QuasiVegan’s Christina Arasmo Beymer Discusses Her Thoughts on Healthier Vegan Living

Christina Arasmo Beymer ate eggs just so she could identify as an ex-vegan for this interview. “I figure if I eat eggs a couple times a year, I’m less pure and therefore I’m a better person, my ego is diminished and I can join the ex-vegan club, where the cool kids hang out,” she explained. But I’m going to give Christina the benefit of the doubt and assume the eggs were from a rescue hen who nudged the eggs toward Christina with her beak and clucked with approval as Christina hesitantly reached for them. For all intents and purposes, Christina is still vegan. Or at least, quasi-vegan. 

Christina created the blog QuasiVegan in late 2010 because of the shock she experienced upon learning that ex-vegans exist and that the vegan diet is not the “one diet to rule them all”. Though she doesn’t post as often now due to a shortage of time, QuasiVegan was and is about Christina’s exploration of nutrition within the boundaries of a plant-based diet. She is not an expert, but she reads the good ones and uses their insights to figure out how vegans can live more healthfully. 

Christina-Arasmo-on-4-11-12-at-2.15-PM

Who, what, where, when, why?

I exist the way I am now, because you exist, Rhys. In the fall of 2010, I read the Vegan Outreach newsletter. In the back, I believe, was your interview with Jack Norris. The first thing I noticed was the word “ex-vegan”. 

‘What, the one-diet-to-rule-them-all has failed someone?’

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Les U. Knight on the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Les U. Knight is a leader in The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, a self-explanatory movement that takes the “Profoundly Deep" ecological view that humans are inescapably a blight on the planet and should therefore stop reproducing altogether. Knight does not, however, agree with David Benatar that we should stop bringing more humans into this world because life contains suffering and so is worse than nothing. In fact, Knight thinks life is quite nice. He and many other VHEMT defenders just think that humans can’t help but muck it up for everyone else here. 

Screen shot 2012-03-23 at 8.41.32 AM

Why do you advocate voluntary human extinction?

It’s so much nicer than involuntary extinction, don’t you think? I mean, we’re going extinct one way or the other, but if we go voluntarily we’ll avoid taking most of Earth’s biosphere with us. The involuntary extinction humanity is working so hard to bring about is just way too messy.

My personal reasons for advocating our extinction combine ecological and humanitarian benefits: as we phase ourselves out, there will be more habitat for wildlife and potentially more of everything for everyone. We might even cease our constant battles for resources. Others have their own reasons for suggesting that we all stop breeding and for doing so themselves.

What makes you sure that humans are destined for extinction?

We are pulling strands from the web of life, while jumping up and down on it with increasing pressure. There’s no safety net. Our global civilization could collapse before the biosphere collapses, and the resulting die off might delay our extinction. Eventually we would rebuild as we always have, and exploit Earth’s somewhat-recovered biosphere again. Our involuntary extinction will come when Earth’s life support systems fail, and biodiversity is reduced to small mammals and below. Or we could choose to go out voluntarily with grace and style.

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--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Dr. Joel Marks on his Amoral Veganism

For some professors and authors, making a career out of philosophy means developing a theory or set of principles that they then elaborate on — and never seriously question — for the rest of their productive lives. Not so for Dr. Joel Marks, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of New Haven and a Bioethics Center Scholar at Yale University. For instance, you don’t have to travel too far back in the works referenced on his main website to figure out that Marks used to believe in morality.

His 2009 book Ought Implies Kant: A Reply to the Consequentialist Critique took the existence of right and wrong as a given, and argued for a version of Kantian ethics that would extend moral duties to animals and universally obligate humans to follow a vegan diet. Now, however, Marks is putting the finishing touches on a new book titled Ethics Without Morals, suggesting that he changed his mind about a few things in the past two years. What changed is that Marks stopped taking right and wrong as a given. In fact, he had an epiphany and decided they were myths. His “Moral Moments” column at Philosophy Now magazine became “Ethical Episodes,” he took to questioning some key components of animal rights philosophy such as inherent value and announced his new thinking in a New York Times column called “Confessions of an Ex-Moralist.”

But none of this affected how Marks felt about animals. He still wants people to go vegan — it’s just that now he emphasizes that his call for a vegan humanity is based on his own desires and aversions, not innate rules that he deduced by objectively observing the workings of the universe. Since its tendency toward moralizing is the main thing I don’t like about standard vegan proselytizing, I admire Marks’ amoral “desirist” approach (and can’t wait to read his next book), even though I don’t share his desire for everyone to stop eating animal products.

Joel Marks

Could you summarize why you don’t believe in morality?

It’s very simple (although devastating to our everyday but unexamined assumptions). The universe as we now understand it consists of such things as spacetime, dark energy, dark matter, gravity, stars and planets, quarks and gluons, beliefs and desires, plus the natural laws that govern all of these things, plus mathematics and logic. Granted we do not yet have a single overarching theory of everything that explains how all of these things fit together perfectly, but there is a certain type of reality that adheres to them that does not adhere to moral values. In other words, it is not to be expected that the final theory will have any place in it for moral good or moral bad or moral right or moral wrong, nor any of their attendant concepts such as moral responsibility and moral desert. Everything that needs explaining can be explained without postulating any of those phenomena.

For example: There is no need to postulate the notion of moral wrongness in order to explain why most human beings believe that torturing babies is morally wrong. All you need is some kind of evolutionary explanation along the lines of: Creatures that thought it was OK to torture babies would (or did!) simply die off because their offspring would be too debilitated to reproduce. But suppose that under certain environmental conditions the only successful reproducers were those who had been “toughened” to the max. Then maybe under those conditions, torturing babies would be the ticket to survival (that is, of the genes that in combination with that environment, motivate the torturing of babies). So there is no “objective” or “absolute” wrongness attaching to the torturing of babies; there is simply the survival, under given conditions, of certain practices and prohibitions, some of which assume the mantle of objectivity or absoluteness in order better to motivate us to carry them out.

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--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Interview With a Vegan: Speciesist Vegan

If you think humans are better than other animals, you’re a speciesist, and you might as well be judging humans on the color of their skin.

At least, if you believe anti-speciesist vegans. 

Speciesism, they say, is no more acceptable than other forms of discrimination; looking down on organisms because of their biological classification is just as arbitrary and loathsome as doing the same to humans because of their gender or sexual orientation. We’re not nature’s most impressive creation — we’re just nature’s most arrogant, our delusional sense of self-importance blinding us to the reality that we’re just one of many kinds of sentient creatures who happen to inhabit this planet, none more or less valuable than the rest. 

Many who go vegan for ethical reasons believe that anti-speciesism is a key component of any serious vegan philosophy, and that vegans who don’t accept it are vegan for the wrong reasons and are part of the problem. For this reason, vegans who can’t quite get into the idea that species is a meaningless division which shouldn’t really be considered at all tend to be private about this view. 

But not Speciesist Vegan, the anonymous vegan writer who uses his blog — also named Speciesist Vegan — to discuss why he thinks anti-speciesism doesn’t make sense, as well as why there is still an argument for veganism anyway.

The blog is only about a month old but is already one of the most fascinating vegan blogs I’ve read. Which is why I did this interview. 

And in case you prefer your speciesist veganism in small doses and can’t commit to the full interview just yet, CarpeVegan has the abridged version.

SpeciesistVegan

Many vegans say that speciesism is a form of discrimination akin to racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, ableism, classism and heterosexism. You, however, are speciesist, yet maintain an opposition to prejudice against different groups of humans. What makes speciesism different than those others?

Well, to state the obvious, all the -isms you mentioned in the first sentence concern intraspecies relations and speciesism deals with interspecies relations. 

Basically, for various reasons, but largely because I AM a human and not some other type of animal, I feel that humans have more moral worth than other animals. I hope it will be more clear why by the end of this interview.

And just to be clear, it’s not like I don’t see any similarities between how some people treat animals and how some people treat (or used to treat) other humans who are different from them. There are plenty of analogies to be drawn. I just have a general distaste for moral argumentation by analogy. Even if there are some legitimate parallels that can be made between dairy farms and slave plantations, the analogy is offensive to me (and almost all non-vegans). If I have to explain to you why the analogy is offensive, you’re definitely a vegan and your name might be Gary.

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--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

That’s an interview with Vegan Represent founder Dave D that I posted to CarpeVegan. 

But don’t worry, I haven’t abandoned Let Them Eat Meat for Carpe Vegan. I promise to post at least two real entries this month. In the meantime, read Forks Over Knives: Is the Science Legit?, which puts my Forks Over Knives review to shame. Writing mine a year earlier doesn’t get me off the hook - I should have used charts.  

Also, since this review is nothing but links… in England, you can’t be fired for your animal rights views. Hopefully this applies equally to people who don’t believe in animal rights. I would hate to move there and then find out I can’t hold down a job because of my controversial pro-animal-use views.

--Tagged under: Vegan Cult--

--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Interview With a Vegan: Adam Weitz……

Adam is a graduate student and instructor of philosophy, maintains the food blog H.E.A.L.T.H., and is a film review editor for the Journal of Critical Animal Studies. He emailed me in March of this year; he’d come to my blog wanting to hate it, but found himself appreciating some of my arguments, and hoped I would discuss veganism with him. I didn’t follow up on the email, but Adam got harder to ignore once he became one of my most challenging and intriguing commenters. I’m relieved when Adam agrees with me, because when he doesn’t, it’s not an easy fight. I once took an entry down in defeat after Adam thoroughly dismantled its core point. But hey… only once.

The problem with debating Adam is that he doesn’t rely on the standard animal rights or suffering reduction arguments, both of which I believe have fatal flaws. It’s not hard to poke holes in the arguments positing an (unattainable) logical perfection though “cruelty-free” consumption, but Adam doesn’t fall into that trap. He argues for veganism from a “perspective of care,” a concept that is harder to explain than other cases for veganism — drastically curtailing its mainstream appeal — but one I’m not sure I could debunk. If anyone could convince me that I’m wrong about veganism, it’s Adam. 

Many of Adam’s answers could stand alone as individual essays, which is why Adam posted longer versions of some them as entries on his blog. (Be sure to visit it if you want to see more.) But the interview is worth reading if you’re curious to see the strongest formulation of vegan beliefs that I’ve seen.

You don’t agree with how mainstream veganism is often practiced. What do you believe is wrong with the standard consumer veganism that the most mainstream advocates promote?

The mainstream discourse and practice of veganism as an individual’s (abstention from) the consumption of animal products, I believe, is problematic in three interrelated ways: practically as an economic boycott, socially as a privileged consumerism, and philosophically as an equivocation with a vegetarian lifestyle.

Practically, positioning veganism as an economic boycott is a very limited tactic given the prevalence of global capitalism. Mainstream veganism only addresses the content (i.e. animal products) and not the form/structure (i.e. capitalism) of the global market that facilitates the exploitation of animals as commodities and obstructs people from transforming society. This is evident in several ways.

First, many mainstream vegans tend to regard the very culprits of animal exploitation as the remedy. Veganism is now sold to people in the form of products (sometimes explicitly labeled “vegan”) by the very corporations (i.e. Kraft, Dean, Con-Agra, Burger King, etc.) that exist and profit off the exploitation of animals.

Second, even if consumer vegans extend their boycott from the individual product consumed to the company who profits from it, without also challenging the present political-economic order of capitalism in which the interests of corporations persistently trump the interests of the general public, vegans remain complicit in the system that entitles businesses to exploit animal others (and human others as well). If consumer vegans were able to make significant dents in the national market, all this will be reversed by the rise of the affluent animal-eating class in the developing world to whom animals raised nationally will be exported, or—in “a race to the bottom”— to where the industry will be exported, displacing farmers and wildlife and externalizing production costs upon their communities.

Third, veganism as an economic boycott does not even universally empower people to practice a wholly vegetarian diet. Since wholesome food is presently regarded as a commodity rather than a socio-political right, large populations of disadvantaged people who have little to no financial and/or geographic access to vegetarian food and goods are thus are severely disadvantaged from living a secure vegetarian lifestyle. In sum, mainstream vegan discourse and activism’s focus on economic boycott is problematic, not because it is ineffective, but because it is insufficient. Without challenging the political, economic and social structure of society, veganism as a movement will make little progress reducing and abolishing animal exploitation. If vegans are sincere about creating a vegan society, veganism ought to be a social space to which people are generously provided access. Veganism will have limited success so long as it remains a luxury reserved for those with privilege, independent of human liberation movements.

Socially, what is so troublesome about understanding veganism as primarily an abstention from the consumption of animal products is that it facilitates a number of objectionable social practices: self-righteousness, identity politics, maliciousness, colonialism, classism, and privileged consumerism. These objections to veganism, however, are not universal to all vegan practices. That veganism has been a medium for such unfavorable sociality is due to veganism being understood as a single-issue to which all other social movements are subordinated, backgrounded, or separated. For instance, consumer vegans are often content calling their food or products “cruelty-free,” even as human animals are exploited and tormented during the production. While I do think most mainstream vegans have very good intentions, the effects of some of their actions and discourse alienate potential allies. There needs to be a shift away from individual consumption to social relations. A politics of alliance that addresses the social structures of oppression in which the degradation of human and animal others are interrelated offers a more promising dialogical medium for vegan advocacy.

Philosophically, when veganism is reduced to personal consumption or political action it becomes an instrument of morality rather than an ethics itself. If veganism is primarily a lifestyle that concerns nothing other than (an abstention from) consumption, then veganism is nothing more than a proper extension of or purification of vegetarianism: veganism is simply a vegetarian lifestyle. It logically follows that, if veganism is the moral baseline, that one’s consumption is the only qualification for being vegan, then one can very well be a speciesist vegan. This may sound peculiar because it is.

According to Ida Hammer, veganism is no “accident.” Veganism is a revolutionary praxis: “an anti-oppression framework that views the abolition of animal exploitation as part of a wider struggle for social justice” and “leads to a way of life (or lifestyle) that is based on noncooperation with, and divestment from, exploitation.” Hammer’s liberation and anti-oppression discourse is notably different from Francione and Singer’s discourse on suffering and equality. Francione fails to recognize how the principles and rights he advocates have not even stopped humans from being oppressed. For instance, Afro-Americans may have been emancipated from slavery, however a new institution was created, the prison-industrial-complex, to place them back into bondage. Hammer explains that “[t]he property status of other animals… is just one piece of the structure of human supremacy, just as human slavery was just one piece of the structure of White supremacy.”

The theoretical discrepancies and historical failure of these principles can be traversed by focusing on renouncing human privilege and the corresponding institution of speciesism. “[S]ince speciesism is an ideology of oppression that legitimates the existing social order, we need to see veganism as a counter-ideology of liberation.” Removing the “-ism” from veganism, risks alienating veganism—an anti-oppression framework—from being a vegan, a “consumptive pattern that is increasingly self-interested and individualized” in contemporary discourse. Actions may speak louder than words, but veganism cannot be reduced to one’s (consumptive) actions alone. The fetishization of consumption practices misplaces the potential of veganism as a transformative social and ecological justice modality.

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--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Interview With a Vegan Paleontologist: “The Humane Hominid”

Robert, aka “The Humane Hominid”, is the vegan paleontologist behind PaleoVeganology, a blog that looks at the evolution of humans and animals, as well as the paleo diet movement, from an ethical vegan perspective.

Robert went vegetarian in high school “to impress a pretty girl,” and stayed that way for the animals. He has been vegan for six years. This didn’t stop Hurricane Ivan from destroying most of his worldly possessions 2004, so he moved to Los Angeles, figuring that he might as well enjoy nice weather while natural disasters nipped at his heels. He got a spec screenplay optioned not long after moving to earthquake country, but Hollywood was only getting his hopes up in order to dash them (as it tends to do), and Robert gave up that dream to return to paleontology school.

The vegan blogosphere is lucky he did. PaleoVeganology is everyone’s favorite vegan paleontology blog, and is one of the most important contributions to the burgeoning “vegan skeptic” movement — the ethical vegan reformers who are more than happy to hack down fallacious arguments for veganism, like the myth that humans are naturally herbivores. To this end, Robert is currently engaged in an online debate with “The Permavegan,” a vegan permaculture advocate who believes that it makes no biological sense for humans to eat meat.

I have my money on Robert. 

Are humans “omnivores”?

Yes, unequivocally. But I’m glad you put that word in scare quotes, because it’s possible for people to read too much into it. The description of humans as “omnivores” is observational, not taxonomic, and definitely not prescriptive. When researchers into human evolution use that word, they mean something a bit different than what, say, paleo dieters or other carnists do. Omnivory does not impose behaviors on us; it’s merely a description of our capabilities and our morphology. We’re neither specialized plant-eaters nor specialized meat-eaters. From the perspective of morphology, it can’t be inferred that we must eat either plants or animals, only that we can eat them both.

Why do you refer to meat-eating humans as carnists?

Honestly, because I just think it’s a cool word, and I am often too lazy to type out the phrase “meat-eating humans.” The word has its origin in the effort by some vegans to label those humans who continue eating meat after being exposed to cruelties of factory farming; i.e., those who eat meat because of a conscious ethical choice, and not out of habit. A carnist is someone committed to the ideology that it is acceptable to eat (some) animals, and is basically the opposite of “vegan.” But like I said, I mostly use it because I think it’s a cool word and a practical shorthand device.

It’s obvious that you are not using your blog to try to prove that veganism is our “natural diet”. What would you say your message is? That evolution is complicated and it doesn’t make sense to try to base lifestyle choices on it?

That’s part of it. Though it’s not just that evolution is complex – far more complex than most people realize, actually – but also, paradoxically, that it’s limited. Evolution is a great tool for figuring out the ancestry of organisms and the mechanisms of speciation and such, but it’s fundamentally about populations, not individuals. As such, it’s not a great guide for figuring out what your “optimal” diet is. The human fossil record is too sparse for that, and even if it were more robust, I think it’d be problematic at best to try to base ethical or lifestyle choices on it.

I should confess here that the “message” of my blog is itself evolving. I started it because I kept running into vegans who, upon learning I was a paleontology student, would ask me for rhetorical ammo to use in their own arguments against eating animals. It’s common for vegans to argue that “humans are natural herbivores,” for instance. But things just aren’t that simple. At first, I was game for the effort, but by the time I decided to start blogging, I had become more skeptical of it.

At present, I’d say the message of my blog is that veganism is, first and foremost, an ethical stand, and should, first and foremost, be argued and defended as such. Paleontology and evolution can bring a great deal of clarity to our understanding of issues related to veganism and animal rights, but they can’t by themselves be used to build a case for (or against) veganism and animal rights.

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--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Interview With an Animal Activist: Camille Marino

Camille Marino is the founder and Senior Editor of Negotiation is Over and is on the Advisors and Speakers Panel of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office. NIO strives to be an instrument of defiance, disruption, disobedience, subversion, creative and aggressive grassroots action, and a catalyst for revolutionary change. NIO’s belief is that “Total liberation — human animals, nonhuman animals, and the earth — will not happen by politely asking abusers to be decent.”

Camille and many of her above-ground activist allies recently made a decisive break from vegans who are content to alleviate their own guilt through personal veganism and baking vegan goodies. Several activists in NIO Florida (her local grassroots group) — as well as many national and international associates — are now targeting biomed students who are on their way to becoming animal experimenters, on the assumption that there is still hope to change them before they become entrenched in careers involving animal exploitation and prolonged animal suffering.

NIO has also gained notoriety by advocating violence against those who are so entrenched, though Camille has remained non-violent in her approach.

Camille

Does simply eating a vegan diet and not buying animal products do anything for animals?

In order to be an ethical and decent human being, one must be vegan. There is no gray area here. You are either vegan or you are complicit in the war on animals.

But, no, being an ethical vegan does absolutely nothing to relieve animal suffering. In the real world “free market,” when demand for meat/eggs/dairy declines, the government subsidizes a given exploitation industry and buys any excess supply of animal products, thus ensuring that the suppliers’ profits as well as the economy remain intact. The government buys the surplus and generally diverts it into schools and welfare programs or the surplus is exported to other countries to satisfy federal debt.

I believe that we are wasting enormous amounts of the vegan community’s time and energy by advocating vegan outreach. The animals are dying in exponentially greater numbers.

Why does Negotiation is Over focus on vivisection more than factory farming and the meat, diary and egg industries?

There are many activists associated with NIO who are doing everything from targeting hunters/trappers to launching creative and aggressive campaigns against slaughterhouses.

Personally, I focus on vivisection because in my community the University of Florida is a beacon of institutional animal torture. More importantly, it is where I believe I will realize my greatest impact. It’s a mistake to choose campaigns simply because they’re available. We need to direct our energies where we can realize quantifiable gains and seize victories and we need to be willing to adapt and evolve our tactics and approach. It is clear to me that animal liberation demands that we subvert and undermine the foundation upon which animal abuse rests in universities. That means biomed students need to be dealt with now before they become fully-entrenched professional sadists.

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--Tagged under: Animal Liberators--

--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Interview With a Vegan: Joshua Katcher

Joshua Katcher launched The Discerning Brute in 2008 as a resource for "Fashion, Food & Etiquette for the Ethically Handsome Man". With a focus on sustainability, social justice and animal rights, Katcher deconstructs the mainstream understanding of masculinity and offers a vision of men that are protectors, defenders, and heroes for animals and the environment. His lecture “Fashion & Animals: Decoding and Harnessing the Dialect of Fashion Culture to Help Animals" has taken Katcher to Paris, Boston, Parsons University in New York, and in June, Washington DC. He will be teaching a course on the subject in NYC this spring with Guilded, and at the American University of Paris in Spring of 2012.

Joshua is on the verge of launching his online men’s lifestyle store, Brave GentleMan, that will feature a highly curated selection of “Principled Attire & Smart Supplies”, including exclusive items and exciting collaborations with some of the most sought-after, high-quality artists and designers. His own line of sustainable, vegan menswear is in development and production. Katcher also launched the initiative, PINNACLE: Reinvent The Icon last year which provides a platform for fashion industry professionals to creatively express their opposition to the fur industry. Joshua lives in New York city where he is a video producer, artist, self-taught chef and a rescued Chihuahua named Enzo’s dad.

On top of all that, Joshua is smart, a good writer, a fan of Battlestar Galactica and nice enough to agree to an interview.

Joshua

Do you see vegan consumerism as the lesser of two evils, with your site being a way to channel destructive modern materialism in a less destructive direction? Or would you say that once someone goes the vegan fair trade route, consumerism becomes a positive thing and the more things they buy that fit vegan ethics, the better?

The former. It’s unfortunate that consumerism and materialism are so pervasive, but it’s also understandable why this is so; it’s sensually exciting, visually appealing, and it strokes our individual egos to think “this is made for me”. I believe that there isn’t anything wrong with the accumulation of objects that serve a function in a mostly-local model - even if that function is purely aesthetic. Even Prehistoric peoples accumulated objects - if they hadn’t, anthropologists would hardly have been able to discover anything about the way they lived.

That being said, there is a glaring difference between a throw-away, built-for-the-dump, cheap-crap, more-for-the-sake-of-more consumption pattern that is reinforced by our current culture (with dire consequences across a spectrum of concern beyond just animal cruelty), as opposed to a business model that takes into consideration how this product is affecting others at each step of the production process.

I include ecosystems and animals as “others” in this equation, as well as workers, laborers and “consumers”. Isn’t it scary that Americans are referred to as “consumers” now as opposed to “civilians” or “citizens”? I think that was an intentional distinction, and we could go on for hours about the problems inherent in a consumer culture. My biggest objection to a consumer economy is that mainstream economists are delusional. Our economic model functions on the false-assumption that infinite resources exist and infinite growth is possible, yet we can see and prove that this planet and it’s “resources” are finite.

My other major objections are that “natural” or “organic” or “fair trade” products are more expensive. This also speaks to the failure of our economic model to provide worth to well-being and cost to detriment. This is so backwards. Why should organic products have to be labeled ‘this isn’t toxic’? Imagine if it were the other way around and toxic crap had a label that said ‘this is toxic crap’? 

The third major objection I’ll highlight is that there is no accountability. Corporations function like a body with no brain. In a recent episode of This American Life, they discuss how criminal psychopaths share many traits with functional, and successful, business leaders. They are able to do terrible things on a massive scale without the effects of empathy or the consequences of accountability. Factory farming is the perfect example of this. Or sweatshops.

And then there is the cognitive dissonance that consumers have who give the benefit of the doubt to the businesses and assume that precautions are taken to ensure that things are in accordance with the values most of us share. I imagine they say to themselves, “If it really were that bad, they wouldn’t be selling it”, and then then business says “If people were really opposed to this, they wouldn’t be buying it”. They’ve got the blinders on, and are living in a perpetual state of infantile self-gratification, as David Orr suggests in Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse.

Like many of my approaches to activism, I see consumerism as a dialect through which to speak to the majority of people who wouldn’t necessarily seek out an academic paper on the failures of consumer capitalism. Ethical fashion is the Trojan Horse in which I hope some other messages can ride in on. I’ll never claim to be doing the flawless thing. My interest is not — and has never been — in puritanism, and I cannot deny that fashion culture has a huge influence on many people doing the most amounts of ecological damage, albeit unwittingly and irreverently.

Is it better to be a vegan shopper, giving money to companies that cater to vegans, than to be a freegan who attempts to have as little impact as possible?

Better in what sense? This is an incredibly complex question. In the sense of having as minimal impact as possible, the least amount of “new” stuff is better for everyone, without argument. Extracting resources always has an ecological cost. Unfortunately, there is a very inconvenient feature to the culture we live in now, and that is the magnification of influence on a global scale, and the appropriation of subculture aesthetics by mainstream businesses. I just saw on the news how Steven Tyler’s rooster feather hair extensions has resulted in such a huge demand for hair-feather extensions that the industry cannot keep up. This affects animals, regardless of where Mr. Tyler got his.

So my next question, as shallow as it sounds, would be about the freegan’s appeal to the mainstream culture. As we know, there is an incredible desire to consume and showcase subculture and authentic individuality in fashion, and what better place to get that inspiration than from an anarchist freegan? You can see the effects of this everywhere in fashion. In fact, it is rumored that the massive fox tail keychain trend is thanks to some freegans who ate roadkill and wore the tails of the roadkill as a symbol of having done so. Someone saw it and thought it looked cool, next thing you know, it’s on Gucci bags.

You can see a similar pattern with the aesthetics of indigenous peoples - the American Indian aesthetic has been totally exploited again and again in fashion, and is really big right now largely in part to Avatar. What is left out, of course, is the context of that aesthetic. As pack animals with a prehistoric legacy of egalitarianism (for the most part), historian Dr. Gwynne Dyer points out that we are driven by what the group is doing, and we seek peer approval. This aspect of our nature has been exploited massively by businesses. And the modern day translation? Keeping up with the Joneses. No subculture is safe from being appropriated, regardless of their intentions or earnestness. In this light, I can’t say one is better than the other. They are both doing good when held up against the current problems we face.

As a vegan, myself, I approach it by embracing the idea of influence magnification, in hopes that values associated with veganism will be magnified, by making sure that THE main features to magnify are appealing versions of social, environmental and ethical empathy. I think many activists who live in communities that are a bit more isolated have the freedom to reject all of mainstream culture. And it’s important to have functioning models that are more consistent like these, but it’s also crucial to have people participating within the mainstream culture who understand its dialects, trying to make change from within as well. I’ll always side with a multi-platform approach as opposed to saying one is good or bad.

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--Tagged under: Veg Interviews--

Interview With an Ex-Adventist: Ronald L. Numbers

Ronald L. Numbers is Hilldale Professor of the History of Science and Medicine and of Religious Studies, and a member of the department of medical history and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has taught for over three and a half decades. He has written or edited more than two dozen books, including, most recently, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Harvard, 2009), Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins (Chicago, 2010), edited with Denis Alexander, and the recently published Science and Religion around the World (Oxford, 2011), edited with John Hedley Brooke. He is a past president of the History of Science Society, the American Society of Church History, and the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science.

Numbers is also the author of Prophetess of Health: Ellen G. White and the Origins of Seventh-day Adventist Health Reform, a book that arguably did for Seventh-day Adventism what No Man Knows My History did for Mormonism. (In other words, it’s not at the top of most Adventist reading lists.) Revealing Adventism co-founder Ellen White’s talent for plagiarizing the health reformers of her time and casting doubt upon the divine nature of her prophetic visions got Numbers fired from Loma Linda University, the Adventist stronghold in California, but it also got him this interview with me. So perhaps it was for the best.

Vegetarian Adventist dietitians have had a big influence on the American Dietetic Association’s position paper on a vegetarian diet since 1988, when the ADA started endorsing vegetarianism. Not all Adventists are vegetarian — some estimates have it around 50 percent, and Numbers has seen estimates as low as 10 percent — but most Adventists believe that God told Ellen White in a vision that vegetarianism, and maybe even near-veganism, is the proper diet for mankind. Could this be in the back of Adventist researchers’ minds as they conduct studies proving the superiority of a vegetarian diet? You can probably guess what I think, but I’m an outsider on this issue and I wanted to hear what a former Adventist scholar had to say about it.

Were you raised as a vegetarian Adventist?

Yes. I’m a fourth-generation Adventist. My maternal grandfather was president of the international church. And all my male relatives are ministers, or were ministers, both grandfathers, father, uncles on both sides of my family, brother-in-law, my nephew. I went from first grade through college in Adventist schools. So I was thoroughly integrated into the Adventist church.

Adventism is not the only religion with dietary guidelines. But Mormons don’t care if gentiles drink caffeine and Jews don’t care if gentiles eat treif. Yet it seems to me that Adventists want to spread vegetarianism even outside the bounds of their religion. Is that a correct impression?

Well I’ve got to say that if that were a goal of theirs, they haven’t done very well. Adventists tend to be very insular. And other groups have taken over and promoted vegetarianism and vegetarian meat substitutes more than the Adventists have. By and large, the Adventists are out to convert to world to Adventism, but not to vegetarianism. Keep in mind, I don’t know if as many as 10 percent of Adventists are vegetarians. You know about the theology?

Which aspect?

So if you’re an Adventist, you’re encouraged not to eat meat. But you can still be saved if you eat clean meat and fish — fish, if they have fins and scales, and mammals that chew their cud and have cloven hooves. It’s the Old Testament Levitical rules.

Now, the only penalty for eating clean meat is that you cannot be translated, which is a term they use for going to heaven without seeing death. So if you eat meat, clean meat, you can be saved but you’ll have to die. If you don’t eat any meat, then you have the privilege of living through the worst period in the history of the earth, “the time of troubles.” I’ve been thinking of setting up workshops encouraging all Adventists to eat one bite of meat so that they die before the time of troubles. That’s a joke.

I, however, have not eaten any meat, even though I left Adventism decades ago. It’s because of psychopathology now. I just think of dead animals. I’m not principled at all.

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--Tagged under: American Dietetic Association--

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