the smoking vegans

Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Why vivisection matters

A couple of weeks ago I had a unusually thought-provoking conversation with some vegan friends of mine. I say "unusually thought-provoking" not because conversations with them usually aren't, but because I don't usually have thought-provoking conversations with anyone (certain exceptions apply). The discussion revolved around whether vivisection was as important an issue as slaughterhouses and how this applies to drawing in new vegans. The point they made was that animals in vivisection represent an extremely small percentage of animals murdered annually, and consequently, we should focus primarily on slaughter and eating meat.

It makes sense, but ultimately I'm of two minds regarding the matter. I see their point, and I can't say it isn't valid. But here I'm going to argue, briefly, why vivisection matters both on a practical level, and regarding producing new vegans and bringing folks into the AL (animal liberation) struggle.

Vivsection is particularly horrific. Whether it's monkeys in restraining chairs, cats with electrodes wired into their heads, rabbits being administered the Draize test or skin irritation tests for makeup and detergents, or rats being administered the LD50 test, vivisection represents torture gone awry. Not even Mengele could have dreamed up some of the stuff done to animals in the names of the "march of progress" or "science." But vivisection is scientific fraud. On a practicle level, there is simply no need for vivisection. On a tactical level, the sheer horrors of vivisection, like fur, can startle even the most subdued meat-friendly mind to attention.

On a fundamental level, you can raid a lab with some level of efficacy, but to raid a slaughterhouse or factory farm? This is far less feasible. Direct action to save innocent life, whenever possible, is a fundamentally good thing.

In the end, far more animals are killed in the slaughterhouse than under the vivisectionist's knife, and to focus on this is undoubtedly important. I haven't quite gotten my head around some way to fit the pieces together, but can we afford to write of either front as less viable for action? More importantly, can the millions of animals mutilated every year in gruesome "scientific" experiments?

I'd write more, but my internet access is limited at the moment. More anon.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

 

In Good Company? Or, why health food vegans suck

On a small liberal arts university campus like the one I am temporarily forced to reside at, there are plenty of things to drive a chain-smoking commie vegan to utter madness (and dreams of shooting sprees). There are trustafarians. There are post-modernists. There are vivisectionists. There are republicans. There are democrats. There are smelly, feel-good, phish-obsessed, free-range idiot hippies. There are obnoxious vegetarians, so-called "flexitarians" (read: omnis/hypocrites), and ex-vegans. There are dining service workers who don't know what a "vay-gun" is. And then there is the other 90% of the student body- rich, white, apathetic, collar-popping, JCrew-clad, carbaphobic, diet coke drinking, Big Mac eating, ignorant twats. But at least you can find some respite in the company of other vegans, right?

Apparently not.

I first met the "leader" of the vegan group on campus at a student organization fair designed to get people interested in various clubs and what-have-you. It was then that she told me that the PETA materials showing *gasp* dead animals were too "scary" to put out. I thought that was weird, since most vegans I know became vegan after learning about the horrors of factory farming, the fur industry, the cosmetics industry, meat packing plants, etc. ad infinitum. And I've never found PETA to be too radical about anything. Quite to the contrary, usually. And god forbid we actually make the connection between the food they're eating and the enormous suffering of animals. But I let it go. After all, this was only the second vegan I had met on campus. I wanted to keep on good terms with her.

The next time I encountered this girl, she approached me while I was trying to enjoy a cigarette, and proceeded to barrage me with a monologue about how we shouldn't bring up ethical veganism publicly because all that talk of mass torture and killing is just too damn controversial. Instead, she thought we should focus on the health benefits of veganism because apparently having low cholesterol is something that makes her feel "like, really good" about herself "and stuff". I was so shocked, I only managed to mutter some non-committal remark to the effect of "yeah, well if the group wants to be a cooking club, that's cool," and I ran for the door, fuming. As far as I know, she ran for whatever fucking jam-band bullshit was playing that weekend on campus in her preppy ass shorts and polo shirt.

First, who approaches a chain-smoker to tout the health benefits of veganism? Fucking brilliant. Really. If I gave a damn about my health or anyone else's, I wouldn't have the butt hanging out of my mouth now would I? More importantly, most college students don't give two shits about their cholesterol. And pitching veganism as some fucking fad diet in the ranks with South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers or even raw foods is obnoxious as all fuck, and it's dumb to boot. Health food vegans are going to be as committed to veganism as they are to any other diet. I don't think I need to cite studies to tell you that those things never fucking last. And besides, if you're vegan for your cholesterol, there's no reason to get rid of wool, leather, silk, down, honey, gelatin, or even fucking skim milk. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the people who really go vegan and stick with it do it for primarily ethical reasons, and only secondarily because it can be damn good for you (which I don't deny).

Anyways, I knew the girl was non-confrontational, politically wishy-washy, and not so bright from the start. She even deflected a suggestion on our listserv to start campaign against JCrew given that they sell fur. This campaign would be brilliant on this campus because 98% of the student body shops there. But of course, instead of offering her support, this girl says, "I'm not going to lie: I shop at J. Crew, and I love it. Do I shop for fur at J. Crew? No, I think fur looks weird on people." Does she think she's funny? Because I sure as hell don't.

But she would at least want to have more and better-labeled vegan options at our dining hall, right? I mean, that's basic, non-confrontational, and constructive right? Sadly, no.

A cool vegan prof on our campus who is the advisor for the vegan group was kind enough to write a letter to the head of dining services to tell her that although much improvement has been made, being vegan here is still really difficult. His main critiques of the dining hall were that a.) the vegan food there tends not to be labeled as such, and next to nobody who works there seems to know if we can eat it or not; and 2.) that there simply aren't adequate options for vegans to eat and remain healthy. It was a polite letter, and he got a polite response back, offering to meet with him about it. No problem right?

The cholesterol vegan girl, of course, didn't seem to think so. She chided our advisor for being too hard on the dining workers, even though he contacted an administrator, and was frankly very nice. It was not as if he was berating one of the grossly underpaid dining service workers on campus. Anyways, her response raised the following question for me:

If a vegan group on a college campus doesn't talk about ethics, and it doesn't even push for more vegan options in the dining hall, what in god's name do they fucking do? (answer: nothing)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

 

Uneasy twins


I've written before about the uncomfortable similarities between the Nazi holocaust industry as Norm Finkelstein outlines it, and the animal holocaust industry a la PETA. After poking around online the other night, I found something interesting on the ADL homepage (that's the Anti-Defamation League, or, Anti-Democracy Legion). See, the ADL views the Nazi holocaust as an untouchable subject, which can't possibly be compared to any other tragedy in all of human existence. Otherwise, we aren't treating it with enough reverence.

That's why PETA got the shaft from the ADL after running this advertisement pictured above, along with a video advertisement juxtaposing pictures of soon-to-be holocaust victims being transported without food or water on trains to their deaths over pictures of soon-to-be hamburgers being transported without food or water on trains to their deaths. Not suprisingly, the ADL didn't like the comparison. They said, "a disturbing development ... has emerged in some animal and environmental activist circles is the use of Holocaust imagery to promote their causes."

The National Director of the ADL writes,
The effort by PETA to compare the deliberate systematic murder of millions of Jews to the issue of animal rights is abhorrent. PETA's effort to seek "approval" for their "Holocaust on Your Plate" campaign is outrageous, offensive and takes chutzpah to new heights.

Rather than deepen our revulsion against what the Nazis did to the Jews, the project will undermine the struggle to understand the Holocaust and to find ways to make sure such catastrophes never happen again.

Abusive treatment of animals should be opposed, but cannot and must not be compared to the Holocaust. The uniqueness of human life is the moral underpinning for those who resisted the hatred of Nazis and others ready to commit genocide even today.

Again, the Nazi holocaust is, as always, not something to be compared to anything else. What a load of Zionist chauvanism. Typical of ADL rhetoric, only 6 million Jews died in the holocaust, not 11 million people including Jews, Communists, Gypsies, Gays, Jevhovah's Witnesses, the mentally ill, Poles, etc. As usual, the "uniqueness of human life" to Zionist fundraisers means "the uniqueness of Jewish life," ignoring total Zionist complicity, and in some cases encouragement, of the holocaust. But I digress.

The irony is overwhelming. The ADL gets to promote its own fundraising with the likes of other pro-Zionist groups, none of which holocaust survivors or their families ever see, but gets mad when PETA steps on its toes using the same tactics to fundraise for their bullshit legislative efforts, none of which will ever actually benefit any non-human animals -- just PETA. The two groups are conjoined in their disgusting exploitation of misery for money, but what makes this fight so irritating is the comparison. Not that it's wrong. Far from it, it's dead-on. The real comparison that needs to be pointed out isn't between human and non-human holocausts, but between groups like the ADL and PETA.

You can read the full ADL piece here and see what they were all in a twist about here.

"As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behaviour towards creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principle that might is right." Isaac Bashevis Singer

Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

What is "vegan enough"? Or, Does size really matter?

Did I miss something? I guess I must've.

As of today, I've been privy to a debate I haven't been privy to in quite some time. The argument stemmed from the honey thing. Some people persist in saying that honey is either vegan, doesn't matter, or is "vegan enough," and anyone who says otherwise is making veganism a club, towing/pushing a party line, or an exlcusive elitist.

Sorry, "not vegan enough"? What is this shit? There is vegan and there is not vegan. Honey is not vegan. Know why? If you said it's because honey is an animal product, then you passed preschool. Congrats! And yet, it's wrong to say that people who are "vegan in every other respect except eating honey" are not vegan. Yet, the proposition that they are "vegan in every other way" implies in itself that they *aren't* vegan.

Then the argument becomes diluted by folks who bat around the phrase "vegan enough." For instance, apparently I don't think some people are "vegan enough" because they eat honey. It's not that I don't think they're vegan *enough*, it's that I don't think they're vegan. Period. If they consumed no animal products, including honey, with the exception of milk, would they be vegan? How about "vegan enough"? No! Because milk isn't vegan! It's not even a grey area! Honestly, what the fuck?! It's not like honey is hard to ditch, especially compared to milk, eggs, meat, and what have you. Are people who know better but just continue to eat honey after they've given up everything else simply contrarians at heart even more than the average (and actual) vegan, or are they just stupid?

Here's what I've heard so far in response:

1. Not eating honey makes vegans look extreme. You know what makes vegans look extreme? VEGANISM. Not eating honey at least makes you ETHICALLY CONSISTENT. Oh, and VEGAN.

2. Honey isn't that important in the scheme of things. I posed this question elsewhere, and I'll pose it here too: If cows were the size of bees, would milk not be that important in the scheme of things? Apparently size really does matter, at least to some "vegans."

3. You feed your cat/dog/whatever food with animal (by)products, so you're not any more vegan than someone who eats honey. This is bullshit. Dogs you can feed pretty much whatever and they're fine. This isn't always the case with cats. Cats need what they need to live. Can't help that. As a friend put it best, do you need honey to live? Not unless you're a bee.

4. You're making veganism into a club (i.e., if you say vegans shouldn't eat honey, you're making veganism too exclusive) Really? I thought I was making veganism, well, I dunno, *vegan*. If that's really so much of a problem for some people, perhaps they should reevaluate why they really are vegan? *Is it* so they can be part of a club? Because if it's that much of an issue to give up honey, why are they so annoyed about not being able to really call themselves vegan? I mean, it's not like it's some elite club you need to belong to or something. In reality, it's these same people that make veganism into a club, not actual vegans who don't think people should consume animal products and call themselves vegan.

5. There are more important issues than honey, like animal rights, the environment, etc. This ties into argument No. 2, and it's still bullshit. It's just a smokescreen. Honey, like milk, is from an animal. Honey, like milk, *is* about animal rights. If people don't get that, then they don't get animal rights.

I'm done being apologetic for my stance on things like honey, wool, leather, etc. when so many alternatives exist. It's not about being "vegan enough," it's about being vegan. I don't care if you eat honey. I don't care if you eat ice cream. I wish you wouldn't, but what am I going to do about it? I do care if someone muddies the definition of what veganism is. If anything goes, then what's the point? If anything can be made vegan through a series of mental acrobatics, gymnastics, and contortions of logic, than veganism means nothing. Like I said, there are grey areas. Seeing eye dogs, perhaps. Fuck, eating stuff grown in manure can be a grey area if you want. But honey? It's. just. not. vegan.

 

Vegan Action?

Dear Vegans Who Like Sweets,

I've got some sad news for you. Vegan Action is the group responsible in the U.S. for certifying whether or not a product is, in fact, "vegan." For a long time, they would not certify products manufactured on shared equipment. But, as times change (or pockets get greedier), they've decided they could give out more certifications (read: make more money) if they began to certify shared equipment as "vegan."

Does it matter? Well, in the case of chocolate at least, yes, it matters. See, you can't clean chocolate equipment with water. It seizes the chocolate, which just means it fucks everything up. So how is shared chocolate equipment "cleaned"? Well, after the milk chocolate gets run down the line, the producer just starts feeding dark chocolate in. In reality, a lot of "vegan certified" chocolate may contain more than just "trace amounts" of dairy.

But here's where things get really interesting. Sugar. A lot of the white sugar production process involves using (sometimes) bone char, as it's (sometimes) cheaper than charcoal. The difference between this and chocolate is that you don't end up with bits of bone char in your sugar. It's just something most vegans avoid. With chocolate, there's actually milk in it. And Vegan Action will gladly hand out a certification anyway because it's "increasing the number of products out there for vegans to eat." That's all well and good, if what's being certified is vegan. Does this make a bit of fucking sense to anyone?

Here's an idea for Vegan Action: certify things that *are* vegan, and don't certify things that *aren't* vegan. Doesn't that make more sense? Otherwise, why not just go ahead and "vegan certify" milk chocolate too?

The UK is solving this problem by requiring the government to define what constitutes "vegan" in food labeling. And guess what? Shared equipment isn't. If the British government can get it right, why can't Vegan Action?

Friday, September 09, 2005

 

Co-ops revisisted

Is it me, or are all co-ops making the transition to being less vegan friendly than regular grocery stores?

I've found this to be the case at my local co-op, and I've heard the same thing from vegans elsewhere. Vegan fare is disappearing from the shelves. What's it being replaced with? Well, organic and "free range" meat, it would seem. So what the fuck is this shit, anyway? Are co-ops suddenly hell bent on waging war against what one would assume to be a small but crucial part of their already small but crucial clientel?

Unfortunately, I don't have the answers. But my mother seems to. Let's rewind, shall we? Last week I went out to dinner with the rents. As usual, it started well and ended in veritable disaster. Somewhere between smooth sailing and our familial interpretive reenactment of the Titanic, my mom brought up free range eggs. At first it sounded like she was posing a rather benign and generic moral question to me, but then I realized that moms don't really do that. At least not mine, anyways. "So, there're these eggs I was reading about from this one local farm. The farmer doesn't use any antibiotics or hormones and the chickens are free range." She paused, and I realized she was waiting for some kind of response from me. "Yeah," says I, "well, most free range isn't very different from factory farming production, actually." Then she made it clear where she was going: "But, would you ever consider..." Would I ever consider eating eggs again if they were produced more "humanely"? "No." Of course, she had to ask why.

Sparing her a graphically unpleasant discussion at a nice pizza joint, I tried to pare down my usual tirade to a simple, "They still slaughter the chickens, mom." Then I got a response I never expected, "Yes, but only after they stop being productive."

In the end, I felt this discussion to be rather symptomatic as to why vegan food is disappearing from the one place we could always depend on having it. Free range is kind, organic is good, and in the end, we can all feel better about killing animals. It's just like PETA's lame-ass efforts to "reform" McDonald's.

Incidentally, I wish my mom's philosophy applied to people. Then we could take out virtually the entire ruling class.

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