Tuesday, 19 June 2012

On the Care and Feeding of Vegan Vampires

If you have issues with nutritional supplements or (non-graphic) discussion of lady business, this might not be the post for you. If you're curious about iron supplements, read on...

The idea that you can a make hardcore iron supplement out of flowers might sound slightly odd. Floradix, however, aim to do just that. I should admit that I haven't been taking it that long, but have taken it during and in the run-up to a special female time (can you feel the sarcasm dripping from my keyboard in that sentence? It is 'special' in that I have an excuse to lie around and eat chocolate. If only I had the time to do that!) which normally leaves me feeling like your average used dishcloth by this point, especially if I have to (*gasp*) do anything involving the expending of energy.

Floradix claim that their liquid supplement contains a form of iron that is easy to absorb. Some people have a problem absorbing plant-derived iron, and I've heard Floradix touted as a way around this. I normally take tablets - cheap Superdrug ones, and not every day for that matter - but Shark Week evidently calls for something more.

So does it work? Well, I'm not rollerblading through fountains in white jeans or whatever people do in tampon adverts these days. I'm sitting at my desk plodding away at some work at half the normal speed and feeling owie all over. (seriously, smut aside my hands and feet are not reproductive organs, so why do they have to hurt because the carpet's coming up in another department?) I get emo over random things and can't walk past a large object without crashing into it. I do, however, have functional energy levels. I can achieve something workwise, plus cook two meals from scratch (half the battle in health terms) and generally make use of my body and brain rather than lying around in bed all day. And it isn't because the party in my pants was less wild than usual.

I should warn you that some Floradix products contain honey. What I have is Floradix Floravital, which is made without honey - it is explicitly labelled as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. I bought the smallest bottle, about £9 in Holland and Barrett - it doesn't go as far as I'd like for the price, so I may save it for the times when I need it most. People have described it as 'pleasantly flavoured' - I'm not sure I buy into that one. At first it just tastes like apple juice, but the aftertaste is slightly bloody. (Which makes sense, as iron is what gives blood its taste. Don't worry, I know this from sucking my finger when I get papercuts, not from anything more sinister!) This is why my first dose netted it the nickname 'vampire food'...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Tossing the badge

I should preface this by saying that it isn't of any great odds to me whether others call themselves vegan or not. If you are living a vegan life, avoiding animal products and animal-tested products and so on to the best of your ability, then which label you use isn't the main point. Having said that, I still find it interesting why people who for all intents and purposes are vegan choose not to self-define as such. Many are just being realistic about their own ability, temporarily or permanently, to be fully vegan - all they can do is aim for 95% (or less for some) rather than 100. I went through such a phase myself at one point. Some are reflecting a lack of desire to be fully vegan - in particular people who are being 'plant-based' for health reasons and will never want to go beyond the diet. I am delighted when people in that category are reflective enough to not call themselves vegan. Then there are the more complex reasons for avoiding the tag. The experiences of David at Raptitude encapsulate several of these.

David's main point seems to be that the vegan label puts up a barrier between vegans and omnivores.

For most of the last year I felt that divide, not just between me and the omnivores, but the vegetarians too, who abstain from only one kind of animal exploitation. And not just the vegetarians, but the “vegans” who eat fish occasionally, or the ones who eat vegan but wear wool peacoats.
I even felt it between me and other vegans. I was an abolitionist, which basically means zero tolerance for any avoidable use of animals. But on the other side of the fence there were also welfarist vegans, who spent their time campaigning to improve conditions for food animals, encouraging vegetarianism or Meatless Mondays or other “partway” measures that make abolitionists cringe.

He has a point here, but he's aiming at the wrong target. It is difficult to square your knowledge that someone is basically a decent person with the fact that they are doing something in front of you that you find disgusting or morally dubious. That isn't just a vegan/omni divide, it's a divide that affects anyone who is morally opposed to something many people around them are ok with doing in public. I'm not convinced a label makes a huge difference.
In social situations — barbecues, parties and dinners out — people are generally polite and accepting, but they still can’t help but treat me as a special case with my special-case food. They probably can’t quite see me as a full participant. They make it clear that they have absolutely no desire to become a special case themselves, who isn’t “allowed” to do what normal people do. They are usually trying to be kind, but it still creates weirdness on both sides of the wall.

To which I say, dude, you might have the wrong friends. Or they might just need time to adjust and get used to you. Either way, yes you could get around it by dropping the label, but unless you also drop a lot of the practice behind it and start to eat animal products out of convenience or to blend in you will still be doing the things they deem 'weird'. Or of course you could become a recluse or stick to vegan friends. The third alternative is to participate and stay openly vegan. It takes nerve sometimes, sure, but also reduces the barriers more than you think. If you don't like the people concerned, or have serious disgust at seeing what they are eating, then sure you should stay away. But, put it this way, it does veganism no harm if omnis see someone who is very much like them, part of things, able to eat something decent in a range of places (this is mostly true for me and I do not live in the capital of alternative lifestyles!) - and is vegan. They may go vegan themselves. Or they may just be less daunted when one of their children tries it.

Now it’s clear to me that it’s the label that’s the problem. Not the labeling of food, or shoes, but of people. I think it creates animosity on both sides, it defines the wall itself, and that prevents that wall from moving much. It seems that generally, vegans love their label, and love to deny it to non-vegans. If you were to tell a group of vegans that you’re a vegan who enjoys a tiny cube of cheese once every leap year they’ll say, “Oh so you’re not vegan then.” And technically they’re right.

Technically, they are. But technically the person making that claim is being provocative or what we in the business call 'a dick'. I don't take any enjoyment in telling such a person they are not a vegan, that the 99% good they do certainly counts but by the same token so does the 1% harm. Some vegans do. Some even do so unprovoked, looking for opportunities, I don't doubt that. But I do doubt that it is the majority. I am still not clear why there is a 'wall' here, except between those who can dialogue without reverting to the school playground and those who cannot.

Then we get onto David's own exceptions, less rigid eating patterns, and I begin to suspect that he is in the category who would annoy vegans more by self-defining as vegan than by refraining from doing so. It isn't always there, background or foreground, but it often is.

The single notion of “no more ice cream, ever” is, I’m sure, an utter dealbreaker for the majority of people.

Good thing products such as Swedish Glace exist then...

Between my abolitionist days and today, the difference in the volume of animal products I consume is pretty small. A few more of my dollars do go to paying people for exploting animals. These changes may represent the difference between say, 99.8% of my total buying power, and 99%. (Despite what some vegans may tell you, it is unlikely anybody is able to live 100% vegan, but you can get really close.)

Here we agree, although it is a case of drawing different conclusions from the same premises. His - like those of a certain website that was popular last year - seem to be that 100% is impossible so we should aim for 98 or 99. I'm not sure of the logic of that. I often make task lists for the day, week etc and goal lists for a month, semester or year. I used to make these short and simple on the basis that I needed to be 'realistic' about what I could achieve. I felt totally shite if I ever fell short. Now I make them long and ambitious, and am happy if I achieve most of what is on there. My point is, if you aim for 100% you'll often end up somewhere around the high nineties by virtue of things that can't be avoided or which are genuine accidents. 

But if my more relaxed, undogmatic lifestyle convinces even one person that they could live without animal products, even 50% of the time, I’ve already prevented more many times more harm than I’ve caused.

But it doesn't convince people of that, because you aren't living without animal products. If you make exceptions, you're likely to be doing this around the omnis in your life. All they see is another person eating cheese and blustering about why they don't do so the rest of the week. 

Think about it - if you see a friend taking a 'relaxed and undogmatic' approach to adultery or petty theft would it convince you to go any way towards not lying, cheating or stealing? 

In short, David, you did not hand in your v-card by ceasing to call yourself a vegan. You rejected it by ceasing to be a vegan, i.e. by making regular exceptions. You certainly didn't have it taken from you, as you might like to think...

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Shooting and sh*tting

Ok, I'm already starting to dread the google hits from this post's title. Nevermind. There's been a meme doing the rounds lately featuring a cow in a patch of grass. I gather the starting-point for this was a meat-eater using the caption 'my food shits on your food.' So far, so childish. I can brush it off. I am less impressed still by the response by a vegetarian or vegan (I don't know who made it to start with) featuring the same picture and the caption 'your food shits on its food.' Now, I can understand the desire to retaliate, but I don't like this. Firstly, why are we still defining a cow as someone's food? I thought the point of being vegan was to move on from that view of animals. Secondly, what Roger calls the 'it parade' is coming into play here. What possible benefit is there in unnecessarily defining a living creature as an it? Anyway, just had to get that out there. The other bovine-related news this week involves a TV documentary in which baby calves were seen being shot. Roger, who I linked above, brought this bit of coverage to my attention. (Sorry for the Daily Heil article, I'm tempted to install the firefox app that diverts to pictures of kittens) I agree with a lot of what the author has to say here. If people are going to eat animal products they should be prepared to get up close and personal with where these things come from, and for that matter to eat the 'yucky' bits. Suffice it to say, however, there's a 'but' involved. The author describes how 'the animal rights brigade' put an end to the export of live calves for confinement in veal crates. To be fair, he isn't entirely critical and accepts valid welfare-based arguments for why this is a good thing. Then he continues: 'Where the campaigners were wrong was in failing to establish an alternative destination for the British calves.' Right. Now I thought there was a fair bit of effort on that front. I admit that veganism hasn't been at the forefront of live exports campaigns. FYI I think it probably should be. Why shouldn't people who object to cute calves or fluffy sheep being trucked through their main street be exposed to arguments explaining that other animals deserve the same consideration and that farming and slaughter in the UK aren't a barrel of laughs? But that's a bit of a side issue here. The point is, veganism got a whole lot more coverage out of the debate around calf exports than from any other welfare campaign of that era. Because it was calves, and the dairy industry was directly involved, it provided a lot more impetus for people to go vegan rather than just vegetarian. I was incidentally one of the vegetarians inspired to go further at that point. As far as I'm concerned, removing the demand for meat and dairy (and subsequently for the breeding of calves) is a pretty good alternative to breeding animals for the sake of killing them...