Farm animals were my friends. I shared secrets with them, told playful stories and felt a special bond with them. When I heard phrases like ‘spent hen’ it meant their reproductive systems could no longer be exploited for eggs. They were worthless. Off with their heads. When cows were unable to have calves they became hamburger. They had been ‘milked for all they were worth.’ These statements usually come with a chuckle, but they are powerful influences. I see now that my unconscious decision not to have children was an attempt to prove I was worth something. On my own. I desperately wanted to beat the system of being valued for what I could produce.
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One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people (especially other vegans) refer to vegan food as fake, faux, mock and so on. Vegan meat and milk products are made from beans, grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, oil and spices. These foods are quite real – there’s nothing fake about them. And they’re no more processed than what the typical carnist eats. In fact, they’re often less processed. (Just have a look at the ingredients in Field Roast vegan sausages vs. ones from Oscar Mayer for example.)
Anyone who has been vegan for more than a few months is probably familiar with what I call “The Inuit Defense.” When presented with an argument for veganism, it’s common for people to bring up the diet of some remote indigenous population (usually the Inuit) as justification for why they should continue consuming animal products. “Well, the Inuit must hunt and fish in order to survive,” they say. The implication being that if the Inuit cannot be vegan, they shouldn’t be expected to be vegan either.
I find your notion of “95% vegan” to be problematic. As a practical matter, one could justifiably argue that any move away from animal products helps animals and is therefore a positive step. But the problem is not in this process, but in the logic and the intent. The vegan ethic is based on the notion that the interest of animas are real, can no longer be denied, and in fact compel us to take them seriously. At the very least, animas should not be harmed, exploited and killed when he have other options that are so plentiful to the vast majority of us.
Humans are social animals. We want to fit in. We thrive in groups. We learn from and inspire each other. And because of this highly social nature, we can also just as adamantly ostracize and oppress those who choose not to conform to social norms. In fact, in many cultures around the world, it is a “sin” or at least an unforgivable betrayal to act against some social or cultural norm, even when it goes against what one knows in his heart and mind is wrong.
Recently a Facebook fan commented on our page (after many other comments had already posted) in response to a post we published about Edith, our latest rescued chicken. I decided to publish this exchange because it was a good example of the misguided yet all too common notion that veganism is like a religion.The implication is that vegans prostletize like evangelicals and try to convert people to their beliefs.
We create our human ecology with our behavior. This is how we establish relationships with our external environment that includes other people, individuals from other species, and the entirety of ecosystems. Our behavior and the relationships that arise from it are at the center of every issue that troubles us: human overpopulation, loss of biodiversity and healthy ecosystems, poverty, the violated rights of individuals from other species, climate change, waste, and social and economic injustice, to name a few. The good news is that we can make better choices.
While vegans often hear from non vegans that the vegan lifestyle is “not for them,” the new leader of a company that sells vegan products to at least a majority vegan customer base should be held to a higher standard and perhaps a more thoughtful and courageous assessment of what veganism is all about. Instead Bate’s makes a transparent appeal to the majority, a majority that is grossly misinformed about the true ethical and ecological impacts of their food choices.
Some argue that since nonhuman animals eat other nonhumans in the wild, our use of animals is “natural.” There are four responses to this position. First, although some animals eat each other in the wild, many do not. Many animals are vegetarians. Moreover, there is far more cooperation in nature than our imagined “cruelty of nature” would have us believe.
Today I read and commented on a post on James McWilliams’ blog about the issue of sentience in insects. James urges us to take the possibility of sentience in insects seriously and consider what implications this could have on the vegan position of non violence to sentient beings. I agree. One commentator prompted me to think and respond more than the others. Here is our exchange:
In preparation for my workshop series called Overcoming Objections to a Vegan Diet in Chicago, I have been busy researching, writing and compiling the best information I can. It’s been an amazing learning experience, particularly from non vegans who have expressed their objections to me personally as well as the veteran vegans I have gotten to know who have shared with me the breadth of their experience on this aspect of communicating with the largely non vegan majority.
Being dismissed as an extremist isn’t the worst thing in the world. But as a new animal activist, I used to unconsciously dread this accusation. I carefully worded my responses to avoid it at all costs. No more. Now liberated from fear of being labeled extreme, I whole-heartedly encourage others to abandon their fear. The notion that other species, too, are deserving of respect and justice is not far-fetched, let alone extreme. It’s simply a logical extension of the principle of equal consideration that we already accept. This principle has been expressed in texts as ancient as human civilization itself.
“Any time consumers of meat, eggs or dairy advocate for ‘humane’ treatment of farm animals, they confront an unavoidable paradox: the movement to treat farm animals better is based on the idea that it is wrong to subject them to unnecessary harm; yet, killing animals we have no need to eat constitutes the ultimate act of unnecessary harm.”
I expect to garner some criticism for this post, but sometimes I think we need to face our demons and question what matters to us. To my dismay, I’m finding just too many vegan and animal advocates lately who appear to be afraid to embrace the dominant truth that embodies our cause. The core message of respect for animals is being diffused, diluted, and sometimes even sabotaged in a desperate attempt to appeal to as many other arguments for going vegan or supporting animal rights as the opposition can fling in our direction.
The following is my response letter to horse activist, Karin Hauenstein, regarding pending horse slaughter legislation in the US. I’m sharing this because my response prompted me to raise some important questions about veganism as a form of activism and the merit of single issue campaigns in the larger context of animal advocacy.