I received a call today about participating in a marketing focus group on auto care and the caller asked me as part of the questionnaire, “If money wasn’t an object, what would you love to spend your life doing?” I immediately replied, “Educating people about a social justice issue near to my heart – veganism.”
My friend and fellow vegan educator Colin Wright wrote an essay about engaging in vegan advocacy over the phone and I thought about his ideas at the moment I decided to shift the conversation into a potential vegan education experience (please read Colin’s excellent essay hereand consider perusing the rest of his site for more information and ideas).
The caller (a 51-year-old gentleman named John) and I ended up talking for over 20 minutes and, in that time, he asked and I answered questions about plant-based nutrition – protein, B12… the usual – and I explained the ethical reasons for veganism to him, to which he said he agreed. His questions were insightful and he seemed interested in and agreeable to the answers I provided. It turns out he’d had a couple of close relationships with vegans in the past, so he wasn’t a total stranger to what I was presenting. I was sure to direct him to VeganEducationGroup.com and HowToGoVegan.org as resources for further information.
When the call was coming to an end, I thanked him for taking the time to speak with me and to ask me the questions he didn’t have to ask, as well as for listening thoughtfully to the answers. I ended by stating, “If you believe that causing unnecessary harm and death to innocent, vulnerable beings is wrong, then you stop engaging in behaviors that bring those results. To do that, you begin by living vegan.” He said, “I agree!” and thanked me for the conversation.
Slightly tangential note: There’s nothing “scary” or “off-putting” about the word vegan or the idea of veganism, despite what some large animal welfare corporations would want people to believe (and they propagate that myth to further their own ends and increase their profitability at the expense of the animals they purport to be “helping”). When presented in a calm, rational and respectful manner, there is nothing about veganism that drives people away. On the contrary, these ideas of nonviolence, fairness and true justice for all resonate deeply with those who hear them and frequently foster internal and external changes that can and will shift the current speciesist paradigm that demands the enslavement, exploitation and execution of the most vulnerable members of our global society – non-human individuals.
[I encourage all readers to click theblue linksembedded in this essay and explore the information on those sites.]
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.
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.
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 speciesismthrough 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:
A non-vegan once asked me, “Isn’t it hard being vegan?”
OK, it wasn’t “once” and it wasn’t “a” non-vegan – I’ve been asked many times by many non-vegans, some out of well-meaning curiosity and some who were looking to poke holes in the foundation of my ethical stance to abstain, wherever possible, from meat, dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool and all other products of animal exploitation. My answer always starts with “No”. Sometimes it ends there and we go our separate ways, but more often than not I will take the time to explain just how easy it was (and still is) for me to choose to live vegan once I understood the injustices involved in turning a cow into a steak, a chicken into a cutlet, a pig into bacon and a baby calf into a suede jacket, to list but a few examples of the tyrannies humans force on vulnerable individuals of other species.
A good question to ask non-vegans who believe living vegan is “hard” is, “Who told you that?” In my experience, it’s never a vegan who tells someone that living vegan is hard… because it isn’t. It’s usually someone or some company with a product to sell that counts on such misinformation to keep consumers from thinking critically about veganism and the moral obligation it entails. Stretching one’s arm 6 inches beyond the cow’s milk to reach the almond milk, for example, is not a difficulty – it’s a minor inconvenience and slight change in a habit pattern that will become a new habit when practiced for a short while. Shopping for affordable non-leather shoes may take a little more time that simply buying ones made from the skins of dead animals, but this is again only a minor inconvenience and one easily overcome. In my experience, this is true of nearly all shifts from using products of animal exploitation to living vegan and, once new habits are in place, everything is easy again.
If there is anything “hard” about living vegan, it’s dealing with the cognitive dissonance of non-vegans.
Non-vegans. They come one at a time. They come in groups. Sometimes I feel like Bruce Lee entering a room full of black belt warriors and having to defend myself against their simultaneous assaults. They come online, at work, at the grocery store, in restaurants… sometimes I’m surprised they don’t come knocking on my door when passing my house and spying the vegan bumper stickers on my car (usually, those random doorknockers are Jehovah’s Witnesses wanting to share their “good news” with me. Want to know my definition of fair trade? Graciously accepting some of their literature and handing them some clear, consistent vegan information in return after discussing why veganism needs to be the moral baseline for our treatment of all sentient beings. That’s the best news I know).
As a recovering non-vegan (more of an anti-vegan when I really think about it), I get it. I was the classic, stereotypical animal product consumer, waving hamburgers under my vegetarian friends’ noses, snarkily asking my PeTA-supporting former boss where the “People for the Ethical Treatment of Humans” pamphlets were and thinking up clever ways to derail their veg-trains. I understand where non-vegans are coming from and why many, but by no means all, behave as they do toward vegans:
I was unable to diagnose, recognize and deal with my fears back then. Instead, I acted out in denial and avoidance of those uncomfortable feelings. Somewhere inside, probably near the pounds of undigested red meat rotting in my intestines, I understood that every hamburger begins with a cow begging for her life. I knew something dreadfully awful was happening to veal calves and it wasn’t, as I so cleverly rationalized (and I’m not proud of this, though I was at the time), “the only life they know anyway so, since they have no frame of reference for what a happy life is, why does it matter? And if their lives are so bad, it’s actually merciful that we slaughter them so young and put them out of their misery. We’re doing them a favor!” I knew that chickens didn’t “sacrifice” themselves to become the nuggets I was eating twenty at a sitting. I knew… and I denied. And I defended. And I attacked. Those were the methods I employed to keep from hearing, understanding and – worse – feeling the truth about animal exploitation and my complicity in it. I kept the truth a comfortable distance away and drowned out the voice of my conscience with pseudo-intellectual rationalizations and justifications that, as I now know, were mere fabrications of my frightened ego.
When I deal with non-vegans now, especially in terms of vegan education, I try to meet them where they are, remembering that I once stood where they stand – blinded and misguided by a multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that would have us believe we need to eat animals to survive (false), that we would suffer and maybe die if we didn’t (false), that animals were put on Earth to serve us – the “superior race/top of the food chain/most advanced species” in the history of the planet (false) and on and on. I remember that I too was once afraid to take a stand for my ethical beliefs in a society that marginalizes, ridicules, bullies and berates those who swim against the current of cruelty and go against the grain of gluttony, afraid to be looked at as “abnormal”, afraid to no longer be accepted by those who engage in behaviors I now consider morally unacceptable…
So I do my best to let them know how it was for me, what happened to cause me to change and what it’s like for me now. I let them know that making the choice to live vegan is the single best choice I’ve ever made and that living vegan is the best action I’ve ever taken. I let them know that it’s best to follow one’s ethics instead of one’s palate. I let them know that veganism is not a diet, a fad, a lifestyle or a phase – it is one’s personal commitment to a social justice movement that seeks to dismantle speciesism, the most egregious and deadly form of oppression on the planet today. I let them know that every argument against veganism is an argument in favor of slavery, bullying, misery and horrible, needless death. I let them know that if they believe animals matter morally at all, then living vegan is the only rational response. I let them know that living vegan is as easy as making the decision to withdraw support from and cease complicity in a worldwide system of animal exploitation. I let them know that vegan food is nutritious, delicious and all one needs to survive and thrive in optimum health.
And I let them know that I, and millions of other vegans, are here to offer education, informationand supportif they are willing to put their fears aside and embrace that which they already believe in – justice for all.
Live vegan. Educate others. Start now, here’s how: