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.