Our own veganism is our first and highest form of animal rights activism.
Our own veganism is our first and highest form of animal rights activism.
When humans bring non-humans into this world we generally take them away from their families soon after they’re born. Unless the mother is required for her baby to survive, or unless the mother provides a cheaper and easier option for rearing her child to a commercially viable age than our own intervention, we prance on the opportunity to take our new property and place it where we think it belongs. Our quest for meat and milk and down feathers is a much higher charge than protecting the most sacred of bonds.
Being the vulnerable victims that they are it is not unexpected that those young domesticates that we intentionally orphan look elsewhere for support. Like any child they look for relief. The hand that feeds them becomes their comfort. The person who tends to their physical welfare becomes their saviour. These victimised children probably have no idea why their supposed comforters inflict hurt on them – like when they cut off their balls or rip out their horns – but in the absence of anyone else there is no other option for these children. After having their legitimate hope – their mother and family – torn from them they search earnestly, like any child, for hope elsewhere, and the farmer they see regularly becomes that hope.
How doubly tragic is it then that those same farmers will, for the second time, destroy the hope of these children when they turn them over to be killed. These children who are born into destitution are offered a glimpse of providence but only to be sold out by the very same people who masqueraded as their carers. Every non-vegan is paying the farmer to be this psychopath; in paying they become fully complicit in the act and are no less psychopaths themselves.
The ultimate betrayal, not once but twice. First at birth and again at death. Rather than hang our heads in shame we then revel in their corpses. Their entire, poor, short lives are fully framed in our contempt.
Prologue: This is my second post in a row about vegan food and essentially a continuation of my last post- very uncharacteristic of what I like to write about but telling of the bulk of what I’m currently reading about in social media. Lots of this post is speculation and dreaming. I do hope this post calms me down and I can revert to reality and the ethics of veganism next time.
There seems to me an increasing craze about various diets. Some people are convinced that a particular type of plant-based diet is the optimum diet for human health. Others are convinced that a diet that containing fatty animal parts is closer to what we need. Paleo, 80-10-10, raw till four, macrobiotic – you are sure to find whatever floats your boat.
A common appeal from most proponents of any of these diets is that their diet is closely aligned to what would have been eaten by humans prior to the first agricultural revolution. I’m not exactly sure why that is so important? Is there anything to suggest that prior to the agricultural revolution we were ubiquitously healthy? Since people are pointing to the prevalence of various diseases today (like cancers, heart disease, etc.) why do they need to go back 10000 years when these same diseases were much less prevalent only 50 or 100 years ago? Does anyone believe that 10000 years ago all people across the world ate the same foods everywhere? Do people not realise that the plants and animals we buy today are dissimilar from those available 10000 years ago anyway?
My take is that this appeal to our current physiology and supposed history is, at best, a non-issue. What we should be eating right now should be informed by the science of today and what food products we have available right now – and our morals of course. I don’t think that any science or food availability points us to any one superior type of diet and almost anything sensible is enough for us to thrive. (In fact, considering how non-sensibly much of us eat and yet we survive for so long is testament to just how resilient we human beings are when it comes to what we eat).
So I wonder, what is the real appeal of this getting back to pre-agricultural eating? Is it some form of cloaked nostalgia? A desire to connect with our ancestors? Or just a way to justify our current eating whims?
Forget the past. I prefer to think about this situation flipped over: that our decisions today will affect what we will be like in the next 10000 years. I’ll call it the post-vegan period because I hope that’s where we’ll be in 10000 years.
In the post-vegan period people will be fully comfortable eating vegan food because that’s what people ate for the last 10000 years. People will know that they can eat vegan and remain healthy and lack nothing. People will have a cultural predilection for vegan foods; eating animals and the products that come from their orifices will be seen as something that was done prior to one of the most significant social revolutions in the world – the domination of veganism. But even more than that, human physiology will actually start changing.
That’s right! Because humans no longer consume animal products our bodies will eventually change towards a more herbivorous being. This will be through an evolutionary process. It’s not as though individual bodies will change drastically throughout their lives, just that those who are born with a predilection for animal products will find them harder to obtain and will therefore suffer for it. Those bodies that thrive easiest on plant materials will do well, will assumedly find commensurately thriving sexual partners and will promote the next generations of plant-fit humans. Of course, all this will take thousands of years for even the smallest changes, but it will be an inevitable state in a post-vegan world. It doesn’t at all make the case for veganism any stronger (or weaker) but it is interesting to see just how far reaching veganism is.
Just as many people today tout the invention of hunting and an increased amount of meat consumption as a pivotal point in humankind’s development, so one day people will tout the general acceptance of the basic moral premise of doing no harm as a pivotal point in humankind’s development. The first supposedly bought us out of the cave and into civilisation, the latter will take us from civilisation and into the next phase of human existence – something that we can’t even fathom yet.
We are barely 10000 years into civilisation as we know it – that’s only 40 generations of people and a blink of an eye in the larger scope of things. The chance for post-veganism in a similar time is real, and this current way of life where we relegate our sentient cohabitors to mere objects will be seen as a sad parenthesis on the time-line of human development.
Epilogue: Back to reality. Post-veganism requires veganism. Keep educating and advocating!
In the last week Facebook has been abuzz with talk about Bio-Life and Daiya cheeses, both newly available in Australia. Vegans love talking about food. I’ve indicated previously that I find it disheartening when food is the central tenet of veganism – because veganism is infinitely more than what we eat. But there is no doubt that our food choices are generally the single biggest behavioural change that we make when we decide to engage with our moral duties towards non-humans.
I will make an incendiary suggestion to my fellow vegans: we have a type of inferiority complex about food. But it’s cool.
I think about various sub-cultures* and, apart from specific foodie groups, I can’t see anywhere near as much noise about food as I do in vegan circles. Sure, sometimes people in various health groups (including herbivores-for-health) like to tout their foods for the supposedly healthy choices that they are, but this talk about their food is usually about its health, not about how good it tastes. No, vegans actually talk about how good our food tastes, even if it’s a simple frozen pizza or burger patty; I can’t think of any other group of people who would celebrate frozen pizzas and burger patties the way we do. In my opinion this overcompensation smacks of inferiority.
I think we celebrate these foods not because they are (anywhere near) the best tasting options available but simply because they are available. As vegans we realise that our morals restrain us from consuming particular food items and any new addition that increases our range of availabilities makes us happy. In our excitement we convolute their availability with their quality (compared to non-vegan versions) and we become food obsessed. These new foods validate our claim that eating vegan is easy and we trumpet them proudly. The non-vegan world is often justified in looking at us and thinking we vegans are all making much ado about nothing, because from their point of view they already have many options that the greater world thinks are better than ours.
Personally, I’m happy about that inferiority complex and I think we have every right to feel that way. Vegan food is revolutionary and a new era in the way we eat; it’s only natural that we are both trepidacious and excited about this uncharted territory. For ten thousand years the world at large has been slicing flesh from animals and finding ways to make it taste better; we vegans have barely begun making meaty treats from plant sources and look how far we’ve come in just the last few years. The world at large has had ten thousand years to get cheese to where they want it; we vegans have barely begun on our journey of making cheese and I’m sure that in ten thousand years we’ll have our own cheeses that are just as good as any non-vegan versions out there right now. Just as the first people who “discovered” animal based cheese would have had massive excitement about their new find so do we vegans now get uber-excited about our new plant based cheeses. I’m sure that the animal based cheeses of ten thousand years ago were nothing like the animal based cheeses of today; neither will vegan cheeses be anything like they are now in ten thousand years. The era of vegan food has just begun and we are all still in our infancy.
As much as I lament our lack of processed options in the supermarket I still see a growing number of vegan options every year. We are progressing. Slowly. But considering the world has had ten thousand years to get where it is today I think we vegans are going our own way at a decent pace, particularly when we represent such a small fraction of humankind.
Vegan fare is beautiful! It is demonstrative how our mindset can affect our progress; if we want something hard enough, like cheese without animal exploitation, we will make it happen. I recall one night I returned home with a friend after a “heavy” night out and we wanted pizza. Out came the aprons. We decided to make moxarella for the pizzas. We needed to apply the moxarella to the pizzas but short of a piping set we wondered what to do. I emptied out a bag of frozen fruit, cut a small hole in the bottom corner of the bag and used that as a piper. I have vivid memories of my friend, in his less than fully sober state, piping gelatinous goo (the moxarella) out of the fruit bag onto the pizza and I thought just how weird this would come across to non-vegans. And how beautiful it actually was. In order to not harm others we didn’t just grab a block of yellow stuff from the fridge and grate it on, no we went through quite an elaborate process that took a fair whack of time, presented challenges and bore no resemblance to normalcy. That is what veganism is about – dodging intentional harm by any means possible, and loving the privilege of being able to do so.
It’s a lot of fun being part of this new food era. Like anxious children we wait to see what happens next and it’s a state of ongoing excitement. (Who knows, we may all end up ditching processed stuff altogether and revert back to simple, whole plant foods? – Not today though!!) We are part of a revolution that is not just ideological but also deeply affects our most basic living skills like eating. We reject the bondage of supposed normalcy, liberate our minds and reevaluate these basic living skills, making changes as required. It’s extremely refreshing and much more satisfying than simply appealing to the culinary standards of our ancestors that are rooted in the grossest immorality.
* I don’t want to paint veganism as a sub-culture because it shouldn’t (or need not) be but there is no doubt that on a practical level we are often seen this way, even amongst ourselves.
I’ve never re-blogged before. This is reason to start.
Originally posted on There's an Elephant in the Room blog:
I have recently seen several posts and comments in social media referring to the ‘vegan police’, usually with a ‘lol’ or two thrown in.
I can understand the mockery if it comes from someone who does not know any better, someone who is as yet unaware of the sickening horror that is all nonhuman exploitation.
We live in a deeply speciesist world where our rampant exploitation of all other species on the planet is inherently ‘cruel’. It is also deeply immoral, unethical, unjustifiable, barbaric and dangerous for the ecosystem and human life itself. As more and more evidence of these facts becomes available, remaining ignorant of this is, to some extent, a choice. The choice is driven by entrenched nursery myths of entitlement and unwillingness to take responsibility for our actions and the inevitable consequences of these.
Having said that, I know to my cost just how deep the indoctrination…
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One of the most denigrating treatments a person can have is to be treated “like a piece of meat.” While this term is probably most often applied to someone when they are sexually objectified it is also appropriated at other times – the implication being that in treating someone like a piece of meat their personhood is completely removed, and so what remains is simply a physical body – which can then be used as desired by someone else. In a sense this is a complete rejection of the person themselves, a rejection of the idea that they matter at all, and a support of the idea that they are worth only the flesh that they are – whether it be for the other person’s sexual gratification or whatever else.
For me one of the ultimate tokens of treating someone “like a piece of meat” is the piece of meat itself. It’s extremely sad walking past the meat refrigerator in the supermarket and seeing bits of someone’s body wrapped up in plastic trays. It’s not just the sad fact that those individuals that died for those bits of meat probably suffered extreme tortures during their lives, nor that they lived their lives without their families, nor that they were killed in pre-pubescence – a time of life they should be reveling in experiencing their own existence on earth. Absolutely, those are extremely sad facts, and I can’t feel anything but sadness for the victims.
But what I find even more pathetic is that my own species makes this happen by whimsically removing all personhood from any other species on earth and relegating them to being non-persons.
This is the height of sadness and callousness and delusion and human supremacy: not the act of killing someone or doing with them as we see fit, but making the claim that they do not really exist or matter in the first place.
The fact that we humans find it so easy to pick up a knife and slit the throat of a lamb is not really the problem here; the problem is that we can see a lamb as something that has no value except her weight in meat. Whether it is the farmer who takes the lamb away from her mother, or the slaughterhouse worker who slits the lamb’s throat, or the chef who roasts the lamb’s flesh or the final consumer – the seven billion people on earth – who sit down to eat the lamb, they are all the same. Like some sort of magicians they remove from this sentient being what matters most to her: her own personhood, her own chance to have what every sentient being wants to have. And this atrocity is repeated daily for the most trivial of reasons: to taste a morsel of flesh, to have a dab of yoghurt with their muesli, to have a softer pillow or to have a giggle at how a quadruped can stand on two feet.
Try as I might I struggle to imagine any more contemptible behaviour*. Yet this is sanctioned by greater society and presented as “normal.” Humans are strange creatures with a long way to go to being humane.
(* Though there are many, many close second-place-getters. Not to imply at all that they are less important issues – just that they do not happen on such a large scale nor are brazenly supported by society at large.)
To those that do not understand us we vegans can come across as a quirky bunch. Consider these:
From the outside looking in the above behaviours truly are bizarre. It’s absolutely known that many (most? all?) non-vegans think vegans are “too extreme” – not because of our general position in not using animal products, but because they see us as being absurd about the lengths we might go to in order to “remain vegan.” Another example is how they often see us as too picky about trace amounts of animal derivatives; like when carmine is listed as one of the last ingredients on a pack of lollies many people think along the lines of “It’s just a speck – what possible difference can it make?” Yet vegans see red.
The non-vegans are right in their own way of thinking. It does make practically no difference. If 1% of the population – and that is what we vegans are – boycott carmine completely there will be almost zero effect felt by the cochineal insects that are killed to manufacture this crimson colourant. I’d hazard a guess that the carmine industry, like all industries, is wasteful, and more cochineal bodies are probably swept away as rubbish than all the world’s vegans could ever expect to spare by boycotting their use.
That though does not stifle the vegan resolve. The reason we continue to care – and boycott minute amounts of direct animal exploitation – is that veganism is not just about achieving statistically significant savings in nonhuman suffering; it is also a state of being true to humankind’s deepest values and our own moral integrity, not for personal purity or brownie points or some sort of salvation, but for the sake of manifesting the extreme importance morality itself. We start living vegan because we realise it is morally unjustifiable to exploit and harm others, and we continue to live vegan and be picky about “the small stuff” for the same reason. We take our moral convictions to their logical ends, not just to when they become inconvenient to ourselves or a bother to others. We remain compelled to our duty of not harming nonhumans whether we know we are directly saving them or not.
Vegans understand that the life of a cochineal insect is as valuable to herself as our own life is to us. We understand that the right of a cochineal insect to remain unharmed should not be flexible regardless of how much or how little she might feel our direct actions. We obsess with not intentionally harming a cochineal insect as much as we hope others would obsess with not intentionally harming us. Veganism is beautifully all-pervasive. Unlike a diet (like vegetarianism) which simply focuses on what one should or shouldn’t eat, veganism pervades the very fabric of an individual’s existence, from even the smallest thoughts and actions. For something as simple as eating a snack on the go, or washing your hands after the loo, harmlessness remains a central touchstone for the vegan. Veganism is not just a different way of eating or otherwise doing things – it’s essentially an entirely different existence in itself, an existence that non-vegans unfortunately do not understand.
This is not to suggest that non-vegans couldn’t understand if they wanted to; of course they could – but in doing so they necessarily start being vegan themselves. Ethical veganism and understanding the intrinsic value of others’ lives are the same thing. This is why I believe the goal of vegan advocacy should not be to downplay the taste of flesh or cheese, nor to tout the possible health benefits of eating plants, nor to set political agendas on how to reduce suffering, but simply bring people to the understanding that they already possess but haven’t connected with – that other living beings value their own lives the same way we do. Once someone understands that, really understands that, they automatically realise that harming others is indefensible and they start living vegan, because there is no morally justifiable alternative. That understanding is the essence of veganism.
I don’t know of any easy and reliable way to share this understanding but I do know that pandering to anything other than it does not work. For example, suggesting to non-vegans that they reduce their consumption of animal products or encouraging them in their “personal journey” which remains harmful to others does nothing to help them understand veganism. In fact it most often does the opposite by shifting focus from understanding to simply modifying behaviour. It maligns veganism into something that it isn’t – from a simple understanding that it’s not right to harm nonhumans into elaborate rules and methods and excuses. If the end game you’re after is to lessen use by modifying people’s behaviours then fine, but if the end game you’re after is for people to live vegan then it is an almost impossible way of achieving that.
Vegan advocacy should be about helping others understand – nothing else. It should be about helping non-vegans see red on their own – that’s when they become vegans.
A great trip to some of the USA’s national parks (NPs) has had me thinking (but not writing) a lot about the way people view animals.
A number of perplexing events and situations stay entrenched in my mind. Here are two.
First is fishing, which seems to be very encouraged and even forms the basis for many visitors coming there at all. It seems that wild animals get protection in NPs so long as they do not live in the water – or otherwise piss the park rangers off. Is it because fish cannot be heard screaming when their mouths are ripped apart by metal hooks? Is it because their suffocation is not accompanied by the waving around of limbs as they seek mercy? Is it because they are less visible under the water so do not provide immediate aesthetic value to visitors? It almost has a religious, authoritarian feel to it: you must not kill those but you can kill them.
Since when are fish excluded from the category of natural wildlife? So much for protection of the natural wildlife!
The other is the most bewildering fact that bison burgers are sold at the Old Faithful Cafe in Yellowstone NP.
On the one hand visitors are urged to protect the bison and respect their interests, even with threat of criminal charges for failing to do so. Yet on the other hand people are welcomed to consume their flesh.
Surely this is the height of absurdity?
Of course, the bison in the burgers were not lucky enough to be born in a part of the world that humans have arbitrarily labelled a no-go-zone for the overt killing of (particular) non-humans – national parks. Those in NPs are instead exploited for their aesthetic appeal and that requires that they do not die prematurely or exist in conditions not considered natural (according to human sentiment, not bison sentiment). Lucky for those bison that their use to humankind requires much less suffering than their cousins that find themselves outside NP borders.
Ag-gag laws prohibit the exposition of non-humans used in the production of animal products. At the same time governments invite in people to come and see those exact same species in NP spectacles.
Of course the USA is not alone; this situation is no different in other parts of the world.
National parks are an exemplification of human supremacy and our general lack of care for the world and its nonhuman inhabitants. We automatically assume a right to compartmentalise what bits of the earth we want to “protect” and what part we can trash at will. We decide on our whims which animals will be there to entertain us or which will be there to be chopped into burgers and shoes. This supremacy runs deep, from the most overt exploiters of the earth to the most ardent “environmentalists” or “animal protectionists.” It’s always about human decision overriding any other cause. Me, me, me. That’s really quite puerile, even disgusting.
Back at home writing this it’s quite thrilling to see the spider before me here on my window as equally morally relevant as those bison I saw in Yellowstone. That’s what veganism is – a break down of these discretionary categories that are based purely on the human belief that it is our right to impose them. It awakens us to the derangement that we’ve been brainwashed into by our ancestors, that we have the right to do as we will with others without regard for them. It makes all bison – and spiders – and all sentient beings – deserving of moral consideration, not just the ones we want to photograph or otherwise romanticise about.
Actually, living vegan is rather like living every moment as if we are in a national park. Because we sort of are. Not as some supremacist visitors in a human created park, but as cohabitors with our fellow earthlings in the “park” we find ourselves in – the whole earth.
A friend of mine informed me that this comment on my previous post could be construed as harsh, particularly if read by the person I was actually writing about.
That post, and any of my vegan advocacy in general, is never intended to be an attack on any particular person. My own take is that attacking non-vegans rather than addressing non-veganism is pointless and counterproductive. (Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum). However, sometimes particular examples can be highly demonstrative of general issues and that’s why I might use them. (It’s also why I qualified the comment with “like most other people.”) For all my intents the entire post could be about an imaginary scenario with imaginary people, even though it isn’t.
As soon as I wrote that comment (that my friend simply does not care about non-humans) I was immediately confronted with a dilemma: I recalled that I behaved in much the same way for the majority of my life and therefore the implication is that I too simply didn’t care. And it is quite a harsh judgement to accept! I then tried to figure out when it was exactly that I started caring. To be honest, I have no idea when that happened. What I do know is that at some point the issue of animal exploitation just started making sense and I responded appropriately – by living vegan. One could even argue that I was always caring, just that I was not knowing before I decided to live vegan. While I do know well the moment I decided to live vegan I am not sure that this is the same moment that I started caring.
Different from my friend, I had no-one that explained to me explicitly why veganism is a moral imperative. But I was nonetheless aware of many of the activities that occur in the exploitation of animals well before deciding to live vegan. It could be argued that that knowledge should have been enough for me to instantly realise my association with willful animal exploitation was morally wrong. (And I’m sure that’s happened to lots of people). Yet I didn’t. The question then is what was I at this point – uncaring, or still not appropriately knowing?
This can be a difficult issue. It is the difference between a failure in sharing awareness (by both the vegan advocate and the non-vegan recipient) or slap in the face of basic decency by the non-vegan. Considering that we should not judge the person but the behaviour, in a way it is a non-issue. But considering it is the stumbling block in bringing people to veganism it is surely a topic that requires serious thought: are we dealing with uncaring or unknowing people? This question baffles me and might need more expert opinion (from those that study human behaviour) to properly address.
So with my lack of understanding of who’s where, what I’ve been doing lately is giving non-vegans the benefit of doubt and imagining them mostly as unknowing rather than uncaring. Even when they present as uncaring I put it down to the fact that they just don’t know that they’re uncaring. That might be true or it might not, but does it really matter in the end? What it does do to me though is make me a lot more tolerant of individuals and makes me want to go an extra mile with them. I find it inherently easier to share knowledge rather than change minds, or cater to someone in need rather than someone who rejects. This could all be my own fantasy in my own mind – but it seems to be working for me. (Not that I’ve noticed any greater successes in my vegan advocacy over the last while, just that it can feel easier.) I can already hear the charge that I’m treating others as stupid; fine, I’ll accept that charge. The alternative is that I’m treating others as uncaring, a no less weighty charge, therefore I can’t win on that account either way.
Further, it also defines how I see the world and how vegans might fit in: are we vegans the most caring people on earth, the most knowing people on earth, or just a bunch of random people lucky enough to have realised a great truth through some (random or otherwise) selection process that is beyond our control? The first two possibilities are harrowing. To think that I and the fellow vegans I know are either the most caring or most knowing people on earth leaves me little hope in the future of humankind! Just what must the other seven billion people be on? And how could we vegans, 1% of the world’s people, fix this problem? But to think that the reason I understand the imperative for veganism is just because it’s the way it is is a great relief; it leaves me with great hope that such a realisation is possible for anyone anywhere, and therefore vegan advocacy should be increased as much as possible.
I’ll babble on more about this selection process – through the lenses of both science and faith – in another post in the future. But for now I can say that I feel extremely privileged to know, to care, and be able to comprehend the beauty of, and necessity for, veganism. And, like all privilege, I’d love to share it equitably.