Monday, January 09, 2017

On Whinging About Going Vegan When Not Going Vegan

Earlier this morning, on the My Face Is on Fire Facebook page, I posted a link to a Huffington Post blog by Lee Willscroft-Ferris, founder of Its first post was basically an announcement to set it up, presenting the context behind it that Willscroft-Ferris -- a longtime vegetarian -- had decided that going vegan was the next "logical step" for them to take, describing the ethical reasons behind doing so. Although the blog title ("Veganism: My Journey Towards Ethical Eating") is unfortunate, Willscroft-Ferris does describe going vegan in terms of overall lifestyle choices and as a "political" act, so hopefully it won't ultimately hinge upon food, but will explore all aspects of animal use. I'm keeping my fingers crossed although sometimes when it comes to writings about veganism in mainstream media, doing so feels like waiting for crumbs to be thrown.

Usually, so very many of these types of opinion pieces in the media end up being insincere bandwagon-hopping attempts to just drop the word "vegan" in an article without the article's ever actually having anything to do with veganism. Someone will decide to put themselves on a diet without doing any research whatsoever, then spend the article or series whinging about how deprived and inconvenienced they felt because they had no ethical issue with using animals in the first place. This is almost always the case with anyone who adopts a different diet without preparing themselves for it, though. Throw into the equation that veganism isn't just a diet and that there's this little thing called "motivation" which factors into the decision made by those deciding to actually go vegan in earnest and it's no wonder that these types of articles so often present "going vegan" as an awful experience.

Take for instance this article on the German Deutsche Well (DW) broadcaster's website. In "Visiting vegan: Could you give up animal products for a week?", British Berlin-based reporter Louise Osborne decides to embark upon the #howgreenami challenge (which I think is an environmentally-focused short-term thing launched by someone or other on Twitter) by purportedly "living vegan for a week". I found myself shaking my head from the beginning of the article. She describes having to replace warm fur-lined leather boots for cold Converse sneakers (there are plenty of winter footwear options available on the market which aren't made using animal products and which still keep your feet comfortable warm). Thus, from the start, "living vegan" is portrayed as miserable. In fact, just two days and four paragraphs in, Osborne states that all she feels is "resentment".

That it's self-depriving is also drilled home as the Brit writes about having had to give up her morning tea, because she usually drinks it with "a splash of milk" and hasn't been able to subject herself to the absolute horror of trying out a plant-based milk in it. She writes: "I'm not quite that desperate … not yet, anyway." So much for even exploring other options. She just assumes that those options would be hideous.

She pauses at this point to drop some statistics at this point about the rise in veganism in the United Kingdom, mentions the oft-cited UN report on the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gases, discusses the popularity of veganism in her adopted home of Berlin, then jumps right back into writing about her woeful experiment.

She decided to point out the social inconvenience of going vegan by bringing up an unplanned and unresearched restaurant outing with friends. The restaurant chosen ends up being one specializing in cheese fondue and grilled meat and as her friends encourage her to "cheat", she orders up creamless pumpkin soup and french fries. As her friends indulge in fondue, she whinges that she feels "left out" even though she doesn't "even like cheese". At this point, the writer's tone seems more akin to that of a sullen or petulant child's than it does one befitting a reporter earnestly exploring an angle for a story. She admits to having "cheated" and to having had wine she knew was processed with animal products and writes that "(i)gnorance is bliss".

She complains about visiting a vegan-friendly restaurant and ending up with chocolate she felt was sub-par compared to the milk chocolate she loves. Then, back to this weird confusion about clothing and her choosing to portray vegans as suffering through the winter months, she complains about her cotton scarves failing to keep her warm. She brings up the word "deprivation" to launch into the token interview with someone presented as an authority on old-hat veganism, writing that she wanted to know how "they lived" with deprivation. So she goes to a market and talks to a purported "health" vegan, then to someone motivated by animal welfare and treatment.

Osborne takes the opportunity to discuss treatment, writing that although she's concerned about it, that she doesn't "
absolutely oppose animals being slaughtered for food". She then brings up that old overused "but if we don't use wool, we'd have to use fossil fuels to make clothing" excuse. She then returns to her token vegan expert, the welfarist, who admits to her that she still uses leather and believes in making her "own rules" about which animal products she uses. She tells Osborne that she doesn't like being told what to do. Osborne wraps up her article agreeing with this attitude, referring to veganism as overly "strict" and finishing her piece off on an "every little bit counts" note.

The (un)funny thing is that these days, many welfarist animal advocates would likely read this article and repost it, presenting it as a positive thing and as a "victory" in terms of veganism being written about in mainstream media. To me, articles like these just reinforce the same old tired lies peddled by large welfarist organisations that veganism is too hard, too extreme, too alienating to the general public, too inflexible, et al. It's articles like these which these organisations use as "proof" that going vegan should be presented not as the least one can do for other animals, but as the most. Articles like these get used to argue in favour of focusing public education on flexitarianism, reducetarianism and all other forms of what is, essentially, excusetarianism. What we need to remind ourselves is that articles like these aren't about going vegan and that if we don't speak up about what going vegan really is that nobody will connect the dots. If we don't dispel the lies and bust the stereotypes, nobody else will. Louise Osborne certainly won't.

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