Don’t Lower Your Standards
It has been a while since I was active in my wee cottage industry of responding to self-absorbed speciesist articles in the press. I was getting my hopes up that perhaps they were done for. I needn’t have. The Guardian returns to form and showcases the new fad of reducetarianism, telling us that vegans are neo hippies, ruthless, joyless and judgmental, while merely reducing meat consumption is an accomplishment without failure. The only focus of the article is on us – what we do, how we feel and how we perceive – the victims of our taste buds and vanity never make an appearance. The ones who die to be at the end of our forks, bottom of our glasses or on our backs are not even worthy of a mention.
Ms Nell Frizzell tells us that when she reads the definition of veganism, she hears it “is a way of life that ruthlessly excludes anyone who enjoys milk in their tea and will joylessly judge every element of your life until you give in and start wearing hemp.” Wow. Vegans are ruthless because we realise that just because something tastes good it does not mean that we should – in fact – ruthlessly kill that animal to get what we want. Vegans are joyless because we realise that there is no joy in dairy milk when a mother is forcefully impregnated, her kids taken away and executed or installed in the same cycle of exploitation just to flavour our tea. And … after all those judgments, we are judgmental. Not to fear tho, reducetarianism is there to cure “loud and annoying” “neo hipp[y]” vegans. [Seriously, what IS it with this use of the word hippy? Have we run out of words? So dull.]
Frizzell features Brian Kateman, the so-called founder of reducetarianism, a movement that celebrates anyone who merely reduces their consumption of meat for whatever reason. Someone will need to explain to me how reducetarians are different from any other nonvegan, because I cannot see a difference and if I choose crisps instead of an apple, does that make me a crispatarian for that moment?
When he was a student, Kateman went vegetarian, but ate “a small piece of turkey at Thanksgiving.” His sister called him out on it. He says that he was not trying to be “’perfect,’” as a vegetarian, he “was just about trying to eat as many foods as possible that were good for his body and good for the planet.” Instead of owning up to the fact that his “vegetarianism” was really only about himself in the first place, or even simply admitting to his sister that it was hypocritical to eat an animal while professing to be a vegetarian, Kateman chose to invent a new excuse: I reduce! (Therefore, I am.) Kateman identifies as a “pragmatist” and “utilitarian”, who is “’more interested in outcomes than processes.’” It is evident, then, that Kateman only focuses on himself, what he wants and what is useful to him. The animals do not matter much at all in Kateman’s equations.
Reducetarianism appeals to Frizzell and she makes lukewarm attempts at any critique (and I am being kind). Would Nell feel the same warm and fuzzies towards this idea if it were directed at her? How would she feel if her bosses decided that although they would like to give women working at The Guardian equal pay and treatment as the men, well, it just is not pragmatic or utilitarian because the process of doing so would cost the newspaper too much. Instead, the paper would treat some women the same as men, but not Ms Frizell (and for no good reason – for example, they might not think she is cute, noble or endangered enough because the likes of her are a dime a dozen). By reducing the number of women they treat inequitably, the newspaper increases the benefit to some women and reduces the harm to the overall number of women, a positive outcome you might say, but sadly Nell and any other woman who is like her would not benefit. Would Frizzell “celebrate” that result like the reducetarians celebrate “’anyone who decides to reduce the number of animal products they eat’”?
The reducetarian employer would say, “that’s the breaks, lady! Don’t be so ruthless, joyless and judgmental in your demands for equality. After all, you are just a woman and your inherent being – different than man – is lesser because we say so. Shove off and stop being a loud and annoying woman! We have given some women equal treatment and that is an accomplishment in and of itself. We do not consider it a failure that we have excluded you because we are not trying to be perfect. It’s all about our bottom line. It is not about you. Celebrate!” If someone said this, how do you think that would fly? Would you like that, think that it is fair or just? Or think about how would a reducetarian approach work in terms of racism, ageism, sexual and gender orientation or ableism. If we care about any of these issues, then we would completely reject a reducetarian approach (after laughing at it a lot). And if we care about animals, then we should do the same.
We often do not consider, and Frizell’s piece and Kateman’s work are stark evidence of this, that we cannot talk about eating meat without talking about dairy and eggs and about the animals themselves. It is the same as talking about sexism in the workplace without talking about the effect of it on women and only in context of how and what the sexists want to do. Yet, as vegans, we so often accept these types of discussions. Perhaps, this is because we are ill prepared and unaccustomed to talking about our rejection of speciesism in terms of basic justice and fairness. But, we would talk about any other –ism in that way. Instead, we hang on to any deceptively mildly benevolent sounding idea, without realising that we are selling out the animals each time we do so and that, unconsciously, we are being speciesist when we celebrate such daft notions.
I heard Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie say, “I know how quickly, in the face of sustained mediocrity, we collectively lower our standards, so that unacceptable things suddenly become not so bad.” Her words echoed loudly in my mind while reading Ms Frizzell’s article and Kateman’s self-absorbed trendy excuses. Theirs are mediocre attempts to avoid thinking about our actions or of their consequences and to pat us on the back for coming up with clever sounding terms for continuing to kill and exploit animals for no good reason. Accepting these attempts make them seem less harmful, but they are deadly. Our accepting these harmful notions will change nothing for the animals. They will continue to be the ones who pay with their lives.