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Don’t blame vegans for the shame you feel about using animals

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Vegans take the blame for a lot of things. Whether we are being accused of ruining someone’s good time, of incessantly bringing up our label, or are being bombarded with nutritional deficiency promises, I find many of my cohorts are driven to either of the polarizing extremes presented: become the type of preachy vegan non-vegans fear or forgo mention of your beliefs altogether in hopes everyone will pick on someone gluten-free. Neither are particularly forthcoming for the animals and both inappropriately shift the victimization to another party. So what’s a vegan to do when one of her country’s largest news media publications celebrates a non-vegans choice to continue to consume animal products not for lack of “understanding” of the vegan position, but as a literal representation of their distaste for vegans themselves? Write a rebuttal in which they prove that the validity and necessity of a social justice movement directed to animals should not hinge on the good, bad, or indifferent choices of humans, of course.

For those not willing to devote a minute to scaling this attention-deficit and sesquipedalian ridden op-ed, I suggest you have a change of heart. While reading Carly Lewis’ Globe & Mail article, I could picture her performing it as a soliloquy at the fish counter of Whole Foods upon discovering one of those “don’t eat me” vegan sticker bombs on an animal welfare rated package of organic cod. Likely, her fury would be much better received by those shopping alongside her, some (perhaps the Globe & Mail editors) coming to her aid with apple boxes for standing on and a check-out mic to amplify her sermon to anyone buying tempeh. But really, it’s just a pescatarian ranting about giving up on vegetarianism because of all the typical reasons non-vegans stay non-vegan (ie: meat is great, vegan sucks). And with the light sprinkling of some buzzwords like gentrification and food insecurity, she decides meat-eaters are most deserving of evangelicalism and that vegans should go straight to hell. I can’t be the only one who enjoys ingesting misplaced scrutiny as if it was being performed, Shakespearean, before them. The character development was nothing short of theatrical, as our protagonist bounces from being afraid of cow ghosts (mooOoOoOo) to being afraid of getting caught in direct contradiction of themselves. Seriously, give it a read. I’ll drop the shtick if you do.

Anyone familiar with my writing knows I’m not on team vegetarian. But allow me to take this rare opportunity to support my confused neighbours in reminding Lewis that eating fish, even sparsely, means you forfeit the right to tell others you’re a vegetarian. So right off the bat, we are not dealing with someone who is baby-steps from veganism or someone who can claim to have an in-depth understanding of the animals rights movement from the inside, well, because she thinks fish aren’t part of the conversation. And even if we were dealing with a vegetarian, they too participate in animal exploitation, so adding meat back in isn’t a big jump (see, not a vegetarian fan).

Could the editors have stopped drooling over the potential for click-through rate on this piece long enough to recognize this was not a transformative I survived veggies to return to the land of the meat angle, it could have been tossed aside with the no doubt daily slew of letters-to-the-editor that detail the brilliance and transformative powers of bacon. But, alas, the frenzy over Vegandale was too strong to not piggyback on, even months later. Basically every conservative newspaper reader and their mom is hoping vegans call the whole “year of the vegan” off already and join them at the dinner table anyway.

But since I’m feeling generous enough to back-up vegetarians on what they are (and again, nothing else), I should also take a short paragraph to recognize where Lewis gets a few things right. Yes, the Antler protests are confused since serving game meat (in a window or not) is no worse than serving up cheese-strings elsewhere. And I agree, the best food in Toronto does not fall under the “hunks” or “detox” categories. But no one who recognizes the unfair exploitation of animals could possibly hate protestors or salads enough to display the cognitive dissonance revealed here.

Imagine for a moment that when purchasing a Karl Lagerfeld jacket, a feminist reminds you of the inherently sexist position of the aforementioned designer. And perhaps that feminist doesn’t kindly tell you that, but instead, rips the jacket from your hands. Are you now dead set on not only giving up your belief in equality for all genders, but will make an effort to only buy clothing from named misogynists? Has that encounter with one unpleasant person that considers themselves feminist enough to essentially etch-a-sketch your brain of all information, feelings, and personal beliefs you held about women, feminism, and your choices before it? And have you henceforth exiled all considerate, education-focused, and non-confrontational feminists to be marooned on ‘all feminists are assholes’ island? I hope you see my point.

It’s absolutely ludicrous to insinuate that the choices of others are more foreboding than the problem at hand. Your opinion of the labels on the beer bottles at a Vegan Brewery have no effect on the lives of animals those fish-less brews look to free. Ironically, your black and white view of vegans adds a myriad of colour to the argument of the oppressors you claim to proudly represent. The shame Carly Lewis claims veganism casts over her is more likely the ghosts of moral uncertainty, spectres that are more likely fish than cows, wondering how morality can possibly be used as ammunition in favour of murder. If we let you keep teasing vegans, will you consider not killing animals?

Back in Parkdale, Lewis’ attempt to victimize herself instead of the two marginalized groups in question (residents and animals) is baffling. Likely, Lewis is choosing to ignore the fact that immigrants, refugees, and others in vulnerable situations comprise the workforce in animal food industries, since she claims non-veganism is not for a lack of understanding. Still, I would never attempt to negate the realities of systemic class and economic oppression, neither of which the restaurant scene of Toronto can end by shutting down their businesses or by offering more animal products. Besides the fact that the $8 fried avocado appetizer at Vegandale Brewery is a drop in the bucket when compared to the $89 strip-loin of neighbour’s Chantecler, we will not find the answers to combatting capitalism on the fronts or backs of any menu, anywhere. Still, we vegans decide that if we are to live in this capitalist society we’re shackled to, we can do so without also murdering a bunch of animals. Does it make vegans perfect people, saints by virtue of their devotion to tofu? Of course not. There are plenty of vegans out there who have yet to consider aligning the same non-violence that veganism requires towards other human beings, the planet, or otherwise. I know for a fact the same can be found in the camp that supports animal use, even if the only despicable thing they do is continue to feature “protein” on their plates for preference over fundamental justice.

So Lewis gets her way and vegans stop it. Without veganism, wouldn’t the angry and militant of us, converted back to non-veganism, do something else to rub people the wrong way? Or does eating animals make people calm, quiet, and courteous? The thing is, we’re not all Morrisey and we’re not all blowing up the Facebook comment threads. I didn’t see a recommendation for what we do, unless Lewis is suggesting we all use the shame of those violently preaching non-violence as the most practicable reason to stick our fingers in our ears and ignore the real “why” for veganism. You know, all those indisputable things that Lewis herself admitted or quoted Jessica Scott-Reid about environmental reasons for reducing meat consumption.

The inconvenience of existing on the same planet as people we don’t like proves to somehow be more motivating at swaying the moral compass of some than justice, climate change, global health, or food accessibility combined. Further still, the relationship between a smaller vegan carbon footprint and the ever increasing lack of land and water resources is left unconnected in favour of whining about plastic containers and feeling “gross” after consuming a supposed superfood. But veganism still has a way to go to shed the stereotypes of being nothing but cold-pressed, raw, kale cleanses that’ll have people dropping pounds and collecting medals. It’s that sort of arrogance projected onto veganism that often gets to people before the vegans themselves do. It’s how people can be outraged over the price of a vegetable grown in scarcity and shipped halfway around the world, but delight in the availability of locally-grown corpses. No doubt the system is off, as dictated by our demand. But affordable rice and pulses are ever available. They also remain animal, people, and planet friendly options.

I can’t help but feel Lewis is a card carrying member of the guild of judgemental extremists that she claims to be against. I would like to remind all who have made it this far that veganism isn’t about vegans at all, it’s about animals. I have no doubt that even with the soft tone of Beyoncé or the silent enjoyment of a 42-ingredient salad, Lewis and others would find justification for doing what they prefer over what is best for animals.

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