Tag Archives: veganism

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.


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.

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.

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