Wednesday, October 12, 2011

About titles and police

The bell curve.  Anything in life can be analyzed by it.  In this case there are people on one end you will ALWAYS listen to and on the other those you will NEVER listen to.  Food choices also have a bell curve.  A vegan diet is at one end and I suppose the late Dr. Atkins on the other, but most fall in the middle somewhere.  Vegans fall on this curve too but that is by default.  Vegans are at one far end.  We must realize that many people who aren't vegans also share this space with us.  People who aren't vegans but eat a 100% plant based diet stand shoulder to shoulder with us.  Vegan police are there too.  

Vegans also have a curve all to themselves.  How strict we are, where we draw the lines and limits of what we will do in terms of daily decisions.  What we will take as medicines, vitamins, and supplements have a bell curve, whether we toss or donate all of our wool and leather or begin a phase in (or out) process has a bell curve.  Whether we don't eat animals, animal products, or anything made with an animal product has a bell curve.  Most fall in the middle; some will still wear old leather but not buy new, some drill down into ingredient lists with a cutting laser and others eat anything that doesn't list an ingredient from an animal.  Arguments about perfection run from the sublime to the ridiculous.  "But ... but  ... but ... what if a bug was stepped on whilst harvesting that coconut???"  Where is the line?  What does the label "vegan" really mean?

The line is wherever you decide to draw it as long as you take a step in reducing animal suffering.  People change in different ways.  Some are cold turkey types and others are phase-it-in types.  Some will just give up eating beef and others all animals. Personally I think any shift in thinking for whatever reason results in less animal use ... and that's a good thing.  But that doesn't make you a "vegan".  It means you've done something good for the animals, the environment and your health but, as has been said a million times, being vegan is more than eating a plant based diet no matter how good shifting towards a plant based might be.

Vegan police have a place and a value.  I never would have thought that sugar had animal ingredients used in its manufacture without a vegan police officer telling me that.  Now it's my choice if I want to put sugar in my coffee with my soy creamer.  Dear Lord, I'm not stirring it with a pork chop!  If we all stopped eating sugar made with bone char would we end animal suffering?  Would we end the suffering of any animals?  Or would we, by suggesting and convincing someone to go vegan at least for one or two meals a week or a meal or two a day, or being vegan before 6 as Bittman suggests, really do more to save a life and reduce the economic demand for animals as food?  It's a movement.  It's a change.  It's not a revolution.  99% of Americans will not one day next week, wake up and identify as vegan or even flip the switch and eat only a non animal diet.  Maybe in a few generations or in a hundred years but not tomorrow.  Tomorrow we can only hope to help someone move in that direction.  When I talk to people I don't set the barre that low.  I advocate a vegan life every chance I get.  (And I do talk to people about this despite the eye rolling of my family and friends accompanied by audible groans, every chance I get).  But it starts with eating less animals.  It starts with changing the economic demand for animal flesh foods.  Stop eating the steak and there will be no leather to ponder buying.  As that market dries up an economic incentive develops to produce warm clothes made from non animal materials.  Eventually these will be less and less expensive as economies of scale take hold.  Attacking the sugar eating vegan is counterproductive and will do nothing to stop the slaughter of cows.  Informing them of this fact might change their consumption of sugar because ethically they don't want to eat anything made using animal products and you might be doing them a favor by telling them that but that is not how we're going to have the most impact regarding the elimination of animal use.

We as advocates also must think about not only our message but our delivery system.  Many people, rightly or wrongly, hear how the message is delivered rather than the message itself.  Explanations, reminders, gentle coaxing and pervasive discussions work much better over the long term, with most people, than yelling and going all firecracker on them.  Just my opinion and experience.  

Lets talk a moment about titles since that is what this is ultimately all about.  Fish and seafood were my last animal food holdouts. As a pilot I would often find myself without any vegan options on a menu.  As a pilot I eat on the road A LOT but my mind wasn't open yet to the salad as a meal or steamed veggies as a meal.  (I've come to learn that changing one's palate takes some time and desire).  I wanted a MEAL!  I wanted everyplace to offer some sort of tofu or seitan or tempeh in a sauce, with ... sustenance!  Something I could sink my teeth into.  So I ate fish or seafood as a fallback maybe once or twice a month.  I was vegan at home.  100%.  I was mostly vegan on the road except for these rare situations.  I identified as a vegan.  I mean hell, I was almost there, right?  Well, no.  I couldn't do anything but confuse someone by saying I was a vegan who ate fish.  That's not a vegan.  I started using the word veganesque and that sat well with me for awhile but I have to tell you that when I made the decision to cut out all animal products from my diet and align myself fully with the abolitionist camp it felt GOOD.  There was no grey area, no explanations, no defending my position.  (Does a clam really feel anything?  Should I worry about eating animals that eat their young?)  I bought my first pair of vegan shoes and a vegan belt.  I thought long and hard about making animals feel better, (animal welfare), or eliminating their use, (abolition), and where I should spend my time, effort and energy.  My food blog, Marty's Flying Vegan Review, took on a new meaning to seriously show how with ofttimes no advance preparation one can find pretty good vegan meals all over the world.  (Being vegan isn't hard but it does take more effort in our current animal centric environment).

Call yourself vegan-ish, vegan-eseqe, eat mostly a vegan diet, or use any other qualifier that specifically says you aren't vegan if your intent isn't to embrace veganism and all it stands for.  Vegan is more about mind set, intent and philosophy.  It's not about perfection.


Em said...

Right on.

Lindsay (Happy Herbivore) said...

great post!

Anonymous said...

I so agree! Anything is better than nothing!

But I must admit I get a little antsy when people call themselves vegan and then eat a chocolate bar.

Marty said...

Em, thank you.
Lindsay, thank you.
elizadolly, thank you too. I love chocolate bars. Many are vegan. look up rescuechocolates at to name just one delicious vegan chocolate bar. As long as it doesn't have milk, it's basically vegan, no?