Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Shame, Shame: Vegan Stereotypes


A friend sent me a link earlier today to a brief interview on the Blisstree website (“How to Go Vegan Without Getting Weird”) with one of the two women who run a fairly new site called Vegan Housewives. The site features product reviews, recipes, crafts and a lot of bright Instagram-y faux-retro photos bringing to mind all things Sarah Kramer. I haven't actually checked it out all much except to click on a few links to bright and colourful things that aren't bright and colourful ads. In the interview with Vegan Housewives co-founder Kourtney Campbell, an unfortunate false dichotomy about vegans is set up immediately and it's this in particular which caught my attention.

The piece starts off by asserting that mainstream media presents a false dichotomy of sorts by perpetuating that there are only “two kinds of eaters: normal ones, and…vegans”. To dispel this, though, another false dichotomy is in turn set up, pitting the lumping together of almost every vegan stereotype imaginable versus what gets called “stealth” veganism:

[V]eganism still gets depicted as crazy, restrictive, unhealthy, unnatural, and for weird, crunchy hippies. But in fact, there are many stealth vegans among us, proving that you can go vegan without turning into a crusty, twigs-and-bark eating social outcast.
On the surface, one could shrug this off thinking that there's nothing wrong with pointing out that not all vegans fit into such an extreme stereotype (after all, we don't), but the thing is that in this either/or that's presented to readers, the “or” ends up driving home a truly confusing message about what it means to be vegan.

According to this piece and according to Kourtney Campbell, the idea of presenting vegans in a positive manner and as existing outside of the “tie-dye and dreadlocks” stereotype--presenting them as coming in all styles--can indeed be done. In fact, the implication is that Vegan Housewives site dodges that stereotype and that in doing so becomes so cool that even those who aren't vegan still read it. In fact, we're told that the site's other co-founder, Katie Charos, isn't even vegan herself. (That's one way to dodge vegan stereotypes, I guess!)

Campbell then goes on to explain in a weird and convoluted manner the sort of vegan she isn't (and the sort of vegan she thinks other vegans shouldn't be). To do this, she begins by (predictably) comparing veganism to religion. She bemoans how “other 'Christians' portray themselves with such hatred towards other people [...] just because they live a way they disagree with” and talks about how upsetting it is to her that those hateful Christians drive people away from Christianity in disgust. In case you're wondering where this is headed, wonder no more: The parallel Campbell proceeds to draw isn't to that old familiar stereotype of the proselytizing and judgmental vegan who (gasp gasp gasp!) has the audacity to voice aloud that using others is in any way wrong. No, Campbell compares her hateful Christians and the damage she sees them as doing to vegans who are so, so “extreme” that they actually--perhaps scandalously?--inquire in restaurants about whether their food was cooked in or alongside animal ingredients.
I know a lot of vegans that interrogate restaurants. Some even go as far as to ask if meat has ever been cooked in the pans or if you use a different part of the kitchen for the vegan food, etc. When I see this, I immediately think “this makes restaurants NOT want to cater to a vegan lifestyle.” If all vegans are this difficult, then why in the world would we ever want to serve them? And I would really like to know how an animal is being harmed by using the same utensils that were used to cook a non-vegan meal.
So according to Campbell, vegans adopting a don't ask/don't tell policy when it comes to finding out if that little bit of grease on their roll comes from a slaughtered sentient being's body is the main way to go about getting restaurants to “want to cater to a vegan lifestyle”. Basically, ignoring that what you're eating at that restaurant may contain some quantity of animal ingredients is the only way for a vegan to get restaurants to prepare food suitable to be eaten by vegans. Given that PETA's Bruce Friedrich and Vegan Outreach's Matt Ball have both chastised vegans for asking about animal ingredients in restaurants, it's no surprise that yet another so-called vegan would follow suit in this shaming others who merely seek to inform themselves so that they can avoid animal products. Stating that restaurants will only cater to vegans if vegans loosen up about consuming animal products, though? Really?

As for Campbell's sarcastically asking for evidence of how an animal was harmed if a utensil that's possibly covered in animal fat or secretions is used to handle and contaminate food otherwise free of animal products, I think that she's missing the point about veganism and what it means to reject animal exploitation and to avoid consuming avoidable animal products. Deliberately consuming reasonably avoidable animal products is just not vegan. Period. I mean, using her logic, one could argue that it's extreme for vegans to question whether part of a deer left on the roadside after having been struck by a car was used in their tempeh burger. Although she tosses the word “cruelty” around, Campbell admits to having gradually adopted a “vegan diet” for health reasons, so it's not difficult to see why she'd find it odd that someone would not want to eat food that's touched parts of other animals' flesh or bodily fluids. But does this give her the right to shame others who don't want to eat that food?

I remember years ago how an ex had been questioned about my veganism by a friend who was hosting a barbecue to which we'd been invited. I think my ex had mentioned that there was no need to worry about me and that I'd just bring something to eat that needn't sit on the grill. His friend asked what the big deal would be in having food which had been cooked on or alongside ground meat. Without skipping a beat, my ex asked:
“Do you find the idea of eating feces revolting?”

“Well, yeah.”


“What about eating something cooked on something that had just been covered in feces?”
The conversation ended. I got a chuckle out of how he'd handled it, crudely--yet effectively--comparing one form of revulsion (e.g. stemming from moral reasons) to another. The comparison obviously doesn't apply for all vegans and it is quite a bit more nuanced than that. But to some, myself included, the idea of biting down into a piece of flesh that once belonged to a living someone is really no different than the idea of biting into something covered with a little bit less of that someone's body, and I'd no sooner voluntarily do either than I would if feces were substituted for the animal flesh. If that makes me extreme of difficult, then so be it.

Maybe in Kourtney Campbell's world, good vegans are those who shut up about veganism and who willingly opt to ignore animal products in their food (i.e. those who are stealthy enough to pass themselves off as non-vegan). She says in the interview, after all that she “honestly [doesn't] think that at first sight anyone would know what kind of lifestyle [she chooses]” and that this “is kind of nice”. Bad vegans, on the other hand, are those who speak up for animals and who aren't ashamed to establish and defend their own ethical boundaries when it comes to their personal animal consumption. They stick out rather than appearing to fall in line with status quo by blending in. The truth is, though, that Campbell's not even attempting to argue the best way to change that status quo. She makes it clear that not being a stealthy vegan is tantamount to “pushing” veganism on others and that she wants no part of that.

Kourtney Campbell and Katie Charos might think that someone like me who has the gall to ask about whether there's pig grease on my lentil burger is pushy; they may view as negative my criticizing their shaming of vegans who actually take veganism seriously. But from a website which misleads its readership into thinking that it's actually written and maintained by two vegans when it's not, this isn't all that surprising. In the end, what matters to me is not whether being consistent in my avoidance of consuming animals is mocked and mischaracterized by other self-described vegans who choose to be inconsistent. In the end, what matters to me is that I not provide demand for further exploitation and that I make it clear that I take not consuming others seriously. That I may not be stealthy is less a concern to me than my worry that vegans are actually out there right now actively perpetuating speciesism, and that this speciesism is lulling people into thinking that there's anything right in continuing to use other animals as things existing for human use.

20 comments:

LiseyDuck said...

I wouldn't want my food cooked with utensils that had *just* been used to cook animal products and not cleaned properly or at all, e.g. stirring two pots with the same spoon. On the other hand, it doesn't bother me that a restaurant's pan (or any pan other than my own ones) have at some point been used for these things, provided it has been properly washed. I'm not entirely clear which of these options they're denouncing as too demanding though...

Vanilla Rose said...

Yeah, there's something really odd about non-vegans who want to get on the bandwagon and not go vegan.

Vanilla Rose said...

My comment on their felt bow post is awaiting moderation: "This all seems very adorable, but surely you should have mentioned (a) the importance of avoiding glue made from animals and (b) the use of non-wool felt. After all, we’re all about the veganism!"

Stacy said...

I never trust a blog that has as much sponsors as it does blog posts

Elizabeth Collins said...

"“Do you find the idea of eating feces revolting?”

“Well, yeah.”

“What about eating something cooked on something that had just been covered in feces?”"


I AM TOTALLY GOING TO USE THIS!!!!!!!! thank you!

The Bean's Blog said...

I think the point is that extreme vegan views can be exclusionary. We want people to eat vegan, but using the "beat them into submission" approach doesn't work. Trust me, I've tried and made people dig in their heels and refuse. If we want people to go veg. we need to let them into slowly, let them get a feel for it, let them realise is ain't so bad, actually it's pretty damn good, and hey, actually, I could do this and feel good about it.

Mylène said...

LiseyDuck, I got the feeling that she was denouncing both. She starts off writing about vegans "interrogating" restaurants and then says that some even "go as far as to ask" about whether meat had been cooked in the same pans or whether the food had been prepared in the same part of the kitchen. She's talking about cross-contamination on different levels, it seems.

Vanilla Rose, it seems to be the big thing these days, right?

Stacy, I'm not opposed to people making a buck, but it does get a bit problematic when they're doing so at the expense of other animals. I noticed that some of their ads are from non-vegan sponsors (e.g. The Body Shop).

Liz, feel free. I thought it was funny at the time.

TBB: What is an "extreme" vegan view? One where someone isn't afraid to check to make sure that what she eats won't contain animal products? Or that something she eats wasn't cooked on something possibly covered in animal products? Because that's what the focus here is about. What does this have to do with beating anyone into submission?

gfrancione said...

Great essay.

And yes, absolutely and unequivocally rejecting kiddie porn (even "just a little bit") is, indeed, "extreme" if one finds oneself in a group of people who consume it.

And so?

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers

Mylène said...

Thank you so very much.

Of course, you're absolutely right. It's unfortunate to see vegans actually going along with her line of thinking, though. But we've seen it all before with Friedrich, Ball, Marcus, Singer, this insistence that vegans' consuming "some" animals or animal products somehow serve a greater good than those who refrain from doing so. The idea that occasionally consuming animals would somehow make it easier to sell veganism to non-vegans is kind of ridiculous since at that point, you're not longer selling veganism.

gfrancione said...

But what can we expect? The self-appointed institutional guardian of veganism, The Vegan Society of the U.K., takes paid advertisements for places that serve dairy, eggs, etc. in its magazine, The Vegan.

For example, The Vegan carries an advertisement for the Lancrigg Vegetarian & Organic House Hotel and Green Valley Cafe & Restaurant. Lancrigg is described as a “A Haven of Peace & Inspiration.” There is an attractive picture of the building, which is in the Lake District of England. I went to the Lancrigg restaurant page and saw that patrons of the restaurant could get breakfasts that included poached eggs and homemade Danish pastries made with local organic cheese. I downloaded the sample menu and saw dinner items that included various cheeses, mayonnaise, ice cream, cheese cake, etc.

Accepting adverts for places like Lancrigg sends a message: “nonvegan but veganish” is good enough.” It sends a message that meat and dairy are morally distinguishable. It sends the message that “a little” exploitation is okay.

It's pathetic, actually.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Mylène said...

I agree wholeheartedly. It was a huge disappointment when all of that went down with The Vegan Society. Did they ever come clean about it officially, I wonder? Did they make any policy changes or are they still accepting ads from non-vegan businesses?

gfrancione said...

They're still accepting ads.

Last month, when this issue was raised by someone else on a site, VS PR person Amanda Baker invited me to correspond directly with the Vegan Society on the issue.

Although I certainly had corresponded directly with The Vegan Society in the past about their policy of advertising (and promoting) non-vegan establishments, I decided, in good faith, to try again given the gravity with which I view this issue.

So on May 2, 2012, I re-sent to The Vegan Society a lengthy memorandum on this issue that I had originally submitted to The Vegan Society on March 2, 2011. I asked that The Vegan Society change its policy. I requested (based on Ms. Baker's invitation) that The Vegan publish an essay by me on this matter if it decided not to change the policy. I have not received an answer as yet as to either part of my request. If I do not receive an answer shortly, or if The Vegan Society declines to change the policy, I will take the matter from there.

Let me say that I regard this as an absolutely fundamental issue. As things presently stand, there is a "Vegan Society" that takes money to advertise places that serve animal products. I regard that as nothing short of obscene and as contributing in significant ways to the confused, and erroneous, idea that one can distinguish flesh from other animal products.

The fact that this is even an "issue" over which The Vegan Society apparently has to ponder over for over a year is, I fear, rather compelling evidence of how very weak the institutional vegan movement is.

I will let you know of any further developments.

Gary L. Francione
Professor, Rutgers University

Vegan Housewives said...

I'm glad you got a chance to read my article on Blisstree. When I was asked to do the interview on such a touchy subject, I knew it would case a lot of uproar with some of my vegan friends and readers, but it's nice to see this discussion going on among vegans. We all have different ideas of how to work towards the greater cause and none of them are better than another, so I commend you on what ever sort of outreach you choose!

I actually worked for peta2 for a while, which was an amazing experience, but have been fortunate enough to help a lot more people make the leap through my preferred method of positive outreach (and sharing good food, of course)! I personally love being able to share how simple it is to be vegan with skeptical carnivores that I run into on a daily basis, which is why I started my blog and why I agreed to the interview.

I've actually been out of town since last Saturday, just got in last night and have been working all day, so I apologize that it took so long to get over to your blog.

I'm also not sure if you follow our site, but just wanted to clarify that we have always been open (from day one on our about me section) about the fact that Katie isn't vegan. I came up with the idea of Vegan Housewives and Katie was always making me vegan baked goods when we had get togethers with friends to ensure I wasn't left out. I don't believe someone has to be vegan to be able to help out with the cause (even though I'm still working on getting her to convert!) and her sweets are the best I've ever had, so I begged her to share some of her recipes and she ended up becoming a huge part of Vegan Housewives.

Our main readership tends to be non-vegans, which is who I really wanted to reach when starting the blog. This is also why we've made the blog so welcoming to everyone - whether they want to try a few vegan things or hate veganism all together, there is something for them on our blog and in all honesty, if they even try one recipe, replacing one carnivorous meal with one of our vegan concoctions, I see that as a success and a great start to a cruelty-free life!

This is also why we have focused on sharing and promoting not only vegan products, but products that are simply not tested on animals. A non-vegan more than likely won't go out of their way to purchase vegan beauty supplies. However, if they're made aware that they can purchase a wide array of non-animal tested products at stores they're familiar with (e.g. Body Shop, Bumble & Bumble etc.), that is the beginning of their knowledge, and knowledge is power - especially when it hasn't been forced on you, but just offered up as a fun fact.

Speaking of fun facts: I'm also not a Housewife (in case you were wondering), but I do own my own business which allows me to work from home, and we've been open about that from day one as well :)

As for using the utensils that have *just* been used for meat and the "don't ask, don't tell policy" that you mentioned. I may not have been very clear on that. I DO ask questions at restaurants and believe everyone should know what goes into their bodies, not just vegans. However, I have spent a lot of time with other vegans that take the question asking to extremes. In my personal opinion, if the utensils have been washed and cleared of the animal products, I am completely okay with them being used for my food. That was what I was getting at in the interview - not that I think vegans should give in and eat whatever is handed to them. And again, I apologize for any confusion that may have caused you.

Anyways, I just wanted to stop by and say thanks for reading the article and for posting your rebuttal. I hope you have a wonderful weekend & keep fighting the good fight!

veganelder said...

You write: "She says in the interview, after all that she “honestly [doesn't] think that at first sight anyone would know what kind of lifestyle [she chooses]” and that this “is kind of nice”."

So she is saying she chooses to follow the mainstream lifestyle...at least in terms of appearances. It is rather naive of her to not realize this to be true. Whether others choose to be more or less open about themselves...that's sorta their business, eh?

Anyway, it is highly doubtful that the penetration of veganism into mainstream behavior is anymore than trivially (at best) hindered (or helped much) by how some vegans behave.

The massive indifference and ignorance of the public...the huge profits associated with enslavement and death...now those are problems worthy of attention.

Vanilla Rose said...

I am pleased to report that there may well be a motion going to the next Vegan Society AGM re the issue mentioned by Professor Francione. Of course, if someone had taken the time to put forward a motion to last year's AGM, the issue might have already been dealt with.

I quite like Kourtney's comment (under the name "Vegan Housewives"), but her comments do still rather make me want to eat some bark ... just for the heck of it.

Mylène said...

Kourtney Campbell wrote:

When I was asked to do the interview on such a touchy subject,[...] but it's nice to see this discussion going on among vegans. We all have different ideas of how to work towards the greater cause and none of them are better than another, so I commend you on what ever sort of outreach you choose!

We may have different ideas about what's right, but I don't count shaming vegans who are consistent and unapologetic about their veganism as any sort of beneficial "outreach". It leaves me wondering what exactly it is that you define as "the greater cause".

I actually worked for peta2 for a while, which was an amazing experience, but have been fortunate enough to help a lot more people make the leap through my preferred method of positive outreach [...] I personally love being able to share how simple it is to be vegan with skeptical carnivores that I run into on a daily basis, which is why I started my blog and why I agreed to the interview.

PETA is a joke. They commonly engage animal exploiters to assist them in their sexist and sensationalist campaigns. It's no surprise that anyone would shrug them off. As for dealing with "carnivores", I realize that it's become really trendy for non-vegans dabbling with vegetarianism or veganism to use the term to refer to meat-eaters, but it merely confuses the issue.

I'm also not sure if you follow our site, but just wanted to clarify that we have always been open (from day one on our about me section) about the fact that Katie isn't vegan. [...] I don't believe someone has to be vegan to be able to help out with the cause (even though I'm still working on getting her to convert!) and her sweets are the best I've ever had, so I begged her to share some of her recipes and she ended up becoming a huge part of Vegan Housewives.

So basically, you don't think that someone needs to stop exploiting animals to promote not exploiting animals? You're saying that it's somehow alright to use the term "vegan" to refer to yourselves, when one of you has no moral issue with using animals? Really?

Mylène said...

Kourtney Campbell wrote:

Our main readership tends to be non-vegans, which is who I really wanted to reach when starting the blog. This is also why we've made the blog so welcoming to everyone - whether they want to try a few vegan things or hate veganism all together, there is something for them on our blog and in all honesty, if they even try one recipe, replacing one carnivorous meal with one of our vegan concoctions, I see that as a success and a great start to a cruelty-free life!

So you're basically saying that you don't care whether people go vegan and that as far as you're concerned, if a non-vegan merely has one meal that doesn't include animal products and then continues exploiting animals that this is success? Success for whom? For the animals enslaved and slaughtered for human consumption, or for you and your non-vegan business partner?

This is also why we have focused on sharing and promoting not only vegan products, but products that are simply not tested on animals. A non-vegan more than likely won't go out of their way to purchase vegan beauty supplies. However, if they're made aware that they can purchase a wide array of non-animal tested products at stores they're familiar with (e.g. Body Shop, Bumble & Bumble etc.), that is the beginning of their knowledge, and knowledge is power - especially when it hasn't been forced on you, but just offered up as a fun fact.

So you're deliberately promoting the consumption of animal products because it's more "fun"? You're using the word "vegan" to describe your site, yet are choosing to promote and endorse products that involves animal use and suffering because it's easier to promote these? Seriously? I'm confused with regards to how you self-identify as vegan when you unapologetically state that you promote animal exploitation.

As for using the utensils that have *just* been used for meat and the "don't ask, don't tell policy" that you mentioned. I may not have been very clear on that. I DO ask questions at restaurants and believe everyone should know what goes into their bodies, not just vegans. However, I have spent a lot of time with other vegans that take the question asking to extremes. In my personal opinion, if the utensils have been washed and cleared of the animal products, I am completely okay with them being used for my food. That was what I was getting at in the interview - not that I think vegans should give in and eat whatever is handed to them. And again, I apologize for any confusion that may have caused you.

Thanks for clarifying this point. It's unfortunate that you left it so vague. It's also unfortunate that you're judging those who don't really want to consume food that's been handled with instruments that have handled the body parts and secretions of other sentient beings as "extreme". I know a lot of vegans who don't eat at non-vegan restaurants because the idea of cross-contamination upsets them. I don't judge them for this. I don't mock them publicly and shame them for it. I think it's really messed up that you, who chooses to endorse animal exploitation in this business venture you have with someone who personally opts to use animals, should wag a finger at those who really do take animal exploitation seriously.

Anyways, I just wanted to stop by and say thanks for reading the article and for posting your rebuttal. I hope you have a wonderful weekend & keep fighting the good fight!

I do indeed plan on continuing to fight the good fight. I hope that someday you and your business partner do so as well, instead of promoting animal exploitation and erroneously co-opting the term vegan to qualify your business venture which is anything but.

Vanilla Rose said...

I am pleased Kourtney responded, but I think it is very unwise of her and non-vegan Katie to promote any non-vegan products on their site. There are plenty of vegan products for them to promote to people who are more likely to pay attention to the "not tested on animals" angle.

Marty said...

I can't imagine anyone faulting someone for asking about ingredients in their food regardless of the reason. Period. If we choose not to eat animal products and choose to eat out in non vegan restaurants than there is no other option to ascertain the inclusion of foods we don't want to consume.

As vegans we have to decide how far to drill down into the ingredient lists, (there's sugar in almost all restaurant cooking and I am willing to bet that not even the chefs know for sure if the sugar wasn't processed using bone char). I'm reasonably sure that the wheat I use to make my seitan has a ground up bug or two in it. I do what I can and don't sweat the small stuff. If you have a problem with utensils being washed after being used in prep of animal based foods than perhaps you shouldn't be eating in anyplace other than a vegan restaurant. I surely do NOT want something going between animal products and my food but unless it's a vegan only place who knows what's been on your plate or fork before?

What I do sweat is someone saying I don't have the right to inquire. I have as much right to ask about ingredients in a restaurant as a person with allergies has to inquire about peanuts or shellfish. If a restaurant has a problem, (and some do ... and that's ok), with my dietary choices, I just don't go back ... or walk out. Every place that serves food will not elect to cater to our needs but I have the right to ask about it.

I eat out about 200+ times a year for work. Most of my meals on the road are consumed in non vegan places. If they don't have items clearly marked as "vegan" then I have to start educating the server, possibly the chef, and start my litany of 20 questions ... "Is the rice cooked in chicken stock? Is there egg in the veggie burger? Is there milk in the bread? ... "

It's what I blog about:
Marty's Flying Vegan Review
www.martysflyingveganreview.com
@veganpilotmarty

eclecticfoods said...

Well there is a way to communicate with the servers and the like... and being interrogator and rude isn't really a good idea ...since they are getting your food ( you do realize that right).

Asking or explaining to them in a nice way usually gets much better results (( in my experience ))