Vegans for BDS
Yesterday, I heard a story on NPR about how one extended family that lived in two neighboring apartment buildings in Gaza was decimated - literally, 22 members of the family, including children - were killed when the Israeli military bombed their homes without evacuating the people who lived in the buildings, supposedly targeting underground tunnels used by Hamas. This extended family of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, children - a family of civilians with close business ties to Israel and who were unaffiliated with Hamas - is among the more than 240 known casualties in Gaza. As I write this, 12 have been killed in Israel due to this most recent conflict.
John and I started VeganStreet.com in 1998 because we were moved to speak up against injustice, oppression and cruelty, and speak up for justice, compassion and equality. As Vegan Street has transformed over the years, our vision and voice has expanded to include speaking up against persecution when we see it as our evolving vegan practice is one of expanding, inclusive advocacy. As naive as it might sound, we believe we cannot get to the root of what allows cruelty to animals to continue unchecked unless we can be clear-eyed and fearlessly honest about that seed of brutality - that poisonous seed that allows us to turn our fellow beings into commodities or pariahs based on arbitrary circumstances of birth - whenever we see it.
This is why Vegan Street stands in solidarity with Vegans for BDS, which is part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a Palestinian-led, non-violent movement for equal rights for Palestinians and effort to make Israel comply with international law. Just as there was an active movement protesting South Africa’s apartheid in the 1980s, there is a growing worldwide campaign against the deep systematic discrimination and displacement of Palestinians on smaller and smaller parcels of land. The South African anti-apartheid movement was ultimately successful with a multi-pronged effort that included vigorous boycott, divestment and sanction strategies, and the hope is to use similar pressure points to help indigenous Palestinians in their fight for basic human rights, fairness and sovereignty.
This is also why we support the Vegans for BDS in their campaign to pressure plant-based consumer products seller PlantX to end their planned expansion into Tel Aviv, which has been funded to the tune of $11.5 million by Psagot, an investment company that is financially linked to Israel’s military occupation. The cruelty of decades of occupation and control of Palestinian land cannot be wiped away with investment in a plant-based company, nor is such a relationship ever truly apolitical or neutral. In fact, as conscientious consumers and advocates, we must do everything we can to remind plant-based businesses of our ethics and values by holding them accountable to the violence they are aiding and abetting through their associations and investments.
As one half of Vegan Street, I wrote this as someone who feels deeply connected to my Jewish heritage; my grandparents were fortunate enough to evade genocide in Europe and my grandfather’s quiet but ever-present grief as a ghetto survivor is forever etched on my psyche. As a Jew, I was taught to speak up for the oppressed, to never be on the side of the oppressor, and to think deeply about the kind of person I want to be and the legacy I want to leave behind. My Jewish background instilled the values in me that led me to go vegan 26 years ago, and today, these same values lead me to stand in solidarity with Palestinians and their fight for human rights.
Please join me in asking PlantX to show true compassion and stand against injustice by not expanding into Israel.
What We Don't Say When We Say We're Vegan
When I first went vegan, it was the mid-1990s and I worked at an animal shelter in humane education. Although the concept of veganism was pretty much at the infancy of a growing public awareness - a little further along in some areas, less so in others - even then, I still had baggage as a rare in-the-flesh representative at my place of work. I saw the eyerolls and irritation when I’d request vegan meals at catered holiday parties. I noticed the smirks at my little attempts at advocacy and the snubs at group outings. When pushback happened, it was very noticeable because for the most part, we were a tight-knit group and got along great, except for those times that the simple fact of my veganism became its own wedge. I remember my last day there, I went out to lunch with Jennifer, a friend in my previous department, and she said, “You are one of those good vegans. You lead by example. Most vegans are way too pushy.”
Although it was meant to be a compliment, mainly what I felt as we walked down the street was baffled. How many vegans did Jennifer really know? How many did she interact with? This was in the days before social media, certainly before the internet as we know it today. I actively worked to find a vegan community and I only knew a handful of individuals myself, the same people who were at every rodeo protest and Meat Out leafleting event, so how could Jennifer - avidly a meat-eater, we had a relationship of playfully harassing each other - know so many vegans to have developed this entrenched worldview about us? It was also so early on that the trope of the pushy vegan wasn’t really a widespread thing because we barely registered as a blip worth being bothered about. Somehow, though, it was clear that Jennifer’s attitude was not isolated to just her but was aligned with the prevailing position of my coworkers. That was odd to me and it was then that I learned that simply by existing as vegans, even if we toe the line and don’t rock the boat (admittedly, not my strengths), our identity as vegans is already a strike against us.
. . .
Moments after wondering how Jennifer could have this vast experience with vegans, enough to form her dim view of us, I thought this: I was knee-deep in researching animal agribusiness, which was why I went vegan in the first place. Like many people in the process of going vegan, I read every article and book that I could get my hands on and I watched every horrific documentary. It was like a light in a dark room progressively being turned on to the point where the things you used to not notice became starkly illuminated. My little moments of outreach, were they really so invasive given what vegans know about the gravity and scale of unnecessary suffering and violence inflicted on innocent beings? Being seated at a leather booth at the restaurant with Jennifer, the smell of charred flesh and fried cheese in the air, bones soon to be on her plate: Did she have any idea how much tunnel vision the average vegan has to develop just to get from Point A to Point B without breaking down? As vegans, we have researched and immersed ourselves in understanding how animals are systemically brutalized and we see glaring evidence of it everywhere while most people don’t notice and we’re expected to keep it to ourselves lest we be perceived as pushy buzzkills. If people realized how much even the most outspoken vegans have to numb themselves to or steel themselves against just in order to peacefully coexist - things the average person doesn’t notice, from the innocuous-seeming cheese danishes on a platter in the breakroom that remind us of the horrors of the dairy and egg industries to coworkers who are selling tickets to BBQ fundraisers - well, I think they’d be pretty impressed with how stoic we actually are in the face of that and how much we keep things to ourselves.
. . .
Vegans are not the victims here. Make no mistake, that is not my point. The animals are the ones who are victimized. The broad-stroke characterization of vegans are a bunch of aggressive killjoys, though, is as unfair today as it was in 1995. If I were as sensitive and fragile as people seem to like to think of me, though, I’d never be able to leave my house, knowing what I know, and if I were a fraction as pushy as meat-eaters characterize vegans, well, I would never shut up. Ever, ever, ever. Yet I live a pretty normal life. Pandemics aside, I haven’t made a decision to barricade myself in my home just yet, though the thought has certainly been tempting.
The fact is, to be an effective voice for the animals, you have to be informed, which means pain, you have to engage, which means vulnerability, and you also have to detach for reasons of self-preservation. It often feels like both a clumsy dance and a tightrope walk. I have come to look at what we need to do the Hokey Pokey: You put part of yourself in, you take yourself out, you put yourself back in and on and on. You even shake yourself about. That is how you have to engage to be a long-term animal advocate, even when your whole heart is shattered and your nerves are shot. It gets easier as you go but there will always be imperfect moments because we are imperfect vessels.
I have heard many vegans say, “Once you see, you can’t unsee. Once you know, you can’t stop knowing.” I have said the same. Our paths have led us here and now we have to share what we know with the hope of jumpstarting someone’s heart, removing blinders, expanding awareness. It’s not always easy but it is always worth the effort. We can be an awkward combination of hopeless idealist and battle-weary cynic in one body, from one moment to the next, in our pursuit of trying to help the animals.
Pushy, though? Given everything? No. We are resilient and determined. We also don’t say a small fraction of what we’re thinking and what we know
. . .
"Stay in my own lane?" Dude, this is my f**king superhighway and you don't get to patrol it.
It seems whenever an expression gets adopted into popular usage, it isn’t long before it is co-opted and applied in ways that are far afield from the original meaning, especially when the words were created in Black culture and they are often appropriated heavy-handedly as a cudgel to mock or silence. (Check out this illuminating piece and subsequent Twitter thread by Black journalist Joshua Adams examining how the term “woke” evolved into a sneering slur to learn more.) It isn’t surprising when words or phrases change meaning; language is fluid and ever-evolving, and how we use it is personal and often stripped of its origins. We don’t have a universal brain for usage and interpretation. That said, it’s worth considering how these words and phrases, often originally grounded in an attempt to heighten awareness, are weaponized by white people. I am specifically thinking of another phrase that has been co-opted from Black culture, often used to silence and suppress.
I am talking about the knee-jerk use of the phrase “Stay in your lane.”
Whom do I hear it from and when do I hear it? I hear it from other white vegans and animal rights activists, specifically whenever I post content in support of BLM and against police brutality on our social media.
It goes like this: Whoop whoop! “Who’s that in my comment thread? Why it’s one of those self-deputized officers who police the best use of my time and apparently they feel I have strayed from my lane. I’m getting pulled over. Oh, noes!”
. . .
John, my partner in life and at Vegan Street, and I came to the conclusion organically that our veganism is part of
a larger vision that is anti-oppression. We have been activists together since we met in 1993, marching against wars, invasions and for equality from the beginning. Before we met, we were activists for causes from feminism to environmentalism on our own. This is not to get back pats but to say as individuals and as a couple, we have a long history of trying to integrate our beliefs with our actions and vice versa; to this day, at any given time, you might find protest signs against the rodeo and against the Trump administration smooshed up against each other in our car trunk, cohabitating discordantly but not uneasily. Our activism can be messy, chaotic and sometimes misguided but always with the best of intentions.
Not according to these self-appointed arbiters of what is and what is not a genuine and worthwhile use of our time and platform. They pop up like clockwork every time we post in support of other causes that are rooted in compassion, equality and justice, implying that we are either “showing off,” (or as the likes of Tucker Carlson might depict it, “trying to be woke”) or telling us outright that we should stick to vegan recipes and memes. If I had a dollar for every time I read some variation of “I’m here for the recipes; this is too much,” in response to a BLM post or a barking of “Stay in your own lane,” meaning, apparently, that our lane begins with vegan cupcakes and ends with jackfruit tacos, I would have at least a four figure check to send an animal sanctuary. Alas, scolding those of us with the nerve to stray from exclusively vegan content does not manifest as dollars so all I have is a repetitive stress injury in my hand from blocking people.
. . .
Why is it so hard to imagine that people who would be against violence and bigotry against other species may have a thought or two about police brutality and systemic racism? Why is this so mind-boggling? Isn’t inclusivity some of what we should expect from anti-oppression activists? Apparently not.
So in case there was any confusion, let me clarify what is in my lane: Speaking up against racism, discrimination and bigotry; connecting the dots against oppression; expanding my circle of compassion and concern; using my platforms to amplify the voices, messages and causes that are aligned with my values. Also in my lane: Vegan recipes, memes and anything I damn well please. What is most assuredly not in my lane: Following directives and being pressured into silence by vegans who are miserly with who they care about. Be gatekeepers of your own lane, people. In the meantime, I am happy to create and curate what is included in mine and I don’t need your feedback or approval, Officer Friendly.
Go police your damn self.
Of Worst Case Scenarios and Learning to Love Again
There are times when the worst thing you can imagine happens. For anxious people like me, worst case scenarios (WCS) usually only happen in the mind, though that doesn’t mean that the suffering is lessened much and it doesn’t mean you skated through it without a bump or bruise.
Over the past couple of years, I had a few potential “worst things” happen outside of and within a collective difficult time, including one rather massive lifequake, and somehow managed to dodge the worst effects of those bullets. I was rendered a little wobbly, yes, but the WCSs were somehow evaded. On the last day of July, though, I wasn’t so lucky. We weren’t so lucky.
Something bad happened and it really happened.
We lost our beloved Romeo suddenly, unexpectedly and horrifyingly. He was a ten-pound ball of fluffy curls as well as my personal earth angel who saw me through all of the jarring vagaries of the past couple of years with steadfast loyalty and love. Words fail to describe the breadth and contours of the trauma and deep, cascading and erupting grief that followed his death and continue to tug at me but I will just suffice it to say it was one of the worst experiences of my life.
I have lost loved ones abruptly and I have lost them in protracted, bit-by-bit ways. There is no reason to quantify the devastation of each individual loss but I will say when trauma is involved, the suffering is worse. While the losses are all uniquely felt and grieved, some, especially when there is ceaseless suffering, can be experienced with a measure of relief for the end of one’s pain. Not with Romeo, though. I wouldn’t say Romeo was in the prime of his life because every freaking day was his prime as he greeted each day as a fresh joy to bask in, but it was definitely premature and to say that his death hollowed me out is an understatement. The loss, right when we were finally seeing the light at the end of my husband’s scary, circuitous medical marathon, was gut wrenching in the anatomically-correct sense of the word.
. . .
How do you love again after devastation?
It seems to me that allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to love again and risk loss is an act of faith, betting that the benefits of potentially exposing yourself to grief again outweighs the drawbacks. In my case, it is trusting that I would rather have the multitude of joys (and occasional hassles) of a life shared with another frustratingly mortal and impermanent being than armor my heart against the pain of loss and settle for the sadness of longing instead. I opted to open my heart again to another.
Ruby-Mae was one of six puppies born to a pregnant chihuahua my friend rescued and fostered. She and her littermates were born on Mardi Gras, February 13, so they all had New Orleans-inspired names. Ruby-Mae was originally Roux, as in a flour and fat that have been slow-cooked and whisked together to thicken a dish, common in recipes like the gumbos and jambalayas of Louisiana. When I saw my friend’s post that she had puppies in her home, I felt a little pluck in my heart. It was an opening. I checked back in with myself. Was it just the feel-good hormones from seeing happy, safe puppies? I slept on it. No. I was ready to adopt again, and I let my friend know I was going to toss my hat in the ring of prospective adopters. If it worked out, great; if all the puppies we’re already spoken for, well, that was okay, too. All I knew was that my heart was ready again. About six weeks later, I learned that a puppy was mine if I still was up for adopting. I checked with my heart again. I was ready. (Oh, I also checked in with my household.) Two weeks later, we picked her up and Roux became Ruby-Mae. On the car ride, she started relaxing her weight against me, an act of trust. Ruby-Mae was home. Today, it has been one week. She immediately became an essential part of our family.
. . .
I remember when my son came home from the hospital after I’d given birth, even though I’d had 35 years without knowing him, within a week, I couldn’t remember a time without him. What did I do before??? (Well, sleep was one thing.) It is the same with Ruby-Mae. Yes, she has the needle-like teeth of a pterosaur and an uncanny - or perhaps fully canny to puppies - ability to summon forth every carefully hidden cord in every room like a snake charmer, but she is perfection. Like Romeo, Ruby-Mae is tiny (actually, he would look like a giant next to her) but she is lion-hearted, self-possessed and full of life. She’s affectionate, sensitive and never met a sweet potato chew she didn’t devour like a termite in a Warner Bros. cartoon house.
I am head-over-heels. How could I not be? First of all, there’s her little puppy grunts and breath, that’s a given. There’s her perfect little chestnut eyebrows. How observant she is, how playful, loving and hilarious. I even love those toenails that rival her teeth for pointiness.
She is not a stand-in for Romeo. No one could be his proxy. She is her own perfect Ruby-Mae.
Perhaps one of the biggest obstacles to veganism for many people is one they will encounter right away: The avoidance or even dread of entering new territory that is wired right into us. Right out of the gate it seems that moving towards veganism is hamstrung by this innate desire to avoid the things that make us feel vulnerable, like mistakes, imperfection and discomfort.
No huge shocker here, but I have some thoughts about this.
. . .
When I first went vegan in 1995, it felt like the learning curve was both very steep and jagged. Even as a vegetarian of over ten years at that point, many things I used to eat, wear or buy were no longer available, that was a given, but even some things I’d thought were fine had animal ingredients in them. I was lost at cooking, figuring that so much -- pizza, enchiladas, chocolate chip cookies -- was never going to be eaten by me again. Then there was my wardrobe. Then there was dining out, traveling and social gatherings. Everything felt challenging and ungainly, expensive and impenetrable; every attempt to minimize mistakes felt miniscule and futile. That first year, I hit so many walls and was humbled pretty much daily. Things were legitimately tougher then, though: we didn’t have the options and inroads we enjoy today. Plant-based diets were far more uncommon and certainly not dependably available on a widespread basis. My mind was made up, though. I was going to do this thing through sheer force of will if necessary.
Through the stumbling, though, I was learning. I was gathering my resources. I was gaining experience. I was learning -- painfully, at times, and full of frustration as well -- things that I could apply immediately to making veganism easier for me, like where I could find lunch options at work if I didn’t bring my own within a ten-minute walk, or how to find cruelty-free cosmetics and personal care products through my worth-every-penny guidebook that fit in my bag. Through activism, I found new friends who shared my values and lifestyle, and we helped one another gain more proficiency and better shoes. I found new recipes I loved in the vegan cookbooks that were starting to pop up here and there and I even started the process of figuring out how to adapt old favorites with dairy and eggs. (If I never have to have another agar cheesecake, though, I won’t miss it. No, not even for old time’s sake.)
The point is, slowly but surely, a certain deftness developed within me. If veganism hadn’t been as important to me as it was, I probably would have quit after the second time I mistakenly bought “dairy-free” cheese with casein in it (((shudder))), but it was that important so I didn’t quit. Lo and behold, it within a matter of months, it got easier. Yes, I still stumbled, just as I sometimes do today, but less often.
This should not be a surprise. It works this way for learning all things: Practice, consistency, intention, perspective and attitude make all the difference.
. . .
The first time my veganism was tested in a major way, and also the first time I really internalized that “Hey, I’m kind of good at this!” feeling was when we took a road trip down Route 66 the September after going vegan. I was understandably nervous about driving through parts of the country that are still, more than 25 years later, not exactly vegan hotbeds but I figured that we could stock up on nutrition bars and power through. At times we did just that - or dug into our stash of the only hummus in 300 miles to get us through a long stretch - but more often than not, we did just fine. I flipped through my dueling, well-worn vegetarian restaurant directories with notes in the margins and we found places to eat. I figured out how to cobble together meals at the hotel breakfasts. A vegetarian server at a Chinese restaurant in Missouri helped us to put together the best meal we’d had in days and even gave us crystals as we walked out the door. Health food stores fueled us with snacks. I learned how to read between the lines on menus and develop confidence with ordering food. It was kind of a trial by fire, but because of that and the previous work I’d done to learn how to do this, by the time we returned home a week or so later, I felt a new self-assurance in my veganism. If being hungry on the red dirt roads of Oklahoma without obvious vegan options didn’t break me, nothing would.
Expect that there will be bumps, especially in a world that is not exactly designed for veganism. That is part of learning and those very bumps will help you to gain experience and skillfulness. Do it long enough with the understanding that it’s not about perfection -- which is about the ego -- and about trying to live a more conscious, compassionate and intentional life, and before you know it, you will have plenty of smooth surfaces between the bumps. It won’t be long, too, before you’ll be having your own a-ha moment of figuring out your options at your metaphoric only-restaurant-in-miles-in-Oklahoma and when that happens, you will know that, baby, you’ve got this.
Did you have a moment or experience that really challenged your burgeoning veganism? What did you learn from it? How did that help you gain your confidence as a vegan?Recognizing that many of us have neophobia to greater and lesser degrees is an honest place to start. Even if it’s not a raging phobia with a capital P, learning new things is often uncomfortable because of the unavoidable period of uncertainty and awkwardness before integration. It’s just baked into pushing yourself in new directions and many of us are wary of “looking stupid”, even when no one is watching. If you want to maintain your current level of normalcy, that is easy enough to do. Just keep doing what you were doing and don’t take on new challenges because they all require a period of incompetence, from learning ballet to learning a new language. Wading into new waters requires a certain willingness to stumble or fall, pick yourself up, learn and grow from the experience, and adopting veganism is no exception as it is a new territory for many of us. It’s easy to maintain the personal and cultural status quo of not rocking the boat, and accepting that the discomfort of learning something new is necessarily part of the process can be challenging to those of us who just want to get it right the first time.
1970s Sitcom Characters as Vegan Archetypes of Today
Are you a little Rhoda? A dash of Vinnie? Do you know someone who’s basically Maude? Believe it or not, we can look at sitcom characters from the ‘70s and find plenty of vegan archetypes.
Let’s dive in, shall we? Laugh tracks are optional.
Mike & Gloria Stivak All In the Family
A vegan power couple if ever there were one, Mike and Gloria Stivik are the pair that go to protests together, host monthly potlucks, book clubs, a speaker series and anything else they can squeeze in. Mike’s bombastic father-in-law may have called him “meathead” but we all know his noggin is powered by vegan protein, and Archie may have called Gloria “little girl” but she is self-possessed and always stands up for what she knows is right. Sometimes Mike and Gloria bicker over who was supposed to bring the megaphone or the best way to store their vegan leaflet collection, but this duo is in it to win it for the animals. Even if they might be a smidge too intense, earnest and, well, dorky at times, no one doubts their integrity and many wish they could find a similar vegan partner who is up for protesting the rodeo and hitting the vegan buffet alike, just like Mike and Gloria have in each other.
. . .
Rhoda Morgenstern Rhoda
A creative professional by day, the acerbic Rhoda Morgenstern will never waste the opportunity to knock the wind out of meat-eating trolls with her signature, corner-of-her-mouth put downs. She’s so deft, dry and surgically precise with her well-timed barbs, the targets scarcely know what even happened, except that they have been owned. Unlucky in love thus far, Rhoda has a stylish headscarf for every occasion and would be the perfect partner for anyone who is entertained by nonstop sardonic commentary about foolish behavior and would be content being happily child-free for life.
. . .
Maude Findlay Maude
The unofficial leader of the leather-free sneaker brigade, Maude and her feisty friends will show up to all the protests with their signs from 20 years ago and they may have some cat fur on their clothes, but Maude and her squad are nothing if not steadfastly reliable, which is what the animals need from their advocates. Rain, sleet, intense heat or cold be damned, they will show up against exploitation in their jackets festooned with animal rights buttons more consistently than activists half their age. Maude is smart, confident and is never afraid to put a wanna-be hit-and-run troll in his place with her withering put-downs, more heated than Rhoda’s asides but just as wounding, plus she’s able to literally look down her nose at rando clowns because she’s at least a foot taller than almost anyone else
. . .
Lionel Jefferson The Jeffersons
Educated, witty and opinionated, Lionel manages to be a powerful voice for progressive change without talking down to people but allowing them to see the flaws in their logic. Because he is so clever with his takedowns, Lionel gets accused of being uppity a lot but he remains cool as a cucumber in the face of angry pushback and he’s always got more blistering insights certain to get under the collars of those who prefer the status quo. His little knowing smile reveals it all.
. . .
Chrissy Snow Three's Company
It’s not easy to get the best selfies and food photos when you’ve got two roommates and a very nosy, bumbling landlord, but bubbly vegan influencer Chrissy Snow is going to give it her best shot, no pun intended. (Or was a pun intended? Chrissy forgot and she doesn’t care.) People often underestimate Chrissy because she can come across as being a little shallow but she pays it no mind because when everyone wants to know what she eats in a day, what her fitness routine is, what her favorite cruelty-free personal care products and cosmetics are, that trickles down to wins for the animals. Chrissy sees no insult in being called a bunny hugger anyway. Bunnies are cute!
. . .
Felix Unger The Odd Couple
Felix Unger is a little high-strung and is way too prone to asthma attacks to be a bunny hugger of the likes of Ms. Snow above (he is allergic to hurt, feathers, scales and just about everything) but that doesn’t mean he won’t throw it down for the animals because what he lacks in human warmth, he makes up for in persistence. With a personal library full of only the densest, most high-minded books that make a moral case for the equality of all species, Felix is a true crusader for animal rights and is more than willing to pontificate on his views at length, whether or not his speech has been requested. Known for his ability to clear out a party single-handedly, Felix doesn’t mind because there’s less for him to get an allergic reaction to and he can have plenty of vegan leftovers to bring to his roommate, whom he keeps trying to convert. (Won’t happen, Felix)
. . .
Sue Ann Nivens The Mary Tyler Moore Show
Sweet and sassy Sue Ann Nivens can craft and cook with the best of them but don’t let her dimples fool you into thinking she’s just a happy homemaker. Sue Ann has a rapier wit and more than a few sharp edges in addition to hot glue guns, craft scissors galore, a well-stocked spice cabinet and enviable kitchen implements. The original DIY vegan, Ms. Nivens was the first to experiment with aquafaba and air fryers and she’s always got something soaking on her counter, whether it’s cashews (for cheese) or grains (for rejuvelac). Sue Ann is here to make veganism more accessible for the masses, even if the amount of information she can retain is a little intimidating to the average newbie, and if she’s a little overwhelming with her resourcefulness, well, she’s not going to apologize for being so darn competent and talented. Now, should we make a homemade tofu press?
. . .
Vinnie Barbarino Welcome Back Kotter
Vinnie Barbarino was born for the era of social media and, boy, does he ever work that iPhone and selfie stick for the animals. Here’s Vinnie flexing in front of animals in a truck bound for slaughter. (There are pigs in the background if you look really close.) Here’s Vinnie in a Speedo posing with his girlfriend on a tropical beach, because nothing screams social justice movement like a little #VeganInspo. Here’s Vinnie finding whatever camera and controversy he can because he’s not thirsty, he’s just passionate. Oh, Vinnie.
. . .
Cousin Oliver Martin The Brady Bunch
Precocious and adorable, Cousin Oliver is the spokeskid for the animals. Pushed in front of cameras to make heartfelt entreaties to the public for compassionate living, it is hard to deny that this kid can really work the charm. Enough said.
. . .
Dwayne “Schneider” Schneider One Day At a Time
Known almost exclusively by his surname, Schneider is one of those unpretentious fix-it guys you’d never think was vegan, which makes him a great secret weapon. Schneider is the guy you call when your humane trap stops working, the sanctuary tractor needs fixing and you need a pick-up truck for the vegan food drive you’re doing. Schneider has a heart of gold, and he doesn’t want or need accolades for it. In fact, the only social media he needs is being able to yell out a window to tell you he’s got an inside track to some extra kitty litter if you need it.
Do you have any to add?
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When Unity Is Untenable.
Like many people who grew up under a yoke of dysfunction, I was raised with the belief that loyalty to family was a virtue that was both paramount and inviolable. It was not something you thought about; the mere act of considering an alternative to steadfast loyalty was an indictment of one’s character. Loyalty was understood in my household as unswerving, unquestioning obedience as opposed to anything I would have any agency over. Loyalty from this framework removed the element of choice: You were uncritically obedient. You agreed with your father, no matter how irrational he was, because otherwise you’d get in trouble. You didn’t question your aunt’s views, no matter how hateful and bigoted they were, because doing so would be disrespectful. You toed the line. Buttressing this expression of loyalty was its heavy-handed cousin, the notion of unity.
I know when I am being asked to suspend or discard my own thoughts and values for the sake of unity because that was the environment I grew up in, like many others. We were raised with empty platitudes that exhorted us: We must unite. We must stand in unity. We must be united together. Because we grew up with this notion, we recognize when we’re being pressured to fall into line again.
. . .
Unity makes sense from an anthropological point of view.
The survival of the family, thus the continuation of the genes at the most fundamental level, meant we came together in a united front to uphold and defend the members of our tribe. We were stronger woven together than as individual strands. If there was wavering, if there was less than conformity behind each other and especially behind a “leader”, it made the whole unit more vulnerable to being attacked. This makes all the sense in the world if there is a mastodon charging at your living quarters, but starts to become irrational pretty soon after that.
These ancient echoes still reverberate in many of us, though, fostered by family and messaging by society and perhaps even coded into our DNA. A display of unity is what we learn from an early age to avoid being cast out and exposed to potential harm. Our primitive genes can’t really tell the difference between real and perceived threats. Even when we live seemingly very autonomous, self-sustaining lives, the expectation that we will fall in line with those in our units remains a powerful pressure point for leveraging compliance.
. . .
With the new administration in the U.S. last week, I heard this theme again, the same one I have heard my whole life, the calls for unity, the ending of division. On paper or in oration, this can be moving and often high-minded: Who is for division, after all? That said, we must very seriously consider who we are being asked to unify with in these calls and what is at stake if we heed the call. Are we being asked to unite with people who promote long-disproved notions of the earth being flat? Are we being asked to unify with those who promote convoluted, often bigoted-at-the-very-core conspiracy theories about a shadowy elite (*cough*Jews*cough*) trying to rule the world? Are we supposed to be united with those who believe in the supremacy of white people? With misogynists, propaganda boosters, violent and regressive rioters?
Further, in practical terms, how is this unification supposed to happen? Is the middle ground a place where we accept some of the notions they believe in or tacitly agree to overlook them?
I mean this quite seriously: How do we unite with something or someone that is anathema to our values? I suspect that if we do, we would be asked to accept an erosion of our own morality. Just like when disgraced former reality TV host Donald Trump characterized white supremacists as “very fine people” alongside anti-racism activists, those who were upholding a position against bigotry were deeply downgraded and the racists were suddenly - and very undeservedly - elevated. What happened in Charlottesville should not have taken on the tone of breaking up a brawl between two toddlers over a Tonka truck: This was people on the wrong side of history, the side of history that supports genocide and a belief in racial superiority, suddenly being as decent as those fighting against Nazism, as if these were equally right factions who just had different opinions. It is also like the fundamentalists who insist that creationism be given equal time to evolution in public high school science: It simultaneously elevates one to a position it has not earned as it devalues the other. That is always how these things balance out.
It is irrational, unconditional, unfair, unearned and dishonest.
. . .
We hear this same call in the vegan movement when we are told to put aside our values for the “greater good” of a united front. We are told to great manipulative effect that we are hurting the animals by being divided. Especially when we know that QAnon followers, flat earthers, misogynists and racists are found in the vegan ranks, how would we unite with conspiracies and bigotry without tipping the scales in that direction?
I will never, ever unite with vegans and animal rights activists who promote junk science, unhinged conspiracy hypotheses and oppressive, bigoted views. It does the animals no benefit to unite with such individuals because it cheapens and discredits all of us, thus it hurts our outreach and the animals. What we need to do is elevate. If the people promoting oppressive attitudes and/or disinformation want to meet us there, that is where we can start. They can become better educated. But never, ever should we debase ourselves and this cause by uniting with that which is anathema to an informed, educated, diverse and compassionate social justice movement.
. . .
Our Changing Trollscape:
Or My New Year's Goals for 2021
I can’t tell you how much I don’t believe in the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Or maybe I should say, I can tell you quite emphatically that I don’t believe New Year’s resolutions are usually that effective. I can give you all kinds of evidence to support my attitude about resolutions in general, especially on super-charged occasions like the start of a new year, but I think instead I will just cut to the chase, because while resolutions don’t do much for me, I am a Type A person and I place a lot of value on productivity, so I’ll say that I sidestep the issue by reframing what might otherwise be called a “resolution” as a “goal” and doing it pretty much any time of the year. Works for me.
Ever the contrarians, John and I went vegan on February 1, 1995, that is how much I don’t believe in the solemn January 1 resolution, and maybe that is part of why it stuck.
All these years later, I feel like I am always refining, buffing and trying to improve my vegan practice; at this point, it’s like micro-movements rather than sweeping changes, but even these seemingly small tweaks can feel like a lot. It is both easy and tempting to not stray too far from our comfort zones, but I think it’s worth looking into how I can breathe new life into my expression of veganism, to keep it fresh and dynamic for myself but also improve it.
My goal with regard to my veganism in 2021 is to stop wasting my attention on those who don’t really deserve it. I’m pretty sure that I reaffirm a vow to do this every year - heck, every day - but it deserves to be underscored: I will not be arguing with people anymore on social media. In the past, this would be a meat-eater who was content to waste my time with predictable but still hurtful jabs. What is very different these days is that now our primary trolls are not bacon enthusiasts and dairy farmers but other vegans.
Heh. Let that sink in. Heck, let me italicize that for effect: Most of our trolls are other vegans.
From people who believe that Black Lives Matter is reverse-racism to those who think the coronavirus is a hoax, we are bombarded with vegan trolls and haters all the time, but especially when we pivot away from vegan-exclusive content. This is not to say I won’t ever argue back at some misguided troll who tells me to “stay in my lane” when I amplify other social justice or important causes (my lane, presumably, is one lined exclusively with vegan cupcakes and cashew cheese) but I will do my best to ascertain when it is no longer productive to engage. The researchers of this large study on productively arguing online found that some back-and-forth exchanges on social media and comment threads can be fine, but anything past three or four exchanges and your chance of being persuasive becomes quite low. So, yes, I am officially recommitting: I may post rebuttals to disinformation or unfair accusations for other observers, but I refuse to give my precious attention to those whose modus operandi is to confuse, redirect, obfuscate and promote disinformation.
If you find me engaging, feel free to intervene. It’s sad to realize that most of my trolls are other vegans, but I guess it’s healthy to not be in denial.
Do you have a vegan goal for 2021? Or do you have a favorite way of dealing with vegan trolls?
Vegans Decide: Am I an Apologist or an Extremist? Depends on the Eye of the Beholder.
The other day my son asked me a question that turned out to be more nuanced than at first blush, as his questions tend to be. He asked what was the most common criticism other vegans leveled at me. I said, “That I’m an apologist,” fresh off that day’s latest disapproving comment on Instagram. “Or that I’m not vegan enough.” Then I thought about it for another few seconds and said, “No, it might be that I’m an extremist,” remembering a random potshot from the day before, this time on Facebook. “That I’m a purist.” The more I cogitated on it, the more I realized that the scornful comments from other vegans about how I practice my veganism seem to happen in equal measure on either end of the too strict/too accommodating continuum. Weird, huh?
Let’s first look at some real-life examples that will set off the armchair critics…
• If I give someone seeking advice guidance on phasing animal products out of their lives rather than shame them for not removing it all at once? I’m an apologist.
• Even though I know it is a process, I don’t pretend that animal products are harmless. Thus, I am an extremist.
• I understand that we live in an imperfect world, thus even our choices as vegans are unavoidably influenced by this, so I’m an apologist.
• I still hold that we should do the best we are able to despite this lack of perfection. Therefore, I’m an extremist.
• If I am encouraging to non-vegan restaurants when they try to incorporate more plant-based options to their menus it must follow that I’m an apologist. (I’m also a sell-out who doesn’t care about vegan small businesses.)
• When I give restaurants feedback that removing animal-based ingredients and still paying for them without a substitution is not a fair or considerate option for vegan diners, it must mean that I’m an extremist. (I’m also pushy and discouraging.)
. . .
Maybe this can be understood as falling under the same header as how we form many of our opinions, from “What is beauty?” to “What is pornographic?”: It is simply a matter of the subjective perspective, the eye of the beholder. We all have our preferences and our biases, our backgrounds and our slants. My personal set of biases make it so I am more inclined to think that those whose vegan practice and activism looks more like my own are more effective and reasonable. Our brains are hardwired for confirmation bias; it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something to be aware of so we can try to factor that into our calibration and realize these reactions are not necessarily rooted in facts but inseparable from the flawed mechanism through which we interpret information.
Perhaps it’s also that the internet pushed our tendency towards criticizing and judgment into hyperdrive. Whereas once we knew that there was a lot we didn’t know about those we don’t even know in person, with access to conversations online, suddenly we know allllll of what a person is about without room for nuance. We have the illusion of familiarity and instant understanding; heck, perhaps it’s our predisposition towards confirmation bias that is behind this as well.
I guess the point is, our activism is our activism, our vegan practice is our vegan practice, our way of communicating with others is…you get it. How can I be both a vegan apologist and a vegan extremist? It’s in the eye of the beholder.
How about you? What criticisms do you face from other vegans?
. . .
Photo credit: Anders Nord/Unsplash (This is a different tuxedo cat. Tuxi hasn't let us get close enough for this nice of a shot.)
Tuxi, or What the Animal Rescue Community Can Teach Vegan Advocates
A couple of weeks ago, we noticed a little black-and-white cat in our backyard. This isn’t all too uncommon — we found our tortie Clara Bow in the backyard as well as a very young kitten. There are outdoor cats in our neighborhood, some of whom are feral, others may be stray or in-and-out cats. I am not sure. But this one particular cat, whom we started calling Tuxi because she is a tuxedo cat, was one we started seeing every day. She is definitely fearful and quite likely feral. We started putting food and water out for her and she started eating. My son even built a pretty structurally sound teepee in the yard for Tuxi out of sticks and wood remnants and, lo and behold, she actually hangs out in there. (The backyard faces my office so I can spy on her.) When we go outside, she runs away but it is clear that the yard is a home for her.
As it became clear that Tuxi was in our yard every day and had come to accept provisions there, it also became clear that we’d need to humanely trap her and get her spayed so more kittens wouldn’t be born outside. I reached out to a friend who does a lot of work with the Chicago rescue community and she posted on a local TNR Facebook group to see if anyone might be able to help with the trapping. Very quickly, a woman who lives five minutes from my house stepped forward to help and the ball was in motion. We texted and she came over to drop off the trap and once again to help me when it wasn’t setting up properly; she also supplied me with all kinds of good advice for getting Tuxi to go into the trap. The same day I set it up, I looked out my office window and Tuxi with her pretty green eyes was blinking back at me from inside the trap.
Rosi, the neighbor with the trap, worked with her numerous contacts to get me a vet appointment and before too long, I was on my way to the clinic with Tuxi in my car. I got perfect directions on how to identify myself at the vet’s office, which is about 40 minutes from my home, and yet another volunteer cat rescuer named Laurie dropped Tuxi back off at our house after the surgery and vetting. Laurie also dropped off extra cat food for a colony that Rosi is helping with, which I put in my car, and when it was time to return the trap to Rosi’s house, she had a really nice insulated shelter for Tuxi on the porch. I left the food from Laurie along with the trap and it felt so elegant and efficient in the exchange. For those wondering, when we’d released Tuxi a little earlier, she backed out of the trap and ran from our yard but she has returned every day for food. If she wants to move in with us, she is more than welcome but it is baby steps in winning over feral cats. For now, we are working on building trust by bringing out food and water every day, and helping her to get used to our voices when we see her in the yard.
The whole experience was seamless. I reached out to my friend in the rescue community and she picked up the baton; Rosi picked up the baton next; we picked up the baton again by trapping and delivering Tuxi; Laurie picked up the baton finally by dropping her off back at our home. This kind of coordination and willingness to help really made an impression on me, and reminded me of the rescuers I knew when I worked at a large animal shelter back in the 1990s. These are the folks who gladly pool their resources and work to alleviate suffering of outdoor animals, primarily cats, year round, feeding, sterilizing and keeping them as comfortable as possible. I was always struck by the selflessness, egolessness and dedication of this community.
. . .
This experience got me to thinking: What would vegan advocacy look like if we truly wanted to help those who were looking for support? For example, when I was looking for help with a stray cat, no one reprimanded me. No one shamed me for not adopting immediately. No one yelled at me that there are outdoor cats in my neighborhood. They stepped forward to help and didn’t get territorial with one another, knowing that it takes a village.
How often do we see someone who is dipping a toe into veganism get chastised for making mistakes, get attacked for not having a 100% vegan wardrobe yet, get shamed for being a little trepidatious? Instead of people stepping forward in genuinely helpful and supportive ways, like the TNR community did for Tuxi (and me), too often the vegan response to someone seeking encouragement or help is shaming and beratement. What if we looked at the vegan-curious in the same way the cat rescue community looked at this cat in need and the person who wanted to help her, who needed support and for people to step up in a helpful way? This isn’t a one-time thing. Over many years I have observed how willing the rescue community is to work together, extending themselves, their knowledge and resources in a helpful way.
What if we looked at new vegans like animal rescuers do cats who need help and we took our egos and our desire to “teach a lesson” out of the mix? What would our advocacy look like then? I don’t know all the answers, but my guess is it would be way more effective for actually helping.
None of this is to say I am perfect. I am as sarcastic as they come. If a newbie or not-quite-vegan is looking for help, though, maybe we should be more like the cat rescuers I met and give people the benefit of the doubt, suspending our insistence on everyone knowing everything about veganism right from the get-go so we can step forward in helpful ways.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Please leave a comment by clicking on the word Comments at left.
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