Friday, 22 November 2013

There are so many ways to be a dogmatic 'ass'hole*

A musician named Grimes' described by some sources (including herself) as a vegan, has caused a bit of a stir by posting a picture of herself holding a tub of icecream and declaring a 'one-day hiatus' from veganism. Suffice to say, this was not a situation in which the non-vegan food was standing between her and starvation, neither was she eating it at gunpoint. It was completely avoidable in all senses of the word. Unsurprisingly, vegans reacted.

Grimes' defence is, well, interesting.

First of all: 'Part of the reason I posted the ben and jerry’s thing is because I like to encourage people towards a type of veganism that is inviting and accepting. For the longest time I was vegan but I just wouldn’t say I was because of the bad reputation of veganism. most of the vegans i know are dogmatic assholes, and it completely turns people off.'

Now I'm no fan of being an arsehole (sorry, going to speak my native language here :p ) and have no illusion that all vegans are saints, but I also suspect that some of the 'dogmatism' going on here is a response to having an acquaintance who proudly proclaims 'hiatuses'  and tries to 'encourage people to towards a type of veganism' that is, to be blunt, not vegan. I can't imagine any other moral decision where it is considered acceptable to go back on what you apparently believe in the name of being 'inviting and accepting'. In fact, I even struggle to think of a remotely plausible example for illustrative purposes, which is usually a dire situation for someone who teaches ethics. Sure, being an arsehole is offputting, but consistency shouldn't be.

I believe more people would be drawn to having more ethical diets if they didn’t feel bullied to do so, or if they felt they were entering a welcoming community.

Sure, some vegans are perfectly capable of bullying, but they're not the majority. To a great extent the community is pretty welcoming to those who don't snap pictures of themselves with nonvegan food to make some faintly ridiculous point. But what really gets me about this statement is the idea that people would be 'drawn to having more ethical diets' if they didn't actually have to be more ethical. Defeating the purpose much?

And then we have this complete doozy: 'My brand of veganism is one wherein if your grandparents have no idea what you are talking about then you eat their beef stew rather than upset or confuse them. or if you really want to have cake with an egg in it on the holidays then you have that rather than just not being a vegan because you don’t want to give up occasionally having something that you love.'

My brand of anti-racism is one wherein if your grandparents have no idea what you are talking about you join right in with their ill-informed prejudices and offensive language rather than upset or confuse them.** My belief in workers' rights encompasses the idea that I can occasionally stick a small child up my chimney if I really want it cleaned the old-fashioned way.*** And why should I give up shitting on my neighbour's lawn every once in a while, as opposed to not being a person who generally respects their neighbours because I don't want to give up occasionally doing something I love?**** Obviously being remotely consistent here would make me a dogmatic arsehole, because there are so many issues on which short-term personal gratification could override a moral stance...


*Sorry, I'm British, it is arse all the way unless in a direct quote
**Sarcasm, for those who have trouble picking it up.
***Sarcasm again.
****Sarcasm for the time being as I like the current neighbours*****
*****Mildly tongue-in-cheek

Friday, 18 October 2013

Who is the fowlest of them all?

Oxford Brookes University disciplines students for hanging dead partridges around halls. Since this is a vegan blog, you can pretty much take for granted that I am not that impressed by the behaviour of the students in question. On the other hand, I'm not clear why it is a disciplinary offence given the context. The setting for the offence was a university hall of residence in which the fridges were most likely packed with parts of dead animals, animal secretions and so on. I could hazard a guess that chicken parts feature quite strongly, purely because these are for some reason seen as less of a challenge to cook than other dead animals or parts thereof. (I have no idea why, when I ate meat this was a moot point due to being too young to use the oven or sharp knives.) Given that partridges are in season, making it legal to kill them, I struggle to see the moral distinction between them and the more-usually-consumed birds available in Tesco. (well, it's either a chicken or Pegasus, that's the risk you take when you dabble with these things) I am guessing that the presence of whole, feathered dead birds was considered a nuisance to housemates and cleaning staff, and possibly to passers-by who noticed the birds hanging in windows. But, again, why are people concerned about this? I doubt the majority of the people in a position to be disturbed are vegan or even vegetarian. (and by the way, if you eat commercial eggs you are involved in the killing of birds, even if you are not eating them directly) Are they disturbed by the honesty of a minority of their animal-eating cohorts, the ones who don't buy into the story that meat appears ready-wrapped on the shelf? Maybe they should consider making some changes to their own lives if so.

Monday, 30 September 2013

What's this 'we' sh*t?*

'We are all part-time vegans now', says a recent headline. Who exactly is the 'we' here? According to the author, one Barbara J. King,

"Have you enjoyed a salad of greens and fresh veggies for lunch recently? Or a dinner of pasta (made without eggs), mixed with olives and tomatoes? If so, even if you ate cheese or meat or fish on other days, you're a part-time vegan."

So that's the constituency sorted. What I can't get from her article is how, exactly, 'vegan' gets applied to people who 'ate cheese or meat or fish on other days'. It doesn't compute. It reminds me of attempts to convince a very young me that bacon was 'almost vegetarian' because it was cured using some sort of plant-derived substance. (Disclosure: I may have wound up eating the stuff. I was nine, it was mixed in with the vegetables and I wasn't getting any more food that day otherwise. Yay for being an adult with the autonomy to avoid crap like that, and for parents growing out of dishing it.)

King draws excessively from Mark Bittman, someone who combines part-time veganism with advocating certain types of animal products. Bittman, like King, fails on one crucial point - why call it vegan? I drink alcohol once or twice a week. Sometimes I make a conscious point of restricting my intake. There are maybe five days in a week where I am not drinking alcohol. By Bittman's and King's reckoning, I am a part-time teetotaller. I would call myself that, except... wait for it... I am not teetotal, due to the aforementioned consumption (avoidable and usually very deliberate indeed) of alcohol. I could avoid alcohol more than once a week, I could seek out orange juice and mineral water and tonic without gin, I could hold off until 6pm - it wouldn't make me the equivalent of someone who avoids alcohol on moral grounds, would be mortified if they consumed some by accident (brandy in cake, wine in sauce etc) and face a dilemma if some alcoholic food item stood between them and death by starvation.

The part-time vegan strikes me as a new incarnation of the flexitarian. Now, flexitarians I can to some extent cope with. I don't like anyone eating animal products and am not clear why these folks need a special word, but they're not claiming to be something beyond what they are. (I do have a problem with 'flexitarians' who whinge about eating vegan/vegetarian food when that's all that's available, surely the point is to adapt one's diet to convenience, and the idea of a 'flexitarian cookbook' bothers me for some reason, but there you go) The idea of part-time veganism bothers me more, because it's explicitly laying claim to a vegan identity while not in any way fulfilling it. Health-based dietary vegans are one thing - food is the biggest source of animal suffering and they are avoiding contributing to it, even if their reasons aren't ones I'd go for. Part-time vegans don't even do that. Consider the people you know who work part-time - chances are there's a bit of variation in how many hours/days they do each week. By this reckoning someone could call themselves vegan if they ate one vegan meal per week. Although having said that, it's the one meaty meal per week that's the real problem.

*Old and tasteless joke about the Lone Ranger. Google is your friend if you want it in full.