Category Archives: Uncategorized

On Two Sides of Selfishness

It’s All About Me

It can be argued that those who “go vegan” for their own health and personal betterment – which really translates to adopting a plant-based diet, the definition of which is anybody’s guess these days – are essentially acting from the same place of selfishness that had them eating animals and their secretions to satisfy their own pleasure in the first place.  When that’s the case, there’s little to stop them from reverting back to their original selfish position of consuming products of animal exploitation (one supported and encouraged by mainstream speciesist society) and resuming their complicity in the violent oppression of non-human individuals, and this happens far too often.  Other than an alteration in diet, nothing’s changed for them in any meaningful and fundamental way.  There’s been no move from selfishness to selflessness, no firm and unwavering commitment to eschew participation in all forms of animal use and no realization that all of these constitute injustice.  Everything is still all about them, and the animal victims of human selfishness remain sadly overlooked.

I’m never surprised when this recidivism happens, and it’s no longer a disappointment.  At this point, it’s expected.  What I do find disappointing is that more vegans don’t see it coming like a slow-moving freight train and continue to celebrate each time some public figure decides to temporarily (and not always exclusively) eat plants: “Ohhh, look! Blahblahblah-celebrity ‘went’ vegan!!!  Isn’t that AMAZING???”

No.

What would be amazing is if that person began truly living a life of moral consistency and started living vegan rather than “going” vegan, ‘cos when you “go” someplace (to the store, to the movies, to work, on vacation), more often than not you come back to the very same place you came from, and that’s usually the place where you live.  Conversely, when you live a particular way, you embody your ethics and take them with you wherever you happen to find yourself (just as you would in opposing racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism and any other form of oppression, all of which are analogous to speciesism).  When I found myself, I began living vegan.  It’s not only how I live, it’s where I live.

Wait – It’s Not All About Me??

It’s crucial to remember that veganism isn’t primarily about us and how we can benefit from ceasing to participate in the non-consensual use of animals.  Personal health and environmental improvements are side benefits of living vegan, and vegan advocates and educators ought to be careful not to erroneously frame them as the goals or primary motivations.  Veganism is an ethical position that represents a return to living according to our almost universally shared belief that harming – and killing – others for no good reason is always wrong.  “But their bodies taste good!” is as morally unjustifiable a reason for taking a life as “But their bodies feel good!” is for sexually violating another individual.  Each represents a terrible injustice that serves only to satisfy the pleasure of the perpetrator to the extreme detriment of the victim.

Used To Be = Never Was

Each time I hear that someone “used to be vegan”, I can be sure they never internalized the ethical position and have to wonder where they got the fallacious information that simply eating an exclusively plant-based diet equates to living vegan.  I implore vegan advocates and educators to always be clear, consistent and unequivocal about the meaning, importance and ethics of veganism.

Lives depend on it.

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Keith Berger and Elena Brodskaya – co-founders, SFVEG

***A note from Keith and Elena – before you go, please consider making a safe, secure tax-deductible donation via our YouCaring page (<—simply click this link to be directed to our fundraising page) to support South Florida Vegan Education Group’s advocacy efforts.  Contributions of any amount are received with equal gratitude and go directly to fund our vegan public education work.  And whether or not you can contribute, please share our fundraising campaign with friends and associates!  Thank you!

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

BeFairBeVegan.com

The legal stuff:

South Florida Vegan Education Group is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.  All donations are tax-deductible.

FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER SERVICES REGISTRATION # CH47564.  A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.  REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

On the Idea of “Humans First, Everyone Else Later”

Because we wear pants, obviously.

Overheard: “How about taking a stand against the murder of unborn children through abortion?  When I see you joining that cause perhaps I will listen to the rest of your moral outrage and the weeping for sheep…”

The above is an actual quote I saw recently from a pastor in response to a conversation about veganism.  [Please note that this essay does not attempt to make a correlation between abortion and animal rights.  The example used by the pastor might well have involved any human rights issue or plight – natural disaster, genocide, famine, etc. – involving humans]

It’s important to remember that veganism is not about humans – it’s about abstaining from any and all uses of non-human individuals for human pleasure, comfort and convenience.

Yes, people say things like this.  It’s a version of one of the archetypical arguments against veganism that usually goes like this: “Humans come first. Once we get human problems sorted out, then I’ll worry about non-humans “.

Let’s apply a bit of critical thinking to these ideas by putting them in the Reality Machine.

Aside from being a blatantly speciesist position (simply substitute the words “non-human” and “human” with different human races or genders and the unjust bias is immediately clear), this justification for continuing to engage in the exploitation of vulnerable individuals hasn’t a leg to stand on, and here’s why:

Living vegan (eschewing the use of all products and forms of animal exploitation wherever possible and practicable) takes zero energy, resources, time or effort away from advocating for any other cause, whether human rights-related or otherwise.  One can live vegan and still engage in any activity one chooses, probably with even more energy than when living non-vegan!

To further examine the fallaciousness of the argument, the idea that there will come a day when humanity’s myriad problems are finally put to rest is, in a word, preposterous.  Therefore, to claim that one will gladly engage in working for animal rights once all human rights have been permanently secured is nothing more than a lie based on an impossible premise designed to derail the animal rights conversation and justify one’s continued use of products of animal exploitation.  It is a disingenuous position designed to obfuscate the underlying selfishness motivating the argument, and it by no means presupposes that one is spending one’s days and nights engaged in any form of advocacy or activism whatsoever.  It’s a bluff that is easily called and checkmate is soon to follow.

“Giraffes probably think ‘Giraffes first’, so what’s the problem??”

In and of itself, veganism is passive – it doesn’t require one to do anything but rather to not do certain things (i.e., not eat, wear or otherwise use and/or objectify non-human animals for one’s personal benefit).  From there, if one chooses to spend one’s time, energy and resources engaging in animal rights advocacy through clear, consistent vegan education, that is one’s choice (and one we highly recommend) but again not a requirement.

Armed with the knowledge that one can live vegan and continue to participate passionately in whatever activities or advocacy one feels compelled to participate in, why – other than for purely selfish reasons of pleasure, comfort and convenience – would anyone not choose to do so?

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Keith Berger and Elena Brodskaya – co-founders, SFVEG

***A note from Keith and Elena – before you go, please consider making a safe, secure tax-deductible donation via our YouCaring page (<—simply click this link to be directed to our fundraising page) to support South Florida Vegan Education Group’s advocacy efforts.  Contributions of any amount are received with equal gratitude and go directly to fund our vegan public education work.  And whether or not you can contribute, please share our fundraising campaign with friends and associates!  Thank you!

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

BeFairBeVegan.com

The legal stuff:

South Florida Vegan Education Group is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.  All donations are tax-deductible.

FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER SERVICES REGISTRATION # CH47564.  A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.  REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

“It’s Vegan… No, Wait – It’s Vegetarian… No, Wait – It’s Vegan… No, Wait…”

vegan vegetarian peace
Who with the what now?!?

What’s In a Name?

I watched a man giving away food samples yesterday and was struck by his verbal sleight-of-hand.  See if you can spot the trick.

Observation

The gentleman in front of Maoz Vegetarian restaurant is offering free falafel to passersby.  He approaches me with a tray of food and says, “Falafel!  All VEGAN, all homemade, all gluten free, all good for you!” (I’m uncharacteristically not wearing a vegan t-shirt, but he’s the owner and likely remembers having chatted with me once before while in my usual uniform).  Seconds later, he approaches the next person and says, “Falafel!  All VEGETARIAN, all homemade, all gluten free, all good for you!”  He switches it up constantly, like a street corner shell game hustler.  His patter is smooth and effortless.

Does the falafel formulation magically shift from vegan to vegetarian and back to vegan again from minute to minute?  Obviously not, but his description of it does – the wording in his presentation is deliberate, based on his perception of his ever-changing audience and what he feels will get people to try his product and drive the most business to his store.  It’s the sign of a good businessperson.

“Tell Mike it was only business”

"I always liked him."
“I always liked him.”

Conclusion

This gentleman’s business approach is no different from all large, morally-challenged animal welfare corporations that conflate vegan and vegetarian all day long, playing to their audience in order to separate them from their money and their morals and maximize profits while selling out the animals they purport to be “sparing” from “suffering” through “spreading compassion”.  I’m not faulting the Maoz owner for this, as his intention is to sell food (quite a bit of it is 100% plant-based), not to end animal use.  My intention is merely to point out the glaring similarity between his sales approach and that of the animal welfare corporate business model.

Thanks to deliberately vague and misleading information disseminated by animal welfare corporations and the mass media, there are those who think vegan and vegetarian are one in the same.  I spoke with SFVEG co-founder and President Elena Brodskaya who shared her personal story with me as it relates to these ideas:

“When I first decided to be vegetarian, I also researched what ‘vegan’ meant and kept finding it linked with ‘vegetarian’, especially in literature produced by PeTA and other welfare groups.  It seemed that everywhere I looked, I saw ‘vegan/vegetarian’ and ‘vegetarian/vegan’ until I erroneously concluded that ‘vegan’ must simply be an abbreviated form of the word ‘vegetarian’.  The literature from the various welfare groups was confusing at best and deceiving at worst.  It took longer than I would have liked to finally find some clear information about veganism and, once I realized the ethical implications of remaining vegetarian, I began living vegan immediately.  I’ve since come to understand that corporations like PeTA intentionally misinform the public about the true meaning of veganism and its critical importance as the only path toward dismantling speciesism and abolishing animal use.  Sadly, they do this to further their own self-interests and prosperity while betraying the animals on whose behalf they pretend to be working.”

Clearly, the gentleman from Maoz knows there is a difference between vegan and vegetarian (although I would be interested to ask him what he believes that difference is and may do so when he’s not so busy), however I would guess that his interests lie in making a profit and not in educating anyone about that difference – that’s the purview, the passion and the purpose of those of us who work tirelessly to educate the public about veganism as we move ever closer to abolishing the property status of non-human animals and truly achieving justice for all.

Unfortunately, outside Maoz, the confusion continues…

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Keith Berger and Elena Brodskaya – co-founders, SFVEG

***A note from Keith and Elena – before you go, please consider making a safe, secure tax-deductible donation via our YouCaring page (<—simply click this link to be directed to our fundraising page) to support South Florida Vegan Education Group’s advocacy efforts.  Contributions of any amount are received with equal gratitude and go directly to fund our vegan public education work.  And please share our fundraising campaign with friends and associates!  Thank you!

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

BeFairBeVegan.com

South Florida Vegan Education Group is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.  All donations are tax-deductible.

FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE & CONSUMER SERVICES REGISTRATION # CH47564.  A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL-FREE (800-435-7352) WITHIN THE STATE.  REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL, OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.

“Speciesism is wrong, but…”

speciesism cow barbed wire dog SFVEG poster

“Yeah, but…”

Consider the following statements:

“I agree that racism is wrong, but…”

“I agree that sexism is wrong, but…”

“I agree that heterosexism is wrong, but…”

What could possibly follow “but” in any of the above statements that would morally justify making an exception to the ideas as presented?  The answer is simple: nothing.

Imagine hearing someone say, “I agree that racism is wrong, but the Ku Klux Klan is having a bake sale fundraiser this weekend and they make delicious cupcakes, so I’ll be buying some!”  The moral inconsistency in such a situation would be glaring, and yet people routinely say they disagree with specific injustices while participating in and supporting, sometimes without realizing it, those same injustices.

Now consider this statement:

“I agree that speciesism is wrong, but…”

Speciesism can be defined as a double standard created by humans placing higher moral value on some individual animals over other individual animals, based solely on the morally irrelevant criterion of species membership.  To disagree with speciesism is to agree with veganism, which is defined as “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 humans, animals and the environment.  In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” – Vegan Society 1979

speciesism-008-author-unknown-002

I’ve had countless conversations with people who said they agreed it’s wrong to hurt and kill animals unnecessarily… and then the “but”s came – “But I love eating my meat/chicken/fish/steak/bacon”, “But I could never give up my dairy/eggs/cheese/honey”, “But I need my protein”, “But my leather shoes are so comfortable”, “But I don’t eat much red meat” and on and on.  It should be noted that referring to “my meat”, “my dairy”, “my leather”, etc. (which seems to happen more often than not) overlooks and negates the fact that these “products” were once the bodies, skins and secretions of autonomous individuals and are therefore stolen property.  It exposes the underlying selfishness that drives speciesist behavior.  When framed in this way, might those same people counter with, “I agree that stealing is wrong, but…”?

Interestingly, the problem in examples like this doesn’t lie after the “but”.

In all of the example statements above, the reality is that everything before the “but” is an untruth.  Here is what’s really being said:

“I agree that [fill-in-the-blank form of oppression] is wrong, but since I’m personally benefitting from it in some way, I’ll just look the other way and pretend nothing’s happening and that I’m not participating in something I say I find morally reprehensible even though my actions tell an entirely different story.”

When one truly agrees that a form of oppression is fundamentally wrong, one does not equivocate or make exceptions in order to satisfy one’s desires for personal pleasure, comfort and convenience.  Being morally consistent means not engaging in, supporting and/or promoting racism, sexism, heterosexism, speciesism or other forms of oppression because one finds it inconvenient not to.  One simply stands in one’s truth and follows where one’s moral compass points, making course corrections along the way wherever necessary.

ethical-position-002-bfbv

Since most people believe it’s wrong to hurt and kill vulnerable sentient beings for no justifiable reason, living vegan gives every individual the opportunity to be true to themselves, to live honestly and to live in congruence with their moral values and in harmony with their fellow travelers on this planet we all share.

One final statement to consider:

I agree that the simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression and exploitation of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals – is to start living vegan.  There are no valid reasons not to; there are only morally unjustifiable excuses to hide behind.

There is no “but” here.  There is only truth.

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  Also, please read our Disclaimer regarding external sites, organizations, individuals, etc.]

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

 

Trish Roberts, Steve Grumbine and Keith Berger Discuss Veganism on Real Progressives

Here is the audio and video of the Real Progressives livestream on Facebook that took place on 5/26/17.   Please listen and share!

 

Thank you to Steve Grumbine of Real Progressives for inviting me and Trish Roberts of HowToGoVegan.org and VeganTrove.com for a lively discussion on veganism with particular focus on its ethical implications.

Please note that, during the show, I lost my Internet connection for roughly ten minutes around the 38-minute mark but was able to return before the close of the program.

We hope to be invited back again for more opportunities to speak with Steve and further discuss veganism on Real Progressives!

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

Briefly – “But If The Whole World Went Vegan…”

“…what would happen to all the farmed animals?  Wouldn’t they overrun the planet and cause havoc???”

Although the scenario of all humanity becoming vegan overnight does not seem feasible, even if that were to happen, is the answer to a potential animal overpopulation problem to continue forcibly breeding them into existence for the sole purpose of killing them for human pleasure, comfort and convenience?  It takes some serious, Olympic-gold-medal-worthy mental and ethical gymnastics to get to “Yes” as the answer to that question and to use it as justification for continuing animal exploitation and slaughter.

smartphone-addiction-apps-featured-2

Our Own Devices

Considering I have a device I’m able to carry in my pocket that can, with the flick of a finger, connect me to the entire repository of human knowledge, allow me to speak with friends who are 9,600 miles away as if we were in the same room (hello Tasmania!) AND help me locate the nearest public toilet (quite possibly the most important app ever invented… but I digress), I’m fairly certain that with a minimally concerted effort across humanity we can find a suitable, nonviolent solution to where all the cows, pigs, chickens, fish and other non-human refugees of animal agriculture will go once they’re no longer seen and treated as mere commodities and are finally afforded the one basic, fundamental right that ought never be withheld from any sentient being – the right not to be used as the property of more powerful others.

important-to-you

Excuses, Excuses

The simplest and most immediate action one can take to stop the violent oppression and exploitation of billions of innocent, vulnerable individuals is to start living vegan.  There are no valid reasons not to; there are only morally unjustifiable excuses to hide behind.

vegan argument new 11.13.16

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]

Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

 

Briefly – “Don’t You Miss…?”

 

vegan sacrifice edited 003

I frequently hear some version of the question, “Since you’re vegan, don’t you miss meat/cheese/eggs/milk/honey/leather/wool (or other products of animal exploitation)?”

No, I don’t.  Once I knew how those products were obtained and what my part was in making that happen, my decision to cease my complicity in that violent and deadly system was immediate and unwavering.  My only choice was to start living vegan.
 

The way I understand it, there’s nothing to “miss” about causing unnecessary harm and death to innocent, vulnerable individuals.

ethical-position-002-bfbv 
Dismantle speciesism.  Live vegan.  Educate others.
 
Start now, here’s how:
 

On Vegan Advocacy and The Socratic Method

 

DSC02267 edited 003
Tabling at the SFVEG Vegan Education Station – Tamarac FL, Earth Day event 4/24/2016

I recently shared the following experience on Facebook:

Vegan Education Moment of the Day

Whole Foods Checkout Person (WFCP) seeing my purchases: Are you vegetarian… or are you vegan?
Me: Vegan.
WFCP: How long?
Me: 12 years-ish.
WFCP: Why did you go vegan?
Me: Ethical reasons. I don’t believe my life is more important than someone else’s and won’t participate in the enslavement, exploitation and execution of innocent beings just to satisfy my pleasure.  Are you vegan?
WFCP: No…  I was pescetarian, then I was vegetarian.  I was almost vegan, but then one Thanksgiving…
Me: You decided that it was ok to have others die for you  ?
WFCP: Kind of.  I feel guilty a lot of the time.
Me: Of course you do.  If you want to stop feeling guilty, you can make different choices and choose to live vegan.

There wasn’t any more time to talk in the checkout line, but I went to the car and brought her back an Embracing Veganism, our business card and a Respecting Animals brochure from International Vegan Association and told her that we’re available to answer any questions and offer her any support she needs in living vegan.

Considering the short amount of time allowed in this situation, I felt this was a good way to answer her question and give her information.  Shortly afterward, however, a sense of dissatisfaction began to creep in at how I handle such interactions generally and I began asking myself how I might better answer the often-asked question, “Why did you go vegan?”  My usual impulse has been to make some grand proclamation and hope that it will somehow be relatable and make an impact on my interlocutor… but I’m rethinking this strategy.

Since I’m finding it very effective lately to use a version of the Socratic method (a dialogue technique that “uses creative questioning to dismantle and discard preexisting ideas and thereby allows the respondent to rethink the primary question under discussion”) in some areas of my vegan advocacy, I asked myself whether the same method might be equally effective here.  The answer seems to be, it would.  After all, human nature seems to dictate that people will believe the words coming out of their own mouths before trusting and believing information presented by strangers, especially when that information appears on the surface to run counter to their established beliefs.  Consider this encounter I had a while back with a non-vegan who expressed all-too-familiar protein “concerns”:

Non-vegan: I could never be vegan – I need protein.
Me: Where do you think you get your protein now?
Non-vegan: [hesitatingly] Animals…
Me: Right!!!  Now, considering that the animals humans eat for protein are largely herbivores and exclusively eat plants, where do they get their protein?
Non-vegan: [hesitatingly] Plants…?
Me: Right!!!   Soooooo…
Non-vegan: I… could just eat… plants
Me: Right!!!  You get your needs met and the best part is, no one has to die!

In the past, I would have heard the protein question and took it as an invitation to leap into a verbal dissertation involving everything I know about protein, amino acids and human health, which might serve to either educate or confuse the listener or, worse, trigger a defensive cognitive dissonance response since the barrage of information I’d be presenting would most likely fly in the face of everything they’d been taught by people and organizations they trust.  In this case, instead, I chose to ask the questions that led my interlocutor to draw her own conclusions and find her own answers (which were, of course, the ones I’d hoped she’d come to!) and, once that had happened, I gave a brief Protein 101 discourse just to reinforce matters.  As I strongly believe should be the case with every discussion about veganism, I brought the idea of ethics into the conversation to avoid reinforcing the erroneous idea that veganism is merely a diet as opposed to a fundamental matter of justice.

ethical-position-002-bfbv

 

What If…?

whatif1977series25

When I was a kid, one of my favorite comic book series was called “What If?”  Each issue would present “…an event in the mainstream Marvel Universe, then introducing a point of divergence in that event and then describing the consequences of the divergence.”  So, imagine if my interaction with the Whole Foods Checkout Person had gone like this:

WFCP: Why did you go vegan?
Me: Great question!  To best answer it, let me ask you three questions: do you believe it’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm and death to animals?
WFCP: [likely response] Yes.*
Me: Great!  So do I.  Did you know that eating and otherwise using animals and animal products causes unnecessary harm and death to animals?
WFCP: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but yes, that makes sense.*
Me: And that’s why I’m vegan – because it’s wrong to enslave, exploit and execute vulnerable individuals, regardless of species membership, race, gender, age or any other arbitrary criterion, to satisfy human pleasure, comfort and convenience and all of that involves unnecessary harm.
WFCP: Thanks!  So, what’s the third question?
Me: Glad you asked!  Did you know that the answer you gave to the first question indicates you already agree with the principles of veganism?
WFCP: Huh.  I guess I do!
*

*Of course, this is an oversimplified example showing the best possible responses to our questions and will not always be the ones given since people tend to want to debate these issues due to deeply held beliefs born of a lifetime of cultural indoctrination into speciesism.  Vegan advocates should always be prepared to explore related topics that arise in conversation such as “How do you define ‘unnecessary‘?” and “What constitutes ‘harm‘?”.  There are excellent and informative abolitionist vegan websites listed at the end of this essay (more can be found in the Online Vegan Resources section of our main website at www.VeganEducationGroup.com) that can help us educate ourselves and to which we can direct both non-vegans and vegans for solid, unequivocal vegan information.

(the questions in the above scenario were adapted from vegan advocate Chris Petty’s questionnaire shown below)

Vegan questionnaire courtesy of Chris Petty

By going this route and asking specific questions, the non-vegans with whom I speak (and this includes vegetarians and other fill-in-the-blank-atarians) not only hear my reasoning for why I live vegan, but in the process also explore their own beliefs and come to understand that they, too, tend to agree with the ethical and moral principles of veganism.  The idea that they are curious enough to ask such a question indicates a willingness to learn, at the very least, one person’s reason(s) for living vegan and, better yet, may indicate their own willingness to explore these ideas further and hopefully incorporate them into their lives by making the choice to live vegan.

Sadly, there is a plethora of individuals and groups that, intentionally or not, dilute and confuse the meaning of veganism to the point that it is often mistaken for a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a trend.  For those of us who take unequivocal vegan advocacy and education seriously, it is imperative that we properly define veganism for those who don’t understand what it is, and it makes sense to keep questioning our advocacy methods and adapting where necessary to steadily evolve into the most effective agents of change we are capable of being.

[I encourage all readers to click the blue links embedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.  The podcasts and essays connected to those links will help to expand on the ideas presented here.]

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

www.HowToGoVegan.org
www.VeganEducationGroup.com
www.BeFairBeVegan.com

Dr. Oz Gets Real – Real Wrong – About Veganism

Dr Oz gets it wrong
Q: what’s wrong with this picture? A: “Plant protein” isn’t a separate category – all on the list are sources of protein!

Leave it to mainstream media to provide a continuous stream of misinformation about veganism.

Enter Dr. Oz.

[The segment can be viewed here: The Beginner’s Guide To Going Vegan Without Going Crazy – Originally aired on 1/26/2017]

Before I go further, I would like to state that there is a distinction between simply being critical for criticism’s sake (which I am not) and employing critical thinking and then responding appropriately (which I am).  In situations where erroneous ideas that further a particular injustice are presented as facts, it is incumbent upon individuals who see this to call attention to it and make clear to as many people as possible that what’s been presented is not as it may appear on its glossy surface.  It is crucial that we examine the information we’re given to determine its veracity and legitimacy, and to speak out when we find that it lacks credibility.  To do otherwise is to give tacit acceptance to the unacceptable and allow propaganda to flourish unchallenged.  I do not have a problem with Dr. Oz, as I’m not aware of his work (except for this) – I have a problem with his misrepresentation of veganism and would hope that other vegans would take issue, as well.

Dr Oz gets it wrong 002 missed steak
From the segment, a failed attempt at a clever animal exploitation-themed pun…

Programming

Having canceled our cable subscription over a year ago (just Interwebs and Netflix for us now), there is very little in the way of TV viewing in our home, so our exposure to much of what America is being programmed to watch is quite limited.  Of course, we still see people posting and sharing content online, so when I recently saw a slew of vegans sharing and resharing this segment from Dr. Oz (I’m only vaguely aware of who he is and had actually never seen his face or heard his voice prior to last week and am not surprised to learn that he was spawned into prominence by the never-vegan-and-never-miss-an-opportunity-to-be-an-opportunist Oprah), I took some time to watch it and see what the fuss was all about.  After all, everyone seemed excited that he was talking about veganism… or was he?

The answer, as we can see, is no.

phaedrus1

In 13-ish minutes of erroneously conflating the consumption of plant-based foods with veganism, there were ZERO mentions of the injustice of animal use as the primary reason for living vegan (“reasons” given included “eat cleaner, greener and lose weight” and other personal, humancentric concerns about “how you look and how you feel” – there was absolutely no discussion about animals).  Here are some other issues that make the segment problematic in its inaccurate portrayal of veganism:

  • The segment title suggests that living vegan is so difficult, it could drive a person “crazy”.  In reality, living vegan presents minor inconveniences that are easily adapted to and overcome once one realizes the ethical issues at stake and the ramifications of not expending the minor extra effort of, say, reaching six inches past the cow milk to the almond milk.
  • Four statements were made indicating non-vegan food is “real” food, thus insinuating plant-based food is “not real”.  Two statements were made indicating the plant-based food on set “doesn’t taste fake” and one comment was made upon tasting a plant-based option that “it’s good but it’s vegan”.
  • “Vegan” is disparagingly referred to by Dr. Oz as “the V-word”.
  • During the introduction of the “Gradual Meat Stepdown”, Dr. Oz stated “it’s hard to stop all at once”,  his guest agreed, “It is, it is!” and said she stopped eating bacon because “I learned how bad it is for us”.   She goes on to say that dairy/cheese and eggs “are the last one(s) that people play with” as they’re cutting out animal products.  I find it difficult and disrespectful to hear someone blithely refer to products born of the slavery and death of vulnerable individuals as things “people play with”.
  • Dr. Oz offered the following “definition” for “what it really means to go vegan – well, simply put, nothing from an animal – nothing with a face is going in your mouth.  There’s no meat, there’s no fish, there’s no dairy or eggs”… but there’s also no mention of honey or any of the myriad other ways animal are exploited such as wearing leather, wool or silk or supporting animal-based entertainment, etc.  [for more information on these issues, please visit the What’s Wrong With… section of HowToGoVegan.org].  Once again, veganism is misidentified as being only one of its components and wrongly defined, which only helps further public confusion about what veganism truly 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 humans, animals and the environment.  In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”Vegan Society 1979

  • Dr. Oz went on to further the erroneous idea that living vegan is something to be feared rather than a personal ethic to embrace by saying, “You can actually mimic these tastes so you don’t actually feel like you’re going meatless, which is what people fear the most.”
  • Dr. Oz also glibly referred to the non-vegan taste tester as the “victim”, when in reality the body parts of the true victims of exploitation and oppression were spread out on the table and eaten by this person.  I found it personally unsettling  and unnecessary that there were slabs and piles of dead animal parts and secretions on set for people to taste-test alongside plant-based options.  This has the effect of further normalizing the consumption of products of animal exploitation and presents “vegan” (read: plant-based) foods as just another set of options.

13 seconds into the segment, Dr. Oz says “Let’s be real”.  Yes Dr. Oz, let’s.  Veganism is not a diet, a lifestyle (as he calls it in the first 3 minutes), a fad or a phase – it’s a personal commitment to stop participating in the enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human animals.

When talking about a plant-based diet, call it what it is and, of course, provide facts, tips and ideas to help people understand its benefits – just don’t call it veganism, because it’s not.

Like many I see on social media, I used to excitedly share every incident of the word “vegan” being used in any context just to “get the idea out there”, but not anymore.  I have come to understand that when the word is coupled with an unclear message that distorts the true meaning of veganism (or one that promotes speciesism, racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, classism or any other form of oppression), it is better that it not be shared so that I don’t act irresponsibly by adding to the confusion and misinformation that unfortunately already follows the word wherever it goes.  I hope others will come to do the same.

If we’re going to be real, we need to offer real information about veganism as our minimum moral obligation to individuals of other species, sticking to the real definition of veganism and taking real action to dismantle speciesism through educating non-vegans about veganism.  When we do, we will start making real change and saving real lives.

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how:

www.HowToGoVegan.org
www.VeganEducationGroup.com
www.BeFairBeVegan.com

Carrying the Message

keith-shirt-at-vegfest-2016
A conversation starter!

 Mom Never Taught Me Not to Talk to Strangers

The t-shirt I wore recently when Elena and I were in Lake Worth sparked a nice conversation with a stranger.  As we passed a gentleman on the street, he smiled and commented, “Love your shirt!”.  I thanked him and we continued on.

On our way back, we decided to give him our Embracing Veganism pamphlet and our card.  We ended up talking with him and his companion about veganism for about 15 minutes.  As it turns out, our new friend Alex has been vegan for a year and is currently studying plant-based nutrition through the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.  Although he said he’s vegan for ethical reasons and seems to understand the fundamental issues of justice involved, he stated, “Even if people reduce their meat consumption, that helps… although I hate even saying that.”  My reply was, “Then don’t say it!  When we make statements like that and encourage people to ‘reduce’, we’re tacitly implying that some animal exploitation is still acceptable.  Would you suggest to anyone that some use of child pornography is ok as long as they take weekends off and treat the kids ‘humanely’?”  He laughed and said, “No, of course not. Thanks, that makes so much sense!”

I assured him we’re not in the habit of just handing literature to random people in the street and hoping something in the content will get them to make the connection that all animal use is morally unjustifiable and start living vegan, but that we had done quite a bit of that in the past in support of various animal welfare organizations and ultimately found it ineffective and counterproductive (especially considering such literature intentionally fails to focus on animal use as opposed to abuse).  I asked him to consider whether,  if I were an astrophysics professor who really wanted people to become astrophysicists, he felt it would be reasonable to expect that, by standing in the street and handing out astrophysics textbooks to passersby (“Go astrophysicist…?”), those people would go home, read the books, have epiphanies and suddenly decide to become astrophysicists.  Alex replied, “No”.  I said, “That’s why there are classes on that subject – because some things require education – and that’s why we created a vegan education group.”  He agreed and complimented me for “…not just randomly handing information to people, but having an educational platform to back it up.”

Choosing the Message We Carry, and Carrying the Message We Choose

I used to wear rock-n-roll t-shirts every chance I got and have always had a knack for picking out a shirt in the morning that would prompt a conversation sometime that day, so I would inevitably end up talking with people about Paul McCartney, or Elvis Costello, or Fountains of Wayne and so on… and as much as I love those shirts, I’ve retired them all to the closet.  Here’s why – while those conversations can be fun (“You like Utopia Parkway too?  Let’s chat!”), I’d much rather talk about, educate about and inspire veganism.  I still have that knack for picking the right shirt and the conversations still happen, only now they’re meaningful in a way that matters deeply to me and makes real change in the world.  Whenever I’m at a concert (and I am a confirmed concert junkie…), the people behind me will be seeing a vegan message for about three hours – rather than, say, a list of Counting Crows 2003 tour dates – and I’m more than willing to discuss their thoughts on it once the show’s over.  If that opportunity doesn’t present, at the very least I’ve given them something to think about.

me-elvis-paul
“Hey Elvis, you like Paul McCartney too?? Oh, right – you’ve worked with him numerous times… never mind.”

Similarly, since the subject in which I want to engage people is veganism, I no longer wear shirts that promote single-issue campaigns like circuses, rodeos, etc. or the animal welfare organizations behind such campaigns (I’ve donated quite a few to the homeless).  Also, I no longer wear shirts that talk about going “veg” or anything other than vegan, as such vague terminology leads us away from being clear and consistent in our efforts to end the injustice of animal exploitation.  As it’s been difficult to find shirts with uncompromising vegan messages (aside from the one pictured above), I’ve begun designing my own for personal use.  That way, I can be sure the message I carry is one in which I wholeheartedly believe.

The Theory of Positive, Neutral and Negative

I’ve found that when interacting with a stranger, the usual outcome falls into one of three categories:  Positive, Neutral and Negative.  Positive means that something positive transpires during or as a result of the interaction (i.e.; a friend or connection is made, pleasantries and/or ideas are exchanged); Neutral means nothing notable happens (though one never can tell how a seemingly random encounter may profoundly alter one’s life, which may indicate a 4th category – Neutral-Positive); Negative means something unpleasant resulted from the interaction (i.e.; harsh words are exchanged, disagreement or worse happens).  For me, this means there’s at least a 66% chance (2/3 or better) that speaking with a stranger will result in either a positive or neutral/neutral-positive outcome and only a 33% or less chance that it will result in a negative outcome.

Considering those odds, in the interest of engaging in and enjoying life – and creating opportunities for dismantling speciesism through vegan education – I’ll keep talking to strangers!

Live vegan.  Educate others.  Start now, here’s how: