Perfect By Design
The other day, we were on our way back from somewhere and John noticed a school bus. He observed how school buses have not changed significantly since he was a school child. I didn’t know where he was going with this so I just kind of listened to his observations about other objects that have not gone through major overhauls. He looked up at a jet plane overhead as we continued on our way home and he continued on his little tangent. “Commercial airplanes haven’t changed much since they first started being used, either. I mean, little changes here and there to boost comfort and ease of use but the basics of an airplane are still pretty much intact from the 1940s.” From there, we talked about hammers: While adaptations may have been made to the grip to make it more comfortable in the hand, the simple utility of the overall design remains fundamentally unchanged. While the original hammer was cruder, form and function met at the beginning; whether you buy a $10.00 basic model or a $230 elite one, all hammers basically are asked to perform the same tasks well. Beyond the functionality, the rest is just refinement and window dressing.
Or think of a bowl: The idea is to hold something that might flow out of a more flat surface. Bowls have been made out of all kinds of materials, from glass and metal to stone and shell. Some are small, some are large, some have deeper wells, but the function of the bowl still is to prevent what is contained within it from spilling out. No matter how sophisticated we become, no matter how fancy or simple it is, a bowl must still work as a bowl and it found its expression early on when the need for such a specific dish was noticed.
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This, of course, got me thinking about veganism and its original definition. While veganism is not an object, I naturally began to see parallels. The original definition of veganism, hewn by the Vegan Society in 1944, was this: “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”
It is a deceptively simple, deeply practical definition, one that acknowledges the basis of ethics but also the imperfection of our lived reality, one that is historically predicated on the use and harm of other species. It is not a grand, high-minded statement of values and convictions; it serves its function as a coherent, rational definition of something novel and complex with an impressive economy of words. Imagine trying to describe this way of life in 1944 to a world that wasn’t even largely familiar with vegetarianism, and, as you’re doing that, needing to nod to the fact that pure veganism is impossible given our flawed world, oh, and while we’re at it, still give it the substance it deserved. A tall order and one I think they met admirably.
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Like the hammer and the bowl, in my opinion, the definition of veganism is as close to its perfect and most encompassing expression as could be realistically expected. This doesn’t stop people from trying to add a few extras. Despite the pretty straightforward definition, some vegans will add what they want to see into it: To some, vegan means it doesn’t include “processed foods” because they are unhealthy and, hand-wringing alert, aren’t we animals, tooooooo? Or they decide that only raw foodists are the real vegans because it’s the most “natural.” Or they may decide that getting vaccines during a global freaking pandemic isn’t vegan because of animal cruelty in the development process even though the definition of veganism allows for understanding that our world isn’t vegan yet, thus our contemptorary medical model is based on these systems that are still in place.
I am a tinkerer by nature. My mac-and-cheese recipe is in a perpetual state of refinement. When I write, I will edit until I hit publish, and then I will revise it again when I think of a new change in the middle of the night. I understand and respect that desire to hone and perfect, the curiosity and drive. Some things, though, were designed just right from the beginning because they fulfilled a need in a new, perfect way: Form met function and vice versa. Adding a water mister to a hammer because, hey, you might get hot when you’re hammering things is not only superfluous, it detracts from the elegant utility of the tool and how it was designed to function. To me, it is the same when people attach their own preferences to the vegan definition. It’s not necessary and it adds a leaden clumsiness to something that was pretty straightforward from the get-go. Yes, words are fluid but they also have meaning. Want to tinker with the vegan definition? Maybe you should make up a new word and its own definition.
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Vaccines for Vegans in the Pandemic Means Doing Our Best in This Imperfect World.
It saddens me that at this stage of things, we need to continue to reiterate that the coronavirus is not a fire drill. With well over four million deaths, many more cases of illness (including those who will continue to have disabling long-term effects), still in the thick of the more transmissible and deadly Delta variant, there are people who want to play keyboard “skeptic” over it when what they really are is gullible, gullible to the dis- and misinformation spread by self-appointed experts, thirsty wannabe influencers and actual propagandists.
Gullible, yes, and also shockingly callous.
Millions upon millions of the world’s poorest people would do anything to have access to the vaccines that those of us in the West look down their noses at despite the information being readily available that vaccines, imperfect though they may be, are the best tool in our collective toolkits for keeping this horrid virus from spreading more and further mutating. (Delta could be a walk in the park compared to what is down the pike thanks to those who are continuing to keep this virus well supplied with human hosts.)
If you are one of those people at this stage of the game, you are so far gone you still don’t believe that the pandemic is real. You scoff at those numbers. You smirk at healthcare workers, exhausted and desperate, pleading with us to please take this seriously. You laugh at those of us who are vaxxed and wearing masks again because while we are largely protected from the virus, we know we can still spread it. You take this last bit of information to mean that you were right all along. You weren’t right. You were stubborn, callous and cruel enough that you allowed this virus to keep spreading and mutating. During the Holocaust, there were also deniers.
Congratulations? People the world over, grieving the loss of family members and friends, neighbors and coworkers, you owe them nothing, I guess. The fact that you are the ones responsible for torpedoing businesses because, hey, who knew, economies don’t thrive when highly contagious viruses are running rampant during a massive public health crisis. You don’t see that, though. You try and try to deflect that onto those of us who are being responsible because, like so much of what you have continued to push that defies logic and rationality, why would you suddenly start to be accountable, think clearly and honestly?
But all that is not what I am here to say today.
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What I am here to say is for those vegans who we have disappointed by not being ideologues and zealots during this time. Yes, the life-saving vaccines were developed using animal testing -- far less than normal due to the quickness at which they needed to come to market -- but, yes, there was animal testing. The fact is that all medications and vaccines have to go through animal testing models before being approved, not just in the US. That inhaler that stops someone from dying during an asthma attack? The polio vaccine? HIV protease inhibitors? Anesthetics used in everything from dental visits to major surgeries? The current vaccines that are keeping people safe during this public health crisis? All were developed using animal testing.
This is not something we like. At Vegan Street, we support modernizing medical research and development to leave animals out of the equation. Not only is using animals in this way cruel, it is archaic. There are better, more modern ways and we must support this development. In the meantime, we have this messy, imperfect world. In the meantime, animal testing is still required for all medications and vaccines released to the public. In the meantime, the pandemic is raging as it ever has, threatening vulnerable lives and prolonging the suffering and miseries associated with it.
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When we started Vegan Street in 1998, we knew we lived in a very flawed world but we were going to keep shining a light on a better way. It is no different today: We live in a very flawed world and the vaccines, a product of this imperfect world, are still a key instrument to saving lives. I don’t know how people need this much convincing at this point. I don’t understand how someone can still waffle in the face of all this suffering and loss. It was never, ever about us being pure or perfect, though, and always about us doing the best we could in this very flawed world.
Please get vaccinated and help to stop this thing from continuing to mutate and kill. As the original definition of veganism in 1944 stated, vegans seek to exclude “as far as is possible and practicable” using animals. Shunning spread mitigation efforts during a massive public health crisis is not only irresponsible and cruel, it is not practicable. Built into the original vegan definition was an acknowledgement that we currently live in a non-vegan world. We are trying to change that, bit by bit. We have made some important strides. It is still a non-vegan world, though, and it is a world in the throes of a massive crisis. As such, we need to be less puritanical, more pragmatic.
We need to be vegans in a flawed world: Compassionate, responsible and modeling always that we stand up for one another, the planet and her inhabitants because, again, it was never about living on an island with our purity and always about us doing our best in this deeply imperfect world.
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