Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Top Ten Frequently Repeated, Often Illogical and Always Convenient Myths Repeated to Vegans

Revisiting my previous post, I wanted to share some of the common myths and conceits that are repeated to vegans as if they were truth. I am doing this sort of as a favor to those who repeat them because, honestly, guys, you probably don’t realize the regularity with which we hear them. And when we hear them, it’s all we can do sometimes to be patient and not roll our eyes. You don’t want to be someone who causes excessive internal eye-rolling, right? There are many, many more myths than the ones listed here and many subsets of the ones I have, but you get the idea. We’ve heard it all before.

1. Vegan food is expensive.

First I have to ask: compared to what? Compared to fast food? Well, yes, compared to dollar menus of hamburgers and fries, it is more costly on the surface, but the expenses of illness and obesity more than offsets this. Time spent off of work waiting in doctor’s offices, scanning drugstore shelves for anti-constipation remedies, or getting arterial stents inserted is expensive.

The next question is if vegan food is truly expensive compared to meat and animal products. Quite simply, it’s not.

The average price for a pound of ground beef in July of this year was $3.085. The price for a pound of dried organic black beans was $1.99 at Whole Foods. One cooks down and the other expands with cooking. The poorest people of the world are often nearly vegan by default. Let’s look at what they eat: Legumes. Grains. Seasonal fruits and vegetables. Fresh herbs. Nuts and seeds. They are not eating organic, heirloom goji berries at $15.99 an ounce. They are eating simple peasant food that is grown close to home because that is the least expensive and most accessible. In our own country during the Depression, we canned and froze the harvest to make food less costly. The notion that vegan food is more expensive than animal foods is simply not fact-based. It does cost more on the surface to be discerning about what we put in our bodies but it is far more expensive down the road to be unwell. Consider eating whole, unprocessed foods another form of health insurance.  

Please note that none of this is even considering the expenses our whole society takes on in cleaning up the ecological mess of animal agriculture. 

2. Caring for animals prevents us from caring about people.

This is a false dichotomy born of an absolutist perspective. If one looks at the world through an either/or lens, it’s a natural conclusion that advocating for some means that we cannot advocate for others. In truth, compassionate people are compassionate people. Does someone who kicks his dog have more of a reservoir of compassion for people than someone who doesn’t kick his dog? We don’t turn compassion on or off like a faucet and we are not born with a finite supply of it. The greater empathy you feel for others, the more empathy you will produce. It is more like a muscle than a supply. I would be far more trusting of someone’s willingness to care for others who has demonstrated an ability to empathize and take courageous action on another’s behalf. The people who feel we need to carefully parse our compassion? Nah. Not so much.

3. Vegans are in a cult/engage in “group-think.”

Hee. This one is especially amusing to me.

Anyone who knows anything about vegans knows that you ask five of us the same question, you are likely to get five different opinions (or maybe 18 different opinions), some that may profoundly differ from one another. We will go to the mat on topics as seemingly benign as to whether we will date non-vegans and go for the jugular on the topic of what we feed our cats. The array of topics on which we will loudly disagree is truly spectacular, almost a renewable resource: whether to wear our old leather and wool items or give them away; whether or not we will eat at restaurants that serve meat; whether vegans are allowed to be motivated by health concerns over their ethical convictions; whether we support incremental animal welfare measures or most assuredly do not. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is no shortage of topics for us to vehemently disagree with one another on and there never will be. We have no central leader, no agreed upon strategy and, honestly, no overarching goal. One thing vegans would agree upon is that we do not believe that it’s our right to abuse and kill animals. From there on out, though, all bets are off.

4. We have to be 100% impeccably vegan about everything our bodies come in contact with or else we are hypocrites.

You know what? We lived in a flawed world. We live in a violent world built upon exploitative systems. Have you noticed? There is animal-derived stearic acid in car tires: even if you don’t drive, it’s in bike tires. Gelatin is used to make the non-digital films people see. Those beautiful vegan cookbooks? Most likely, they are held together with casein in glue. We get it.

We didn’t create this mess and actually, we’re the ones trying to get us out of it. The reason why there are animal-derived components in so much is because of the conceit that animals are ours to use as we wish and because, well, after eating whatever we can off of their bodies, there is a lot left over for people to make money off of still. We’re trying to create a world in which we do not exploit others. We are not there yet and the world is a complicated beast with many tentacles wrapped around various forms of exploitation. We’re not going to extricate ourselves overnight but at least the vegans are trying our best to minimize harm. Could you say the same? 

5. Historically, there has never been a vegan culture.

Ergo? And? We are blazing trails, not creating historical reenactments.

There was never a Christian culture before Christianity. There was never a culture of feminism before pioneers created it. There was never an ecological movement until people started it. We are not limited by the past: thankfully we have self-determination. While those who are yoked to the past keep coming up with nonsensical excuses, vegans are actively creating our own burgeoning culture that can make a difference now and benefit future generations. What is more exciting and promising, having our future hemmed in by history or boldly creating one ourselves?

6. If the world went vegan, what would we do with all those animals not used for food?

This is where people really start grasping at straws.

First of all, why do you suddenly care about the tenability or sustainability of caring for billions of animals at once? Were you concerned before about the giant, leaking fecal lagoons, dead zones in the ocean, air pollution and horrific wastefulness of animal agriculture? (And, oh, bonus points for gullibility if you think that the magic wand of organic agriculture would make the giant footprint of massive animal agriculture disappear. Ta da!)

Second, who on earth said that the world would go vegan overnight? Is that at all likely? What vegans are working for at best is a world that is shifting away from animal agriculture and even the most optimistic, power-of-positive-thinking, cheerful herbivore knows that this would occur gradually. Of course. The idea that we would wake up one morning after the Vegan Revolution to chickens all over our front yards, turkeys in our trees, and cows taking over the boulevards is absurd.

What would happen to all the liberated animals if they are not born, bred and killed for our interests? Well, something tells me that we have oodles of time to figure this out. One idea: as demand eventually decreases and fewer animals are bred in order to be made into food, the populations would decrease. As populations decrease, we need less of the massive amount of land that is currently earmarked for monocropping soy, corn, and wheat that is fed to all the animals in confinement. Perhaps this land could be freed up for some of the animals to live out their lives in peace. I’m not saying that I have the answers but I am saying that we don’t need them yet. Because it’s not going to be overnight, that much is certain.

7. What about all the SOY?! Vegans eat too much soy and that is destroying the environment.

Okay, is it honestly logical that vegans, checking in (very optimistically) at about 2.5% of the population, are creating all this demand for soy? All those damn Boca burgers? Seriously? You know who is responsible for the monocropping of soy? Omnivores. Omnivores eat the billions of “food animals” who consume all that soy in their feed. So if you are really, truly concerned about the environmental implications of soy, it’s simple. Do what I do: go vegan and limit your soy consumption. Easy peasy. And contrary to common opinion, vegans do not all eat tofu nuggets dipped in dairy-free mayo with a side of soy jerky. I buy tofu maybe twice a month. Could the omnivores say that they limit their soy consumption to this extent? (Oh, plus it’s totally not an ethical argument. Do not be misled by this one.)

8. The life and death of a cow and the life and death of a tomato are roughly equivalent.

Oy vey. Science was never my topic but I will give it a shot here.

One has veins and arteries. One doesn’t. One has a central nervous system. One doesn’t. One has a spinal cord with nerve endings. One doesn’t. One has a body designed by evolution and natural selection to avoid pain and suffering. One doesn’t. One has a thalamus. One doesn’t. One has a limbic system. One doesn’t.

Further, one is forcibly impregnated. One isn’t. One has babies who are taken from her shortly after birth. One doesn't. One calls out for them after they are taken. One doesn’t. One is de-horned, branded, and castrated without anesthesia. One isn’t. One has the proven capacity for emotionally bonding with her offspring and others. One hasn’t. One demonstrably suffers using an empirical checklist of physical and observational yardsticks. One doesn’t.

If you don’t believe in evolution and your beliefs tend toward Creationism, a Great Creator, Gaia or a combination thereof, perhaps you can tell me why your compassionate creator designed beings with a proven capacity to suffer and a clear desire to avoid said suffering only to give them no possibility of escaping that pain. What was the purpose of that? Where is the intelligent design or benevolence in that? I would never believe in a creator who would be so cruel as to imbue such deeply exploited beings with sentience and emotions only to have them needlessly suffer.  

One bleeds. One cries out. One writhes in pain. Making cows and tomatoes (or chickens and pears or any other animal-plant combination) peers in the capacity to feel and suffer shows how willing some omnivores are to suspend critical thinking in order to justify their habits.

9. Our bodies evolved to eat meat.

Evolution is an ongoing process. It is not static. There is plenty to contradict the notion that we are designed to eat meat (our teeth made for chewing rather than tearing, our small mouths and jaws, our lack of claws, our long, pouched long intestines) but I am not going to get into that. Evolution is, well, evolving, and thankfully we have some choice in the matter. The fact that we can live healthfully and abundantly without animal-based foods is all I need to know.

10. Native Americans showed their respect and gratitude for the meat they ate. I am doing the same.

I think that cherry-picking from various cultures in order to imbue one’s habits with pseudo-spiritual values is really exploitative and self-serving. Here are some other things native cultures have done: left their sick, disabled, wounded and unwanted to die; gone hungry when food wasn’t plentiful; pooped in holes in the ground. And on and on and on. How many other “Native American” habits do you maintain? Or do you just maintain the ones that make you feel that your comfortable habits are spiritual in nature rather than entitlements? 
If you want to feel respect and gratitude for me, don’t kill and eat me. If killing me is how you show respect and gratitude, well, then I’d rather not have it. I will just prefer sovereignty and compassion, thanks. If you have to invoke some quasi-spiritual convictions that you keep handy for justifying your habits, I’d say that this is evidence of hypocrisy and, ultimately, disrespect for the cultures you claim to respect.

What else have you got?