The Myth of Magical Meat

Whenever someone leaves the fold of vegans and joins the mainstream of omnivores, it causes a lot of reaction on both sides of the vegan/omni divide.  How does one quit believing that animals feel and want to live? How does taste or even an orgiastic eating experience dim the knowledge, once one has attained it, of what the animals must endure to end up on your plate?

Letting go of one’s principles is no small thing to undertake.  I could imagine having one’s doctor tell you that veganism is ruining your health. I was often told running was not good for me when I was younger, so I searched out a doctor who actually ran — most of the physicians who were naysaying my running were a good deal overweight and not exactly the picture of health themselves. Physicians in general are not noted for their nutritional education [see articles below]. Constant hunger that was part of the difficulty for some while eating a plant-based diet.  With such abundant plant food, it is hard to envision. Perhaps all hunger is not for food, but for something else missing in one’s life.

Ingesting Death and Deception

Some seem to find returning to eating flesh a miraculous experience. Pretty amazing since, according to Registered Dietitian Ginny Messina of the Vegan RD blog, “…you have to actually digest and absorb the nutrients in food before you’ll feel any of its effects. And if you are consuming nutrients to reverse a deficiency, it will take weeks to feel the benefits.”  Yet for Tasha, over at Voracious “I had only eaten a small piece of cow flesh, and yet I felt totally full, but light and refreshed all at once.” She states:

The world receded to a blank nothingness and I just ate, and ate, and ate. I cried in grief and anger, while moaning with pleasure and joy.

Brings to mind the scene in When Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having” – only, no, I do not want what she is having. An ethical stance means eating with the least harm to others.

Even more miraculously, Tasha’s hair completely changed in a few weeks, despite the fact that it takes months for hair to grow from the roots.

The changes that I experienced were manifold and occurred so quickly and decisively I almost couldn’t believe it. ……..(after) 4 weeks I noticed three very strange things: my mysterious lower back pain that had been bothering me for nearly a year had vanished, even though I hadn’t changed my shoes or done any physical therapy; the skin on my face was plump and full and the fine lines that I had figured were just a sign of being nearly 30 had faded so much they were barely discernible, even though I had not changed anything about my skin care routine; and finally, I noticed my hair was thicker, shinier, and much fuller than it had been in years, even though I hadn’t changed anything about my hair care routine.

Sound familiar?  Sounds like the miracles promised in Dairy Deception, right? Lustrous hair, amazing strength, improved general health – even better mental health. Sounds like the Media Mavens have run a successful campaign, with the medical community in compliance with the deception. But after years of indoctrination into the myth that meat means strength, it is not all that hard to understand. Despite the recent spate of information decrying the harmful effects of animal products, some of these misguided souls have found it wonderful to embrace the imagined magical qualities inherent in the death of animals and their body parts. Lierre Keith stated in her book The Vegetarian Myth*, that upon eating a cream cheese topped bagel:

Oh, God, something in my brain woke and moaned. I couldn’t stop.

Who is the One with the Myth?

I am sure that is how Ms. Keith felt, but honestly, I have never had that reaction to a bagel or any other food product. Ms. Keith relates in her book that her spine was ruined by a vegan diet,  but fails to explain exactly how this happened. And she had been unable to sustain a vegan diet, admitted to eating a “dairy orgy” dip well into her supposed veganism.

Then Jennifer of Vegan Lunchbox went through personal changes. I applaud all the above for being honest about what they were undergoing — if only they would. It strains credibility when instant cures happen and one claims they can feel meat “pulsing through every cell” after ingesting carrion, as did Ms. Keith.  The only thing actually pulsing was the blood of the animal through his heart while he lived. And that pulsing is precisely what these folks stopped. Jennifer now is a self-proclaimed “nutritarian,” no longer identifying with veganism.

My own experiences are so opposite these folks that it makes it difficult for me to imagine their plight.  I actually got much healthier and gained weight as a vegan. I turned on to food for the first time. There was so much variety and, no longer on a strict diet for genetically high cholesterol, I was free to indulge. My cholesterol went down to a healthy level – not overnight, but after six months, when it was tested. And it has remained so.  Slowly, I was able to breathe better, as allergies disappeared without my even realizing it.  I live in an area with high incidence of diabetes and obesity; many very young people are enchanted by my stories of healing through veganism. They have tried eating animals products; for them, it has been deadly. And so far, all the men in my father’s family have died from heart disease and clogged arteries due to their ingestion of animal products. But the real reason for my veganism was not improved health – it was finding out what the animals were asked to endure for something not only non-essential, but harmful to all concerned. No, thank you.

Honest Appraisal of Health

This year has been a tough one for me personally.  I had health issues for the first time in many years. Luckily, no one suggested it was due to my veganism, most likely because I was taking care of a preschooler who was catching every bug that showed up in his new preschool life.  I spoke to the school administrator, who told me that even very young new teachers often have a  lot of absences the first year, until they build up immunity for the usual host of preschooler-infecting bugs.

Like Tasha at Voracious, my mental outlook was not as sharp, either. I thought briefly about my veganism — could it be why I was catching the bugs from my grandson? Why I was not as cheerful as usual? Why I was not sleeping so well? I always was very proud of my resistance to illness and my general health — what else could it be? I had a momentary sinking thought – what would I do if my health was on the line? I knew of vegans who are healthier by far than any omnivore I know and have remained healthy and high energy for decades.  Soon a quick search into my life caused me to face a few realities:

  • I was not exercising as much as I had all my life
  • I was not paying much attention to eating a balanced diet
  • Above all, I was undergoing some internal stress due to the illness and events surrounding my father’s death earlier in the year.
  • I was not taking care of myself
  • My life was completely out of balance

Constantly researching all the horrors going on in the world today, especially towards innocent beings, can be exhausting, especially if there is no counterweight towards the positive.  Listening to informative but rather distressing podcasts all day long can leave one feeling drained. Handling personal attacks for the work one does is difficult and disturbing. I knew I needed to get moving, start paying attention to self-care (see Vegan Survival Kit), and setting some limits with child care and other assorted duties. You have to learn to set limits on the amount you take in on behalf of others; it does them nor you any good to go over that line. Good reminder for working in the field of animal rights, too.

You Can Still Be Vegan if You Want

Dan Cudahy, in his recent article, On Ex-Vegans, asks why some of the ex-vegans did not take the vegan path, whether due to their health or other issues, which is to do the least harm.  If you are having health issues due to your diet, that diet is not your veganism — your attitude towards other living beings is where the veganism lives. Why not research the minimum you need to be healthy, confer with vegan dietitians such as Ms. Messina, and then do the least harm, in keeping with your principles?  But instead, some of these folks toss out their veganism with seeming relief and virtually roll in their new blood-soaked, mainstream diets. Tired of being on the margins of society, these animal consumers find the pressures of the mob mighty refreshing.

Whatever one decides, it is their decision, but it does impact other living beings.  I am always sorrowed to hear of vegans threatening other people for leaving a life of non-violence; I guess they cannot see the irony there. I am not terribly interested in ex-vegans, because it would seem they were not really vegan in the first place. A recent article by Kye Martin over at Chicago Now drove this point home, Why I hate telling people I’m Vegan. In that article, Kye relates:

Raise the beef, cut it up… sell it.  Fine by me.  I have no problem with what you’re doing, I simply choose not to partake.

Really? You have no problem with slaughtering animals? Raise the BEEF? Don’t you mean the steer, the cow, the animals, the living being? Oh, no — here I go being preachy and everything that makes people so uncomfortable. But it is not really about me and my comfort or you and yours. It is about the animals. And I DO have a problem with people who kill them for no reason but their own tradition and pleasure. It is madness.

Focus on the Ex-Omnivores!

Good news for Kye. She no longer has to announce she is vegan! She is not. If you limit yourself to a plant-based diet, that is not veganism. If you really don’t care about people harming animals, that is not veganism. So no, I am not too interested in those who once called themselves vegans or hate to announce they are vegans. I would prefer to pay attention to a much larger, more dynamic, world-changing and ever growing category: ex-omnivores!

Keith, Lierre, The Vegetarian Myth, Flashpoint Press – available on Amazon


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – lack of medical nutrition in medical schools

New York Times – Teaching Doctors About Nutrition

Ginny Messina’s article, Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Vegan Diets?

Dan Cudahy’s article, On Ex-Vegans

Read more:

Small Non-Vegan Visitors

treehuggersDue to a family wedding, I inherited two small non-vegan visitors for the week, ages five and ten. The five year old loves any food you give him; he even loves Daiya cheese. (“DIE yuh,not diet,” he will tell you.) Older brother is more the typical finicky eater – he wrinkles his nose to everything you offer before even tasting. Armed with the information in Myléne Oullet’s recent article, Some Musings on Hosting, I was ready to imitate meals that were familiar and try to keep the meals relatively kid-friendly.

First up was a homemade vegan pizza.  This was a big hit with the little guy, but was only passable to big brother.  Spaghetti is always a favorite, and no one seems to complain about what is or is not in the sauce. Two meals down, five to go.

I made some homemade vegan sausage, which had been a surprising hit when prepared for other family omnivores, but this time used barbecue sauce and offered Mac ‘N Gees, always popular with little brother.  That meal was not moving off the plates of big brother until I reminded him: no clean plate, no dessert.  He loves homemade vegan ice cream, so with a little salt and pepper, the entire plate appeared to be licked clean in no time. Vegan quesadillas are a regular and those are well received; the recipe

pbccicecream3-285x300 I use is vegan-cheese-free, but you can always add a little some to give that gooey feel to the meal.  Tacos are usually well accepted, too – bowls of chopped lettuce, grated veggies, vegan crumbles, salsa, and a little Daiya cheese make this only a little different than what is served at home. The most significant difference, of course, is that these meals are cruelty-free, or as cruelty-free as I know how to make them.

I have heard that when preparing meals for omnivores, add extra salt and fat (Earth Balance Organic?) to mimic familiar tastes from over-processed foods.  Big brother likes raw vegetables, but a pleasant surprise was when little brother discovered lightly cooked broccoli – he ate a triple serving and was asking for more vegetables all week! He asks for Earth Balance by name and loves most anything that has that spread or melted over it.

Breakfasts needed to be made quickly so we could scoot off to school. Orange-banana smoothies, vegan waffles, oatmeal, scones, soy yogurt and fresh fruit kept tummies full enough to last until lunch time.

Lessons Learned In the Feeding  and Care of Young Non-Vegans

Some of what I learned during this week:

pizza• Pizza – best to heat the crust and topping a bit before adding the Daiya cheese – it tends to brown rather quickly. Live and learn. Little brother can eat most of a pizza by himself!  Always make two  - extras will be eaten the next   day or may be frozen.Favorite crust recipes are from Barnard and Webb’s Get Healthy, Go Vegan cookbook, and Goudreau’s Vegan Table. Both are excellent.

• Having the ice cream, which is a special treat for older brother, helped him (along with salt and pepper) get through the meals he found too alien. Barbecue sauce didn’t hurt, either.

• Reading a Dr. Seuss book (Oh Say Can You Say) on tongue twisters (no turning the page until mouths were full) helped make breakfast fun and kept the focus on laughing whilequesa-300x199 encouraging those bites, too. Soon they were eager to get to the table to see if I would make mistakes. Happily, I usually do. Every slip of the tongue unleashed gales of laughter – such easy entertainment!

• Books to the rescue again – each selected a book before bedtime and both seemed to love the reading time equally. It is always a ritual are our house to read before bedtime.  No reading until every tooth has been brushed, baths taken, and jammies worn.  There was no resistance to bedtime.


• Options are good, but not too many. I often made two or more vegetables and they could select what they wanted. Sometimes the choices were surprising. Dessert choices were often fresh sliced apples or persimmons.

I will keep kid-testing more new vegan recipes and continue to enlarge my recipe file. The older boy requested another pizza, despite his seeming disdain. But the biggest success of the week was finding out that big brother, who was taught to step on bugs, now saves them and carefully takes them outdoors. Skitter the Cat actually crawled up on big brother’s lap at one point – a real landmark for her and for him, too. After all, veganism is not about diet — and they are learning the important part.

World Vegan Day

caterpillar-224x300We advocate peace, ahimsa, non-violence.

We believe that veganism is a philosophy, not a diet.

We believe in the interconnectedness of all living beings.

We believe in the right of sentient beings to be treated with respect, not be property, and be allowed to live their lives.

We believe that the domestication of animals has created misery and death for most domesticates. We believe we have a responsibility to domesticates as far as we are able to help them, since we created them.

We believe that the current use and abuse of animals is not only morally wrong but unsustainable; it must stop.

We believe that respect for all living beings will help heal the earth.

We believe in doing the least harm towards others.

We believe that treating all sentient beings with respect is the morally right thing to do.

We believe that veganism will help heal the individual person; feeding upon death and suffering is in no way healthy.

We believe that human animals must control their own population.

We believe that we must allow natural areas for animal habitat, where nonhuman animals may live unmolested by human intervention.

We believe in a vegan world, in its possibilities, in its potentials.

Please, join us.  Please, go vegan!

Why I Am NOT a Veg*n

Recently, on a vegan forum, I commented on the use of the term “vegetarian”  or “veg*n” rather than “vegan” while promoting animal rights.  It seemed to unleash a storm of criticism and ad hominem attacks: “Someone is VERY NEW….,”  ”so fundamentalist in nature,”  ”is there ANY evidence base whatsoever…? ”  My comment was in response to the posting of a Huffington Post article by Bruce Friederich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as a suggestion to develop the inclusive “veg*n” culture on the same forum.  Mr. Friederich has stated before that he no longer advocates in vegan tee shirts, because people respond better to the vegetarian message. That may be, but it is not a message that will help animals. In fact, it may even create more suffering for the animals. How can an animal advocate promote the dairy industry?  I think of the abuse of babies, little newborn calves; and mothers who are forced into servitude of being milk machines, with distended udders, infected and dragging the ground.  Then there are all those newborn chicks ground alive in massive machines because they cannot lay eggs.  THAT is something for animal advocates to support?

The message Mr. Friederich was giving was that it is indefensible to eat meat. Unfortunately, his last  line reads,

Put another way: If we believe that people should try to protect the environment, OR we believe that we should try not to cause people to starve OR we oppose cruelty to animals, the only ethical diet is a vegetarian one.

Wrong. This following many salient points in Friederich’s article is so disappointing.  Why is there such a great fear of the word “veganism?”  It is a simple word, much more simple and clear than “vegetarianism.”  There is so much ambiguity in the term vegetarian that it leaves people thinking giving up meat for dairy products will somehow be less cruel. Even if one is focusing solely on the dietary aspects of veganism, then why not support incremental veganism? At least doing so would leave a clear impression in the minds of the audience that veganism is the goal, not vegetarianism.

Mr. Friederich has another contradiction or two on his hands. It is difficult to be accepted as someone who values animal life while working for an organization that kills a higher proportion of animals in their “shelter” than most other shelters. It is also an organization that owns stock and profits from animal agriculture, gives awards to slaughter house designers, and uses some questionable tactics which diminishes the level of dialogue regarding the significance of animal rights.  Again, so disappointing. One young animal rights advocate, Beckah Sheeler, recently posted on the site Animal Writes an article titled, PETA: A Hurdle for Vegan Advocacy:

What we are faced with is the split between abolitionists and welfarists, and this will always exist; however, (as cliche the saying as it may be) with the amount of power Peta has, comes a great amount of responsibility, meaning the lives and welfare of animals, the planet, and the indirect meals able to be fed to the hungry due to this lifestyle, are resting in its hands. Bruce Friedrich, VP of Peta, also has stated in a recent post that being an absolutist is the worst way to attract people to this cause. The members of Peta should, of course, not give up their strong convictions of remaining not only meat free, but egg and dairy free, but being that Peta is so big, I believe that it is the organization’s responsibility, with all of its money, resources, and recognition, to advocate in such a way that helps the most amount of animals being that this is its perceived cause.

Ms. Sheeler then goes on to support widening the appeal rather than clarifying the message that PETA spreads.  However, Dan Cudahy, on his blog Unpopular Vegan Essays, reports on the failure of such tactics that are contradictory at the root (from the article PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions):

PETA’s contradictions in philosophy, rhetoric, and activities – which have led to profound public confusion and fortification of the utilitarian-welfarist status quo that has been in existence since Jeremy Bentham – have been a barrier to progress in advancing animal rights, and will continue to be a barrier as long as they continue as an animal welfare organization.

For a clear look at the problematic nature of the confusion in such welfarist rhetoric, Professor Gary Francione states in a post on his blog, Animal Rights: The Abolionist Approach (Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism):

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes transition to veganism.

While I appreciate the sincere motives of individuals like Mr. Friederich and do not challenge them, it does seem important to continue looking at the tactics of the animal rights movement. This is very different than disparaging individuals.  I fully admit to many shortcomings and work on them; I have my own blind spots. Assuming that all animal advocates sincerely want what is in the best interest of nonhuman animals rather than promotion of their individual animal organizations, then looking critically at tactics and contradictions that may become barriers (Dan Cudahy) or hurdles (Beckah Sheeler) or impediments (Gary Francione) would seem a positive way of helping advocates learn to help animals achieve true rights as living, feeling beings. While listening to a podcast today, I heard someone interrupt a speaker discussing vegetarianism and interject “a lacto-ovo vegetarian — that is pretty much the same thing as a vegan.”  No, no, no.

Another way of stating this was posted by Tim Gier in an article titled, Is Half A Loaf Better Than None?

If you do intentionally participate in the subjugation of nonhuman animals, it does not matter that your participation is infrequent, or irregular, or occasional. Whenever you eat the flesh of a nonhuman animal, a life is ended for your pleasure, and for nothing else. The same is true whenever you wear the skin of another as clothing, or you patronize the zoos and circuses that cage others for life, or you support the medical, scientific or commercial experimentation on others as well.  Cutting back on those things, while better than not, still amounts to participating in them. There is no “half loaf.”

By spreading vegetarian education rather than vegan education, we collaborate in the subjugation (however unintentionally) of nonhuman animals.  The baseline is veganism. The fact that it is not immediately appealing for 100% of all people everywhere is not the point.  Veganism is the goal. It can be incrementally achieved, but it remains the goal. To ask for anything less, anything with wider appeal, anything that appears to be a more popular message, is to sell out the rights of animals. Want to make veganism more popular? Start by talking about it.

Oh Yes We Can! Just Watch Us.

To reach a goal, you have to believe — believe you can achieve the goal, envision reaching the goal, then take a step towards the goal. Imagine if you did not believe you could make it through school — you would not attend the first class. All those classes between entering school and graduation may seem overwhelming at times, but it is only by taking them one class at a time that you finally reach your goal. You have to step out in faith and believe before you can make it happen.

I just read a commentary on a vegan forum that said no, we cannot, no we will not. That person believed that human beings were incapable of making significant change, that we were so mired in our traditional approaches that we would mess it all up and miss all cosmic deadlines. We would not fix global warming; we would not find cleaner energy. We would not go vegan. We would not make significant change.  In short, we are doomed.

Maybe, but maybe not. Lately I have been mired in lassitude, but even while mired, I knew it was transitory. So will we as a movement overcome; our collective lassitude is just our denial, not wanting to change, not wanting to deal with reality. War, recession, budget deficits, unemployment, oil spills, energy crisis, solar tsunamis, deforestation, overpopulation — it all seems too much to handle.  So some days, we pull the covers over our heads. It may take a crisis for some of us to get out of bed and make a change, but other people are continuing changing every day. Someone on Twitter just tweeted me that they had gone vegan – one more vegan!  Lassitude leaves, energy returns, and the movement gains momentum.

To all the nay sayers, Oh, Yes We Can and Yes We Will. The vegan movement is having an impact and it is growing every day.  How many teenagers were vegan a generation ago? Look at what is happening among  young people, those with the biggest stake in our future – they are still flexible, open, and inquisitive and many are learning about veganism and supporting the movement forward. And there are others of every agen, including elders, too, who prove daily that it is never too late to become educated about what is happening to animals.  We will abolish the commodification of animals. We must. There are a hundred billion reasons every year to do so.

A Quiet Advocacy

Not everyone has the chutzpah to set up a table on the street and recruit vegans. To those of you who are willing, it can be incredibly empowering to find people do actually stop and listen, and some come back to find out more information.  Try setting up a table at a place that is likely to garner you some interest, such as a local farmer’s market or street fair. If it seems intimidating, take a friend along with you. Most such events have a wide variety of people with a wider still variety of viewpoints.  It only takes one person’s interest to make the whole day worthwhile.

If you prefer working behind the scenes, you can write letters to the editor, to your elected officials, and to store and shop owners, promoting a pro-vegan stance.  Use your letter to the editor to educate people about the cost of animal agriculture, the positive impacts of veganism, or address a pertinent issue with your representative.  To business owners, request the type of food (be specific) you would like to see them carry, refer to a recent experience either positive or negative regarding their business.

There are articles filled with misinformation about veganism and abolitionists. If you are so inclined, go onto those articles posted and leave comments. Each person that reads another positive, peaceful vegan comment may be educated a bit more about what veganism really means.

Go onto vegetarian or vegan forums and do the same; see who is struggling, has received misinformation, or feels becoming vegan is a daunting task.  Reaching out may be just the ticket to helping that person make the commitment to change.

Responding kindly to challenges helps keeps veganism part of the peace movement. While it may be difficult at times, it is usually more productive for the person challenging you to find a relaxed, confident, happy person overflowing with health and goodwill rather than a snarky, judgmental person overflowing with frustration. Not fair, I know, but there it is.

Opportunities to discuss veganism abound – When I go to the market, I invariably get comments from the checker or bag person about how healthy my purchases are, noting that they are all or nearly all produce.  I always smile broadly and say, “Yes, and look at how much food I get for very little money. Not only that, my cholesterol went down 100 points, and my conscience is lighter, too.”  If the person says, “Oh I would love to do that but it is too hard,” I offer a different perspective and suggest they just go vegan one meal at a time. One meal does not seem overwhelming, and it opens them up to possibilities.

Even a casual walk around the neighborhood or an outing to the park is an opportunity to mention your happy, healthy dogs.  When someone comments on how well they appear or all the energy they have, that is an invitation to let them know how well they are doing on a vegan diet, too.

Challenge corporations – Recently, some omni-subs (meat substitutions) began to add egg whites into formerly vegan products, while another company got rid of eggs, turning their vegetarian products into vegan products. I frequently write to companies to applaud or bemoan these types of changes and often write to others to request vegan recipes or vegan products, particularly if the product is near vegan and would be a hit with fellow vegans. I usually receive generous and thoughtful responses.  When I find a product labeled “vegan” in traditional markets, I usually will respond by saying “Thank You!” to the company for the labeling and the product.

Challenge schools – the public schools are not the healthiest place for children to eat and sadly receive some of the worst of the animal products in the world.  Our local schools and preschools do allow children to abstain from the usual mandatory milk by drinking water or juice.  I have spoken to the owners and administrators at the local private preschool and I found out from the County officials that a vegan preschool is acceptable as long as it meets the State nutritional guidelines.

Display at the library – If you are creative and prefer a quiet advocacy, speak to your local library about putting up a pro-animal or pro-vegan display.  Many libraries have glassed cases that they allow people to use just for this purpose.  I have done several on overpopulation and the environment, the impact on animals and habitats, and population projections.  Contact your local library and see what is possible if this type of advocacy interests you.

Wear vegan tee shirts - After recently purchasing a bright turquoise shirt that reads, “Life is Better Vegan!” I found that  I need to order more such tees!  These shirts can often get people talking just as I go about doing my weekly chores, shopping, or saying  hello to neighbors.  It is a quiet advocacy, because it gives visibility to veganism, keeps it in people’s minds, and often prompts further dialogue.

Think of yourself as a Vegan Ambassador.  It will make it easier to maintain civility, open dialogue, and remind yourself that you are from another culture, another world. By showing sensitivity and being available, you just might find someone reaching out. Clear, consistent vegan education is one of the best things any of us can do to help liberate animals from commodification.

Veganaphobia – Podcast #006

PeaceOrVictory_xeniaAfter reading three books in a row about the horrors of factory farming, food safety, and the politics of the food industry, it has become apparent that some people within the vegan revolution have become fearful of veganism.  Moby, in his book, Gristle, admits to “softening” his approach, downplaying his veganism.  Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals, takes a side step to vegetarianism and romances the humane meat movement, avoiding veganism altogether.  And Melanie Joy, in her bookWhy We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, never promotes veganism, preferring the term “veg*n” or “vegetarian,” in order to appeal to a wider audience.  As someone who was raised to be an omnivore, evolved into vegetarianism, and finally learned enough to become an ethical abolitionist vegan, I am left wondering — why all the fear of the “V” word?

Veganism and the Peace Sign

When I was a young woman, the sign of a “V” meant peace — two fingers (the index and middle finger) erect and apart at the nail, just like in American Sign Language “V.”  I would hope we would reinstitute the use of the “peace” sign, the “V” that also means the “V” word, veganism. Without peace for all, and that includes the animals, there will be peace for no one. In fact, at this time, there many not be much life left on planet earth unless we mend our ways.  Let’s start using the peace sign and stand out as vegans.

Vegetarianism as a Sign of Veganaphobia

I noticed on the site VeganWrites, a site for student activists, that Bruce Friedrich of PETA was getting rid of his Vegan tee shirts because the Vegetarian tees elicited much better response. I bet a BBQ tee would do better still here in Texas, but that would hardly be vegan education. If we believe in veganism, how will it ever become prevalent if even the vegans are afraid to talk about it?  What is behind this veganaphobia?  The student writing the article then quoted Foer, stating that we should ask people to take the first step, not the last, meaning vegetarianism. But vegetarianism is not the first step – it is a side step, one that still uses animals and their bodies for purely selfish reasons. It is also not a healthy stance not a moral stance, nor even an equivalent environmental stance.

Here is a quote from Bruce Friedrich, VP of PETA

I actually think that using the word “vegan” (other than perhaps with youth) may be counterproductive to helping animals, relative to using the word “vegetarian.” As a species, we are given to seeing things as “all or nothing,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions with people who write off making any changes because they believe they can’t go vegan.

Veganism is Clear

I would disagree.  Going vegan is much easier for many reasons. First of all, it is very clear – animals are not to be exploited, have intrinsic value and are not for human consumption.  Vegetarianism gets confusing for the general public. People bring you dead chickens or think it is acceptable to eat the secretions of animals or use their body parts in other products. Many people use the term vegetarian to indicate someone who eats fish and chicken as well as other animal products. This is not progress for the animals.

Second of all, veganism opens up an entire new world of food.  For me, going vegetarian meant giving something up, avoiding certain foods. Going vegan meant adding many, many things to my life. I became more sensitive to the animals around me, to the wealth of plant food, and to the joy of eating for the first time in my life. If I feel positive about being vegan, then when I discuss it with others it will shine through.

Third, it is much healthier for the individual and the planet. We can collectively feed more of us beings by eating plant food. We can save more of the rainforest and other forests. We can lower our cholesterol and, if we eat whole foods, get rid of most of the chronic diseases that plague modern man. We can reduce our carbon footprint and help stop global climate instability. And we can decrease the amount of violence, suffering, domination and subjugation in the world.

If there is this much confusion among vegans about the best approach towards educating the public, no wonder the public is so confused.

Sam Tucker and Gary Francione, Animal Abolitionists

While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, NZ Vegan Podcast, I was amazed at the solid, logical sound of a very young man, 13 years old at the time, who was on fire for animal rights and veganism.  Not only was he intelligent and well-spoken, he was doing something about the injustice he was witnessing.  Sam Tucker is that young man, now 14, and he is already an enterpreneur (having owned a tee-shirt business), a radio host (Food for Thought), a public speaker (at Animal Rights assemblies and on podcasts), and a successful animal rights advocate.  He is also a snowboarder and a musician.  Sam, as you can tell, does not let any moss grow under his feet.  He is part of a growing number of young people who are making enormous contributions to changing the way people think about animals, about food, and about the earth.

I am very fortunate that during my “research” phase of learning about the animal rights movement, I listened to some excellent, clear and consistent people who clarified things for me. To emphasize the point that promoting veganism via education need not be fear-inducing, there is Gary Francione and his Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach podcast for further clarification.

Animal Writes – To call yourself vegetarian or vegan

John Pizzarelli website

Fierce at Fourteen – profile of Sam Tucker

Book Review: Dr. Melanie Joy’s Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows

Food for Thought radio show

Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach Blog

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy, Ph.D.

Listening to Melanie Joy before reading her book left me perplexed: why would anyone who has researched the horrid state of affairs for animals take a “veg*n” stance rather than to simply promote veganism?  I first heard Dr. Joy speak in an interview with Rae Sikora and then next heard her speak, or more specifically, read her notes, on the ARZone forum chat.  In both places, Dr. Joy presented some interesting concepts but failed to take a stand for veganism, stating that she was trying to appeal to a wider audience. This seems to be the moral equivalent of being a dietary flexitarian – a widely acceptable position that doesn’t really stand for much of anything.

Starts on A Hopeful Note

Dr. Joy starts out with a clever title that captures the potential reader’s imagination — a good start.  Her explanation of Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows is based on some standard psychological theories — not surprising since Dr. Joy is a social psychologist and professor of sociology and psychology — and a term that is her own creation – carnism. Carnism is a term used to denote the speciesist ideology that permits human beings to commodify and consume animals. According to Dr. Joy, carnism is invisible and therefore, without terminology and presence, it is impossible to give it visibility. Her book is her attempt to do just that.

She starts out by imagining our possible distress if a friend served us stew that we are told was made with Golden Retriever — would we pick out the meat, feel sick, or eat it anyway? There are certainly more people who would understand this dilemma than those who would see that they are behaving in a morally confused way by continuing to cause billions of animals extreme suffering while “loving” animals. According to Dr. Joy’s theory, this is because of the invisible manifestations of the carnistic schema. She looks at the institutionalization of meat eating and challenges the “Meatocracy.”

Filled With Pertinent Information

While it is disappointing when an informed author lacks the will to stand up for ethical veganism, this author does nonetheless make several good points. She presents many statistics regarding the use of animals (70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is now pastures for livestock) and reveals much about the business of animal commodification. Profiled are the costs to workers in the slaughter industries, the failures in logic we humans struggle with to validate our choices to eat meat, and some of the horrific conditions under which animals live and die as commodities for human consumption. She discusses the reasons (normal, natural, necessary) that permit omnivores to continue their consumption of animals as products and examines the Cognitive Trio of objectification, deindividualization, and dichotomization as resources in maintaing the current animal exploitation. She talks about the myth of free will and looks at how early programming and even government-food industry alignment continues to promote carnism without our conscious awareness.  It is a slender volume that should not be intimidating to the average reader. It is thought-provoking, clear and well organized.

Dr. Joy’s Book Adds to the Moral Confusion

The cover of Dr. Joy’s book has a picture of bacon under the word “pigs” and a pair of expensive men’s shoes under the word “cows,” with a Golden Retriever on the top — exactly the type of thinking we should be working to eradicate.  The list of suggested resources and reading material is even more disappointing, with some of the large animal “protection” organizations that hold stock in companies that benefit financially from animal exploitation and books that are strictly welfarist (promoting the subjugation of animals) finding her favor.  She seems drawn to the “happy meat” approach (animal welfarism and subjugation) which will continue to promote the status quo rather than moving towards a respect-for-life (non-violent, abolitionist) approach. Her book seems to promote her own theory and her newly coined term– carnism –while avoiding a simple yet relevant existing term – veganism.

While her book may inform people who would otherwise not have delved into this arena, those readers will still not be likely to take appropriate steps towards the end of animal exploitation because Dr. Joy never gives the reader the appropriate information to do so. Promoting vegetarianism is not an improved moral stance, because it relies on the continued suffering and exploitation of animals, when there is a simpler, healthier and better way — veganism.  Dr. Joy goes mainstream and takes the easy way out, missing an opportunity to inform the public by choosing the way more palatable to potential readers.  By adding to the moral confusion that already exists in the mind of the public, she fails to move beyond the carnistic schema herself.

How to Bash a Vegan

Lately there have been quite a few snarky articles denouncing the horror that is veganism and the people that promote it.  We are an insensitive lot, they relate, that try to force our will on unsuspecting omnivores, who want nothing but to be left alone with their personal choices.  One article denounced masked vegans who threw a cayenne-laced pie — evidently that reader did not understand that true vegans do not resort to violence, it is antithetical to a belief in non-exploitation, respect and non-violence; I would denounce them too.  Yes, some very well-know groups call themselves animal rights groups and they do use unsavory tactics like sexism and assaultive techniques, but most self-respecting vegans I know distance themselves from such organizations.