous and disgusting and offensive to me as they would be if I did that same recipe on their child? Not all of us have the same ethics and priorities but I don't see the meat-eaters bending over backwards to not offend us. And as to bother one's hostess, pffft! That's a hostesses job, to be sure her guests are comfortable and attended to. I would never expect a vegan to eat a meal at my home that didn't fit their ethical needs! My rule would apply to anyone with a modified diet whether it was for religious or allergen purposes or whatever. I would hate to see how Ms. Marley deals with her Jewish or peanut allergy friends! Do they earn the label "obnoxious" or is it just us vegans?
That chick has some education and self-esteem issues me thinks.