This is a follow up piece to this one and in it I reiterate my point that we should be clear about veganism.
A few days ago, I wrote an essay commenting on a piece that appeared in The Guardian by Steve Jenkins. My essay focused very simply and clearly on one thing: Mr Jenkins had a fabulous platform from which to promote veganism. He chose not to do so. I suggested that Esther and all animals would want us to be clear in our advocacy for them. The only way to do that is to talk clearly about why veganism is the very least we can do for them.
Simple, right? Not so much, apparently.
Jenkins took offence to my piece. I am not exactly sure why because I was both complimentary of him and his work and I used his exact language. He has said that I should have contacted him for comment as a journalist and that he did not write the piece.
I am not a journalist. I did not write about a factual event or some ambiguity. With respect to my piece, I owe Jenkins no ethical duty (what would that even be and what would it be based upon?). My piece was a commentary essay on something that appeared in a newspaper and that is obvious upon reading it.
I used Mr Jenkins’ language. He plainly says: “’We’re not out to promote gay or animal rights in a direct way, Esther just seems to have this positive effect on people.’” Where is the ambiguity there? On any plain reading this is as clear as it gets. In my piece, I asked why not promote animal rights (and gay rights for that matter!) directly? And I exhorted readers to be stronger and clearer advocates for veganism because without that, the animals still die. It is not a tricky concept. Where is the offence? Where is the slight? There just isn’t one.
On social media, Jenkins says he did not write the piece in The Guardian. He may not have typed the words himself; however, his name appears in the byline. That means – to journalists and readers the world over – that it is his piece and that those are his words.
At the bottom of the piece we see that it is “as told to Candice Pires.” All that means to journalists and readers the world over is that Candice Pires took down the words Mr Jenkins said and typed them up into the piece. It means that the words are still Jenkins’ words. Pires may have left some out or arranged sentences and concepts in a different order than that in which they were told to make a story that made sense, but they are Jenkins’ words verbatim.
If there were any problems with the words Jenkins spoke or The Guardian transcribed, he never makes mention of that in any public space, whether to The Guardian or on his social media. And that can only mean that, in fact, Mr Jenkins said what The Guardian transcribed.
A friend said to me “oh well, maybe he mentioned veganism in passing and the transcriber left it out.” Of course, that is possible. However, I asked my friend whether Sen McCain (a US Senator vehemently opposed to torture because he was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War) would mention in passing being against torture or about why torture is terrible. Her response, “oh, I didn’t think of it that way.” And that is my point. If advocating for basic human rights is something we do clearly and unambiguously, then why do we believe it is ok to indirectly or in passing advocate for veganism? I do not believe it is ok. Jenkins does. I own my position and Mr Jenkins should own his instead of looking to me to rationalise it.
Mr Jenkins also compares those of us who advocate clearly for veganism to Nazis. He has done so in his book about Esther and on social media. On social media, Jenkins says that there are contexts in which it is ok to use that word (apparently, especially when referring to those who advocate non-violence, ummm… ok…). Unless we are referring to actual, historical Nazis or neo-Nazis, who are disturbingly on the rise once again, there is no context in which using that term is socially acceptable with one exception. The only context in which it is appropriate to use the word Nazi in relation to animals is in the way that Issac Beshevis Singer used it when he said, “[i]n relation to [animals], all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.” These words are meant for us as a point of reflection and meditation on our behaviour towards animals and a piercing call to action to stop. They are not meant for us to weaponise against anyone.
Unfortunately, many of us have misused that word from time to time and that fact does not absolve us of the mistake. Do I really need to spell out why we should not use that word other than in its appropriate context?
Because six million Jews were systematically murdered by Nazis. “[T]wo to three million Soviet POWs who died as a result of mistreatment due to Nazi racial policies, two million non-Jewish ethnic Poles who died due to the conditions of Nazi occupation, 90,000–220,000 Romani, 270,000 mentally and physically disabled killed in Germany’s eugenics program, 80,000–200,000 Freemasons, 20,000–25,000 Slovenes, 5,000–15,000 homosexuals, 2,500–5,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and 7,000 Spanish Republicans, bringing the death toll to around 11 million. The broadest definition [of the word Holocaust] would include six million Soviet civilians who died as a result of war-related famine and disease, raising the death toll to 17 million. A research project conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museumestimated that 15 to 20 million people died or were imprisoned. Rudolph Rummel estimates the total democide death toll of Nazi Germany to be 21 million.” (from Wikipedia)
I clearly do not belong in that awful category. My only point is, and has ever been, that we should be clear about veganism. Clear about not killing animals. Clear about non-violence. It is literally the diametrically opposed position to that to which Mr Jenkins has ascribed me and those who share my views.
There is no anger in my words – whether these above or in my original essay – there is no attack, there is no judgment of who anyone is as a person. What there is is plain speaking and a challenge to thought and discourse about applying the concept of non-violence to animals, humans and ourselves and to be clear about it. If one’s choice is not to be clear about it, that is their choice, and my choice is and will be to question it and to comment on it. That is called discourse and critical thought.
We cannot have a positive reaction to Esther’s story, or any animal story for that matter, and go on using them for reasons that are purely frivolous – pleasure and convenience. We do not need to use animals to thrive, or look great or eat delicious things. Please give this some thought. It is the relationship with Esther herself that opened up the eyes of Mr Jenkins and his partner to go vegan. And like them, we all can go vegan.