First published in Ecorazzi on 14 June 2016.
With the recent media attention on veganism, it was up to The Telegraph and Mr. Alex Proud to write up a reactionary piece asking us the head-scratching question, “why would anyone in their right mind join the vegan cult?”
Gasp! We are a cult (where is our leader, where are my robes, sandals and headgear?)! We are mad (thanks for the ableism and ad hominem right from the start)!
Proud declares that less than a year ago he was “thinking of going vegetarian” because it was the right thing to do, “morally and environmentally.” He says he stands by this latter statement, but admits to failing “abysmally” because aubergine and tofu just don’t taste as good as steak. So much for morality then, when it comes to your palate pleasure.
Mr. Proud tells us that he accepts vegetarianism because it feels “normal.” However, veganism is abnormal because we are a “weird, cranky crusade full of zealots trying to create their own reality.” Also, Proud says that “sanctimonious people who cherry-pick facts” are annoying. I believe Mr. Proud is projecting. A very casual review of easily accessible facts reveals he has created his own reality, with cherry-picked facts, to serve as offerings in his own sanctimonious temple of palate pleasure.
To represent “us” Proud includes video of a human meat protest in Spain, where naked women, painted blood red, are encased in a human-sized meat package. I cannot blame Proud for being confused by those types of protests. They can be sexist and ultimately they do not change minds and hearts because they are never combined with consistent, creative, non-violent vegan education.
Proud accepts that there is a moral problem with killing animals. Therefore, if he accepts the premise that it is wrong to kill animals for flesh-foods, then it must follow that it is always wrong to kill animals for any food. Mr. Proud, there is just as much death in the dairy and egg industry as there is in the meat industry.
Proud seems unaware of what happens. According to him, “cows get to spend a lot of time outside roaming around big grassy fields” and “queue up to be milked without human intervention.” While both of those facts may be true in some circumstances, I will assume that Proud’s Google was broken on the day he wrote his piece because he is certainly cherry-picking facts.
Mr. Proud, we are the only species that feeds on another’s mother’s milk and continues after weaning. Cows are artificially inseminated; they give birth and their babies are taken away either immediately or within a very short time so that humans can quaff milk meant for baby cows. The cows mourn for their babies and emit long lowing sounds for a long period of time. If female, the baby cows follow in their mothers’ fates. If male, they are slaughtered for veal. The mothers suffer from mastitis, a very painful condition from which lactating women can also suffer and pus from that and other infections get into your dairy milk. Dairy cows do not get to die of old age on a pasture. Once they are “spent,” they are slaughtered in the same slaughter houses where you have agreed it is wrong to kill animals for meat that your “normal vegetarian” friends eschew. This is the life of a cow, Mr. Proud. You say you know it is “not perfect.” You say you know that killing animals is wrong. So, what do “not perfect” and “wrong” mean in your world? Clearly, not much.
Of course, Proud says, “cows aren’t people or even pigs. ” What are the distinctions in terms of whether it is right or wrong to inflict harm upon any sentient being without a good reason? Only arbitrary ones, Mr. Proud.
When it comes to chickens and eggs, Proud is informed by farmer friends who tell him, but only “when they’re drunk,” that “they abhor poultry rearing.” Which bit do they abhor? The de-beaking, slaughtering at six months, gassing or grinding up live of male chicks because worthless, selective breeding to create monster chickens to increase profit margins, live boiling to de-feather? It really is hard to pick just one abhorrent standard practice. Nevertheless, we are none the wiser as to how this activity can simultaneously be abhorrent, yet reconciled with Mr. Proud’s palate pleasure.
Swiftly sweeping away all these lives with an “anyway,” Proud moves onto dairy milk substitutes. Apparently, creating beverages that are white is as wrong as killing cows. One involves actively killing sentient beings and the other combining water with plant ingredients. Such similarities! Mr. Proud, after weaning, we need no beverage other than water. Therefore, I suggest that given Proud’s concern over plant-based beverages, he give up his pint, wine and other tipple because they are all equally unnecessary.
Next up: almonds. Mr. Proud seems to be stuck somewhere in 2014 when he points out their purported environmental impact in California. Clearly his Google has been broken since then because a simple search comes up with many articles (here is one, for example) on how much more water is required to produce milk and meat, including the farming of the alfalfa that is fed to cattle, than to produce almonds. However, Proud cherry-picks facts because his only concern is palate pleasure.
If all this were insufficient, Mr. Proud informs us that the health “problems with veganism are legion.” Well, they are not. This is factually incorrect and shameful. All mainstream medical and nutritional authorities in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia agree that a good vegan diet is healthy for anyone at any point in life, whether infancy, pregnancy or old age. No one in the medical, nutritional or scientific community is claiming otherwise.
Because a reasonable reader might doubt the sweeping “legion” statement, Mr. Proud resorts to school yard tactics, calling us all skinny and cold, unlike, of course, his vegetarian/normal friends who are, against statistical probabilities, all pleasingly slim and always warm. Who knows, maybe they all live in sunny climes, rather than damp London. Given his mention of “dumb-as-quinoa Instagram followers,” perhaps he did a #whatveganslooklike search to check, but he may get to that once his Google is fixed. Newsflash: like with everything related to humans, we come in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Now on a roll, Proud tells us that it is veganism that “feel[s] a bit like everything that is wrong with wealthy, middle-class western humanity.” What is “everything” exactly? Is it the food-related illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, prevalent wherever heavily animal-based diets are the norm? Is it the environmental degradation that animal agriculture contributes to more so than the entire transport sector? As to my thoughts on the conflation of veganism and poverty, see this piece.
The picked-cherry on top of this heap, which has more holes than a termite mound has tunnels, is that Proud wants us in the closet. He says “[i]f it was a private thing, I’d probably just regard it as a bit weird and cranky. But it never is. You always know when someone’s a vegan.” Apparently, speaking up for injustice should be whispered. Would Proud say that about any other injustice? I came of age in the 1980s, Mr. Proud, and know all to well that the only thing closets are good for are shoes and handbags (vegan, of course).
So why would anyone “in their right mind” want to be vegan? Because, Mr. Proud, all of us already believe that hurting another without a good reason is wrong. We see it again and again in the fervent uproars elicited in response to incidents involving the unnecessary killing and harming of animals, such as those involving Mary Bale, Michael Vick, Cecil, etc. Every year, we kill over 60 billion land animals and one trillion aquatic animals. The only reason we have for this unimaginable slaughter is that we like how they taste. I turn my back on that. My actions are no more sanctimonious, zealous or fictional than it is to merely be a decent human to other humans. It is the least I can do.
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