On Magical Thinking and Why Food Is Not the Solution to Speciesism

“Education is key. You give a person a vegan meal and they’ll eat vegan for a day. You educate them and give them inspiration to go vegan, they’ll be vegan for life.” – Elena Brodskaya

From an actual conversation:

Long-time vegan: “Do you know the best way to get someone to go vegan?” [smile]
Me: “No, what is it?!?”
Long-time vegan: “Cook them a delicious vegan meal!” [BIG smile]
Me: [blink…… blink…… blink……]

I find myself in disbelief each time vegans tell me they think they can convince people to truly live veganmeaning to embrace 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 – by merely showing them how delicious 100% plant-based meals can be and how easy they are to prepare.  Yes, plant foods are delectable, satisfying and meet our nutritional needs (just some of the wonderful ancillary benefits of living vegan), however most people have prepared, eaten, and continue to eat tasty and satisfying foods that are not derived from animals – and yet 98% of the population continues to indulge in the consumption of animal flesh and secretions right alongside, below, atop, within and around those delicious vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes that comprise a plants-only diet.  A “hot dog with everything”, for example, is literally surrounded on all sides by mouthwatering plant foods, but I’ve yet to hear of anyone swear off hot dogs because they became enraptured with relish.  As Elena Brodskaya has said many times, veganism is not a diet and without a morally compelling reason to stop consuming products of animal exploitation, plant-based cuisine exists as just another option among many and not a replacement for any:

“What do you feel like eating tonight?  Italian, Mexican, Asian…  Vegan?”

We’ve had family and friends prepare us countless meals suitable for vegans (I try not to use the phrase “vegan food” because it reinforces the mistaken idea that “vegan” represents a food category rather than an ethical stance against violence and injustice) that they themselves partook of, so they knew without a shadow of a doubt the simplicity of preparation and the delightful tastiness of the food they were serving and not once did any of them exclaim, “That’s it – this food is so good, I’m going vegan!”  I’ve had many enjoyable meals in restaurants of various ethnicities and can say that I’ve never felt an overwhelming desire to suddenly embrace every aspect of another culture because their food is yummy.

When a person is unaware that, through behaviors they’ve been indoctrinated to believe all their lives are appropriate, acceptable and necessary, they are complicit in the victimization of vulnerable individuals, it is crucial to not just offer them an alternative option to those behaviors but to take the time to educate them as to why those behaviors are morally unjustifiable in the first place.  Imagine a scenario in which you know your friend is a spousal abuser and, rather than having a frank and honest discussion about why spousal abuse is fundamentally unjust and that he should stop this at once, you suggest instead that he might consider joining a bowling league as a way to “blow off some steam” on the weekends since it’s fun, communal and gives him something more productive to do with his hands.  While bowling might present a distraction and perhaps interfere temporarily with the pattern of abuse, it fails to address the underlying problem, offers no real solution and is far from a guarantee that the abuse at home will cease or even diminish.

Now consider a scenario in which a vegan serves a non-vegan a plate of spaghetti and meatless meatballs and says, “Isn’t this vegan alternative to meatballs delicious?  Now you never have to eat ‘real’ meatballs again, right???”

Without making a compelling case for why it’s wrong to continue consuming products of animal exploitation (because it represents one’s support of and engagement in the bullying, victimization and slaughter of the most vulnerable group of beings on the planet and is  therefore antithetical to most people’s morals), all that’s been accomplished here is that another option has been added to an existing list of menu items.  Nothing in the non-vegan’s belief system has been challenged, so nothing has changed.  And when nothing changes, nothing changes.

Again, the common misconception that “vegan = diet”, bolstered by celebrities like Dr. Oz (only one among countless others) who blithely promote that erroneous message, moves the focus from where it needs to be: ethics.

If one believes that non-human individuals matter morally and that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering and death on them, then the only logical response is to start living vegan immediately.

Magical Tragical Thinking

It’s not food that truly convinces people to live vegan, nor does eating a salad or choosing a meal free of animal flesh and secretions “save lives” or “spare animals”, despite what large, self-serving animal “welfare” groups – who work in concert with animal agriculture to find more economically efficient ways to exploit animals – would suggest in most of their litter-ature and manipulative marketing materials.  There is no evidence to suggest that skipping a hamburger or saying no to a steak results in, somewhere, a cow being magically transported from a slaughterhouse to a sanctuary.  Consider this from a previous essay:

“Does [anyone] believe that asking non-vegans to go ‘meat-free’ seven days out of the year (which tacitly condones the consumption of animal flesh the other 358 days per year) is bringing us closer to the abolition of animal exploitation?  It’s not as if the animals currently confined and scheduled for execution so that their bodies can be disemboweled, dismembered and distributed for sale in neat packages will be spared that fate when some unknown number of people take a one-week meat vacation…  The results will be the same as if it never happened – all those animals will die and be eaten soon enough (and then be replaced by other animals forcibly bred into existence for commodification and consumption), and most likely by the same people who didn’t eat them that week.  To believe otherwise is to employ a form of magical thinking that is counterproductive to the cause of eliminating the violent oppression of non-human animals.”

Don’t Just “Go” Vegan – Live Vegan

Again from a previous essay:

“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).

What convinces people to live vegan, as opposed to go vegan, is the internalization of the idea that when we know it’s wrong to unnecessarily hurt and kill innocent sentient beings for our personal benefit (usually palate pleasure, comfort, convenience and entertainment) and continue to engage in this injustice, we are living in opposition to our own morals and ethics.

When it comes to living vegan, it’s not the taste on our tongue but the voice of our conscience that effects meaningful, lasting change.

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