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Extinct bear gives journalists another excuse to rail veganism

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Since we’ve all gotten over the vegan Everest climber who passed away, and we’ve laughed enough at Italy for trying to send parents to jail for raising vegan kids, what’s next? Oh, claiming the end of an ancient species rests on it being a “picky” vegan.

Take your pick, and read through pieces on Daily Mail, Vice, or wherever you like to get your sensationalist news. Each will weave the sad tale of a bear that had the means to be a top-of-the-food-chain predator, but suffered extinction by choosing to nosh on plants instead.

A study published in the Journal of Quaternary Science looked at what these bears ate, and have subjectively decided that the absence of fish, insects, or mammals made them “vegan” bears (perhaps forgetting the more common, and less trendy classification of herbivores). No word on whether or not they chose to sleep with fur blankets made from other mammals, or if they road other prehistoric animals to work. Anyone else picturing the insanity of The Flintstones universe yet? Yup, it’s another instance of using “vegan” makes little sense – unless we want to go with the narrative that these bears were incredibly opposed to animal exploitation and chose to face their own death before inflicting it upon another. That would make a pretty great kids book.

Cave bears are said to have inhabited Europe 400,000 years ago, long before faux meats and juice bars were plentiful – vegans before veganism was cool. As far back as 25,000 years ago, they likely succumbed with the changing environment…but let’s make it look like these bears are stupid, and that they could have easily just hunted for some animal protein and been fine. Some writers went as far as saying a diet of plants wouldn’t be enough to sustain such a large animal, forgetting that there’s a world of creatures as large as bears that are currently thriving. Y’know…like gorillas and elephants. But they prefer to be called “plant based” to avoid semantics, too.

It’s very possible these animals ate nothing but plants, found none, and died out – that’s not what I’m interested in contesting. It’s the once again flagrant hijacking of the term “vegan,” in an attempt to scrutinize the movement and the people who believe in it, that I’m so deliberately against. We shouldn’t be frightened to be vegans because it didn’t work out this one time, hundreds of thousands of years ago, for these bears. Especially because we’re not bears, but also because eating plants isn’t what makes someone vegan. Hopefully it’s these anti-vegan themes in journalism that can go extinct next.

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  • Jax

    Thank you for addressing this. As a vegan, I think we should reserve the term “vegan” for humans.

    As a scientist, I want to point out that the researchers did not label the bear “vegan” in their journal article. (I went through the full article myself to be sure.) Indeed, they use the term “herbivorous” throughout the article. It appears that the authors of the news media sources you have cited are the ones who applied the term “vegan” to the bear. Unfortunately, it is all too common for popular media to misrepresent scientific findings for the sake of sensationalism.

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