Friday, May 31, 2013

The Messengers

There was an interesting program on our local public radio station on Memorial Day. It was an hour long, broken up into segments, but the part that interested me most was about war veterans, particularly soldiers and photographers, and the difficulties they face finding people who are willing to acknowledge their experiences back home. The sense they get is that the public - meaning civilians - may ask about it, but they don’t really want to know about the devastation and brutality in honest, unflinching detail. 

During the program, I couldn’t help but find parallels to the animal liberation movement and the courageous people who are working to bring what is largely concealed, mythologized or abstracted to the public view. It seems that our larger culture is able and at times even eager to acknowledge dark times from our collective past that we have now evolved beyond (for example, slavery) but when exposed to the horrors that are being inflicted in their name in the present-tense (for example, current wars or violence against animals), most people shut down. They cover their ears, sometimes literally. They turn away. If the violence is happening in this moment, painful feelings of personal complicity or guilt arise. The emotions that people cannot face or reconcile drive them to want to silence or avoid the messenger, covertly and sometimes overtly.

This reveals something unfortunate about human beings, of course, and how we would prefer to live in denial rather than face the reality of our choices, but it also reveals something encouraging: that our essential instinct is one that is not welcoming to violence. For vegan activists, we have an added challenge to overcome and it’s a big one: it is one thing to feel guilt by association because of a war one’s country is involved in, but it takes on a much more unavoidable implication of personal responsibility when it comes to one’s own role in perpetuating violence. By accepting the oppression of animals because our preferences for taste or convenience undermines our deeper values, we are tacitly but unmistakably saying that violence is acceptable to us. It is no wonder that people shut down when presented with the unvarnished truth about the horrors we inflict upon animals. When confronted with our own culpability with a violent system that we are at odds with, it’s understandable that many people would rather reach for far-fetched, deeply deceptive fairy tales about happy cows and contented chickens than put themselves through a much less forgiving internal reckoning.

As messengers of something that is difficult to face, much less accept, how are we supposed to get over this resistance? Individuals acting in conflict with their values have a vested interest in not facing the reality of their actions, and it’s a pretty powerfully motivating one. It’s a matter of self-respect. How can we tell ourselves that we are kind, compassionate, loving and so on when we maintain habits that are deeply in conflict with this? And this is where the wall that vegan advocates need to scale comes up. As if family traditions, social pressure, big business, government collusion and institutional reinforcement weren’t enough to overcome, we have that very influential personal motivator, too, to circumvent. We have guilt.

On the radio program I heard, the panel did not offer pithy solutions to overcoming the challenges war veterans face when returning home, they simply acknowledged that this drive of the public to avoid or try to control the message of those returning is a very real thing. As activists, we have also heard many different versions of this unwillingness to hear, ranging from “I don’t want to know!” to “Couldn’t you just focus on the positive things? You’re too negative.” These are examples of people attempting to silence or restructure the message from those of us who are trying to get the public to understand the reality of what is happening. Most cannot handle it.

So what do we do? How do we chip away at this massive wall, cracked and crumbling in some places but still mammoth?

There are no simple answers and there is no one approach. The radio program host asked a guest if there was something intrinsically wrong with portraying a war as it was happening and the guest responded, “Well, we’ve never really done it...I think what you’ve got is a public that’s basically embarrassed by what’s going on and doesn’t want to look at it.” They are embarrassed. They don’t want to look. This makes sense. What we need to show people is that there is an alternative to covering their ears and their eyes, an alternative to guilt or shame, one where they can take their power back as conscious individuals who are living in alignment with their values.

Given this, I believe that we need to find a multitude of entry points because what might make one person shut down, could make another person think, and that person who has shut down could be more open with a different approach. I’ve said this before but I believe it in my core: we need artists and nutritionists, scholars and leafletters, architects and poets, piano tuners and bakers to get the word out. Most of all, we need to be smart, creative and adaptive with our outreach. We’ve also got to see that most of the people who are not there yet - the ones who shut down when we try to talk to them - are essentially good people and they are reaching for what they can to avoid an internal crisis. We need to have empathy with them and help them through to the other side because if we just hit and run, most will just retreat to a more comfortable, safe place. Why wouldn’t they? We have a difficult message, one full of triggers and the potential of doors slamming shut on us, but also one that carries within it an accessible solution that someone can begin at any moment.

We are the messengers. The responsibility and power of this cannot be underestimated, which is all the more reason why we need to be smart and thoughtful with our messaging. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Soy Will Kill You DEAD, Part II: Revenge of the White Menace

Because what prequels, sequels and cheap genre film knock-offs lose in originality, they make up for in sheer bombast.

A couple of years ago, we explored the nuttier side of the Weston A. Price Foundation with this leaked (and almost certainly satiric) article from their (completely made up but they should totally have one) Office of Soybean Literacy. Today, we are presenting some rough film sketches should the WAPF ever want to dabble in filmmaking. Why should they limit themselves when the opportunities to expand the reach of soy demonizing scare tactics are so abundant? 

You’re welcome.

Single White Soy

Soy answered the ad for a roommate. Soy seemed kind of shyly awkward at first in a way that was kind of charming but that didn’t last long. Now you have a mess on your hands. Soy has an unnerving habit of staring at you while you eat. Soy smirks when you stub your toe and coughs without covering its mouth. Soy brings one of your magazines into the bathroom, stays in there for forever, and never washes up afterward. You are pretty sure that soy eats straight out of the peanut butter jar. Soy puts its dirty dishes under the couch and slathers the fancy preserves your parents brought you back from Europe on cheap gas station bread. Soy’s friends are also all gross and rude and quite possibly kleptomaniacs. Soy borrowed your bra without asking and you found your favorite leggings in soy’s dirty laundry, all stretched out and ruined. Soy smokes late at night and leaves stubbed out cigarettes in your favorite aloe vera plant. Soy uses the last of the toilet paper and doesn’t replace it, eats all the ice cream and then puts the empty carton back in the freezer. Soy hides the bills and gets the utilities turned off. It gets worse: soy has loud sex with some creepy low-life it picked up late at night. When soy tries to seduce your boyfriend, steal your identity, impersonate and stab you to death, it should come as no surprise.

The Soy Next Door

Everything was really nice and peaceful on your block until soy moved next door to you. Now in the summer, soy sets its sprinkler so the water hits pedestrians and in the winter, soy never, ever shovels the sidewalk. Soy scratches itself impolitely in public and belches. Soy lets its baby walk around all day in the same nasty diaper. Soy answers the front door in its dirty underwear. Soy’s front yard is strewn with litter, Popov vodka bottles and weeds. Soy smells like b.o., cigarettes, cheap beer and God knows what else. Soy sits on a stained couch with springs poking out of it on the front porch, leafing through a Hustler magazine and makes everyone in the neighborhood uncomfortable. Late at night, soy pulls bulky industrial garbage bags out the door and buries them in its back yard. Soy is damaging your property value every single day. Soy has a beater car on concrete blocks on its oil-stained driveway that cats are yowling and breeding in. Soy hocks loudly and spits on your roses. Soy has some really trashy exes and they are uniformly crazy; they stagger around outside soy’s house in the middle of the night, drunk, crying and screaming, banging on the door. Soy stares at your ass when you walk by and sometimes does a slow whistle. Soy brings back losers from the sleazy bar down the street and they have loud fights and puke on your lawn. They may even do worse. Oh, Jesus. Is soy touching itself? Soy does not give a fuck.

A Nightmare on Soy Street
(Other possible titles: When a Soya Calls; Parasoya Activity; Children of the Soy; Creature from the Soy Lagoon; Edamame Dearest)

Soy occurred in a disastrous laboratory experiment when the DNA of a psychopath got mixed with rabies, herpes, car alarms, mosquitoes, primordial sludge, used tissues from the Westboro Church office bathroom and whatever disgusting gunk they could scrape off the floor of a peep show in the world’s seediest neighborhood. The lab, built on the site of an ancient Indian burial ground, is also cursed and radioactive. Soy overpowered the laboratory worker and ran into the night. Soy is actively reproducing itself, building a formidable army of unstoppable, dead-eyed soys. Soy feasts on wide-eyed young virgins. Soy will also feast on you. Soy is scaring you late at night and no one believes you. Soy is looking in your window; soy is hiding in the back seat of your car. When the phone rings and all you can hear is breathing on the other end, it is soy. Soy is now living in the sewer, having scared away that freaky clown from that Stephen King book. Soy has sharp daggers for fingers. Soy is watching you when you’re fooling around and it’s safe to say that soy doesn’t like it one bit. You can run and hide, cowering in a closet, but soy knows where you are and will keep coming at you. Soy implants itself in you, grows like a demonic phytoestrogenic fetus inside you, leaching off of you and your organs until it has come to full-term and no longer needs you as host and then soy will horrifically explode out of your ribcage, spraying blood and viscera everywhere. You may think you’ve killed soy but soy springs back up again and again and now soy is beyond pissed.

It’s no laughing matter. This little bean is a cold-blooded, serial-killing machine right down to its very fiber.

I'm thinking Wes Craven or Rob Zombie.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Random Things That Only Other Vegans Will Be Able to Innately Understand

Did you know that vegans possess: Superior knowledge? Uncanny intuitive abilities? A new emotional spectrum? The ability to perform feats of uncommon cunning? Being a vegan in this world is a little like being a circus performer in that we have quirky little idiosyncrasies that are uniquely ours, though ours are adapted by swimming against the current in our culture. Some traits are impressive and useful, others are simply bizarre and perhaps annoying, but all of them are interesting.

As a vegan, you alone understand...

* The concern that you may actually be creating a new lung disease from inhaling too much nutritional yeast.

* That feeling of being super-excited when someone tells you that she is thinking about giving up meat but you feel like you have to sit on your hands to not start jumping around in excitement so instead, you pretend to be all blasé while you’re mentally checking off every link you are going to send her.

* When you go to your first all-vegan event and you know that you can eat anything there but you still can’t stop asking if everything is vegan because you are so used to having to do that. Oh, and then you end up eating every speck of food you can get your hands on just because it’s vegan.

* You sometimes want to tell the rest of the world that vegans totally knew kale before everyone else did.

* You are the one who your co-worker goes to when her cousin wants to ask some questions because her ex-tennis partner is considering going vegan but is worried because she heard soy will kill her.

* You learn about a new vegan cheese that’s just The Best! and you’re all “Z!O!M!G!how-can-i-get-some?!” and you spend all day trying to track some down unsuccessfully but it’s all forgotten when you hear about the new vegan Butterfingers-style candy bar and then you spend another day in fruitless pursuit of that instead. You console yourself knowing that tomorrow there will be something else you can’t get until the novelty has worn off.

* When your best friend breaks up with the “last hetero vegan male on earth,” you listen to a Colleen Patrick-Goudreau podcast together over a box of tissues and some Fair-Trade chocolates before helping her create a new profile on a vegan dating site.

* The anxiety you feel when dining out with a group of meat-eaters and the idea to order ”family style” is brought up.

* You have a habit of scoping out someone else’s animal product-free grocery cart (“cart snooping”) when you’re in the checkout line and then trying to figure out a non-creepy icebreaker to find out if he’s vegan. You're not even sure why you need to know this.

* You can skim a label, a menu and a recipe like you’ve graduated magna cum laude from the Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics program. Relatedly, you can look at any recipe and see within moments how easily you can modify it to being vegan.

* Upon hearing that a celebrity is vegan, you’re all like, “Yeah, right. Not falling for that one again. Next!”

* The first thing you look at with a pair of shoes you like is not the price but the manufacturer’s tag inside it. (I don’t have to explain this because the vegans will understand.)

* You align yourself with the Abolitionists and you are not even a Civil War reenactor.

* The server at your local Thai place automatically repeats back to you, “Tofu, no fish sauce, no eggs,” before you even order.

* You consciously route out your trip through the grocery store so you won’t have to pass the corpses.

* If you are a freelance writer, you refer to animals as “he” and “she” and this is duly noted by your editor but whatever. She can take out your pronouns but you won’t.

* The first thing you look at when you visit another vegan’s home is her cookbook collection, which might even be more impressive than your own, you note with awe.

* Your egg salad sandwich that supposedly tastes “JUST like eggs!” probably won't to omnivores but that’s perfectly okay. (Similarly, when we say, “You can’t taste the difference,” about anything we make, well, that’s probably not true but, again, perfectly okay.)

* You understand that if you arrive at the vegan potluck even ten minutes after people start eating, all that will be left for you to eat are some oily craisins at the bottom of a bowl so you always arrive early to, um, help set up.

* When you see children eating red popsicles and you know that in addition to the high fructose corn syrup, they are eating tiny cochineal insects.

* You possess an encyclopedic knowledge of every way in which humans abuse other animals.

* You understand that building excitement as you are reading the ingredients on a label but then the crushing disappointment when you are 3/4 of the way through reading it and you see the words “whey” or “lanolin.”

* You bring your own food when you visit your parents, even if you’re only there for a couple of hours. You also find yourself in the rare role reversal of admonishing your parents to eat their vegetables.

* When the only item a restaurant offers is a hummus wrap, it feels like an act of aggression against your very person.

* When you and your vegan friends talk about someone you know who is an ex-vegan, your somber, hushed tones makes it sound like you’re talking about somebody who has died in a horrible accident. Conversely, it may sound like the person is an axe murderer.

* You automatically can name a couple of vegan restaurants in practically every major (as well as some minor) U.S. city whether you’ve been there not. You may even be very familiar with the menu, weekly specials, and Yelp rating.

All this and more...