Monday, January 21, 2013

I don't toe the line OR why I'm no longer calling myself a vegan

I have gradually come to the realization that I no longer wish to be associated with veganism in its current incarnation. I no longer wish to call myself a vegan, promote veganism or be identified with the vegan movement. As divorces go, this one is pretty much a mutual decision. You see, all I have to do is have a pint of Guinness or eat some bread that contains honey and I'm automatically kicked out of the vegan cult, I mean club, anyway.
I have been a vegetarian my entire life, I stopped eating eggs and dairy products in the 1970s when my mom became active in the vegetarian movement and I will continue to eat a plant-based diet but the word vegan will only be wielded for clarity when ordering food. My decision is mainly due to the attitudes of (some, well many) vegans I have encountered during my vegetarian advocacy. Veganism isn't just about food or buying shoes, it carries with it a whole suite of beliefs and ideas which I do not subscribe to. These include the idea that "speciesism" is an evil on par with racism and sexism, a belief that any kind of animal welfare legislation is counterproductive and an insistence on purity which borders on an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I don't think vegans have any idea just how ridiculous they sound when they throw out the word speciesist. You don't have to be a biologist to realize that real differences exist in the animal kingdom. The idea that you should ignore these differences doesn't make a lot of sense to most people.
What, really, is the meaning of speciesism? If it means that humans are in any and all cases to be given consideration while non-humans are not than I'm not a speciesist. On the other hand, I do differentiate between species and in this sense I am a speciesist. I can tell the difference between a puppy and a child and between a chicken and a hookworm. I believe that those differences mean that we should treat these animals somewhat differently. Call me crazy, but I don't believe that mosquitos should ever have rights. There is a nice discussion of speciesism here:
Not that most people think consistently about their relations with animals - it always amazes me how people can show so much love and affection towards a pet and yet eat animals that are just as intelligent and capable of suffering and feeling pain. But when ethnic hatreds are stirred up people can turn on and kill long-time neighbors so I guess this is just one of the unfortunate aspects of human nature that we have to accept and try to deal with.
A good part of this also has to do with the concept of so-called "abolitionist animal-rights" as espoused by Gary L. Francione and others - These folks are opposed to any kind of animal welfare legislation saying that the "welfarist approach" has failed and making animal agriculture less cruel will only prolong its use. Using this twisted "logic", abolitionist AR advocates are OK with cruel treatment of farm animals because it advances their ultimate cause. Perhaps it's even useful to have cruel treatment of farm animals alive today to *potentially* have a future where all animal use is abolished. I can't agree with this line of thinking because suffering is what I'm opposed to and why I'm a vegetarian. And how exactly has the abolitionist approach succeeded? Like it or not, Temple Grandin has reduced animal suffering more than any abolitionist vegan and she works for the meat industry!
I have come to believe that differences between individuals who would all love to see a future free of animal cruelty and exploitation comes down less to a difference of tactics and more to differences in personality. It drives me nuts that abolitionist vegans will say things like "it's not about purity" when it so clearly is. However, the idea that you can completely remove any traces of animal products and animal exploitation from your lifestyle is quite frankly wrong. Furthermore, your personal purity, in eating, lifestyle and ideology will turn off many more people than it will inspire.
Veganism has evolved into somewhat of a cult, you are vegan if you follow the rules that are agreed to within the vegan community about what constitutes acceptable foods, purchases etc. If you stray from this ideal people within the community will be offended if you call yourself vegan. Questioning the particular choices which are acceptable and not acceptable is generally frowned upon. It's nice to see that a recent VegNews has done an article about palm oil - a vegan alternative that is very damaging to the environment. I'm sorry but the world is just a lot more complex than the vegan = good and non-vegan = bad worldview tries to encapsulate.
I will continue to think for myself, eat and promote a mainly plant-based diet but I won't be calling myself a vegan.

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