Some fellow vegans and I were mocking PeTA yesterday. You know the old saying: Sometimes you either have to laugh or cry? Genuine and clear-thinking animal rights advocates know the harms caused by sexist, sensationalist and wishy-washy supersized animal advocacy groups like PeTA. Each and every one of its campaigns and the mainstream public's response to all of them are seemingly never-ending reminders of just how effectively PeTA manages to leave the general public more and more convinced that anyone standing up for the rights of other animals must be missing a few marbles or hopped up on hallucinogens. If I seem to be straying a little into hyperbolic assertions, you really need to forfeit a few minutes of your life sometime to deconstruct one of PeTA's single-issue campaigns. At the very least, it will put things into perspective for you.
It was during this mostly tongue-in-cheek exchange that someone posted a link to a recent article in the UK's Telegraph by someone called Hannah Betts. In response to one of PeTA's ongoing and annoying "sexiest vegan" contets and described as a "vegetarian for some 30 years", Betts purports to answer the question: "Can a Vegan Ever be Sexy?" with a long rant filled with stereotypes, inaccuracies and a sort of rather obvious hatemongering subjectivity which leaves one hoping for the sake of her friends and family that her diatribe was at least somewhat therapeutic for her. (Sometimes it's good to just let it all out, y'know?)
It's no suprise that non-vegans would find it just as easy as vegans do to pick apart PeTA's campaigns -- particular its more sexist and fatphobic ones. Betts starts off by quoting from a PeTA press release:
“People go vegan for a variety of reasons, including the fact that vegans tend to be fitter and trimmer than meat-eaters, which makes them more attractive.”It's unfortunate that rather than just dissect PeTA's equating a person's thinness with sexiness and pointing out the problems inherent in this, and that rather than attempt to bust the whole stereotype of the lean health-nut vegan ('cause we should all be aware that there are vegans of each and every size) and to perhaps write something meaningful, Betts decides to keep her argument superficial. She attempts to establish that vegans are all, in fact, unattractive and undesirable creatures.
They Say Hate Is Blind
Betts suggests that "the notion of a 'sexy vegan'" is "an oxymoron" and then begans a series of snide deprecatory claims that are as much in need of a decent fact-checking assistant as they are just mean-spirited and, in some cases, just sort of bizarre.
Society may have got beyond the stereotype of the vegan as a flaky-skinned, flatulent tree-hugger to the point where it can imagine a flaky-skinned, flatulent tree-hugger wearing Stella McCartney. However, vegans are still not necessarily the individuals one would most want to make eyes at.So, whether or not they're dressed up in a trendy vegan-friendly fashion designer's clothing: vegans smell, have bad skin and are all hippies. This could have been something lifted from one of the Pork Network's badly-written anti-vegan articles. Betts continues by stating that going "plant" is, in fact, a pretty much guaranteed way to shed "one's sex appeal". But then she goes on to rattle off bits about celebrities -- many of whom aren't even vegan -- to try to prove this.
She describes Bill Clinton from his younger and more unhealthy years as "hot stuff" and refers to him now, much older and in less danger of keeling over from a heart attack as "skeletal". She says "[v]eganism has aged him 20 zombieish years" while altogether discounting that perhaps getting older has aged him. Clinton was president a decade and a half ago. The man's he's pushing 70. The fact that he's never been a vegan and now even eats fish and eggs also makes him a weird example with which to begin, never mind that his mug -- regardless of its age -- is likely not the go-to image most conjure up when they hear the word sexy. But the thing is that Clinton's dietary changes were made specifically to facilitate weight loss. He was in bad shape. To say "veganism" made him skeletal and purportedly unsexy is erroneous whichever way you look at it.
Another non-vegan, Beyoncé Knowles, is singled out next. Betts describes her as having become "unrecognisably gaunt, her hair and skin lack lustre" and compared her to a "malnourished waif" following a three week plant-based cleanse she did, designed in part for weight loss. Betts' description of Knowles refers specifically to her most recent appearance on the Grammys, where according to the pictures I've seen on the internet, her skin was glowing, her curves still curvy and her hair looked no different than it has in the past although minus her usual hair extensions. Again, any way you approach them, Betts' claims are bunk.
Natalie Portman (who went back to eating animal products while pregnant a few years back and who was quoted a few months back as anticipating that her forthcoming move to Paris would compromise any attempts at being vegan) is the next celebrity brought up. Betts pulls a big word out of the ether and describes her as "pulchritudinous" (i.e. a word used to describe someone of breathtaking beauty) but unsexy. She then rattles off a bunch of other celebrities (including non-vegan Ellen DeGeneres and some Hollywood starlets I'm certain anyone would deem quite fetching) as further examples. Her list made no sense. I mean, she even disses Brad Pitt. Now, I'm am most definitely not a celebrity worshipping fan-girl, but at this point it becomes obvious that Betts could be presented with a handful of the most universally agreed upon aesthetically pleasing individuals in the world and, upon finding out that they were rumoured to be vegan, would spit on the ground and mutter the words "you're disgusting".
In indulging herself in this diatribe, though, Betts does no better than PeTA. She basically takes a list of successful and (mostly) incredibly talented people, some of them non-vegan and the majority of them women, and belittles them according to her really warped perception of their beauty and sex appeal... and she blames this lacking sex appeal on their purported veganism. It's sexist, sensationalist gibberish not worth the bandwidth used to read the article.
On Attempting to Establish Credibility
Betts tries to build herself as some sort of credible authority on the nasties inherent in veganism by asserting that she has not "eaten meat for 30 years, apart from once" and that she "became a vegetarian for precisely the macroeconomic/ecological reasons that Peta [sic] and its furry friends so admire". She rattles off some stuff about how she became aware, as a teenager, that eating grain-fed animals was stealing grain from "the world's poor [humans]" and that this prompted her to go meatless.
To her credit, unlike most of the large welfarist animal organisations, she does not attempt to feign any sort of interest in animal rights. However, her set-up certainly leaves her with no more credibility to critique veganism. Yet, critique it, she does:
[A] diet confined to plants is an asceticism too far: denying the body, as it denies the life – social and otherwise; facilitating animal existence by curtailing human.She then lists off a bunch of food items as prohibited:
They are obliged to renounce: sugar (coloured with bone char), honey (the toil of bees), red foods (cochineal, made from insects), sweets, mousses, margarines, peanuts and crisps (gelatin, made from animal waste), soy cheeses (the milk protein casein), many breads (butter, whey), beer and wine (tropical fish bladders), even orange juice (often omega-3 enhanced) and the medicinal Bloody Mary (Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies).It's incredibly misleading, of course. I've been told that most white sugar in the UK is vegan (and even if it wasn't, it's not difficult to find sweetener produced without bone char filtration). Apples are red foods. Not all sweets are made with animal products (and -- gasp! -- you can even make your own without animal ingredients), peanuts and crisps are not all made with gelatin and soy cheeses are not all made with casein. Beer and wine are not all filtered with animal products. Not all orange juice is enhanced with animal-derived omega-3. The way Betts describes it, these things are all off-limits across the board. That's deception, plain and simple: "The life one subscribes to under such circumstances is not only obsessional, it is profoundly boring – for oneself and others. (Who could possibly envision a life without Bloody Marys, after all? The horror!)
It's all downhill from there. Betts goes on to refer to vegans as having the "neurotic cast of mind" apparently required to go vegan when, for instance, hypothetically being presented with an otherwise meatless dish with a "thimbleful of chicken stock" in it at a dinner party and lacking the "compassion" to oblige the host by gobbling it up. (Did you think there'd be no shaming vegans for not eating animal products in this article? Honestly? Scroll down and you'll even find the obligatory "holier-than-thou" reference) Betts continues:
[M]ost of us do not have a problem with the notion of animal needs being subservient to human ones. And, while many avoid the foie gras and veal crate extremes, a jar of honey, or a round of goat’s cheese, do not seem especially savage.So there we have it. No surprise that she lumps herself in with an "us" that condones animal use. Some may express shock that someone who self-identifies as a vegetarian would seem so callous about exploiting others, but this is where it's useful to point out that vegetarianism is all about continuing to exploit others. There's no ethical significance between drinking a glass of milk, devouring a pork chop or donning a fur coat. Speaking of fur coats, vegan-hating Betts is a fan.
But hey, just to make sure that her readers realize that she really is a voice of authority on all things "veg" and that she's done her time, self-flagellating with the most pesky of unsexy vegans, Betts spells details the horror of her own self-deprivation:
[M]y own periods of even non-fish consuming vegetarianism have also coincided with anaemia, vitamin B and D deficiency, inability to recover from illness, exhaustion and hair loss. “Trimmer” vegans may be, but the ability to bruise while resting my chin on my hand and the sight of hairballs around my flat did not immediately imply “fitter”.Because, well, nutrition... it's all in the meat, obviously. "Nutritional advice is nothing if contradictory," Betts tells her readers, but then informs them that it's nonetheless generally agreed upon that the healthiest diets in the world include at least some animal products. So it's contradictory if it's pro-vegan, but crystal-clear common sense if it ain't. Got it! It looks as if the diet which I follow while being vegan hasn't yet started to dim my intelligence so much that I can't follow Betts' brilliantly executed and flawless arguments.
Why Dontcha Tell Us How You Really Feel, Sweetheart?
But then again, I have some other issues with which to deal. You see, according to Betts, a vegan like me indulges in "[po]-faced extremes of behaviour" which automatically render me "unsexy". In fact, we vegans are all unsexy "[e]vangelists" and "zealots" and thus "seldom the coolest people in the room". As per Betts, incorporating animal exploitation into our lives would strike a greater balance in terms of "health, planetary preservation [and our] sanity". Hell, it would even finally leave us able to socialise with anyone other than our cats, she says, chuckling to herself over the "gotcha" that the cats eat meat.
Me? I think that given the chance between hanging out with Hannah Betts and a furry feline that I'd take the obligate carnivore's company over the obligate hate mongering idiot's. I get the sense that 99% of the people who left comments in response to her article would agree. Now can someone pass me some alfalfa sprouts? I'm feeling a little faint.