Tuesday, May 5, 2009
One of the things blocking my precious sensibilities from reaching the state of Zen serenity I so aspire to attain is surely the open disdain directed by the so-called progressive community at large toward vegans. I have been herbivorous since February 1, 1995, (though, admittedly, that first year was frequently one of self-deception , wherein I would occasionally order a muffin and say to myself, "Well, I don't know that it wasn't made with soy milk and egg replacer. It doesn't say that it wasn't...") and as such, I do not harbor many illusions about the fact that the general public views vegans as a bunch of prudish killjoys at the nonstop barbeque-flavored bacchanal of life. I get this and accept it, though I have many skeletons in my closet with numbers in their bony hands, waiting patiently to disprove my putative prudishness. (They're skeletons: what else do they have to do?) As vegans, our mere presence brings to form the elephant in the room, an unspoken - though, to be fair, at times vehemently spoken - disapproval, and a spotlight on what is intentionally glossed over with the consumption of neatly packaged meat: this is a dead animal. When a vegan is in the room, even a discreet, non-confrontational one, so is the elephant and as such, these illusions are stripped bare. I get this.
What I have a hard time with, though, is the vitriol I have encountered aimed at vegans from the otherwise progressive community. This can be witnessed in real life but especially online, where there is a reassuring anonymity one can safely retreat to and he can make longwinded, ill-constructed arguments without actually seeing the other eyes glaze over in boredom, roll in annoyance. You can let your inner-Id come out to play and insult your would-be antagonists with reckless, gleeful abandon without the constraints one would feel in real life, of maintaining decorum or personal safety. In other words, the internet is the perfect playground for letting unfiltered opinions loose like sputtering balloons zigzagging rapidly across the room.
Of course not just the vegan community is subject to this, nor is the vegan community innocent of immature behavior online. It's just that I have noticed a disproportionate and vituperative response from the larger progressive world with the mildest suggestion that maybe, just maybe, a vegan diet might reduce our carbon footprint and animal suffering. You can almost hear the organic, fair trade green tea sputter against Mac screens across the country in spit take after spit take (you know, the classic comic technique of taking a sip of something, hearing some shocking news, and spitting out your beverage out like Old Faithful?) of outraged disbelief. This is always bound to happen when the "liberal" world hears that they may want to reevaluate some of their most treasured privileges, and that perhaps a smiley-faced sun does not rise and set every day specifically because of them and their obvious awesomeness. Such suggestions cause the grass-fed beef manure to hit the solar-powered fan, apparently.
Take Kathy Freston's recent article on Alternet, for example, on the positive environmental implications of going vegetarian for just one day a week. Is that so damn scary or radical a notion? If so, this crowd would have had their biodynamic brains explode in a green gooey mess if they'd have heard just one of my angry rants circa 1997. This woman was on Oprah, and is hardly a radical vegan feminist. Putting aside quibbles on writing style and just focusing on the message itself, we find that Ms. Freston with her simple, bullet-point-y piece, has certainly struck a nerve with the NPR crowd that loves to have their shoulders rubbed while being reassured that they are above reproach, that they are never part of any problem, anywhere. It is a fact-and-statistic based article, no name-calling, no demonizing, yet the letters that follow would have you believe that Ms. Freston had simply wrote Meat Is Murder And Only Murderous Murderers Eat It! You Suk! in 72-point type.
At about the same time, over on Salon, Alternet's preening cousin with literary aspirations, an interview with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson drew a similar response. Masson, an author of extremely popular books about the emotional lives of non-human animals, such as Dogs Never Lie About Love and When Elephants Weep, had the audacity a few years back to explore the complex psychological worlds of so-called farm animals in The Pig Who Sang To The Moon. Now, in his more polemical The Face On Your Plate, Masson apparently (I say "apparently" as I have not read the book yet) draws a line in the sand, challenging the brigade of Conscientious Omnivores to consider the ethical and environmental implications of eating animal products, even those from their beloved pastoral farms. Predictably, this did not sit well with the Salon crowd, and, once again, the hissing sound of spit takes reverberated across the country. In the letters, if you listened hard enough, you could also hear the increasing rumble of thousands of entitled progressive Democrats having overgrown temper tantrums, ones in which they cried, Wahh! But Alice Waters eats meat! and Wahh! I watched An Inconvenient Truth thirty-two times and Al Gore never said being a meat-eater was bad! (True. We noticed that as well. Why don't you go give your compact fluorescent bulbs a hug? You'll feel better as the polar ice caps melt...)
So, given the fact that omnivores are thin-skinned when it comes to acknowledging the implications of meat-eating, and liberal omnivores are the thinnest of the thin-skinned - like, truly, this epidermis is razor thin - I thought I'd make relations between us a little less contentious by fostering some understanding. Because that's the sort of person I am. In the spirit of goodwill, I have drafted a series of stock composites who tend to respond to the vegan position's assault on one's feelings of general awesomeness. How is this bridging goodwill? Well, if such a document exists, perhaps omnivores who are so affronted by the idea that it may not be so nice to kill animals from the animal's perspective, maybe if they see that their widdew feewings are acknowledged, we can just hug it out and move on.
Oh, who am I kidding? I'm writing this because it's fun! And as a smug, puritanical, denatured and uptight vegan, I reserve the right to have fun where I can.
Classifications of Omnivores Observed In The Virtual And Temporal Worlds
There are many types of omnivores, from the junk food eating variety to the rarified foodie, from your neighbor Ed to your favorite newspaper columnist, but it seems that the liberal world breeds some stocks that are unique to it. Of course, there are many more to be observed online and in the field, as well as a good many more subcategories, but in the ever-shifting environment in which emergent genetic types develop and then crossbreed, it is virtually impossible to maintain a static status quo. Be that as it may, these classifications are surprisingly and reassuringly predictable.
First off, there are those who we will identify as The Naturals. The Naturals are offended by the merest suggestion that a vegan diet might be worth considering because they are the natural ones, gosh darn it. They are natural because they acknowledge the life-and-death cycle that is inevitable in the world and they really, really want to participate in the death part of it. Do not begrudge them this birthright or they may react violently or, at least, vituperatively. They idolize Alice Waters, Michael Pollan and raw milk. In reality, they are the liberal, highbrow equivalent of Ted Nugent, sharing a good deal of their genetic code with the Republican crossbow hunting Motor City Madman, though this remains largely unacknowledged. They make arguments about us having canine teeth, despite the fact that herbivorous animals like cows also have some sharper teeth for chewing, and they argue the In The Wild, their favorite place for a cerebral sojourn, lions kill innocent gazelles. In general, The Naturals like to pick-and-choose their ethical justifications as if they were going through the line at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They also stop for a little powwow at the Native American section while they are there, and they will say, "Well, like the Native Americans, I give thanks for the animals that gave their lives for my meal." The fact that they do not base all their ethical decisions on their interpretation of WWSFLKD (What Would Simba From Lion King Do?) and that they do not sleep outdoors year-round, bow hunt, starve when food is not available and go without indoor plumbing or hot water does not deter The Naturals from wanting to emulate native peoples in the specific case of meat-eating and whatever else might serve them, such as sweat lodges with their buddies. This is the most common classification with the most subsets. Some speculate that The Naturals are most offended by vegan point-of-view because it threatens to knock them off their pedestal of superiority. The Naturals were too busy placing advance orders of Michael Pollan's next seven books to address or even contemplate this. They see vegans as naive, urbanized, uninformed and, most of all, UnNatural.
The I Grew Up On Farm-ers
A subset of The Naturals, The I Grew Up On A Farm-ers believe that they have both the authority and authentic voice that make them an especially admired population within the larger classification. The Farm-ers use their backgrounds to justify reinforcing the meat-eating status quo and their ability to try to end a debate with six simple words ("I grew up on a farm,") is especially noteworthy. The Farm-ers believe that vegans are confused, denatured, recklessly uninformed and pitiable.
The Anti-Soy Zealots
Another subset of The Naturals, the genetic emergence of The A-SZs can be traced to the early 2000s, around the time that Dr. Robert Atkins passed the torch by having his diet roundly discredited and then, finally, by dying. As with the Atkins Diet, The A-SZs characterize the herbivorous diet as nutritionally unsound and those who follow it as mentally unsound. The A-SZs believe that vegans consume a continuous and voluminous stream of processed soy products, which they regard as Lucifer's bean. According to an A-SZ, soy will cause males to grow mini-teats where he once had testicles, and cause halitosis, vagina dentata, schizophrenia and, ultimately, an early death and unattractive corpse. Especially pernicious because of how easily they are camouflaged within natural parenting circles, a A-SZ can be detected by keen observation: she can be observed feeding her baby raw liver, and she carries a well-worn copy of the A-SZ bible Nourishing Traditions with her everywhere she goes for quick reference. The A-SZs regard vegans as nutritionally deficient, irresponsible, unknowledgeable ticking time bombs, ready to explode at any moment in a virulent torrent of edamame, tofu burgers and soy milk.
Yet another subset of The Naturalists, Sensualists view vegans as sexually repressed, dysfunctional and puritanical based on their lifestyle. To a Sensualist, anyone who has objections to eating anything at any moment is pushing a monastic, inhibiting agenda that is devoid of frivolity or enjoyment. Sensualists worship their leaders, usually celebrities in the food world, such as Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson, and they like to see themselves in this same crafted image: culinarily unapologetic, sexually provocative. To a Sensualist, one's status as a vegan implies a host of sexual and psychological dysfunctionalities, and they believe that only omnivores are satisfied as epicureans and as sexual human beings. Sensualists see vegans as hopelessly repressed, buttoned up, dysfunctional and confused.
The Hypocrisy Police
Badge-wearing members of the Hypocrisy Police are ever-vigilant for any indication of a defect in character, or, short of this, any sign that the scrutinized is inconsistent. The Hypocrisy Police Force will ask suspects if his shoes are leather, if she is in favor of reproductive rights, and create hypothetical situations to see how a vegan will respond to such scenarios, for example, how one would respond to living on a deserted island with only a few potentially life-sustaining chickens as company. Regardless of how one answers a Hypocrisy Police interrogation, the scrutiny will continue unabated until the suspect collapses in exhaustion or the officer runs out of topics. If the suspect answers in such a fashion as to deflect all suspicion of hypocrisy, most frequently she is then accused of either dishonesty or self-righteousness. The outcome is a foregone conclusion: vegans are guilty of something. Vegans are viewed by the Hypocrisy Police as untrustworthy, morally disingenuous, slippery, dishonest and, at best, naive.
It is a well-known fact that everyone loves a good whine once in a while, and liberals love whining most. It is as natural and comfortable as breathing to many; there are those, though, who elevate the act to a new level. Most Whiners have perfected the art of circular breathing, wherein the breathing and whining are achieved in one continuous loop. The Whiners love to whine about a litany of whiney subjects to vegans. For example, many have been observed claiming that they "triiiiied" (this is how it's pronounced) to be vegan, but it was too hard. Their teeth fell out, their tongues turned green, the phytoestrogens turned them gay, they slept 76 hours a day, their skin peeled right off like tree bark but once they ate meat again, they grew new teeth, their tongues returned to a pinkish hue, they turned hetero again, and so forth. Some reported seeing the clouds split as well as hearing a harpsichord with a chorus of angels upon returning to carrion. But they triiiiiied (again, their pronunciation). Or they will whine about how it costs too much, it takes too much effort, it is too socially difficult, and it's too darn hard, or, haaaaaard. Or they have special conditions that require protein consumption every fifteen minutes, they grew up in a meat-eating home (as opposed to the rest of the general non-Hindu/non-hippie-commune population), or they just like the taste of it. They perceive vegans as a bunch of big meanies if they do anything less than pat Whiners on the back and say in a very solemn tone, "I know you tried, Whiner. I know you tried." The Whiner tends to think of vegans as either mean-spirited bullies or intensely disciplined and ascetic mountain-dwelling monks. No amount of hand-holding or reassurance will divert a Whiner from this initial assessment.
The Proletariots fancy themselves as voices of the common people, regardless of their circumstances, and, as such, they are offended by the elitism they feel emanates from those who have certain standards of what they will and will not allow into their bodies. To a Proletariot, the mere idea of a vegan is personally offensive and deeply aggravating, even if no actual personal interaction has ever occurred. Despite the fact that the least expensive food in the world is, in fact, vegan, and the most exploitative industry is animal agriculture, true Proletariots will remain unswayed from their conviction that vegans are snobbish, entitled, bourgeois and over-educated spoiled brats who hate "regular" people.
The New Agers (a.k.a., The "I'll Try Any Argument That Springs Into My Head"ers)
The New Agers are characterized by their dogged determination to keep any discussion on an esoteric or spiritual plane. When confronted by the presence of a vegan, they will gently but firmly try to steer the conversation away from anything concrete and measurable (for example, the effect of animal agriculture on water quality) and toward what can loosely be called more obscure arguments, such as whether plants feel pain or what their totem animal urges them to consume. New Agers will also argue that animals wanted to give up their lives to be eaten and, like The Naturals, have been known to delve into Native American culture with an insistence that they give thanks for the dead animals they consume, though no such declarations or rituals of gratitude have ever been publicly witnessed. Every argument in favor of meat-eating is filtered through the New Agers primary valve: that of his preferences. This is true of all of the classifications, though the New Agers are more overt and unashamed about this fact. New Agers frequently will taut their status as former vegetarians in order to bolster their arguments, but, upon further investigation, it is usually revealed that they were never actually vegetarians. New Agers cannot be tied down with factual matters, though, and if they sense they are losing an argument, they will suggest just dropping the subject, regardless of who brought it up. New Agers view vegans as spiritually adrift, chakra imbalanced and overly analytic.
So there we have it. Please feel free to add any categories you have observed in the field or online so we can keep the most thorough record of the classifications rampant within the world of liberal distaste toward veganism.
Posted by Marla at 7:08 AM