Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"Why I No Longer Call Myself Vegan"?

Being Vegan

People who are vegan and who intend to remain vegan usually remember a moment, a conversation, a book or film -- something that finally helped to cement their previous thoughts about animal exploitation. Then they go about their business of becoming and then BEING vegan. It's a mindset. It's an ongoing action. It basically informs each and every choice you make as you go about your day. The decision you make is to step back and to remove yourself as much as it's possible to do so with having any involvement in animal exploitation. You make this decision because you have come to realize and to accept that other sentient beings do not exist for your convenience and pleasure. You realize and accept that they have lives of their own and interests of their own and that those interests don't include being trapped in the living hell which comprises most aspects of the "animal industry". All use is abuse. It's a meaningful conviction and it alters how you view others around you. It's not something that will change on a dime depending on which food item someone has tried to temptingly leave on your plate. And for the ever-loving sake of Pete, it's not something that reject in a huff or tantrum because some other vegan was a jerk to you. I don't kick puppies. I'm not going to wake up one morning and decide to go out and kick puppies just because some other person who doesn't kick puppies hurt my feelings or pissed me off.

"Former" Vegans 

How can you find the "former" vegan in a crowded room? He/she/they will be telling EVERYBODY that they are and why they are. They'll do this, of course, while whipping out each and every vegan stereotype or bad trope you've heard whenever the bacon-worshiping hoards descend upon vegan-positive comments on the internet. They'll pull out the long-debunked protein-myth and mention the visible signs of the abrupt and severe onset of nutritional deficiencies they experienced. They'll go on about never having anything to eat (not mentioning that their previous diet perhaps consisted of frozen pizzas and Chef Boyardi ravioli) or about how absolutely unaffordable it was because Beyond Burgers and shopping at Whole Foods are soooo expensive. You've seen the articles. There are at least 1-2 a month in newspapers, magazines, student papers, blogs. Heck, the big "reveals" happen so often in YouTube videos that they've rapidly become cliché. When a nobody makes the announcement, it's usually just to try to drum up controversy and sales; when somebody better known makes it, it's usually to drum up sympathy and sales.

“Wait, You Mean That I Have to be 'All In'?

Former" vegans are generally pretty bitter and determined to get their punches in and to attack other vegans. Very often, they'll blame "other vegans" for having turned them against veganism. They were "too strict", "too holier-than-though", "too militant", "too elitist", etc. We all know, of course that what this probably meant was that at some point, the "former" vegan had it simply pointed out that, no, sneaking a piece of cheese off her girlfriend's plate at a potluck wasn't, in fact, OK -- that viewing consuming an animal product as some sort of indulgence or reward wasn't, in fact, in keeping with veganism. Or maybe they just felt slighted reading or hearing discussions of why veganism isn't a part-time gig and the resentment just built up. The very same people who accuse vegans of being an "elitist clique" are often just upset that they can't honestly and accurately refer to themselves as vegans while continuing to deliberately participate in animal exploitation. I mean, how cliquey for vegans to have the audacity to shrug and say that you need to be vegan to call yourself a vegan! The absolute nerve!)

A friend of mine in an old-school online discussion forum used to say "If you're not vegan now, you never were." There's a lot more truth to that than most may realize. When someone announces to you that they've come to a different conclusion from when their supposed "journey" began, it's often wise to see where and what that "beginning" actually was. People like to say "we're all on the same journey" when referring to vegans and vegetarians or plant-based eaters (or flexitarians), when they issue is that they're assuming that everybody has the same goal. For vegans, veganism is pretty much a starting point. You're either vegan or you're non-vegan. If you're transitioning towards veganism, great -- but that doesn't make you a vegan. And if your not a vegan but just have some sort of variation of a lifestyle which eschews eating or otherwise using a particular species, or you abstain from using animals some of the time (e.g. some meals, some days, etc.) that doesn't mean that you have any intention of going vegan or that you've come to realize and accept that using other animals is inherently wrong. You follow a plant-based diet for health reasons but think animal rights activists are nut-cases who anthropomorphize other species? We're not on the same journey. We don't regard other sentient beings in the same manner and without having that in common and acting upon it accordingly, we're not "playing for the same team" and no, I won't just "agree to disagree" with you about what it is which we owe other animals so that you can co-opt a term. That doesn't mean I'm being judgmental, holier-than-thou, et al. but just that I'm sticking to the facts.

How NOT to be a “Former” Vegan

When you're working your way backwards from what someone positions as a different conclusion (e.g. becoming a "former" vegan) from that which they position as having been their starting point (e.g. being vegan), it's always worth taking a closer look at how they qualify that initial position and what took place between A and B. Take for instance, this opinion piece from a Boston University journalism student written for the website Study Breaks.

The author states that she went vegan at 15 and that five years later, she now "follows a plant-based lifestyle". She calls the latter a "relaxed" version of veganism which allows for the consumption of dairy. She insists that both are just awesome for the animals and for personal health reasons, but that veganism is "stricter and oftentimes more toxic". The word "judgmental" gets used to describe vegans. She talks about getting sucked into a vegan online community that "thrived on shaming non-vegans" and mentions that she got pulled into it because of her “youth”. Reading between the lines, I assume she is suggesting that she was naive and just didn’t know any better.  So, vegans are from the start portrayed as assholes.

It was "maturity" which led her to see that eating chicken nuggets doesn't plainly leave a person complicit in what happens to the chicken, she asserts. Then the same old tired arguments (which are intended to pass for maturity?) start.
[A] lot of areas of the U.S. don’t have access to the high-quality plant-based ingredients needed for a well-rounded vegan diet.  
Also, a lot of vegan food is expensive. Like, really expensive. For most Americans, a $200 per week grocery budget is just not feasible.
To claim "a lot of areas don't have access" makes it sound as if the majority of the US is a food dessert. Are there food desserts? Absolutely. Are they a serious issue? Absolutely. But to use the vague "a lot" is grossly inaccurate here. The rest of the quote makes it clear that the author thinks that eating a vegan's diet means needing to shop at Whole Foods for Beyond Burgers, Miyoko's cheese or Ripple pea milk — and that's simply untrue. A lot of processed vegan foods have gotten significantly more affordable over the years and can be purchased for cheap at the neighbourhood supermarket or Walmart. But over and above this, vegans don't need to rely on processed foods to get their nutrients.

Her effort to describe how unfair it is to ask people to go vegan goes even further with this gem. A few Google searches and a basic familiarity of plant-based nutrition enough for anyone to conclude that this is just an appeal to emotion.
Not to mention, cutting out meat and dairy means people with nut, soy or gluten allergies are basically left with nothing to fulfill their protein needs because the vast majority of meat substitutes include these ingredients.
This is just ridiculous. Around 1% of the US population has a tree nut allergy. Between 0.3 and 0.6% of the US population is allergic to soy. Celiac disease affects maybe 1% of the US population. Plus there are so many other sources of plant-based protein available so that this tiny percentage of the US population needn't worry about malnutrition if and when they should might attempt to go vegan. Between 96 and 98% of the US population isn't vegan, so that leaves a helluva lot of people who, if all they could eat to fulfill their protein needs were nuts, soy or gluten, could and would be just fine. Thankfully, this isn’t a bonafide argument of any sort against veganism.

The author then claims she struggled with whether or not to continue to call herself vegan while eating Chips Ahoy! cookies and other foods containing animal ingredients while in college, felt guilt, turned to her "trusty" vegan community for support (methinks sympathy) and was reminded that veganism was about the animals. Rather, as she snarkily puts it (because, keep in mind, we're so far operating on the premise with this article that matter-of-fact vegans are assholes):
I was harshly reminded that animals were being tortured all over the world and by not refusing to eat granola bars with honey in them, I was personally contributing to their suffering. 
So after not getting the answers she wanted from vegans, she looked to "former" vegans who had gone back to exploiting animals for I √©puration and decided that the term vegan "no longer suited [her]". She was unable to go to Whole Foods (seriously, it's in the article). She found it too hard to "deny [herself]" the yummy non-vegan foods her friends enjoyed or the yummy non-vegan cookies family friends would send her. She went back and forth between eating plant-based and eating animal products for a during her college years and felt guilty and her vegan community didn’t assuage her guilt. So she decided that the solution to no longer feeling guilty was to just go ahead, shrug it off and indulge, since feeling guilty wasn't "healthy".

She ends her article advocating baby steps and small changes, citing her vegan heroes as those who are accepting of others' diets, adding that not all vegans are judgmental assholes and that the vast majority of us don't "shame and blame" non-vegans "for a host of environmental and ethical issues". She adds: "Does this mean any human who chooses not to go vegan due to dietary concerns, lack of access to nutritious vegan food, or any other perfectly viable reason is immoral? No." But according to her, nutritious vegan food can only be had from Whole Foods and "any other perfectly viable reason" can mean any single type of food craving you may get when you're out having fun. So?

So basically: Author decides to go vegan, won't give up easily avoidable animal products she regards as treats, turns to online vegans for a pat on the back, gets offended when she's asked to think of the animals instead of herself, feels guilty, grows bitter, finds inspiration in popular "former" vegans to stop feeling guilty for consuming easily-avoidable animal products and decides to stop calling herself a vegan as she continues to consume easily-avoidable animal products.

At least she finally decided to stop calling herself a vegan.