Monday, March 04, 2024

Tell Me That You Don't Understand Veganism Without Telling Me That You Don't Understand Veganism

The Same Old

There's a long history of people who know nothing about veganism taking it upon themselves to share with the public how little it is that they know about veganism. Of course, they don't present it as such, and other folks reading what they wrote who have even less knowledge of veganism will nod their heads vigorously at the stereotypes, tired old attempts at arguments, general misinformation, et al. brought forward by those writers. (After all, confirmation bias is real!) When the writer decides to throw in some sort of display of victimhood (e.g. "a vegan was once mean to me"), it seems to cast some sort of additional sense of authenticity to whatever they have written, since the hapless reader is led to believe that the author must have put some serious thought and research into veganism after having been so emotionally wounded.

I stumbled across one of these scenarios today. Why someone would choose to write an attack on veganism in an online aviation magazine is somewhat bizarre -- even if it is an agricultural aviation magazine. Yet, a mostly unknown online publication called AgAir Update featured an opinion piece by a self-described "former livestock owner" called Michelle Miller yesterday. According to AgAir Update, Miller is known as "The Farm Babe". I looked her up and saw that she has around 250K followers on Facebook and claims to be a "mythbuster" of sorts who purportedly exposes the "truth" about modern farming and/or agriculture. Of course, one would expect that to include attacking claims made about the horrors of animal agriculture and, almost by default, attacking vegans. 

Her short article shared just yesterday is titled: "Why There's No Such Thing as 'Vegan'". Miller begins by describing vegans as "passionate" and by stating that whichever personal choices we choose to make for ourselves to make us happy are fine. She then draws a comparison to religion and immediately starts dropping words like "extremist" and "abrasive" and segues into how as a "former livestock farmer" she's received "thousands" of hateful comments (and apparently even death threats). She then downplays and admits that these "attacks" were not, in fact, very common. She then changes the subject to dive into the actual topic of her opinion piece, saying: "The good news is that the negative attacks are not very common. The other news? Sorry, vegans: there’s actually no such thing as 'vegan'”. 

Hello, Scarecrow!

She offers that vegetarians don't eat meat, which she seems to view as a valid description of vegetarianism entails. She then states that "vegans claim that they don't use animal byproducts, either" and then uses this as her strawman to apparently demolish veganism. Now, anyone who has been vegan for a while will be the first to tell you that vegans do not claim to not use animal byproducts at all with nothing more said concerning it. We clearly do our best to avoid them, but I agree with her that it is simply "humanly impossible" to do so in all cases. Where she views making that assertion as more or less taking down a house of cards, her using it as a "gotcha" just reinforces that she doesn't really understand veganism.

In a world where billions and billions of animals are slaughtered for food each and every year and both 1) the slaughter industry's wanting to squeeze every last dollar they can out of the bodies of these animals, and 2) manufacturers wanting to take advantage of the cheap cost of using huge quantities of the by-products of the animal slaughter industry, animal ingredients are everywhere. They're used as additives in food, to make clothes, cosmetics and perfumes, toothpaste, et al. They're also used to make some plastics, paper, fertilizer, batteries and/or electronics and many more things in which we would not expect to find animal ingredients. (Miller refers to a chart of items from "Farm Credit" in the article but there is no link or image that I can see, so I am assuming that it was either omitted, forgotten or that I have a weird browser issue. Regardless, it suffices to say that we know the list goes on and one -- we are surrounded by animal products in almost every single aspect of our everyday lives.)

The Miller weirdly asserts in two separate short sentences, as if they're her KO punch: "Yep. Sorry. Your beer is not vegan. Really, though, nothing is." Shortly, the word "hypocritical" is predictably inserted into the article. She takes off running with this and asserts that since you don't even know how something was grown and whether or not it was done with animal-derived fertilizer that you have no way to determine whether absolutely anything you eat or wear is (according to her simplistic definition), in fact, "vegan". Then of course she brings up that tired old argument that animals are killed in all forms of plant-based agriculture (so, by this, she seems to be implying that eating anything at all unless you grew it yourself using veganic or hydroponic farming would make you non-vegan). She takes it even further saying that "you're probably not vegan if you live in a house or drive a vehicle". 

Again, no reasonable and intelligent vegan would ever claim that they 100% completely avoid using all animal products. That would be absurd (and other vegans around them would quickly point that out). That it is absurd, however, doesn't invalidate doing whatever we can to avoid knowingly participating in animal consumption and/or exploitation when and where we can. It certainly doesn't invalidate veganism -- or vegans! Veganism is an active way of living. We use this ethical framework to inform the manner in which we engage with others and the world around us. We reject the commodification of other sentient beings and reflect this rejection of it in our ordinary actions. I like the wording The Vegan Society uses in its description of veganism where it states that we avoid all forms of animal exploitation "as far as it is possible and practicable". 

Just because there are instances all around us where avoiding animal products isn't possible or practicable doesn't mean that we should throw our arms in the air in defeat and then indulge ourselves in those forms of animal exploitation or consumption which are avoidable. Just because it isn't possible to completely avoid using all animal products around us is in no way a justification for anybody to shrug off at least making an attempt to consciously avoid them where it is possible and practicable to do so. 

Not being able to avoid it anywhere and everywhere doesn't make us hypocrites: It just makes us try harder, hoping that the world will eventually change enough to make it possible to do more for other sentient beings around us. It leaves us trying to change that world. 

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