Saturday, November 22, 2014

Dietary dogma and disrespect

I still haven't written the negative aspect of veganism post yet, but I felt inspired to write after going to a vegan event at the college I went to.

Around this time last year, I saw a flyer for a vegan thanksgiving event on campus, and being semi-vegetarian, I wanted to go. There was free food, a speaker, and a raffle. At the time, I was afraid to give up animal products because I thought that vegans are doomed to failure on an inadequate diet. This opinion changed when I saw that this was no small event, and that no one there looked like a deficient vegan. In fact, it was probably the healthiest looking group of people I've seen. By the end of the event, the speaker asked for the vegans to raise their hands so that non-vegetarians could seek them out to ask questions. My girlfriend and I both felt awkward not raising our hands, we likely knew just as much as everyone else there, but we failed as vegans.

This year, I went with my girlfriend who still isn't vegan, and a dedicated omnivore friend. This time the food was essentially an all you can eat buffet, and the food was incredible. If I would have known I would be writing about this event I would have taken pictures while I was there. Also, by the time the speaker was doing Q and A, I wish I had recorded it. The speaker was a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic. She admittedly was mostly vegan with an occasional slip, but the important thing was that she is a doctor in one of the most respected medical establishments in the country. She spoke of the importance of veganism in her life, and how veganism is starting to become more respected among doctors, especially as they face failing health as they become older. Compared to last years speaker, the speech seemed a little less vegan, and showcased more of the issues of veganism. Veganism is becoming more accepted, but it's still a difficult diet to make work in different settings, and the tendency for purity and dogma easily turns into disrespect.

The first question was about the decalcification of the pineal gland, something that is hardly scientific. The next was about artificially sweetened pop replacing sugar sweetened pop at the Cleveland Clinic. The next question raised hell. It actually wasn't a question, it was a criticism. The lady began by criticizing the speaker for her occasional slips eating eggs and dairy, and then moved on to say the speaker was wrong with her nutritional advice. B12 is supposedly not something vegans need to supplement, it can be obtained with nutritional yeast (fortified with b12) and seaweeds and algaes (analogue b12). Calcium is a non-issue for vegans because the lack of animal protein prevents calcium from being drawn from the bone (Dr. Gregor explains how this is simply not true on nutritionfacts.org). When it seemed like this lady was done, she took a breath and continued to criticize the speaker for wearing leather. By this time, I think the microphone was yanked from her hand, and the speaker was given a chance to address the criticisms.

Given being put on the spot, she did an excellent job responding to the criticism. She addressed the nutritional concerns as you would expect a doctor to, and moved on to the accusations about wearing leather and about not being truly vegan. She was in fact not wearing any leather, and as far as not being truly vegan, she owns up to it, but doesn't see an issue when she's fighting for the same team. Thankfully, it appeared the amount of applause she got for that meant that the majority of people there were not judgmental.

This is an issue of veganism that I haven't seen addressed enough. Veganism is an ethic, a way of life that is meant to inflict the least amount of harm. Many take it much further, and add an element of purity. Some won't even buy something if the label says it may contain trace amounts of dairy. I've recently been criticized for taking a sleep aid that contains gelatin, which was purchased before I went vegetarian. The closest I can come to explaining this without simply saying it's a cult-like influence is that some vegans are more like Kant, and can't see how a utilitarian perspective can be useful in this situation. If the goal is to inflict the least amount of suffering, then the goal should be to educate people about CAFO meat, and to get people to limit their intake of meat, not to criticize others for not being vegan enough. Being vegan is a personal choice to live according to ones morals. Being judgmental is forcing ones beliefs and values on others. Being an activist is opening the eyes of others to a problem. Live according to your morals, don't be judgmental, and educate others without letting your morals become emotions that blind you when dealing with others.

I saw the speaker leaving the event, and while a few people went up and said how they enjoyed her speech, I got the feeling that she left a little scarred by judgmental vegans. She did more to promote veganism and educate people about the cruelty of meat production in that one event than the judgmental vegans will ever do in their life, and yet she was the one criticized.

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