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