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Ellen no longer all in

27 Nov

Ellen Pompeo and Ellen DeGeneres

Since we’re all talking about Ellen today, it must be important to us. I watched the video of her conversation. Here’s what she says: “We have neighbors that have chickens. We get our eggs from those chickens ’cause they’re happy, they’re really happy chickens.”

She never says, “I eat eggs now.” But it sure does sound like it. So what does it mean? I think it means that she’s no longer vegan. Which means we’ve lost perhaps the biggest advocate for veganism. It seemed to me that she or Bill Clinton was the public face of veganism, to the extent it had a public face, and not just a generic hippie or hipster face.

When I first heard the news today I thought wow, I need to write a big post about this. But then when I started reading through the comments on the vegansaurus post my stomach started turning. True, that happens with almost any Internet comments, but it was just plain depressing. Ditto the handful of comments on SuperVegan.

Look, the point of reading Internet comments is to see how stupid our fellow Americans are. And so it’s really not surprising that vegans can be idiots, too. Nor is it surprising when people think people who disagree with them are idiots. (Guilty!)

But what does it really mean if Ellen’s not vegan anymore. I’m guessing it means she won’t talk about it so much anymore, especially when she gets wind of all the vegans trashing her. And I’m guessing that over the years she’s exposed a lot of people to the concept of veganism, and convinced a lot of people to give veganing a try. So to the extent she won’t be doing that anymore, what a drag.

It also seems likely to make some people throw up their hands and start eating eggs again, or dairy, or meat. But hey, those people are adults and we can’t really blame Ellen for that. But it’s kind of depressing that even if she remains an advocate for animal welfare and a critic of factory farming, she’s now moving toward a less restrictive position, in other words, moving in the WRONG direction.

Look, she can do what she wants. And she obviously does. Remember when she took the dog from the rescue agency and then clearly broke their rules by giving it to someone else? And then she went on her show and cried about it? Clearly, the woman is a gigantic asshole. But given that she has been an asshole who has done a tremendous amount for gay rights and veganism, that’s way better than the typical Hollywood asshole who is an asshole about things like blocking access to a public beach.

I know someone in Santa Monica with hens in her backyard. Friend of a friend. This person can not tell you enough times on Facebook how wonderful it is to have these happy chickens in her yard. And yes, if this person is going to eat eggs anyway, this is a way better way to do it than buying them at a supermarket that gets them from a factory farm. But this friend of a friend was never vegan. Ellen was. And now she’s eating eggs again.

I don’t know about you, but if I got some eggs from “happy” chickens (and this HAPPY bullshit is a whole other discussion) and started eating eggs again, then the next time I went to a restaurant where there was nothing at all on the menu for me, BUT there was some pasta that was made with egg, or a veggie burger bun made with egg, well, I know it would be a lot harder for me to be strong if I’ve been eating eggs every day for breakfast.

Since we, the remaining vegans in this world, don’t eat animal products for a reason, a reason we believe strongly in, we obviously want other people to do what we’re doing, so even less pain will come to the animals that provide so much of people’s food. So to the extent Ellen’s action reverses whatever trend there might be, that’s the fear. That Ellen’s move is a step in the wrong direction, IN THE REVERSE DIRECTION. A step that I think can do nothing but lead to MORE animal pain not less.

And that’s why it hurts. That’s why we’re all reacting so strongly to the news today. Because we realize it’s a setback. A huge setback. Our movement, to the extent that it’s a movement, depends on people knowing someone who’s vegan. On being exposed to the concept and the reasons for it. It’s word of mouth not to put this in our mouth. And we lost our most public mouth today.


Vegan Food Porn

31 Oct

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and Hurricane/Superstorm/Hybridcar Sandy is the perfect reason to do it now.

I signed up for VeganMoFo because I thought it would be a good kick in the ass. I’d slacked off on blogging and thought this commitment might reinvigorate me. But in order to make it to the required twenty posts this month, I did a lot of posts about food. And a lot of food posts about restaurants. And a lot of restaurant posts strafed with photos.

Being vegan isn’t silly. Not at all. I mean, anything can be silly, and probably should be silly, but I mean it’s a serious undertaking, for serious reasons, okay never mind! What I’m trying to say is that while being vegan isn’t silly, posting photos of vegan food *can* be.

Now there’s an upside for sure. I think that posting photos on a blog, or on Instagram, or however, can help encourage other vegans, both new and old. I know that when I first went vegan a little over two years ago, and I found Quarrygirl’s L.A. vegan food blog, it was a lifeline that kept me going and made veganing fun and, more importantly, showed me that vegan eating could have the same fun elements as regular eating, including that feeling of discovery that was my favorite part of restauranting.

And now, on Instagram, I see hundreds of photos a day of great meals that give me ideas for what and how to cook. And maybe one day I’ll actually do that!

But what these photos do, even more than all this, is provide a way for us all to support each other. To be a community. Not the kind where you can come over and borrow a cup of bone char free sugar. Please don’t. But to know that other people are doing this too. To let people just starting out see they’re not alone. And to feel like it makes sense to do this. In the face of continual, daily, hourly, resistance. Resistance and ridicule. And bafflement.

Not that people need this community. Sure they could do it alone. Sure they *should* be able to do it alone. But if talking with others makes it easier, then why not. Because that’s kind of what the Internet is, right? A connector of like-mindedness. And maybe it’s not a coincidence that veganism took off in an Internet world. Like so many other isms did. (Isms didn’t flag my spellcheck, btw.) (And neither did btw).

But it’s still pictures of food. Often expensive food. Often food prepared for the luxury of taste. And it’s great that we have this, and that non-vegans can see this, or try it, and be surprised that it exists, and see that the what we eat of What do you eat isn’t cardboard and twigs and sawdust and straw.

But ultimately it still feels sybaritic to me. Lots of people go hungry. Lots of people can’t eat expensive food. Lots of people can’t indulge their fancies. (Or fancy, if they only have one.) Lots of people think of food as something their bodies need, not something their minds need.

And that’s where the porn part comes in. Because what’s porn in the food porn sense? Gratuity? Well then what’s gratuity? Toomuchofitness? Inyourfaceness? Or is it a feeling of taking the receptors in the body and brain that provide pleasure and cramming them full till they can’t recept no more. Because food, like sex, is pretty primal. Eat to survive, sex to reproduce, two things the mind’s designed to make us feel good about so that we keep doing it. I see the relation. I get the idea of indulgence and overindulgence and golden calf and golden tofu and bacchanalia and baconalia and fakinbaconalia.

And so it feels really wrong, and even outrageous, to be posting photos of gourmet food while other people are having to sneak past police lines to see whether their home is a total loss or if they’re merely facing an expensive year-long renovation. Or they’re dead.

I know people go hungry all the time. And get killed or maimed in wars and car crashes and machinery. And have their children die. But I don’t think I can just throw up my hands and say that since bad things happen all the time I might as well go ahead and post my food porn.

Besides, if I throw up my hands, how can I hold my phone and take my picture?

The Bubble

26 Oct

Art credit:


This might be a “just me” thing. I’m not sure. But at 25 months of veganism, I’m realizing that I live in a vegan bubble.

What I mean by that is, my family knows I’m vegan, my friends know I’m vegan, even many of my acquaintances know I’m vegan. I know where to eat, where to shop, what stuff I can buy at the grocery store.

I’m so deep into the bubble that when something comes up where I’m asked to meet some friends at a restaurant that has absolutely nothing for me to eat, it’s shocking. Oh yeah, the rest of the world eats animal stuff. They eat it without thinking about it. The world hasn’t really changed at all, just my one-sevenbillionth of it. Don’t they see? Don’t they get it? How can they keep going about their business and be so happy and miss this giant issue completely?

And they’re not bad people. Many of them are good people. Many of them consider themselves eco, or green, or kind, and yet…

That’s what I mean by the bubble. I forget that even though some days it feels like veganism has caught fire in the last year, it’s not even a brush fire, or even a kitchen fire. It’s a flare-up in a pot. Maybe.

Recently some relatives came to visit. They know I’m vegan. I see them once or twice a year. And I thought they’d have a typical non-vegan reaction. Like the way my mother-in-law will ask, “Are you still on that diet?”

But these relatives started treating me like I was clinically insane. Why would you do this? Why would anyone place restraints on themselves that they didn’t have to place? Nevermind that some of these relatives are religious, and place restraints on themselves that they don’t have to place, they don’t see it that way. It’s certainly not the same thing! That makes sense! And it’s part of their heritage!

So when we go to a restaurant with a million menu choices BUT NOT A SINGLE THING I CAN EAT, and I have to ask the server if the kitchen would be willing to make me an avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwich on rye since I see that all those items are on the menu, these family members look at me like: Why would anyone do this?!?!?!

I live in a bubble. These relatives are the real Americans, not me. These relatives are the real humans, not me. I am an oddball. Living in a bubble.

So be it.

Aren’t you sick of vegans?

26 Oct

Aren’t you sick of them telling you that vegan food can actually taste quite good?

Aren’t you sick of them telling you about how animals are treated?

Aren’t you sick of them ruining your dinner party by expecting you’ll have something for them to eat simply because you invited them?

Aren’t you sick of them always wanting to go to a restaurant where they’ll be able to find something to eat?

Aren’t you sick of them being an ever constant reminder that what you’re doing is fundamentally wrong and immoral?

Aren’t you sick of them reminding you that something you get a lot of pleasure from comes at the price of a living thing?

Aren’t you sick of them politely declining meat that you’re only offering to them because you don’t want them to feel excluded?

Aren’t you sick of them not even telling you that they’re vegan and just sitting there quietly eating their vegetables or whatever other crap food they eat?

Aren’t you sick of them pointing out that egg-laying chickens and dairy cows are treated worse than cattle so you’re better off eating steak than a cheese omelette?

Aren’t you sick of that arrogant way they sit there eating the food they think makes them superior?

Aren’t you sick of them sitting there quietly while you tell them about that great new steak place you went to last night?

Aren’t you sick of their blogs?

Can you buy meat and be vegan?

12 Oct

This is not me.

There’s plenty of feuds on the Internet about who is vegan and who is not. It can get ugly. I’m vegan because I don’t eat honey and you do. You’re not vegan because you wear leather and I don’t. And on and on. To the point that it’s tedious. To the point that I start to feel it does more harm than good because you risk scaring off people who are just trying it out. Who maybe have started eating vegan but still wear leather. While I agree that people who call themselves vegan but then post pictures of fast food veggie burgers that are widely known to be non-vegan on their Instagrams are annoying, I also tend to think that anyone who calls themselves vegan IS, within reason.

But then there’s another issue, and it’s one that bothers me, and like most things that bother me, I’ve managed to successfully push it to the back of my mind and not think about it. Until today. Because this god damn Vegan MoFo commitment means I need to write twenty posts this month!

This is not me either.

So here goes. I’m vegan. I don’t eat honey. I don’t eat bug stuff. I don’t wear leather. Or silk. BUT… I still buy meat for my family. Okay, well not actually meat. I’ve had some effect on my family and they’ve pretty much stopped eating what is usually called meat — beef, chicken, etc. However, they still eat fish. And eggs. And ice cream. And worse, sometimes when I go to the supermarket, I buy it for them. So am I still vegan?

I will say that since I went vegan for myself, I now spend the extra couple of bucks a dozen to get the eggs that are “pasture-raised” in the hope (perhaps naive) that these animals, while still probably leading an awful existence, are at least leading a better awful existence than the ones laying cheaper eggs. Again, I realize that I very well might be kidding myself. But I also buy sushi. And milk. And cheese. And I buy it for my family at restaurants, too. So am I still vegan?

Still not me.

I certainly think of myself as vegan now. And other people think I am because of what I won’t eat. But I’m still buying it. I’m still supporting it by buying it. I’m still sending money that props up the animals-for-food industry.

But that leads to another discussion, one I’ll save for another post, if only because of that dreaded twenty. Which is: how far do I push the rest of my family to change their ways?

You’re giving me vegan food?

5 Oct

Okay, nobody ever really said that to me. But here’s what I was thinking: Let’s say you get invited over to somebody’s place. Maybe it’s their birthday. Maybe they’re having some friends over for dinner or a barbecue. Maybe it’s a party.

Now if you went to the supermarket and bought a dozen cheap cupcakes from the supermarket bakery in one of those clear plastic snap-cases and then scraped off the price with your fingernail, the recipient might think you were cheap or might be very happy with them but they probably would not think you were being selfish.

But what if you went to a vegan bakery or even a non-vegan bakery that has vegan options, and you bought a dozen cupcakes that are both vegan AND way better than the cupcakes from the supermarket. And what if you’ve only been vegan a couple of years so you remember quite well what supermarket cupcakes taste like and even what good non-vegan cupcakes taste like and you know with an amazing degree of certainty that the vegan cupcakes you are bringing are way better than either.

So you show up with your nice box of cupcakes and maybe they’re vegan cupcakes from the non-vegan fancy bakery and your host is happy to see them and thanks you sincerely and then everyone starts enjoying them until your host or another guest notices that you are eating one too.

Now what?

Something would happen like this: You’d see their brains trying to piece it all together and then someone would say: “So… these are vegan?” And you’d say “Yeah” or maybe even “Yeah, they’re good aren’t they?” and your host and their guests would probably say, “Uh, yeah, yeah they are.” AND THEN THEY WOULD ALL HATE YOU.

Am I wrong about this? Wouldn’t they think: How rude! This is really a gift for themselves, not for me! And why are they trying to force their agenda on me? After all, it’s not MY agenda. What kind of gift is it for me if they go and get something that THEY like and can eat?!

And are they right? Because what’s the comparison? Is it to the crappy supermarket cupcakes? Or is their attitude that if you went to a fancy bakery for vegan cupcakes you could have — and should have — gone to a fancy non-vegan bakery and brought me some fancy non-vegan cupcakes.

What I’m getting at is, it’s not really about the taste of the item, is it? It’s about people’s notions of agenda, and gift-giving, and defensiveness. And I can partly understand this. I can understand why the recipient would think the gift should be about them and not the giver. HOWEVER, if the giver was non-vegan and gave a box of fancy non-vegan cupcakes from a bakery they absolutely love and ate one or even two of them themselves, then I think the recipient would not have a problem with that whatsoever. And why?

Is it because they’re in the same club? They both identify as non-vegan. They’re on the same eating team. So it’s viewed as someone sharing something they like with someone they like. And again, for all of this, my premise is that the vegan cupcakes that were brought to the friend’s place are really, really good. The kind that would easily fool non-vegans.

These are the kind of things I spend my time thinking about. And I don’t even like cupcakes!

So good even a meat-eater would hate it

3 Oct

In my review of Sage Vegan Bistro yesterday I mentioned that the food there is so delicious that even a meat-eater would love it. Then I quickly caught myself and realized who was I kidding? Because my experience has been that the only kind of meat-eaters who can like vegan food are the ones who already like it. In other words, I have learned after two years that I am not going to convince any meat eaters that this food is delicious, yet alone comparable to a meat meal or even merely “good.”

Unless a carny is already predisposed to work some vegan meals into their diet for health reasons, then their attitude is: Even if it’s good, why would I eat it when I could eat meat which I know would taste better.  Again, this isn’t all carnys. When I go to Native Foods or Veggie Grill, with their lines that are often out the door, I can see that most of their customers are not vegan or even vegetarian. Okay, I can’t really “see” that but I’ve asked muckety-mucks at both companies and have been told that something like 70 percent of their customers are not vegan nor vegetarian. I feel like once I was even told 90 percent. And that sounds right, especially because most of the people I see on line there are young. (Okay, young to me.) And by young I mean in their 20′s or early 30′s.

And I think this is a generational thing. People that age probably know someone who is vegan, and if not they certainly know what the word means. As opposed to people over 50 who mostly go “Huh? WHAT kind of diet are you on? Never heard of it.”

But I’m not talking about the meaters who are eating at Veggie Grill or Native Foods from time to time. I kind of put them in the “health reason” eaters I mentioned before. I’m talking about people who feel that vegan eating has nothing to offer them. Who feels it’s “all vegetables.” And who quite possibly are scared of vegetables, or who see them as something to eat on the side for nutritional reasons, but who never would see them as something capable of comprising a meal that would be fulfilling in the way a meat meal could be. Or as delicious.

Add to that group a subset who DON’T WANT a non-meat meal to be as good. Because then they’d really have to think about why they’re eating meat, when they know it’s not healthy for themselves nor good for the animals. And I guess at that point it’s back to what seems to be the basic purpose that vegans serve, which is to make people feel threatened. Okay, that’s not fair. They feel threatened AND guilty. Not that they’d ever admit that. They see it as we’re pushing an agenda on them.

If an animal-eater got invited to a pot luck and brought a fish dish, and a carny who hated fish saw the fish dish on the table, and asked what it was, and was told by the person who brought it that it’s a fish dish and the bringer went on and on about how much they love fish, the fish-hater would just be like: I don’t like fish and move on to something they liked. They wouldn’t feel threatened by it. They wouldn’t feel that the fish bringer was trying to push an agenda on them. Which makes me think that part of the problem is that people are afraid.

Afraid to confront what they’re doing, every day, a few times a day, and also afraid that if some vegan food was not only edible but even good or god forbid delicious, then they’d lose one of the main things they need to justify their behavior to themselves.

It’s kind of like the much-discussed “Yeah but I love cheese too much” crowd. How can vegetarians say that to vegans but then not understand the meaters who say “Yeah but I love meat too much.”

I have a friend who has been just fine about me becoming vegan. We still meet up at the places where we both can find something satisfying to eat. But at one point early in my veganism, before I knew how to deal with my carny friends now that I’d gone to the dark side, I suggested a vegetarian Mexican place near his house. This place is not vegan, mind you, it’s veg. You could still get cheese enchiladas, bean and cheese burritos, etc. Well, when I suggested it he got a pained look on his face and said, “I’ve been there before. There’s nothing for me to eat there.” Really? I go to your places all the time and find something I can eat. Can’t it work the other way around even once? What are you afraid of? I know you love pizza. I know you love Mexican food. Do you really need a piece of beef or pork or chicken in every single thing that you eat?

I think, though, that even more than being afraid they would find a vegan meal to be delicious is that they’re afraid it would be disgusting. They feel it would be so gross or so bland or so other that it would make them turn blue and puke. That it would be so vile as to not ever be worth taking a chance and uttering those words that I’m curious if other vegans ever hear from their carny friends: “Hey, let’s go to one of YOUR places! Take me to a vegan place that you love! Show me some vegan food that you think is great — I’m happy to give it a try!”

Now don’t get me wrong. I know some carnys who WILL happily go to a vegan place for a meal. And they are mostly women. The guy meaters I know, some of whom are VERY concerned with eating healthy, still want their plain piece of chicken, preferably grilled with the sauce on the side. It’s funny how many guys I know who, when I was a carny, would not want to go to certain restaurants with me because they’d given up red meat, only to be surprised that I leap-frogged past them into veganism, and now they don’t want to try a vegetarian place because it lacks their white-colored meat. They’ve gone from seeing themselves as a healthy eater and me as unhealthy, to seeing themselves as healthy and me as extreme.

Is this just MY sub-set of friends? Do people have very different experiences with the meaters in their lives? As Cafe Gratitude would say: I Am Curious.

Insufferable MoFo

1 Oct

Vegan MoFo month has come along at just about the perfect time for me. As you can see, I haven’t done any blogging lately, so having to blog 20 times this month will surely get me back into the habit. And also, I recently celebrated my two year veganiversary, so veganing has been on my mind.

For those of you unfamiliar with my blog, it’s been mostly a mix of restaurant reviews and what I like to call my pseudo-philosophy, which is more or less my thoughts on being vegan. When I first started veganing, it changed my perspective on the world like few things have ever done. Lil ol’ meat-eating me didn’t realize how much the use of animals to provide things for humans was ingrained into the global society of peoples. You can meet someone from just about anywhere on the planet and you automatically have something in common: you both eat and use animal products. And I didn’t see this until I stepped outside it.

Even though I haven’t been blogging much lately, I’ve been posting a lot of vegan phoodographs on Instagram @insufferablevegan and I also tweet @InsufferableV

Part of the reason for my slowdown in blogging was that I Settled In and got used to being vegan. And people got used to me being vegan. So the culture clashes slowed down. Like most things, you get accustomed to it. One of the other things that’s happened in the last two years is that veganism seems to have caught fire. Do I only see it this way because I’m vegan, or do the NVA (Non-Vegans of America) also see it this way? I bet they do. It feels like it’s hard to avoid.

I wrote up a whole page when I started my blog about why I went vegan, and I also have an FAQ you can read, but I’ll give you the basics of vegan me if you care. I’m almost half a hundred years old and ate meat and plenty of it for my first 47 years. I didn’t love the way I ate and mostly thought about losing some weight rather than what I was eating. I could lose 10 to 15 pounds in a month or so with some effort, but over the next six months it would find its way back. This happened a few times. Then I met a friend of a friend who is vegan. She seemed so normal, and cool, so why the hell was she doing this weird vegan thing? To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure what the word meant, though I had a pretty good idea. “Are you new-agey?” I asked her, even though she didn’t seem it. “Uh, no” or so came the response. So it got me thinking. Why would a non new-agey person do this? What could possibly be the reason? As I said, I wanted to lose some weight anyway, so I figured I’d try it and see what it was like. I was curious to see the perspective.

And then after about two weeks of this, and eating weird foods, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book and I knew that I couldn’t go back. And it really made me question myself for not figuring it out decades earlier. After all, my friend-of-a-friend-now-my-friend figured it out in college or so, so why was my head in the sand? Or wherever it was. It didn’t speak well of me. Oh, well.

So here I am two years later and, for those of you who might not be vegan but are considering it, let me tell you, it is easy. I mean it. At this point, I feel like I am not really lacking for anything. Plus, being vegan has one of the greatest fringe benefits you could possibly imagine: when you realize there’s something stuck in your teeth, you know it’s not a dead animal!

I’d like to thank a couple of people in addition to the friend who started it all. There are two people whose early support of my blog made me feel I wasn’t just typing to an empty room, and who encouraged me to keep going. They are and @10ftdoll — thanks so much to both of you!

And thanks to those of you finding your way here via MoFo. I hope it’s a fun month!

Is it a thing or the absence of a thing?

23 Jun

This odd thought occurred to me as I was driving my car the other day. Yeah, sometimes I think about vegan stuff while I’m driving. Sometimes while I’m running. It doesn’t strike me as that big a deal that I think about it a lot — what strikes me is that almost everybody else never thinks about it.

But for some reason this thought stuck in my head: Is veganism a thing or the absence of a thing? Of course one of the things I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that words are not always a perfect match with ideas. Words can be arranged to create parallels that might not exist in the real world. (Sure, put “real world” in quotes if you want.) Words can obviously sometimes be inadequate to describe something we experience, or at best can be an approximation. Sometimes, like with wine, it can get downright silly: “Hints of licorice and doormat.”

And so you can posit words in a certain way to frame an argument or win debate points, but if you’re willing to move past point-scoring, do they help our understanding of a topic? Which brings me to my headline.

Let me start by breaking it in two. First, is veganism a thing. On second thought, I’ll think about the second part first: is veganism the absence of a thing? This seems obvious to me: Yes. It is the absence of animal products from our diet, and life. Of course this absence can be a moving target: some are vegans who wear leather, some who eat honey, some who don’t worry about refined sugar (like me) and so on. But I’ve written about that before and I think there’s a sniff test involved that all but the sniffiest can more or less agree on.

So veganism is about removing things from your life. About avoiding them so they don’t enter it in certain ways. The stream of items that enters your body, the array of things that enters your closet and takes turns covering your body. There’s an ascetic quality to it, certainly. And if you don’t feel that, think back to when you started. Do you remember that feeling of deprivation? If not from missing food, then at least deprivation from ease in arranging social situations and navigating menus?

But unlike the asceticism of a monk, a nun, or someone else who’s taken vows to abstain from this or that, veganism has also been turned into a thing. Maybe it always was a thing. After all, the name started with the creation of a “society” I suppose. And there’s value in veganism as a movement. The reason we’re doing it individually, ultimately, is to reduce the suffering of other living creatures. It can only do so much as the actions of one person. As a movement, it cascades and brings change.

But that’s not the only way veganism is a thing. It’s also a fashion. A status symbol. A mark of enlightenment to be revered or mocked. A challenge, a gauntlet, a threat. When I started 21 months ago it wasn’t what it is now. Of course I can’t pull back and completely see it through my two-years-ago eyes but I’m not a complete hermit and I didn’t see it mentioned, adhered to, debated the way it is now. And while some of that is annoying, it’s pretty ridiculous to rue its spread, since the whole point is for it to spread. Were the people who were marching for civil rights in 1958 disappointed at least partially that their movement had become so ubiquitous and less special by 1964?

And again, like I said above, positing it this way: as a thing or the absence of a thing, is a construct of language, of syntax. And is that the only way we can think? I imagine part of our thinking occurs outside of language. How would people listen to jazz otherwise? So maybe this thing-absenceofathing is a manufactured conflict that doesn’t exist. Or maybe it’s so obvious as to not even be worth writing about. The old, “Not deciding is still a decision” point. “Doing nothing is still a choice.”

So where am I going with this? Well, I’m not sure. But I think it’s to: is a vegan someone who does something or who doesn’t do something? Are we doing something by not doing something? Are we not doing something in order to do something? Is it one giant collective hunger strike where we can still eat plenty of really good food?

And what if we became a society where people didn’t eat or use animal products. It could happen. And fast. Like in your lifetime fast. Then veganism would be nothing, right? The doing wouldn’t be the not doing, the doing would be sneaking off to eat a steak. A black market steak.

You don’t hear too much about the suffrage movement anymore. We’re all suffragettes, we’re all abolitionists. Soon veganism will be a thing that is absent.

Settling In

30 May

I’m a couple of weeks away from 21 months vegan and I feel like I’ve hit an equilibrium. I’m used to it. I’m not saying it was hard at first and then I gradually got accustomed to the change. Nope, it was surprisingly, I’d even say shockingly, easy from the beginning. I quickly found enough stuff that I liked to eat and then it became a matter of just filling it in at the edges. In fact, when this former meat lover recently walked into a Mexican restaurant, he was talking about himself in the third person. I mean, he smelled a few dozen strips of steak on the grill and almost gagged. Weird. I guess my body has made some changes, had some pathways re-wired perhaps.

I started this blog because when I stopped eating animal stuff my head was full of thoughts on the matter. I think I’ve now written about most of them. As a result, unintentionally, I see that I’ve been mostly writing about restaurants lately. Maybe this is useful to people in the greater Los Angeles area but is it interesting to those of you in other parts of America or around the world? Should I go back to my pseudo-philosophical essays? Should I keep it a mix of the two?

I also started putting some photos up on Instagram @insufferablevegan — different products I use, meals I cook, lunches I grab here and there that don’t warrant a full “review” or are from places I imagine you already know of and don’t need to read about at length. But I do get a little worried about food-porning it. Yeah this is good for the animals (I think and hope) but to start posting photos of glorious food for worship seems to be rubbing something in the face of people who can’t afford glorious food, whose lives don’t include the possibility of glorious food, who can’t even imagine that there are idiots out there using terms like glorious food, or who have no food at all (and presumably then no Internet).

I’m curious if other people felt a settling in at some point, if you started to feel that this is what you do now, whose friends started to all finally get it that this is what you do now and that it’s not a lark or a diet. And if so, at least for the people who have started this in the last year or two or three, do you think it’s about people getting used to it, or more about the vegan slow train coming? When I started this almost two years ago, when I met a certain supervegan and wasn’t even sure what the word meant, there probably wasn’t too much that could have been more alien to me than changing one of the basic activities of life. When I asked this person who had obviously thought through their connection to the planet way more than I ever had if they were “New Agey” I did it with zero awareness of  how I was the exact idiot who crosses my path every few months and asks me if I’m doing it “for spiritual reasons.”

But what feels most significant is that 21 months ago nobody was using the V word and now everyone seems to be and I think it’s for more than the way that when you learn a new word you suddenly start seeing it everywhere. I think there really is an eruption if not an explosion of vegan awareness, at least in what passes for educated, informed and aware society. There seems to be an interest level in the population that far exceeds the number of people who are actually vegan or vegetarian. People sit across the table from me chewing their chickens and telling me how they admire it or need to try it or are “getting there.”

I think this is a good sign. It’s probably a great sign. I’m old enough to remember when I told people that gays should be allowed to marry and they thought I was institution-worthy nuts. But as the older generations return to the earth and the pushmower of life brings up new ones, the attitudes have changed, and so with this too. (I’m comparing, not equating. Please don’t go ape-shit Mr. Animal Eater when I mention slavery, Nazis, suffrage or gulags. Please don’t ask me why I like animals better than humans. Does it really mean it’s open season on animal torture until the last starving child is fed?)

Thanks to everyone who’s been reading, following, commenting and retweeting.

Hopefully we’ll get to the point where a consensus is reached on the barbarism. And hopefully eating this way will let me live long enough to see it.

An open-faced letter to Jonathan Gold

24 Mar

Dear Mr. Gold,

I’m not sure what an open letter is but I think this counts as one.  As I’m sure you recall, I tweeted you a 2007 video showing abominable conditions at a Canadian foie gras producer and you replied back to me and said that this video was “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and that “all 3 US producers are impeccable.”  Then I sent you a recent video of conditions at the three U.S. foie gras producers – with some of the footage being as recent as late 2011 – and you went silent. It wasn’t surprising in a way, given that there’s no definition of “impeccable” that would allow for the conditions seen in that footage.

But don’t you think you owe it your 30,000 followers on Twitter whom you told that the U.S. producers are “impeccable” to then either defend those producers or admit you were wrong? Don’t you think it’s cowardly to accuse me of sending you “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” and then when I send you a new video that’s current and couldn’t be more relevant, I’m met with radio silence?

I also found it surprising that you used the word “propaganda” – such a meaningless word thrown about by both sides in any argument. Propaganda is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Even facts can count as propaganda. If your purpose was to be harsh by using such a word, then I don’t mind, since I was harsh in my first few tweets to you as well. But if that was a heartfelt use of the word then I find it very disingenuous.  Especially after the second video I sent you.

I was also troubled by what was implied in your tweets, which was that you DO have concern for the animals that become foie gras and that that’s why you were certifying the U.S. producers as “impeccable.” But DO you really care? Does this mean that you always check the provenance of foie gras before partaking? Does it mean you did not eat foie gras a few years ago when conditions were like those seen in the video you called “outdated”?

I took a look at the menu for Umamicatessen, where you enjoyed the foie gras donut featured in your adoring review in the Los Angeles Times (which didn’t even mention that foie gras is soon to be illegal in the state of California, though that’s even more your cowardly editors’ fault than your own). Well, it turns out the menu for Umamicatessen does not describe the provenance of the foie gras used in their donut. Did you ask them? I would guess you did not, even though your tweet to me suggested that you ARE concerned about such things. Did you make a reasonable effort to guarantee that the foie gras you were about to consume came from one of the three “impeccable” U.S. producers?

Aren’t you being a phony here, Mr. Gold? Trying to act like you indeed are concerned about the welfare of these animals and the conditions at the various production farms, and yet not really checking, and possibly never being concerned enough to check before partaking?

I also imagine that you roll your eyes at the upcoming ban on foie gras and see it as the work of pandering politicians and a misinformed and hysterical electorate, without stopping to think that this was not a measure to ban all meat, which would have gotten very little support, but a measure to ban a form of meat that is created in a way that is particularly cruel for the animals whose livers are taken.

As I said in one of my tweets to you, I wonder if you have a family cat or dog and if you’ve ever taken a moment to think about how you’d feel if someone shoved a long metal pipe down its throat the way that foie gras producers do to their animals.

Your writing is all about pleasure, about how food, well-prepared, can afford us one of the greatest delights that humanity has to offer. But do you ever take a moment to think about the lives of the animals that become this food? I know that’s tough to do, Mr. Gold, because I was a meat eater for close to half a hundred years. I was in denial, too. I occasionally heard about or saw the undercover videos revealing conditions at factory farms, but I chose to ignore them or to imagine them to be isolated incidents. Most likely I simply tuned it out before it was ever capable of gaining a toehold in the part of my brain that thinks about things.

But I was not a food writer for a major American newspaper, yet alone a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I did not have the professional obligation to consider the topic from multiple angles and in great detail.

What you are is an enabler. You enable people to view the mistreatment of these animals as something they needn’t ethically concern themselves with, to view it as something insignificant when compared to the end that justifies these means:  a sumptuous donut. After all, here is a prize-winning writer at a bastion of American journalism giving the continued consumption and treatment of these animals his imprimatur.

You spend your days seeking out new and mind-blowing tastes, which is fine, hey, it sounds like a great job, but think about what it rides on the back of. I stopped eating animal products after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book. Perhaps you consider that to also be “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” never mind the fact that Safran Foer, one his generation’s leading literary figures, took two years out of his life to research and write this book.

And Mr. Safran Foer, to my knowledge, is not a vegan. He is a self-described vegetarian, and according to his book, an on and off one at that. Perhaps you have read his book, which would come as a pleasant surprise. If not, you should, unless you fear, as I think you may, that it would lead you to stop eating meat and perhaps all animal products.

While I don’t eat meat anymore I am not someone who actively advocates for others to stop. My family and friends still eat meat and I do not attempt to proselytize them. I only bothered tweeting you in the first place because I found your foie gras donut orgasm to be so brazen and defiant and, well, hard-hearted. It was, to my mind, a political statement: I will eat whatever I god damn please.

I have tried to refrain in this letter from making analogies. The atrocities carried out on factory farms on a regular basis can be compared to many things, but those who defend meat are quick to accuse those who compare things of equating things. I’m sure you and they might even take offense at the use of the word “atrocities” to describe such treatment, thinking that word should only be reserved for human mistreatment. But if you’re going to throw around the word “propaganda” like a political hack on a cable news show then I have no problem using a word like “atrocities.”

As I mentioned in my tweets, I’ve been a big fan of your writing for years. Not that you need me to tell you that; you’ve got thousands of fans and a Pulitzer Prize. But don’t you believe that such a prize, especially a journalistic prize, comes with obligations and responsibilities, especially concerning honesty? And not just being honest with me, I wouldn’t expect you to care about that, but I’m talking about being honest with those 30,000 followers you told about the “impeccable” U.S. foie gras production. I can’t imagine that any of those 30,000 followers who watched the second video I sent you would think those conditions were anything but appalling, yet alone “impeccable.”

One of the major changes underway at this time in America, Mr. Gold, is a reconsideration of how we treat the animals that become our food. I wouldn’t expect you to be as contemplative a meat-eater as someone like Mark Bittman, whose recent New York Times columns have been in the vanguard of this current reassessment, but to blast out a blowhard huff about “outdated, irrelevant propaganda” when you and your bloodied-apron friends are about the only ones left defending this fort seems like the behavior of a spoiled little child.

If you consider yourself an intelligent person, which you no doubt do, and which I no doubt consider you to be as well, then the problem here must not be intellectual but rather psychological. Beyond the fact that you make your living writing about food, the great proportion of which comes from animals, there seems to be an unhealthy refusal to reconsider your current positions.

Were you to begin to question the ethics of eating meat, or even the tiny fraction of meat consumption that is foie gras, perhaps you fear your whole world would unravel. Foodie friends would abandon you. The industry you embrace would brand you a traitor. You would have to, gasp, refrain from certain things you find to be delectable! But delectability at what cost?

It seems pretty clear what direction the world is moving in, and on what side of history you will be left on, and there were no doubt many Pulitzer Prize winners who won for columns that would now make our skin crawl in 2012.

Again, not that you care about that. But you should care about the obvious. You should be better than the typical American who eats meat out of habit, who doesn’t think much at all about their food or where it comes from or how it’s made, who isn’t one of the country’s leading food figures, and who spend most of their lives eating food you probably wouldn’t even want if trying to survive a plane crash.

Take some time, Mr. Gold. Re-think your positions. Then please get back to me. Thanks.

Animal Acres is the place to be

14 Feb
Animal Acres 
5200 Escondido Canyon Road
Acton, CA 93510

I went for a tour at Animal Acres. You can do that on a Sunday. At 11 and 1. And Sunday’s the perfect day to go, because it’s only a 40 minute or so drive from LA. And you get to see animals, and dirt .

Animal Acres is now part of Farm Sanctuary. It’s their third location, after the granddaddy in Watkins Glen, NY and another in Northern California.  And their mission is to rescue farm animals, or take in rescued farm animals, or “farmed animals” as they called them, or something. I’m close at least to their mission. I bet it’s on their website.

Anyway, they’ve got turkeys and ducks and roosters and hens and goats and sheep and pigs and calves and cows and steers and bulls and horses and nice staffers who give good tours. They’re kind of gentle on the whole factory farming thing in their docent-speak, or maybe I just know a docent amount about that already so it didn’t surprise me, or maybe they keep it toned down for the kids. Though I did hear someone say they used to show a video with some factory farm abuse in it and that they might resume showing the videos as part of the tour again.

Which made me wonder about the best way to go about introducing this concept to people who might not be familiar with it, particularly if there are kids around. Do you shock them, or go easy? There’s something to be said for shocking. If people eat this stuff, they should know how it’s made, and how the animals are treated. But maybe they already know. And maybe shocking them pushes them away. And maybe shocking is like shaming, and people don’t want to be shamed, so it doesn’t work. Not sure. Is it better to plant a seed about plant-based food, and what it prevents, and hope it takes root. (Smack me, please.)

And what about the kids? Now kids to me, are often the ones who get it. As Jonathan Safran Foer says, kids see that chicken is chicken. It’s as we get older, and realize that society excuses the abuses we recognize as children, that we shrug and think: well, my parents are eating animal stuff, and my teachers are, and my (other important “moral” and “ethical” and “good” people in my life) are so it can’t be so bad for me to do this also, right?

Indifference is learned. Repression is learned. Denial is learned. (And I was nothing if not a quick learner.) So what’s the best approach to unlearning folks? It seems like getting up close to these animals, even petting a pig or a calf, is supposed to help. And maybe it does. Maybe the combination of being with these animals, and hearing how they’re treated, is enough. I don’t know. I didn’t ask any other visitors on the tour if they eat meat and if they’ll give it a second thought now. I hope so, of course. But I’m not sure.

I’ll say one thing about the experience though (even though I already said one thing about it) it was nice to be around so many vegans. It seemed like most everyone working there was vegan, and that was a kind of cool feeling. (If you don’t know what “cool” means, ask your mom.) I don’t tend to have a lot of like-mindedness on this topic in my life. Pretty much none. However, the people who work there have plenty of like-mindedness, and didn’t need more of it from me, much as I was enjoying it from them. But they were great about answering questions, and explaining how the animals came to be there.

Some of the animals like pigs came from things like 4-H and Future Farmers of America, where kids raised pigs and then didn’t want to see them prematurely killed for food so they called up Animal Acres and asked them to save them. Some of the animals come from local humane societies, including a goat that the cops found in a bag in the backseat of a car whose drivers were on the way to conduct an animal sacrifice. And there were a couple of horses that were once thoroughbred racers, and some calves that were taken in after “a girl tried to rescue them from a veal truck.”

If you don’t know this, and I didn’t, pigs are big. You see one walking around, it might as well be a hippo. And you can’t imagine this thing in front of you, this giant living thing, having to spend its life in a metal cage unable to even turn around. That message was there, but they didn’t rub it in your face. There wasn’t a lot of, “So don’t eat ham” or “Bacon is torture.”

But they did explain how there wouldn’t be a veal industry if there wasn’t a dairy industry that threw off male calves as a byproduct of milk production. And they did explain how a dairy cow will usually live to be 20 if left unkilled or even as old as 40, not the ripe young age of 5 or 6 that they’re usually killed at now. So I did learn stuff. Particularly that weather and whether have a secret brother: wether — a neutered male goat or sheep. Did you know that word already? I didn’t. And I am going to kick some mean ass the next time I play Boggle.

All in all it was well worth the drive, and might be an especially good — and gentle — way to make some non-vegan friends or family re-think what they eat. And like I said, it’s a quick drive on a Sunday and it’s right off the 14. So go have yourself a nice day up in Acton. Wether permitting.

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

31 Jan

In keeping with my tradition of discussing books years after they’ve been published, I bring you “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. There’s a few things I want to get out of the way before I tell you how much Pollan annoyed me with his attitude toward animals and how it reached a point where I couldn’t believe the things this jackass was saying and doing. The things I want to get out of the way are: this is a great book, he is a great writer, and if you haven’t read it you should and almost must.

There. I feel better. Now on with the dissection.

Pollan’s book is divided into three parts. He visits a corn farmer in Iowa who grows for big ag, he visits a small farmer in Virginia whose farm is self-sustaining and designed to follow the natural order of animal and plant life, and then in the last part of the book he hunts and gathers.

Along the way he gives a pretty detailed description of the factory farm system, the big ag system, and the big organic system. And he eats a lot of meat.

He eats at McDonald’s, he kills and cooks a chicken from the small farm, and he hunts down a wild pig which, with the help of a friend, he butchers and then cooks and eats.

He leaves no doubt that he’s horrified by the treatment of animals in the factory farming system, and he throws off information I’d never heard before despite reading a lot on this topic. (He says that McDonald’s tolerates a five percent error rate when it comes to cows still being conscious as they’re cut apart on the assembly line. Almost 70 head of cattle move down one of these assembly lines PER MINUTE, and according to Pollan, McDonald’s permits 1 in 20 of them – we’re talking THREE PER MINUTE – to still be conscious when the chain saws start their work.)

In a chapter entitled “The Ethics of Eating Animals” he speaks to Temple Grandin, famous for designing the ramps and other parts of the slaughtering process, who tells him that when it comes to slaughtering cattle “there is the pre-McDonald’s era and the post-McDonald’s era – it’s night and day.” Pollan then says, “We can only imagine what night must have been like.”

And yet despite this information, Pollan says, “In the end each of us has to decide for himself whether eating animals that have died in this manner is okay. For my part, I can’t be sure, because I haven’t been able to see for myself.” HUH? You just heard about the process from the woman who designed it – do you think conditions might actually be BETTER than what she’s telling you? If not, what difference does it make if you see it for yourself or not, except for the obvious difference which is that you don’t have the image of live cows being chain-sawed to make you think twice before cutting into your next steak at The Palm.

He then goes on to compare the industrial slaughterhouse to the small family farm where he personally slit the throats of some chickens, and says it makes him realize why the small farm’s accessible-to-customers slaughtering area “is such a morally powerful idea.” And this reveals perhaps Pollan’s greatest weakness. Whenever he does something that I imagine most vegans would believe is immoral, he brings up the issue of morality to justify his actions.

How is being able to watch your chicken-provider slaughter your chicken a morally powerful idea? What he really means every time he says “moral” is “guilt-assuaging.” But his powers of denial don’t let him see it that way. To him, being able to see HOW the chicken is killed also provides the reason WHY it’s okay to kill it. But there’s really two separate things going on here. One is the issue of humane slaughter. To the extent that the chicken-farmer’s method is relatively quick and complete, then yes, it’s better than a method that leads to a drawn-out, excruciatingly painful life and death. But a painless death doesn’t equal a morally acceptable death. (And I’m not willing to concede that these deaths are painless or even near-painless.) Without explicitly saying so – since it’s probably hard for him to let his thoughts and conscience focus on this too clearly – he conveys that it’s acceptable to take this life because it’ll taste good when he eats it. The animal’s right to be free from such a killing doesn’t enter into it, yet alone a human’s right to kill another animal for this purpose. The deeper, more difficult and vexing questions aren’t even considered here.

Peter Singer and other living thing.

Not that the rights of animals are never discussed. Far from it. He conducts his argument against veganism by attacking the animal rights thinkers, particularly Peter Singer. He accuses Singer and others of  “argument from marginal cases.” But what’s so striking is that he’s plainly guilty of doing that very same thing.

He says that the creatures on the small farm he stayed at for a week are clearly happy, while admitting that this is “but a speck on the monolith of modern agriculture.” Yet he goes on to use this small farm as evidence that “animal rightists betray a deep ignorance about the workings of nature.”  Who’s arguing from the marginal case now?

He goes on to say, “The surest way to achieve the extinction of the species would be to grant chickens a right to life.” Again, he is arguing from the margins. Let’s get to the point where the factory farms and their billions of tortured chickens are gone and every chicken is raised the way they are on the bucolic farm he visited and then we can have this conversation.

He adds that, “Predation is deeply woven into the fabric of nature, and that fabric would quickly unravel if it somehow ended, if humans somehow managed to ‘do something about it.’”  But is factory-farming part of the fabric of nature? Is it natural predation that maintains a healthy eco-system? It is the opposite. And let’s not cite bison hunting as an excuse to eat meat when if I’m not mistaken that’s not how most meat is currently obtained.

I suppose you could say that I too am guilty of arguing from marginal cases, by constantly returning to the factory farm, and wanting to continue to use that as the basis by which meat-eating is judged, and I guess that’s true, if 99 percent of something is considered the margin.

He refuses to allow that the animal rights movement has developed and grown specifically IN RESPONSE to the factory farm. Thus it is intellectual fraud to keep returning to ancient predation and tiny pastoral farms to find examples to refute the “animal rightists.” His romantic notion of food is a relic, and it’s built upon a sea of horror, which while he acknowledges, he refuses to connect to his foodieism and his defensiveness of his continued consumption of animal products.

He insists on seeing animal rights as absolutist, because of course it’s easier to argue from there. But take Freedom of Speech, which the Bill of Rights says, “shall not be abridged.” But of course the Supreme Court has carved out numerous exceptions to these unabridgeable rights because society needs to be able to function without — to use a trite example — screams of fire in a movie house.

If a pitbull grabs your toddler in its jaws, Pollan would practically have you believe that animal rights advocates would insist you simply shrug and start preparing funeral arrangements.  Or that you couldn’t swat that mosquito before it took your blood and left you a souvenir welt. I know I’m repeating myself but it’s flat-out stunning how he mocks arguing from marginal cases and then proceeds to do it for the entire chapter without even a hint of self-awareness. “Animal rights’ exclusive concern with the individual might make sense given its roots in a culture of liberal individualism, but how much sense does it make in nature?” By now, even though he would deny it as a complete bastardization of his thinking, one can only draw one conclusion, which is that he regards factory farming as “nature” and intends to defend his continued consumption of animal products on that basis.

He says that animal rights “could only thrive in a world where people have lost contact with the natural world.” Well, people HAVE lost touch with the natural world and that’s why animal rights IS thriving. There was no Underground Railroad without slavery!

It seems to me that until we are in a situation where the small-farm meat that Pollan saw and produced himself when he personally slit chicken’s throats is widely available we don’t need to have this argument. A conversation in 1943 about whether the statement “Jews are good at business” is a compliment to Jews or an example of anti-Semitism would certainly not have been an excuse to let the Holocaust rage on. Pollan recognizes factory farm conditions for the nadir of humanity that they are, yet he still eats at McDonald’s in the book. And while I’m sure that’s not his usual favorite dining spot, how often does he know the providence of the eggs used in the gourmet items I’m sure he consumes at fine restaurants on a regular basis. Same for the items he makes or consumes when he’s home.

I’ve no doubt someone like him, a foodie, especially one with an open eye to factory farm conditions, goes out of his way when he can to buy from small farms where he thinks and hopes the conditions didn’t veer into evil. But what’s the percentage of his eggs, dairy and meat that’s produced that way?

If he’s made a total commitment to ONLY eat eggs, meat and dairy whose sourcing he’s certain of, then I don’t have nearly as big of a problem with what he’s doing. At that point, he’s doing much more than most people alive today will ever do. But I find it hard to believe that’s the case.

The final part of the book is about “hunting and gathering.” He gathers mushrooms and he hunts a wild pig, which I found confusing given his earlier statement about the potential extinction of chickens.

He bases his whole justification for eating meat on the domestication of the animals and the fact that the chickens on the bucolic farm wouldn’t have gotten the chance to live what he believes to be a good life if not for their being raised for food, and then he goes out and shoots a wild pig. And he says the pigs seem to roam in a group of six, with maybe three such groups in the forest. So thinning the herd can’t be a justification.

So then what’s the justification for killing one of these pigs, which he’s already described as more intelligent than dogs? What’s the justification for the sorrow that might come to the mother or baby of the pig he killed? The justifications he offered for eating meat aren’t even recalled and then tossed aside – they’re long forgotten.

He stretches to justify his hunting of pigs by saying, “They rip up great swaths of land with their rooting, exposing it to erosion and invasive weeds.” This is exactly the kind of natural process he glorifies earlier in the book, but now, needing to feel better about shooting an intelligent animal in the face, he grasps for pejoratives like “erosion” and “invasive.”

Later, while butchering and eating the pig with his friend, he says, “Eating it at Angelo’s kitchen table, even amid the raw cuts of meat arrayed on the counters around us, I suddenly felt perfectly okay about my pig—indeed, abut the whole transaction between me and this animal that I’d killed two weeks earlier.” Well I’m glad you felt okay about “your” pig — and what exactly was this transaction between you and “your” animal? That you get to eat it and in exchange it gets to be killed?

He adds, “Now it was all a matter of doing well by the animal, which meant making the best use of its meat by preparing it thoughtfully and feeding it to people who would appreciate it.” How does this do well by the animal? Once the animal is dead, it doesn’t give a shit if it gets eaten or tossed into a Dumpster or thrown into the sea. What you really mean is that it was a matter of doing right by you, or more specifically, you’re conscience, by not feeling that you wasted its life since you were the one to take that life away from it.

This whole chapter is a serious of ridiculous statements. He goes to such great lengths to justify and rationalize his consumption of meat and other animal products that you feel like you’re his shrink sitting there while he prattles on and on in a manner that you can’t imagine even he finds convincing.

–  “Another thing cooking is, or can be, is a way to honor the things we’re eating.” Please, don’t anyone ever honor me this way, okay?

–  “But cooking doesn’t only distance us from our destructiveness, turning the pile of blood and guts into a savory salami, it also symbolically redeems it, making good our karmic debts: Look what good, what beauty can come of this!” So killing someone would be okay if we made a beautiful painting with their blood?

– “…it was cheering to realize just how little this preindustrial and mostly preagricultural meal had diminished the world. My pig’s place would soon be taken by another pig.”  This is pig as commodity, as widget. Otherwise you can say the same about human life. I killed this baby, but another baby will be along soon enough.

– “Under the pressure of the hunt, anthropologists tell us, the human brain grew in size and complexity.” How is this an argument for meat-eating? Certainly nowadays it’s much harder to hunt down a vegan meal than to find a meat one, no?


Instead it’s page after page of convoluted rationalizations not worthy of the intelligent person who wrote the rest of this book.  But hey, that’s easy for me to say, I don’t eat animals anymore. And it’s also “easy for me to say” in the sarcastic way because I did the exact same thing he did, for almost half a hundred years.

I think Pollan’s problem, which goes completely unacknowledged by him, is that as a foodie he wants to hang with a certain crowd. He’s a celebrity in that crowd, and he enjoys that status, I’m sure. He’s not about to invite the disdain and wrath of that crowd and risk exclusion by turning down much of what they offer, or eating side dishes when joining them at “fine” restaurants, or, god forbid, pointing out to them as they raise the fois gras to their lips that they really shouldn’t be doing that. That it’s MORALLY WRONG to be doing that. And that they all need to think twice about making any dish that requires cracking a few thoughtlessly acquired eggs.

Which raises the question of whether Pollan, someone whose eyes are no longer averted, someone aware of the full horrors of how, in his own words, all but a speck of current food is produced by a system that regularly, intrinsically inflicts brutal torture on the animal lives used to produce it, is worse than someone who either doesn’t know or more likely sort of knows or has a pretty good sense of it, but shuts themselves off from further consideration of the matter.

Eat your meat and shut up.

13 Jan

Can you look me in the eye and say that?

Whether it’s on big blogs like elephantjournal or sites like YouTube, I keep seeing a ton of things with titles like, “Why I’m eating meat again in 2012!”  Each one features an incredibly defensive former vegan offering a million reasons why they’re sick of vegans and how it’s impossible to satisfy the extremist rules of the vegan police and how for health reasons it’s become crystal clear they need to resume their meat consumption.

Maybe there are some people who have started eating sheep again sheepishly, but what I’ve seen have been big loud boasts. I don’t get it.

I mean, I get it that people might want to start eating meat again. There’s sacrifice involved in being vegan. For some people, it’s the taste of meggairy (meat, eggs and dairy) that they miss. For others it’s the social cost. Or maybe it’s the nuisance factor, or the feeling of being constrained by rules.

I’m not bothered by any of those but the social, which I’ve written about already. But what strikes me about these people who are returning to meggairy is that most of them use the language of people who would never go vegan and who revel in heaping disdain upon us.

Self-righteous assholes is one of the ways we’re described. Hey, I can be a self-righteous asshole, both before I was vegan and now, but where is the anger coming from? They also attack us for our rigidity and go to great lengths to let us know that veganism simply isn’t the right choice for everybody.

My guess is that these are personalities that need to try something new every few years. That need to change. That enjoy the feeling of doing something different. Because how hard is it to really go vegan in the first place? It wasn’t all that hard for me – someone who ate meat for almost half a hundred years, someone who didn’t really like vegetables all that much, someone who will oddly refer to themselves in the third person all of a sudden.

But here’s what I really don’t get: If you were vegan, or even vegetarian, for a long time, as many of these reverts seem to have been, then I can’t imagine you aren’t aware of the horrors of industrial animal production. Yet what’s missing from the rants that I’ve seen is any kind of acknowledgment along the lines of, “But I will only eat animals I feel were raised as cruelty-free as possible,” or “I will never eat fast food or any other meat whose origins I can’t ascertain,” or “I still will only eat animal products occasionally.”

It’s quite the opposite. It’s not only an explanation of why it’s no longer something they want to do, but rather it’s an indictment of anyone who continues to do it. We’re all just a bunch of hypocrites. Being vegan doesn’t work. We should worry about ourselves and stop judging others.

I imagine there’s a number of reasons why people go vegan in the first place, and a number of reasons why they go back, I just thought the reverts would go back to animals with their tails between their legs, not with their claws out and teeth bared.

But while I recognize that people go vegan for a number of reasons, I feel that people stay vegan for one reason: what they’ve learned about the lives of these animals makes them feel they simply can’t go back. And I wonder if the people who go back to meat ever watched any of the movies like “Earthlings” or read any of the books like “Eating Animals” or if instead being vegan was just another fad to them – a way to lose some weight or boost their heart health. Hey, that was me once, but then I read the books. Until I did I didn’t know if I could keep it up but after I did I knew I could never go back.

Eating animal products is far from illegal in this country, in fact it usually feels like it’s the opposite: it’s what our country wants us to do, not what it doesn’t want us to do. What I’m getting at is that these reverts can do what they want. If they learned enough about animal treatment to avoid animals that are victims of the industry’s worst horrors, then in a way they have returned to the carny world as better people.

Maybe it’s a good sign that they feel the need to lash out as they exit. Maybe it means they realize the enormity of what they’ve chosen to once again do. And that’s still a realization that almost everyone you know doesn’t realize.

So go ahead, reverts. Unleash your diatribes about how your body needs meat to function well. How it’s not a matter of eating wisely or supplementation but rather how there’s an optimal level of wellness for your body that simply can’t be achieved without meat. I’m not a doctor; maybe you’re right. Only you know how hard you tried to make it work for you.

Do what you want and eat what you want. But please, for just a minute, try to remember how you felt when you were on the receiving end of these attacks. Think about how disturbed it is for you to now be launching the same vicious criticisms that once made you question what you were doing or made what you were trying to do more difficult.. Try to remember how when you heard these criticisms, they rang like a bell of defensiveness and ignorance and self-righteous cruelty. Because that’s exactly what you’re doing now.

Meating of the minds

31 Dec

I went to a dinner party last night. Maybe a dozen people. All very nice. I knew about half of them previously. I was the only vegan. And the hostess, a friend of a friend more than a friend, and a lovely person, went out of her way to make, in addition to chicken, a wonderful vegan Moroccan Stew (from the “New Recipes from  Moosewood Restaurant” cookbook) as well as some vegan couscous.

And as I sat around the table listening to everyone talk, including three guests born in Europe but living in LA for more than a decade, and watching them enjoying themselves and the chicken, ice cream, cake, etc., I had a thought: What the world has in common is meat.

You can be from just about any part of the world, speak just about any language, and what you instantly share with pretty much any other human being you might encounter in a social, business or random setting is that you both enjoy eating animals. It’s so unquestioned, so unremarked upon as to be remarkable, but only to someone who doesn’t do it. Otherwise, it doesn’t even crack the plane of thought. It’s assumed. Why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t?

Longtime vegans are thinking: duh, you’re just noticing this now? Well, yeah. I’m 15 months in, and while being vegan doesn’t feel new anymore, there are still new things that strike me about it. And this hit me right between the eyes (though not as hard of a shot between the eyes as one from a bolt gun designed to stun me so someone could cut me up with a chainsaw).

It barely even came up that I don’t do this thing that’s so normal to do.

As I passed the chicken without taking a piece someone asked, “Oh, are you vegetarian?” I just said yes, without saying, “No, I’m vegan.” Because people don’t want to hear it. They’re having a good time. And their good time is being supported by the back office, where, 50, 100, 500 miles away, animals are being mistreated and tortured to facilitate this pleasant interaction.

And I started thinking, at a meal like this, where I was enjoying some very good vegan food made by my very thoughtful carny host, could I really have a good time? Could it really be a pleasant experience for me? And the answer was: not like it used to be. Without a doubt, it took some of the fun of a dinner party away. A type of social interaction that I’ve enjoyed for decades felt a little off, like there was an elephant in the dining room (the elephant being a chicken). But much like the talking frog, it was an elephant-chicken that only I could see.

I guess I’m a coward for not saying, “No, I’m vegan” and possibly precipitating a conversation of unknown duration on the topic. But they were being nice by accommodating me, right? To talk about certain things at their meat party is impolite, unpleasant. In the nearly half a hundred years I’ve walked this planet, I don’t think I’ve come across a subject that people don’t want to talk about as much as this one. Meat facilitates easy conversation, veganism kills it, because there’s nothing that can ruin a meat-facilitated conversation like discussion of the meat itself.

And then it hit me: if strangers are going to get together and eat animals — strangers of different backgrounds, different viewpoints, different political parties, different religions —  at least let it be an out-in-the-open source of unity, an acknowledged bit of common ground. Maybe it could end the troubles in the Middle East and around the world. You’re a Muslim, you’re a Christian and you’re a Jew, but we all eat meat. Let’s build on this thing we all share and love so much! You’re a leftist Democrat and your father-in-law’s a right-wing Republican but you both love some barbecue spare ribs. Instead of ignoring that you’re eating an animal that was tortured to provide you with a few minutes of pleasure, embrace it! We have our differences, sure, but we both don’t want to think about the source of our food or the pain that it felt or the immorality of our actions, and that’s a huge thing that we share!

Once meat-eaters begin this conversation can world peace (for humans) be that far off?

Is “almost vegan” almost as good?

25 Dec

I know someone who was a carnivore until recently but now describes herself as “almost vegan.” It’s a term I’ve seen all over the Internet. And I’m wondering, if your life is 99 percent free of animal products, is that 99 percent as good as being 100 percent free?

I think I can see the arguments lining up. To what I’ll call “hardcore vegans” the answer is no. If you eat a bit of fish now and then, an egg once in a while, some dairy not to make a fuss at someone else’s house, you’re complicit. You don’t get to pick and choose and only do it when it’s most convenient. You’re either in or you’re out and if you’re out you don’t get to call yourself vegan.

On the other side, if the point of going vegan (or the main point, or even a point) is to eliminate animal suffering, then the answer is a resounding yes. For if everyone, or even half or a quarter or a hundredth of everyone, eliminated most animal products from their life, it would greatly diminish the number of animals moving through the gulag. (Isn’t that the hope of Meatless Monday? And is Meatless Monday a bad idea if it just lets people who eat meat the other six days feel better about themselves and less guilty?)

So it becomes a matter of ideology vs practicality. And it’s hard to get righteous about practicality. You also see a lot on the Internet about “abolitionist vegan” being the only acceptable position. For example, I’ve seen Rutgers law professor Gary L. Francione criticize the Humane Society and Peter Singer and others for their “animal welfare” approach, saying it’s not morally justifiable to simply improve the conditions of the animals being killed.

Gary L. Francione

I agree with Francione that we have to stop and that anything short of stopping is immoral — which I guess makes me an “abolitionist vegan” — but I also feel that it’s going to take a long time till we get to that point, and that in the meantime, it’s better if any type of reduction in animal suffering can occur. So am I on both sides then? Am I being a coward and not really choosing either side?

Maybe the idea is that if those on the regulation/Humane Society side came over to the abolitionist side, that animal use would end more quickly. But would it mean that until the day it ended, animals would suffer more than they would without the improvements the regulation side brings about, even if these improvements, when seen on the whole, are small?

I think that ultimately, I am of the belief that both sides can exist. (And of course both sides DO exist.) For example, I don’t agree with everything the ACLU does, but I’m glad they’re around. Similarly, I am glad someone like Francione exists to press his arguments, which I believe in, but I’m also glad for those who can improve the conditions of animals until Francione’s position can win the day. But here’s the hard part: I don’t want to say, “EVEN IF THAT MEANS SLOWING DOWN THE DAY THAT FRANCIONE’S POSITION PREVAILS.” And that’s the rub, right? Justice delayed is justice denied, or something like that?

So I think it ultimately comes down to people who are realists vs the kind of people who wind up changing the world, who are not “realists” because if they were realists they would see others’ reality and not their own and perhaps their own is more real than the realists’. Just because I think that the abandonment of animals as a common food source will take a hundred if not hundreds of years, maybe it will only take twenty years and would never happen at all without people like Francione to push it through. Someone born in 1885 was 19 when the Wright Brothers flew their airplane and 84 when humans reached the moon. One lifetime. Things can happen fast. Opinion is generational and can change suddenly. Most people in their 20s probably know a vegan while most people in their 70s have probably never even heard the word (at least if they never watched Oprah). Who’s to say what can and can’t happen?

The Lunar Module and the Wright military plane being prepared to be moved out of the Arts and Industries Building, August 1975. Credit: Smithsonian Institution Archives

I guess I’m giving Francione more than the moral position here, I’m also saying he might have the boots on the ground realistic factual position too, more so than the realists who, if realizing they might not have the moral high ground, certainly feel they are the more realistic of the two sides. Compromise may be simply slowing down the arrival of a time when opinion shifts on this issue. And the tidal wave won’t come without people like Francione anchoring that position, to knot some nautical metaphors.

In other words, maybe practicality is impractical. Maybe incremental improvements make improvements incremental.

And yet I’d still rather someone be “almost vegan” than full-on carny. So is 99 percent vegan — assuming there could even ever be agreement on what 100 percent vegan even is, though for these purposes it’s enough that most of us probably agree what it is not, which is someone who eats meat, fish, dairy or eggs — but is it 99 percent as good, or 20 percent as good, or 99.999 percent as good, and is that last hurdle into 100 percentness all the difference in the world, and representative of the only morally acceptable position, or is it merely one small step away? Is it Manhattan surrounded by water, or Los Angeles where you can simply walk right in with a series of gradual steps (if anyone here walked)?

I’ve now managed to confuse myself, yet again. Though the one thing I feel pretty confident of is that an Almost Vegan is better than me, a full-on vegan who ate meat for almost half a hundred years. Or is it better than I? Sometimes the right things just don’t sound right.


20 Dec

To me, this is what a fig looks like in its natural state:

I don’t really eat them any other way. And I don’t think about them much. In fact, never. Not even when I’m buying the vegan (dairy-free) Fig Newmans. And eating the whole tray in a day. Two if I’m lucky.

But yesterday I saw a tweet from my favorite 3,000-mile-away food truck, The Cinnamon Snail, that made me go: Huh?  Seems that TCS had gotten into a twitter exchange with someone who was inquiring about their use of figs in their pancakes, and whether or not figs were vegan. In the thirty years that I have been vegan (okay, 15 months) I have never seen anything calling into question the veganticity of a fig. So I clicked my way into the heart of their exchange and found this link the challenger had thrown down:

And there, spread across four pages, fifty-nine posts, and three years, you will find a discussion of whether or not figs are vegan. I won’t get into the whole thing because you can read it for yourself, but the basics go something like this: Figs are pollinated by wasps that climb into one end of the fig, deposit their children, sperm and luggage there, then die and leave their corpses to be devoured by fig-eating humans and other animals.

So basically, the argument goes, if you eat a fig, you’ve got dead wasps, wasp parts, or wasp secretions entering your up-until-now vegan body.

Well, here’s what I think. The problem with eating dead animals is that they are raised to be killed to be food for us. Or if hunted or caught wild, they at least are killed to be food for us. These insects are apparently dead inside the figs already. And if I’m following the story right, only some figs are even pollinated this way. So sometimes when you eat a fig, depending on the type, you may be getting dosed with bug parts. Is it icky? Sure. But where’s the problem?

Is it in the exploitation of the wasps? The (natural) death of the wasps in the (natural) production of a food item? Or is it the ingestion of the wasps or wasp parts or wasp jizz? (Remember those Budweiser commercials? Waspjizzzz!)

When bees make honey from the nectar of flowers, they do so to create a storable source of food for themselves. Beekeepers get them to overproduce honey so they can take some for the species Beekeeperus. (Okay, I might have misquoted Wikipedia here, but I can only stay on the page for so long without being overcome by guilt from those fundraising pleas.)

So with bees and honey, I can understand the exploitation. They get the bees to do extra work to make food for humans. Does this affect the bees? Are they aware of it? Do they mind? Does it lead to injuries and deaths and pain? I don’t eat honey for this and other reasons, but I don’t have a problem with people who eat honey and still call themselves vegan. (Isn’t that nice of me? Me who ate meat for almost half a hundred years.)

But this fig thing seems different. Humans aren’t making this happen. The wasps would do it in the absence of humans. It doesn’t even seem to be live wasps that are getting eaten. But I guess the idea here is that it’s wrong to eat something that once was alive. On principle, I suppose. Because what’s the difference between eating a dead wasp in a fig or eating a deer that was hit by a car and left dead on the side of the road. I wouldn’t eat that deer even if it were safe for me to consume because, well, I don’t eat animals. So does that apply here? Or is a wasp not an animal?

It’s at this point, when we’re out on what feels to me like the fringes having these kinds of discussions, that this might as well be a religion. But I suppose there are discussions at the edges in all kinds of secular areas, be they science or philosophy.

But isn’t it worse to think that The Cinnamon Snail Truck, as it heads home from dinner each night in the dark, is plowing into thousands of little flying things as it makes its way down the Garden State Parkway? Things that weren’t dead until they got hit by a truck. Or is the problem not the killing but the eating, even if the death of the thing being eaten wasn’t caused by humans at all? While it may not be clear to me whether a wasp is capable of feeling pain, I feel pretty certain that a dead wasp is not. So it’s not about the pain, which is the primary reason for my veganing in the first place. Sure I think that animals, even insects, have just as much right to exist as I do, but do I feel bad about the tiny things I may be hitting with my Honda or stepping on with my Soft Stags? A little bit, but I shrug it off pretty easily.

I hope this doesn’t make TCS change its ways or even feel bad for a second. What they and other providers of incredibly good-tasting vegan food are doing is showing that vegan food doesn’t have to be the feces-laden sawdust that so many meat-eaters imagine it to be. They show that an alternative exists that isn’t devoid of taste. That is in fact delicious. They are showing the way. And that’s a start. A very important start.

The wool suit, the leather shoes, and the animal-free White Castle jacket

14 Dec

If you’ve been reading this blog for years, you know that I used to have good titles for my posts. What happened?!

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with a vegan issue and I’m curious what other people think.

When I went vegan 15 months ago it was all about the food. Then two weeks after that it was all about the animals. But about a month in I started thinking about the clothes. You see, some of my clothes were made of animals!

And my wallet was, too. And it was old. And falling apart. I needed a new one. So this was a no-brainer. I went to Amazon and looked up “vegan wallets” and ordered one from an Amazon seller called Alternative Outfitters.

And I liked it. It looked good. The functionality was good. And I almost immediately realized that it also made me feel good. Hey, look at me, I didn’t only give up food, I got a vegan wallet, too!

Well, it wasn’t long before I went back on Amazon and bought a vegan belt. It’s made of something called pleather. Because as I soon learned, veganism is full of portmanteaus. In fact, I bet before Mr. Watson settled on the term “vegan” he first proposed a portmanteau combining vegetables and diners, but for some reason decided that “veginers” was the wrong way to go.

So now I had a wallet AND a belt. Which meant the next obvious thing was staring me in the face (if I looked down) — shoes!

I usually wear sneakers. And some of them, I was pretty sure, had some leather. Especially the leather ones. And as for my shoes, well, all of them were leather. But although it was pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to buy any more leather shoes or sneakers, the question became: was it okay to keep wearing what I already owned?

I struggled with this for a while. I mean, isn’t it wasteful to throw them away? I could give them to charity, but if it was wrong for me to continue to wear them then wasn’t it wrong for someone else to continue to wear them? Or was it okay for someone else to wear them since that person was probably eating meat, too?

And as I pondered these questions, I kept wearing my shoes as need be. But whenever I did, I felt bad. Like I was tacitly supporting the notion that it was okay to use animals like this. So I decided I needed to stop. The sneaker part was easy. You can find no-animal sneakers at lots of places. Heck, some of the ones I already owned weren’t even made of animals. But shoes were different.

So I decided to make a pilgrimage to Alternative Outfitters. You see, when I ordered that wallet on Amazon, it came really fast. Why? Because it turned out that Alternative Outfitters was only an hour or so away from me, in Pasadena.

Alternative Outfitters, I imagine, does most of their business over the Internet, and the store isn’t what I was expecting. I almost drove past it. It’s kind of at the corner of an office park, with only a small retail space, though they’ve got a lot crammed in there. Ninety percent of which was for women. But they have a pretty good selection of shoes. And unlike ersatz meat products, ersatz leather shoes are actually cheaper than the thing you’re ersatzing them for.

But I didn’t write this post to tell you about my trip to buy shoes. I wrote it because of the conversation I had with the friendly vegan who was working there that day. As I blabbed on and on about buying my first pair of vegan shoes (I’m insufferable) we got into an interesting discussion about whether or not it’s okay to keep wearing the animal clothing you already own since those animals are already dead and the items are already made.

She took the position that if you’re giving up animal-based foods because you think it’s wrong to use animals that way, why would you want to keep wearing their skin on your body? She said she remembered the day she made the decision to stop wearing a leather coat that she had.

And that got me thinking. Certainly, nobody would wear a pair of shoes made from human skin, no matter that the person was already dead. They would find the idea disgusting, repulsive, it would make their, yup, skin crawl. But why didn’t leather shoes make me feel that way? I guess because we’re so accustomed to it, same as eating meat. And because evolution has done something to make the idea of using humans this way feel repugnant to us.

So since our use of animal products is so everyday, we need to LEARN to find it repulsive. We need to EDUCATE OURSELVES on the matter to the point that we find it repulsive. Which brings me to my wool suit. I wear a suit even less often than I wear shoes. Do I want to go buy a new suit made of, let’s say, cotton? Nope. And so I wore my wool suit to my niece’s wedding last month.

But then I started wondering: is wool worse than leather? I think it depends on how poorly the sheep are treated. I keep reading that egg-laying hens and dairy cows have worse lives than the chickens and cattle raised for meat. And if I’ve given up eggs and dairy because of the way those animals are treated, then is wool any different because it’s worn not eaten? And while I wouldn’t buy any new wool suits or sweaters, should I stop wearing that damn wool suit of mine pronto?

And then there’s this:

My White Castle jacket. 100 percent polyester. But do I need to give this up, too? I’ve still been wearing it. It keeps me warm. But I could buy one that doesn’t have a message pretty easily. Is it wrong for me to keep offering up what seems to be (or is) tacit approval? To keep wearing something that might (or does) increase people’s appetite for meat?  Or what if I just stop wearing it in public? Is that enough? Or is it even wrong to wear it when I’m home alone and cold?

Vegan the religion

9 Dec

I didn’t call people to tell them I’d gone vegan. I didn’t make it my Facebook status. But it seems like one of the ways that people tend to socialize is over food. So before long they either figure it out, or you kind of need to let them know you’d rather go someplace other than Sizzler.

And as I went through that process of people finding out about this change, and me taking in their wide range of reactions to it, more than one person (two) told me that I had “found religion.” And they didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Of course I understood what they meant right away, and I’m pretty sure I could even see it from their perspective: I’d suddenly decided to change my life, to do something because of a newfound belief, and to accept certain limitations on my behavior and make certain sacrifices as a result. In other words, I went off the deep end.

I also imagine that, like someone who just found religion, they thought I was acting morally superior and as if I had “seen the light.” And if they did think that, they weren’t wrong. But I tried – and try – very hard not to act that way, not to criticize, not to proselytize, and not to even talk about it. Unless I’m asked. And people don’t ask. (Unless it’s with the hope of getting the answer: “I did it for health reasons.” Because if you did it for the chickens, they do not want to know.)

But even if I am guilty of feeling superior to non-vegans on this issue, isn’t the bigger issue that I’m morally superior to pre-vegan me of almost half a hundred years? And what does that say about the kind of person I am that I managed to ignore the “open secret” of what’s being done to these animals? It speaks poorly of me that I repressed what I knew for so long and didn’t make the effort to find out more until so much of my life had gone by.

Oh crap, does that mean I feel guilty? That I feel like I was a sinner before? Religion again! (I actually don’t believe in the concept of sin, which feels like it’s imposed from without, though I do still believe there can be right and wrong, which I delude myself into thinking comes from common sense and a John Stuart Mill-type perspective, not from “without.”)

This is John Stuart Mill. (His real name was John Stuart Leibowitz Mill.)

Also like religion, people think that I must have felt “lost” to go and do something like this. Had I gone and joined a cult, I doubt their reaction would be all that different. And if it were a meat-eating cult, they might mind the change less. To them, I’m now the friend that does this odd – and inconvenient – thing.

Most people I know don’t want rules in their life, whether it’s religious rules, or rules about what to eat. They don’t want limitations. People will often offer me an item of food and ask, “Can you eat this?” If it’s not vegan, my answer is always, “I can, but I don’t want to.” Is that how religious people think, too? I don’t know, not being religious, but I’d guess they’re more likely to think that they “can’t” have this or that, especially if they were raised since childhood with those rules and taught that it’s the only acceptable way to act. (And maybe for those reasons they don’t “want” it either.)

But once you accept rules, you step out of the rule-free world, and in that sense it’s again similar to religion. Because once you start to put limitations on yourself, you see that you can take this idea of limitation as far as you want. Some people eat honey and call themselves vegan, some wear leather and call themselves vegan. I don’t do either but others go further than I do. No refined sugar, let’s say. And I bet some vegans don’t think vegans like me who eat refined sugar are vegans at all. Not to mention the vegans concerned about isinglass who think that if you don’t check your vino you’re VINO.

Now it really sounds like religion, with the more-observant people feeling they’re more Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/Vegan than the less-observant ones, or that they’re a REAL Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/Hindu/Vegan while the others are merely pretenders. In this way, vegans can feel morally superior not only to meat eaters, not only to vegetarians, but even to other kinds of vegans who don’t go as far as they do.

The honey thing is a good example. Are the bees being tortured? Mistreated? Exploited? Like I said, I don’t use honey — but do I equate what happens to the bees to what happens to a calf in a veal create? I do not. But I avoid using it so that I can feel I’m vegan. So that I don’t have to worry about challenges to my vegan authenticity. And also to be sure that this isn’t in fact a hardship on the bees. Not to mention that it adds to the statement that I’m against the exploitation of all living non-plant things. (I’m also against the exploitation of plants, but hey, a guy’s gotta eat!) And this is where, for me, veganism gets closest to religion, as it starts to deal with adherence to what “the group” says is vegan and to observing enough of the tenets to feel like I’m a vegan or a good vegan or can properly use the label vegan for myself when I see fit.

And it also becomes like religion simply by giving its adherents a name: Vegans. Why can’t we just do what we do without a name? Why can’t we just say, “Yeah, I don’t eat animal products.” Or, “I eat only eat plant-based foods”? The answer is because there’s strength in numbers, and in terms, and on some level we like being part of a group, and feeling like we’re participating in a movement. We like the feeling it gives us when we say to someone, “I am vegan.”

And some vegans take it even further. They’ve adopted a symbol: The V in a circle. Hey, if it works for you, great, but to me it just makes it even more like a religion. But who am I to criticize, since I’m known to wear a T-shirt from time to time with a band or a brand that I like on the front. So let people have their Circle V. (And wouldn’t that be a great name for a vegan convenience store? If you open one, I get a discount!)

I'm not thinking that people who use this symbol are treating veganism like a religion as much as I'm thinking that all this text needs to be broken up by some art.

So now that I’ve told you all the ways that veganism is like a religion, I just want to say that to me it’s not like a religion at all, any more than opposing abortion is a religion to a right-to-life atheist or supporting gay marriage is to a secular humanist.

And I wish that some of these people who think I’ve found religion would think about it a little more closely for a minute. There’s no meetings, like a religion. There’s no place of worship. There’s no hierarchical leader with authority over it. There’s no deity. There’s nobody I’m supposed to give money to.

I’m not seeking salvation in this. I’m not seeking answers. I don’t feel it will improve my karma or that some deity will think more highly of me as a result. But I guess I do now “believe” in something. I believe these animals are treated in a way that just about every human would say is wrong if they were watching it happen in front of them. And so I took an action that makes me feel like I opted out of it.

So yes, I’ve adopted a new belief. But adopting a new belief is no more adopting a new religion than adopting a new belief in atheism would be. (And I know some atheists who are so into atheism, who attend so many meetings and conventions and belong to so many groups that they’ve turned it into much more of a religion than veganism is, even though these are some of the people who are quickest to attack veganism as religion.)

But maybe it’s simply too late at this point to effectively argue that veganism is not like religion since I’ve just proved beyond a doubt that it shares something very basic with religion: pontification. So I’ll shut up.

All vegan food contains feces, right?

5 Dec

Does that headline sound familiar? It’s from this blog post. That’s right, I’m quoting myself. I really am insufferable!

But I thought this was worthy of its own discussion, because I’m guessing it’s something many of you are familiar with. It goes something like this: (true story).

I was invited to someone’s house for Thanksgiving. My non-vegan host could not have been more gracious or considerate about my veganinity. She made a number of dishes I could eat and clearly told me what was con and sin animal. When I’d asked what I could bring, she said, “Well, someone else is making some pies for dessert, and I bet she uses eggs, so why don’t you bring a dessert you can eat?”

So I bought a beautiful vegan chocolate cake that I’d had before and that I knew just about everyone would enjoy because, unfortunately, I haven’t been vegan all that long and I still have a pretty good memory of what an animal-assisted chocolate cake tastes like.

My host took it out at dessert time and put it next to all the other desserts. People ooh’d and aah’d about its prospective yumminess. Then the host mentioned it was vegan and there might as well have been cartoon dust as people mentally ran away from this cake as fast as their neurons could take them.

I have no doubt, if they hadn’t been told it was vegan, they’d have eaten it and enjoyed it and probably even praised it. And it was a pretty big cake, so it’s not like they were thinking I needed it all for myself and they shouldn’t use up my special food while alternatives existed. Nope, they thought: must be gross.

I don’t know why I find this so frustrating, but I do. All it means to say something is “vegan,” basically, is that there’s no meat, eggs or dairy in it. And since nobody’s expecting meat in their chocolate cake, it means there’s no eggs or dairy in it. (And yes, I think most of the guests were aware of what vegan means.) So if the host had put out this cake and said, “This cake is made without eggs or dairy,” I’m guessing most people would have tried it and enjoyed it. Maybe they would have thought, “Gee, maybe someone’s allergic to one or both of those things so she announced it,” and then they would have shrugged, and cut off a slice and been happy.

But she said the V word. And I’m guessing, people’s thoughts were something like: “Maybe it’s made with tofu,” or “Ew, god knows what’s in that,” or “A chocolate cake made with kale and cauliflower? *shudder*”

Of course I’m being kind. Since these people thought no such thing. They simply accessed that part of their brain where they’ve stored this simple fact: All vegan food contains feces.

I feel pretty confident that if only Mr. Watson had called himself and his adherents “No meat, no eggs, no dairyans” that there would now be millions more of us. I mean, nobody feels like they absolutely must have those ingredients in every single thing they eat, right? Otherwise nobody besides us would ever eat hummus, or rye bread, or sorbet. Pretty much everyone is fine with eating foods that don’t have any meat or eggs or dairy once in a while, or even frequently, and they’re probably even some omnivore’s very favorite things in the world and they could eat them over and over and over.

But who wants to eat feces?

Jonathan Safran Foer

3 Dec

I mentioned in my very first post that two weeks into a tentative dabble with veganing, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book and that then there was no going back. (Note to aspiring writers: Do not use the words that, then and there in a row.)

There’s probably not much lamer in a blog than writing about a two-year-old book (and if there is, I’ll find it, you just wait) but after reading what I felt was a catty and vicious attack on Safran Foer by a leading vegan website, I wanted to defend him (like he needs me to come to his defense).

What makes this attack even more pathetic is that the attacker openly — and proudly — admits to never having read the book. But that doesn’t keep this ethicist from posting a photo of Safran Foer with a photoshopped pus mustache (pustache?) under the headline “got pus?”  (Though to the attacker’s credit, a “got milk” reference is pretty original and cool.)  What angers this critic is that Safran Foer is a vegetarian not a vegan, and the critic knows this because he’s read some reviews. In fact, the reviews are apparently enough to tell this critic all he needs to know about the book.

Well, I apologize for talking about a book that I actually did read, I know that’s so 20th century, but it seems pretty clear that this critic is simply jealous of Foer, and of the fact that this vegetarian has done far more to turn people vegan and alleviate animal suffering than this webmaster ever will. Yeah, I thought it was odd too that Safran Foer hasn’t actually come out and declared that based on what he now knows, he’s become vegan, but he does say that if you really want to do something to alleviate animal cruelty it’s better to give up eggs and dairy because those are the worst-treated animals. So it’s not like he’s saying that drinking milk is just swell.

Safran Foer also says he spent over a year researching this book. Keep in mind, he’s one of the country’s young literary stars, and he interrupted his fiction career to do this. That shows some dedication. And he also talks about how he snuck into a factory farm at night and broke into a building housing chickens. Has the critic ever done that? I won’t presume to know, since that would be presumptuous.

Can’t the argument be made that it’s more beneficial to animals to convince people to become vegan or vegetarian, than to spend your time bitching about people who convince people to become vegan or vegetarian? This critic needs to have a couple of stiff ones at his next Vegan Drinks event and then sit in the corner thinking about who’s done more to help animals. Maybe then he’ll take down that catty photo and feel at least a little embarrassed about having put it up in the first place.

Raison d’êatre (get it?)

23 Nov

Hello and welcome to the Insufferable Vegan.  (This presumes at least one future reader.)  I feel as though I should explain whom this blog is meant for. I suppose that, ideally, it is directed at people who eat animal products, in the hope they will stop doing that.  So four sentences into my blog and you can see that I’m not a realist. Well, I’m also addressing this to eaters of animal stuff who are considering trying the vegan thing and have somehow made it here. To you I say: if I can do it you can do it. That is, unless you can’t. But trust me you…

Why the title? Well, I once worked with a guy who was a total jerk. I mentioned to another colleague what a jerk this guy was, and the colleague said: Are you aware that his only child was killed by a drunk driver?  I didn’t know this and felt terrible.  The guy then added: But he was exactly the same way before it happened.

It’s actually not quite clear to me where the line is that prompts your non-vegan friends to think of you as insufferable. I believe it’s possible that if you never say a word about your veganism to them, beyond letting them know you’re now vegan, they will not find you insufferable.  This might also be true about one word. But if you say two or more words about it to them then for sure they will find you insufferable or worse.

And the reason for your decision seems key to the process.  To do it for health reasons is MUCH more acceptable than to tell them you’re doing it for the chickens. They do NOT want to hear that, understandably so. They have long made some kind of peace with it, to varying degrees no doubt depending on the individual, and they have become adept at quickly categorizing and dismissing you as a hippie/seeker/new-ager/midlife crisis sufferer.

As for that last one, well, that’s me. To them. I think. Because you see, I ate meat for almost half a hundred years. Which both gives me an inside perspective on the cognitive processes of long time meat eaters and also makes me even more insufferable. Who am I to judge them, me who couldn’t figure this out earlier.

What happened? Well, I hate to say this, but it was health reasons. Worse, it was simple vanity in the name of health: weight. I kept gaining back that 10 to 15 pounds I kept losing. I couldn’t keep it off!  I met a friend of a friend who was vegan and I thought maybe this would be the gimmick that would do it. At least it was worth a try.

Then, about two weeks in, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” book. After that, I didn’t see how I could go back.  Now Mr. JSF, at least at the time of the writing of the book, was not a vegan. He was a vegetarian, and according to him, an on and off one at that. But in his book he repeatedly tells you that the egg-laying chickens and the dairy-producing cows are the worst treated animals of all. So I guess he’s a non-vegan making a very convincing case for veganism.

Anyway, I think we all already know that most food animals are treated poorly. But after reading 300 pages of it, it’s hard to brush it aside. It made this whole thing a lot easier. In fact, it didn’t make it easier as much as it made it not hard at all. I never looked back.

It’s now been 14 months. Have I craved anything from an animal?  Once in a while. But not that much.  Now the bigger problem is trying to point out to others what I’m now aware of. Which is something I really don’t ever do. Unless they ask. But even if they asked, when I answer, I can see that they find me… Insufferable.

So what’s this blog gonna be? I don’t know. There’s stuff on the Internet about how to write a blog! I guess I should read it but, well, nope. I intend for this blog to be a mix of my pseudo-philosophical ruminations (of the one brain not four stomach variety) along with what will hopefully be a practical guide to vegan eating, both in general and specifically in the Los Angeles area.

I had the idea to begin this blog just a few days before my favorite vegan blogger, Quarrygirl, abandoned her blog and eloped with Twitter.  I don’t know that I could have kept the vegan thing going without Quarrygirl.  I don’t know her, but that resource she created showed me there was enough out there in this city to do this. I’m certainly not aiming to replace her. That’s for someone with more strength than I have. But maybe this can be one of dozens of blogs that people will find when they’re searching for information on Los Angeles restaurants, both for vegans and also for places that they can share with their non-vegan friends.

And finally, one of the reasons I’ve never started a blog before is that I find bloggers and the whole concept of blogging to be, more or less, insufferable. Hopefully, by the end of this entry, you agree.


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