Via World Vegan and Vegetarian News, I found a commentary that I expect many vegans would find to be ludicrous as I do. It is called What Vegans Can Learn From the Gay Rights Movement’s Success.
The author, Sherry F. Colb, starts by comparing the human oppression of animals to the indignities that human minorities have faced. Which, at this point, makes this a fairly typical animal rights sermon. If you put animals on the same level as humans, the raising and slaughter of them for food easily can seem as unacceptable as the use of human slaves. But this isn’t actually the comparison the article wants to make.
The proper analogue to a gay person seeking gay rights is not a nonhuman animal, for the latter is not able to seek justice for herself (except by appearing, occasionally, in the public consciousness and awakening rare pangs of conscience and empathy). The proper analogue to the gay person struggling for gay rights is, instead, the vegan struggling for animal rights.
So her concern, in this article at least, is not for the animals exactly, but for the vegans who fight for them. She is in a sense saying, “Forget the African slaves for a moment, and consider the trials and tribulations of the heroic white abolitionists.” Which, okay, I’m sure they had some.
Once we recognize that it is the vegan – rather than the nonhuman animal – who occupies the space parallel to that of the gay rights advocate, we immediately see some important commonalities.
Yeah? All I see are differences. Veganism has never been illegal. Vegans can marry, vegans can adopt, and vegans can even raise their children vegan (though that is the one area where vegans might want to be on guard, especially if it becomes increasingly obvious that veganism is a dangerous diet for children).
One [commonality] is that, unlike race and sex, gay identity and vegan identity are, in part, chosen.
In saying this, I do not mean to suggest that people “decide” whether to be gay or straight, in the way that they decide what books to read. What I mean is that in the absence of surgery or other kinds of mutilation, a person who is white cannot decide to be African-American, and a man cannot decide to be a woman: sex and race are, in that sense, immutable. By contrast, part of what makes the gay rights movement distinctive is that it is possible for a gay man or a lesbian to live (unhappily) as though he or she is straight.
Whoa, whoa, stop right there, lady. We can grant her that there are some choice-like aspects to homosexuality. Though someone didn’t choose to be gay, they can choose what to do about it.
But veganism is pure choice. No teenager ever starts to feel “unwelcome vegan urges” as puberty nears. Budding vegans never think to themselves, “Please God, don’t let me be one of those jerks who are morally opposed to eating meat! My diet will be so limited. I’ll be such a pain to eat out with. Gourmet society will shun me. Only other vegans will want to be friends with me.” If anyone becomes vegan, unless it is because their parents have forced it upon them, it is because they have voluntarily embraced it.
Colb uses choosing a book to read as a counter-example to someone discovering that they are gay, admitting that they aren’t decisions in the same way. But she just as easily could have said, “I do not mean to suggest that people ‘decide’ whether to be gay or straight, in the way that they decide whether to eat animal products or not.” Veganism, unlike being gay, is a decision in the same way that choosing a book is. Nobody has ever committed suicide because they couldn’t face the reality that they were vegan.
Becoming a vegan often generates family conflicts, in some of the same ways as coming out as gay does. Family members can have a hard time accepting the change and may enjoy bringing up old stories of animal consumption by the now-vegan.
Yes, a meat loving family will be dismayed to learn that their child has chosen the austere veggie path. But so will a staunchly Democratic family upon learning that their child has decided to vote Republican. As will a devoutly Jewish family when they hear their daughter is engaged to a gentile. Parents all too often have a plan for their children, and when children stray, it elicits a fuss. This does not mean that we must fight for Republican or goy civil rights, any more than a vegan should feel that family members bringing up their old meat-eating ways is a case for Sonia Sotomayor.
Resulting hostility, whether subtle or overt, resembles that of a person who is in fact gay, but fails to acknowledge it to himself, who becomes threatened and angry when interacting with an openly gay person.
Now this is just funny. Just as the most outspoken homophobes are secretly gay, inside the most vehement anti-vegans you’ll find a tofu lover begging to break free.
Like a gay man or a lesbian, a vegan can choose from a variety of ways of being a vegan. Some stay in the closet. One woman I know, for example, purchases only vegan foods for her home, but when she is out and about, she either eats what others are eating or claims that she is not hungry, so that people will not know her true identity. She explains that once she knows someone well, she will confide in him or her that she is a vegan.
An immediate problem with this example: a woman who eats animal products when out with friends and then goes home and stuffs herself with wheat gluten is not vegan. Vegans do not recognize part-time veganism as a legitimate wing of the movement. This is why vegans ridicule those who call themselves vegetarians but then eat fish. Veganism is dependent entirely on behavior. As soon as you stop acting like one, you stop being one. A gay person who sleeps with someone of the opposite sex, however, is no less gay. That’s because being gay is not a behavior, it is an unalterable orientation.
We know this because it is impossible to “cure” homosexuality. Those who supposedly turn straight don’t last long (though they can maintain the illusion by mastering the art of severe self-repression). It is very possible to “cure” a vegan, however. I have been cured myself. One piece of salmon sashimi or a bite of duck confit can turn a vegan into a happy meat eater for life. This is because veganism, not non-veganism, is the real self-repression.
Someone who eats animal products for the sake of appearances is not a closeted vegan. They are a reluctant meat eater. Maybe this woman fantasizes about soy protein as she’s biting into a steak, but so what? She may have a psychological preference for a vegan life, but unless she is allergic to all animal products, there is nothing inherently vegan about her - it’s all about what she puts in her mouth. My guess is the author of this column caught her supposedly vegan friend eating meat, and the friend came up with an excuse.
This “closeted” approach mirrors the way in which many gay men and lesbians once conducted their lives. Rather than have people judge them or hurt them more tangibly, they selected carefully the people who would know their true selves. Though such a decision was understandable, for gay people, it seemed only to entrench the false and destructive notion on the part of many that – as Justice Powell put it once – “I don’t think I’ve ever met a homosexual.”
Well, plenty of people know they have met vegans. Vegans rarely keep their lifestyle choice to themselves, often complaining when a restaurant has little for them to eat, or hinting that a meat eater may in fact be a maniacal mass murderer. There are a number of public displays of veganism, such as fairs and “pride parades,” which vegans conduct without fear of recourse. There are certainly times when a vegan might find it expedient to shut her mouth about her animal product eschewing ways, but for the most part, few vegans are forced to live secretive double lives.
Many non-vegans insist that people were simply meant to eat animals. Of course, the parallel within the gay rights struggle has been the claim by anti-gay advocates that people were simply meant to be straight and that anything else is “unnatural.”
Meat eaters are not suggesting that vegans are immoral for having taken an “unnatural” route. Rather, they think vegans will eventually become nutritionally deficient if they don’t eat meat. Those who call gay people “unnatural,” however, don’t mean to say that being gay is merely bad for one’s constitution. They believe gay people are unconscionable through and through. Vegans may be teased, but so far nobody has kidnapped a vegan, tortured them, tied them to a fence and left them to die as retribution for their meat fearing ways.
As we have seen over the last decades visibility is a useful antidote to ignorance and fear. As people learn – from vegans who are “out and proud” – that farming animals causes unspeakable suffering, destroys the planet, and contributes to diseases of affluence (including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes), they will likely become more open to questioning the false proposition that meat, dairy, or eggs are necessary to a pleasurable and fulfilling human life.
This concluding paragraph highlights yet another difference between vegans and gay people. Unlike gays, vegans do recruit.