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An open letter to “Firecracker”

October 1, 2013

“urgh, this something that really annoys me where i live. in san fran there’re loads of vegans/vegetarians getting off on feelings of morally superiority. south park got it right in the ep about people in the bay area loving the smell of their own farts. the “superiority” they feel for being vegan is a clusterfuck of their own privilege.

“so you only buy your food from the farmer’s market and you can afford to spend thee dollars on an apple? great, but don’t you dare go shaming others for not doing the same. until you care about food politics and how it’s heavily tied with class – plus how class is tied to race and health – and are acting on that , I don’t think of your promotion of veganism as being anything other than pseudo-political masturbation.”

– “Firecracker”

Et tu, Firecracker?

I forget how young you are sometimes, in your outlook and expression. You were even younger, here: 19, 20 maybe? Certainly student age – I can’t think anyone older could use the term “pseudo-political” with a straight face. A bit of advice; it’s quite rude to call other people’s beliefs and ideas “pseudo” anything. It sort of assumes that only you are capable of thinking about things on another level, and anyone who doesn’t agree with what you think is talking out of their arse. Just because you don’t agree, that doesn’t mean the other person has not thought carefully about their choices and opinions. They are not “pseudo” political – they are political. Whether or not the politics makes any sense to you is neither here nor there.

I find it ironic that a feminist humanitarian should feel the need to point out that we, vegans, should be more considerate of world issues in general. Isn’t that exactly what every MRA / egalitarian / misogynist does to you when he tells you that, because you care about feminism in the United States, that means you don’t care about women in the Middle East? It’s a derailment tactic to detract from the issue that you want to discuss.

People who talk rubbish about veganism are usually doing the same thing. Those of us who are reasonable never come close to suggesting that every person in the world should turn vegan overnight. Right now, I would settle for a world where the rich, who absolutely can afford to live on a vegan diet, at least acknowledge that there may be some need for them to make a tiny attempt to reduce their meat / dairy intake. Eventually, I would like to live in a world where everyone can be vegan because everyone can eat and they can choose what they eat. That would be a very different world to the one I live in right now and it is simply a fantasy of the future which has no bearing on how I perceive people who are currently incapable of adhering to it.

Of course I care about poverty, world hunger, class and race issues – in fact veganism is just one extra reason to care about it, since without these problems, veganism would be easy. In reverse, I care for humanitarian reasons too; the meat trade is a horrible one for the people who are in it and the world’s resources could not sustain all living people if all living people ate animal products, being a vastly less economical use of space. You can quit mentioning how people who live on vegan diets have to be rich – meat is the most expensive food item you can buy, even the horrible low grade stuff that comes at God-only knows what ethical / environmental price (and the really expensive stuff is as much a feature of “farmers markets” as vegetables and fruits are). Plants are cheap but because we don’t like them as much, more money goes into producing that ready-meal high-salt stuff that people in relative poverty have to eat, in turn making them less healthy. It’s hard to imagine how “Think of the poor people and their nutrition” is a good argument in favour of mass meat production.

You can defend meat-eaters across the world, but you are not actually doing any such thing. You are defending yourself. Meat being farmed in impoverished parts of the world largely isn’t for the people who live there – it’s for you. What they need is your money, and you have the choice as to whether you buy meat from them, forcing them to continue meat farming in the long run, or buy some other product that can be naturally produced in the area thus initiating slow economic and social change in a country that may well be in desperate need of it. Quite a lot gets exported and if you can afford luxury food items made of meat and dairy, you can afford to export something a little more interesting which is made of neither. If you’re thinking about it at all, use your imagination.

To be honest, I don’t think that you actually assume that I don’t care about these humanitarian issues. Your sudden burst of anger only makes sense if you think that you are being criticised – and to be fair, I am much more likely to be judging you than some impoverished farmer . You are a white, reasonably well-off American living on the West Coast. You could be a vegan if you didn’t like ice cream so much (it comes in non-dairy varieties by the way), you just don’t want to. Which is fine, whatever, I won’t change your mind in this lifetime and if you don’t force feed me, I won’t force feed you. The more irritating counterpart is that you act like you think my decision is due to my having joined some kind of cult. You are the one who engages in a bizarre practice that you refuse to let go of, not me. Just because it is widespread (at least, in our society) that does not mean that is it the more sensible, normal or superior option. We’ve got heteronormativity and cissexism and little understood terms. We can add carnism to the mix.

I won’t spend my entire life biting my lip on all my politics in case I offend the fragile, oppressed, little middle-class Western meat-eaters – you’ll notice that the impoverished don’t bother getting offended, being primarily concerned with the contents of their own stomachs and not mine. Don’t expect me to shut up if you happen to be standing next to me when I’m with a vegan friend, just because you decided that my disapproval of your lifestyle is a personal attack on your Very Being. Other people act like I’m having a go at them when I so much as make a perfectly bland statement about what I can and cannot eat, in the context of a discussion about what I can and cannot eat .

You, personally, should understand what I’m talking about here. You are an atheist from a religious background, and once upon a time, a very outspoken one. You know that when you are surrounded by what you perceive to be idiocy, you are not in the mood to “respect” other people’s choices based on things that you fundamentally disagree with. And there is no reason why you should. But you are right when you say that shaming people is bad, you just failed to note that it works both ways.

You see, I am not very outspoken. Not day-today, not face-to-face. To be honest, it sounds like you met some highly intolerable vegans. And I’m not going to start whining that “We’re not all like that” because I will assume that know that already, the intelligent person that you are. However, you should have stopped at the criticism about sanctimoniousness, since it is valid – in truth, all people who like to talk about ethics and justice can be a bit sanctimonious. What was that about “privilege”? You know full well that you are steeped in the stuff, in class and in race. So when you talk of privilege, you’re also being a bit sanctimonious, because you are Bravely Defending the People of Colour and the Poor –as if they can’t speak for themselves, and as if absolutely none of them are vegans, even though the reasons for choosing it are wide and varied and can take you into the outer reaches of places you may never have even heard of, where people are definitely not rich.

Calling the whole thing “pseudo-political masturbation” counts as vegan shaming, which is no better than the shaming of non-vegans, particularly not coming from someone who is all anti-shaming this, that and the other, a person who talks about it constantly. Yes, some of us vegans like to talk about veganism. Yes, some of us talk about it emphatically. Yes, some of us do think that we are “morally superior”, not by some God-given virtue, but in the sense that we have made a sometimes impractical and completely sidelined moral choice which many others could make, but refuse to so much as contemplate. If we didn’t believe that it was better, why the hell would we do it?

Being told to shut up, to stop rubbing it in people’s noses, that our issues are secondary, that we’re self righteous, self indulgent, to stop pushing our beliefs onto other people, and to understand how privileged we are – these are all things which vegans and feminists have to put up with all the time, the justification being that both of these are choices, and thus we should expect some backlash, deserved or not. Perhaps before you criticise, you should think about all the ways in which the group you are criticising assimilates your own.

The truth is, you don’t “get” veganism, so when you are faced with it, your diplomacy stops at the door and the rest of you charges on through with all guns blazing, never mind that shooting at this group of people is as much shooting fish in a barrel as making a homophobic jibe. Everyone does it and it’s OK so long as it’s just-the-camp-ones who bring it on themselves by being “out and proud” and thus are well up for slating. Being gay isn’t a choice, but it shouldn’t make a difference, especially since the people making the jokes aren’t making those kinds of allowances. They don’t care. They’re too busy being bullies for cheap laughs. Ah, similarities, similarities.

Ah, but if you were called out on bad behaviour, you’d defend yourself by back-peddling and saying “I didn’t mean you , if you don’t rub it in people’s noses, then that’s fine. I was just letting off steam.” But you did mean me because you used the term “vegan”. Despite starting with vegetarians and vegans, you actually forgot to put “/ vegetarian” two out of three times, which is kind of a dead give-away – you think we are worse than vegetarians. You did not say what you meant: aggressive, ignorant people making presumptions about your level of world awareness. Instead, you lumped me in with a group of people with whom I share a characteristic that in itself should not be objectionable, choosing to focus on it rather than what you really have an issue with. Counter-productively you end up irritating me, a person who admires you, even though I was not the cause of your original aggravation. I cover more about personal-story-driven tirades, defensiveness, righteous anger being called out here. If you were letting off steam, it’s worth considering that the people’s whose comments you object to were doing the exact same thing when they spoke to you.

OK, so you live in San Francisco and there’s a high veggie population there, meaning that you are sometimes in a minority and feel a bit bombarded by other people’s differing beliefs. Well, join the club. As you pointed out elsewhere, most people aren’t vegetarian. Those of us who don’t eat meat are surrounded on all sides by people who do and who automatically get defensive just from being around us, even if we aren’t talking about it. So, when we get to an area where we can talk about it, we go crazy. Big surprise. A bit of empathy, please? To be vegan is like being bisexual insomuch as you get fire from both sides; the “straights” (meat-eaters) who think you’re dabbling in peculiar behaviours as some kind of phase and the “gays” (vegetarians) who think you’re jumping on the bandwagon and taking it too far. What we’re looking at here is a prejudice.

Oh, it is a prejudice. Think about the motivations that drive your actions. Would you have even bothered to make such as post about a group that you liked, or agreed with? Nope – it wouldn’t even occur to you if you were part of that group yourself, and you would give them the benefit of the doubt if you were on the fringes. If you were neither but simply open minded, you would pepper your post with partial acknowledgements that most vegans are not like this.

Not to say that you should do so – it’s simply that you naturally would have done, because you would recognise that in a society where vegans are a marginalised group subject to a huge amount of ridicule, such a thing is necessary when you broach the subject. Incidentally, if you disagree that we are a marginalised group, think about why and take another look at yourself, because you might find that you just thought something scornful and offensive, thus proving the point. It’s totally obvious when you write from a standpoint of dislike; this particular tirade stands out in stark contrast to the rest of your ethos.

Also, um… “three dollars on an apple”? Apples are as cheap for meat eaters as they are for vegans. What you’re talking about there is organic-heads and health nuts. That’s a different issue entirely to ethical veganism – though not buying GM products farmed by food producers with a monopoly on crop farming redistributes global wealth, and not using pesticides is better for the environment, both of which count as more humanitarian than sitting around ranting about vegans on the internet.

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