Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Shiny, Happy Vegan Alphabet for Optimists

For the past four years, I have done my annual Disgruntled Alphabet and I looooove doing it because it’s a great opportunity to vent while still having fun. I was thinking this last time, though, that I really ought to make an alphabet that reflects the true spirit of veganism and all the priceless personal bonuses we reap by adopting it. It was less delicious to write - because I was born to snark, apparently – but more reflective of veganism at its best, which brings so much good into the world and into our lives. 

A is for alignment, because our values are in alignment with our actions and that is a really rare, beautiful thing. A is also for the animals because we can look at them in the eye and know that we are not harming them.

B is for the benefits of veganism, of which there are myriad, from health advantages to a very reduced ecological footprint, and many points in between.

C is for consistency and compassion and clear conscience, each of which is a renewable resource that fills our lives with meaning and depth.

D is for direct, because if you want to create a long-lasting, positive change in the world immediately, compassionate living is a direct pipeline to it.

E is for that exquisite feeling of knowing that we are laying the groundwork for a new world through our actions. 

F is for full potential: We are not making excuses for ourselves because we are truly striving to do our best.

G is for gratitude that we can live as vegans today without making any sacrifices but reaping an abundance of rewards.

H is for the hens whom we get to feed, pet and hold at animal sanctuaries without feeling guilty or ashamed.

I is for inexpensive because the least affluent people in the world are often vegan by default: whole grains, legumes, local and seasonal vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds are the most healthful way to eat (thus fewer doctor bills) and are usually much more affordable than animal products and flesh.

J is for justice, for knowing that we have integrated our convictions about fairness and equality into our lives instead of just giving lip-service to them. J is also for the joy that comes from knowing this.

K is for kicking the unnecessary habits that harm and kills others.  

L is for love: why would we kill when we could love and live with an attitude of abundance instead?

M is for more, as in more inner-peace, more consistency, more gratitude, more honesty, more passion.

N is for no more disconnect between our deepest values and our actions.

O is for our convictions, which give our lives purpose and meaning.  

P is for the peace we feel from practicing what we preach.

Q is for questioning the status quo, which gives us so much strength and confidence to create the compassionate, independent lives we want.

R is for rejecting the habits that contradict our ethics.

S is for solutions: we are living examples of people who are creating solutions to the destruction animal agriculture wreaks and it also stands for the dynamic shift we are bringing to the world.

T is for truth, because living with knowledge and self-honesty are liberating.

U is for undoing the damage and the pride that comes from that.

V is for vegan because that’s what it’s all about.

W is for wherever we are, we can always do our best in that situation.

X is for X, the mark we make on each day of the calendar until it’s our annual veganniversary day of gratitude.

Y is for yes, we can easily make a positive difference with our actions.

Z is for zealous because sometimes we can be a little overly so but everyone has his or her faults.  It’s better to err in the direction of passion over passivity, right? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yet Another Disgruntled Vegan Alphabet

I’ll let you in on my dark, little secret. You want to know?

I’m not that dark of a person.

A kind of embarrassing truth about myself that I have come to accept over the years is that I have a pretty cheerful, optimistic nature. Why would this be embarrassing? As someone inclined toward the arts, with a passion for the radical, a preponderance of black clothing, and the dark coloring/pale skin combination that is such a perfect fit for goth-y gloominess, I was always kind of an outcast amongst others of a similar bent. I was born with a loopy (some would say zany) energy. I definitely didn’t fit in with the pep squad but my temperament also clashed with the perpetually sighing artists. What worked for me eventually was to find friends who also defied categorization: depressive cheerleaders, happy poets, stable performance artists, serene radical feminists. These friends have an important place on my personal island of Misfit Toys and have made my journey in life much less lonely.

Despite my essentially happy nature, though, I am painfully aware of how much of the world rather, well, sucks. As vegans, we know this all too well. Maybe the reason that I am pretty happy is that I’ve always had an outlet. Whether I’ve been painting or writing, my thoughts have been explored, processed and, finally, released. My annual Disgruntled Alphabet is honestly therapeutic at this point and I fully encourage you to add your favorite letters and corresponding gripes in the comments. We need to release all this angst so we can get back to being the good examples we strive to be, right? Or just to get it out of our system before embarking on a fresh new year. In case you're thinking that I am making the case for why veganism sucks, I'm not. It is awesome but, as the expression goes, hell is other people. Maybe next week, I'll come up with a Cheery, Happy Vegan Alphabet for Optimists. For now, though, I present the 2012 Disgruntled Alphabet.

A is for Anatomy because, come on! Learn it. There is a freaking world of difference between a tomato plant and a cow and NO, they both don’t feel pain. We don’t live in a world in which we can pretend to not know about sentience, neurological and circulatory systems, brain waves and so forth. Anyone who asserts that plants feel pain – anyone who is older than, say, five - is just illustrating how willing he or she is to abandon logic and escape to the puffy, swirly kingdom of Magical Thinking [see M] instead.

B is for B.S., which I call whenever I hear a variation of the “I was vegan for a week and then all my hair fell out, and then my limbs atrophied, and then my organs started attacking each other and I was put on life support because I have a really, really rare amino acid thing,” story, which apparently happens more than would seem possible. 

C is for the Caterer at the wedding, who very thoughtfully and painstakingly prepared a spectacularly grey plate of boiled broccoli and cauliflower on a bed of iceberg lettuce for your gustatory pleasure.

D is for Diversionary Tactics, which re-route us from honest and thoughtful discussions about the ethics of eating animals to pulling up a chair at the all-you-can-eat “lions-kill-gazelles-plants-feel-pain-what-about-the-Inuit-people?” smorgasbord of random delights from Excuseistan.  

E is for Eggs: I don’t care if they came from a virgin meadow of the softest grass where the hens are serenaded by classical violinists and gently massaged by the finest avian masseurs each day as they dine on organic, free-range grubs and are lovingly tucked into bed each night by a trilling Snow White herself. Eating eggs is unnecessary and exploitative but keep dreaming up those sustaina-bull [see S] fairy tales all you like.

F is for Forgetting, because it’s embarrassing when you forget that one of your friends is not quite vegan and it just dawns on you after you said something pretty snarky about how gross it is to drink milk and then it’s all awkward between you. Oops!

G is for "Get a Life!" which we are told that we don’t have if we care about the billions of sentient, gentle beings who are abused and slaughtered with each moment. Because one proves that one has a life by not giving a damn, right?

H is for the Hassle you go through every year when family members squabble over the annual dinner out together when your peevish great uncle comes to town and you always end up eating a plain salad with nothing on it at his favorite steakhouse anyway. You'd better be in that geezer's will.

I is for “I know that I shouldn’t say this to you, but I couldn’t live without bacon.” Yes. You. Could.

J is for the Jack of All Trades who strikes up a conversation with you about the Problems with Veganism at the annual company holiday party: he’s a dietician, an anthropologist, a historian, an elite personal trainer, a philosopher, a biologist and an expert on world cultures all rolled into one. And you thought he was just an accountant.

K is for knife, which is yours but your roommate sometimes uses it to cut meat and doesn’t see what the big deal is, anyway.

L is for Lighten Up, which we need to do because needless suffering and slaughter isn’t really all that big of a deal, either.

M is for Magical Thinking, which brings omnivores a whole host of interesting diversions, such as Plants and Their Feelings, All I Eat is Happy Meat, Death is Life/Life is Death, By Eating Animals, I Am Showing My Respect for Them and more. The realm of Magical Thinking is a shiny, happy place that omnivores can skip off to whenever they don’t want to face the reality of their habits. They can stretch out on a puffy cloud, float over a crystalline pond and frolic with the glittery free-range unicorns any time they like through their Magical Thinking escape hatch.

N is for Neurotic, because caring about what you put into your mouth and spend money on is just so high-strung, isn’t it? Meat is a metaphor for hot, carnal sex. We get it. We’re prudes. And you're a necrophile.

O is for Opinions, which we shouldn’t mistake for facts, right? Like it is an opinion that the life of a tomato and the life of a chicken are roughly equivalent but it is a fact that plants and animals have very different anatomies and physiological functions for evolutionary reasons and purposes but let’s not let facts stand in the way of a little romp in the land of Magical Thinking. Oooh! Glittery unicorns!

P is for Passive-Aggression, without which we wouldn’t have hostile family meals, a persistent mispronunciation of the word vegan by your significant other, knowing smirks between coworkers when you get the leather gloves in the Secret Santa gift exchange, your brother-in-law describing veganism as a “lifestyle” with little quotation marks that just seem so snarky with his stupid, mean fingers and other really fun things like that.

Q is for Quack because, honestly, you can send me all the wackadoo videos you want from that chiropractor talking about how soy will turn boys into girls and how our “inferior protein sources” cause our brains to shrink like thirsty little walnuts and how vegan children are all pre-diabetic Children of the Corn and I still won’t believe you.

R is for Rights, which omnivores are pretty obsessed with, as in their “right” to eat or do whatever they please as opposed to another being’s right to live free from intentional harm. Clearly the “right” to a pepperoni and cheese pizza is more worthwhile and valuable than a sentient individual’s right to sovereignty and self-protection.

S is for Sustaina-bullshit because it defies mathematics and basic logic to believe that you can eat as much grass-fed, organic, free-range blah-blah-blah as you like without an ecological impact as long as you buy it from cute little heritage farms. A form of Magical Thinking, Sustaina-bullshit rewards those who want a reassuring little pat on the back and cup of organic cocoa rather than more substantive actions.

T is for the Trauma of Thanksgiving. T is also for Therapy.

U is for Unless you plan to bring your own food to Thanksgiving, you can expect a dinner of cranberry sauce with a side of defensiveness and a generous dollop of guilt-tripping. Okay, you'll get those extras even if you do bring your own food.

V is for Vermont: Weren’t we supposed to have a vegan commune there by now? Near a mountain or a river or something and we’d all eat massaged kale salads all day? Let’s get on that already.

W is for “Well, I was a vegetarian for ten years but then I read that the Dalai Lama eats meat so…”

X is for X-Ray vision, which you don’t possess but you can still see the layers of subtext and insinuation buried within the offhand remark of your cousin that she “doesn’t think it’s right to mistreat animals but there are more important issues in the world and it's nothing to get all crazy about.” 

Y is for Yay! Your new officemate just put up a Heifer International calendar where you can see it every day! And your manager is pressuring you to buy candy bars for her son’s elementary school fundraiser! And you have to meet an important client for lunch next week and he’s on the Paleo diet! YAAAAAY!

Z is for Zen. We’ll get there one day. Or we won’t. Whatever. Is that Zen enough? 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Next Emancipation

Over the weekend, we saw Lincoln. I am always embarrassed by how little I know of this critical time in U.S. history, so shot through with upheaval. After seeing the film, I was especially struck by the character of Thaddeus Stevens, someone I knew nothing about, played with a fiery but believable zeal by Tommy Lee Jones.

Thaddeus Stevens was chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means committee and a key Radical Republican; by all accounts, he was consumed with such a profound and visceral contempt for slavery, roiled by the thought of it, that he made it his life’s work to eradicate it. Today, it’s easy to take an emphatic moral position against slavery: is there even any reasonable counter-argument? In the 1860s, though, with much of the country in ruins, no end in sight to the horrific combat and hundreds of thousands of deaths already tallied, it was not such an easy political stance, nor was racial equality considered a given. This was a pivotal time in American history, one where the United States could have easily fissured, but President Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens (among others) remained deeply committed to getting the 13th Amendment ratified on the Constitution. 

Imagine the pressure. Imagine the misgivings. Imagine the nights of sleepless anguish. 

There were many times in watching the film that I saw clear parallels to the uphill battle vegan activists face in our struggle to have 98% of the population consider the rights of others on moral grounds. There seem to be some obvious similarities to the obstacles abolitionists faced. For example, those who wanted to maintain the status quo depicted the anti-slavery campaigners as ridiculous, dangerous and worse. White people were born with the right to own slaves as part of their natural prerogative, after all, ordained by God. (Even many of those who didn’t keep slaves still didn’t want to believe that slaves were as human as they were.) Similarly, vegan advocates are often characterized as ridiculous, dangerous and worse by those who want to maintain the status quo of animal exploitation and use. Further, people of faith and atheists alike consider that it’s a given that animals are ours to eat and use as we see fit. Whether they say that this was what God decreed or they say, well, sorry but that’s the way things are (in so many words), the bottom line is the same: the animals are ours and we have every right to them. Interestingly, some justifications were also similar, for example, the attitude among anti-abolitionists that they were doing it for the good of the slaves, a kind of benevolence: what would all those feeble-minded slaves do if they were suddenly freed? They would not be able to fend for themselves, to feed themselves. Today, we hear the same flawed rationalization for maintaining animal agriculture. If we no longer killed animals for food, they would not only overwhelm our resources and land, they wouldn’t be able to care for themselves.

I am not one who likes to compare historic or contemporary tragedies to each other and say that one is the equivalent of the other. I believe that this cheapens the suffering and diminishes the individuality of those who have been oppressed. When a sentient being is in anguish, the suffering is uniquely experienced by that individual. For this reason, I don’t like saying what the animals experience is like slavery or the Holocaust. This is not because “they’re just animals” but because I think that doing so over-simplifies the specific anguish the individuals suffered, whether human or otherwise. I do think that there are parallels, though, with slavery: the concepts of ownership, of sovereignty, of emphasizing the powerful majority’s “right” to the entitlements they want to preserve versus the right of those not so endowed to simply live their own lives. In short, the chilling mentality of exceptionalism. 

The essential questions we have to ask of ourselves are also eerily similar: Where do we draw the line in regards to another’s rights and why do we draw them there? Are the relatively small forfeitures we make in order to end our role in harming another really tantamount to giving up our supposed rights? Is something truly a right or did we inherit it due to existing power structures that unjustly favor us?

The unfair and unnecessary brutality against animals is not going to end unless the world begins to think in moral terms about something as seemingly benign as ordering a chicken salad sandwich. In the 1860s and before, it was considered laughable to think of the lives of the slaves working the field and the moral implications of saying that another being belongs to someone else. Today, we are told the same about the animals people like to eat and exploit. Why? To live with honesty and integrity, there are times when we have to make uncomfortable reckonings with ourselves.

I truly believe that this is our social justice movement of the day. Our blatant and unspoken acceptance of the human domination of other animals is something that the overwhelming majority of people don’t want to face. If some comparisons make us feel uncomfortable, though, that may be a signal that it is something to explore. Within this discomfort, we can reveal a painful truth: there are more similarities than differences between the mentality that allows for slavery and the mentality that allows for eating animals than many of us would care to admit.