March 27, 2007

What makes vegans look bad? Do we look bad?

Posted in vegan at 3:14 pm by nevavegan

There’s been a good deal of discussion in vegan circles lately about how we come across as a movement, how we come across as people, and whether we’re nice enough, compassionate enough, understanding enough, pretty enough, and so on.

Some people say we should stop using the word vegan altogether and say “animal-free” instead to describe products and foods that are free of animal ingredients. The justification is the presumption that the word “vegan” strikes fear in the hearts of ordinary citizens.

So where do we all as vegans stand? Do we look bad? Is it time to lower the vegan flag?

Part of the problem is stereotyping of course. Someone once knew a not-very-nice vegan back in high school and now that’s what they think of whenever they hear the word vegan. I’ve found a lot of people cling to this anecdotal obnoxious vegan image. When I was in school I had people in my department actually say to me “I really don’t like vegans, because they’re pushy and rude. Of course, I don’t mean you, Neva, but most aren’t nice like you.” Ummmm, why would anyone even say anything that rude to me? But then, when pressed on the topic they generally brought up a second or third hand account of the bad vegan, like “My friend Sarah told me she went out to dinner once and this girl Megan, a vegan, was there, and she yelled at Sarah for ordering steak.”

Yes, that certainly condemns the whole lot of us.

In most cases where I’ve actually been guilty of being the rude vegan I’ve felt fairly baited into it, which introduces a whole different issue. I’m thinking of one time where a guy spent an entire evening picking at me about my veganism, even though I hadn’t brought it up. Every attempt to go away and talk to other people failed, every attempt to change the subject. The entire time it was “Well, what about your shoes?” “They’re from vegetarian shoes.” “They look leather to me. I don’t believe you. But what about if you accidentally step on a bug?” and then actually had the nerve to say “Well it’s obvious to me you don’t care about people since you’re not out taking care of the homeless right now.” So that’s when I raised my voice and said “I’m probably not perfect, but I do the best I can. I care about animals and people and I’m always looking for ways to do better, which is more than you do since you spend all your time smoking and drinking beer!” And from then on in every retelling I’m the rude vegan who yelled at him for absolutely no reason.

So, I would say that we should all try to be saints and never lose our cool, but you know, if someone has decided to hate you from the start, there’s not much you can do. I think about how badly picked on I was in junior high and high school. People would say the most awful things to me and I’d try to do what I had been taught which was to just ignore them and walk away (which sometimes I didn’t succeed at but for the most part I did). So, someone would come up to me and say “You’re stupid and ugly. You should kill yourself tonight.” And I’d try to hold my head up and not respond and just walk away. Then there was this one girl Andrea who was just awful to me. One day my friend asked her why she was so mean to me all the time. She replied “Neva just holds her head up in this way–you can tell she thinks she’s better than the rest of us, so I want to bring her down some.” Um, so you just can’t win. If you respond in any way at all you’re a bitch and if you don’t respond you’re high and mighty. Lesson: there’s no reaching people like that.

So I can’t say that I’m for not using the term vegan merely to try to reach people who have decided for no decent reason except prejudice that they hate all of us.

Some have suggested that the stereotypes of vegans have some basis in fact. Some vegans are pushy and rude (but so are a lot of non-vegans, many Christians, some Sci-fi fans and everything else, it’s just not fair to judge an entire diverse group by one or two members). They point out that some vegans are hippies, some are so “back to nature” that they embrace their own B.O. Some vegans are just weird.

And if we change over and start using the term “animal-free” those weirdos will eventually become associated with that as well. I use that word in the kindest sense though–I love weirdos in all their various forms and guises, the unexpectedness and creativity of those that don’t conform to every cultural norm.

But we can’t control everyone and form them exactly as we wish they would be. We have to accept that we’re a group united by an ethical goal, and quite honestly nothing else. We don’t belong to the same religion. We don’t have the same politics or standards of dress. We don’t adhere to the same asthetics. We tend to be well read thoughtful types, but quite frankly there are some vegans out there who aren’t all that bright. There are some with really unpleasant personalities too. And there are wonderful, kind, generous loving vegans as well.

Funny how the stereotypers never say “I know that there are some less nice vegans, but I met this one vegan and he was just so incredibly compassionate and cool and understanding, so that’s what I think of now when I think of vegans.”

Of course people stereotype because they want to dismiss all of our ideas out of hand. They don’t address the ideas behind veganism on merits. They don’t talk about the environmental destruction caused by animal agriculture, or the sheer horrible numbers of animals killed in terrifying ways. No, they talk about this one vegan they met once and didn’t like.

So in my opinion it’s time for us vegans to declare openly and proudly that we’re vegans. We’re here and we’re not going away. We’re every age, every religion, every color of the rainbow. We work at professional jobs and we waitress and drive trucks. We live in your neighborhood and work one cubicle over from you. We volunteer at the soup kitchen and at the local elementary school. We are too diverse, complex, and vibrant to be pre-judged by you. We are people just like you, trying to live our ethics every day. We aren’t rude, but we do care, and we won’t be quiet or ashamed of what we are.

March 25, 2007

Pushy Vegans

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:57 pm by nevavegan

Someone recently said to me (by way of rebuke) that she doesn’t care “what anyone eats” as long as they don’t try to push their beliefs on others. This was specifically directed at me as I’d been talking about some (in my opinion) bonuses to being vegan and she felt this was pushy.

I was somewhat taken aback because I sincerely did not think I was being even the slightest bit pushy.

My first thought was that such comments would be really offensive if applied to other groups.

What if she said “I don’t mind Muslims so long as they don’t dress like it.” But wait, people do say that…

What if it had been “I don’t care what people do in the privacy of their own homes, but why do gay people have to flaunt it…” Oh, wait, people say that too.

“I don’t mind immigrants as long as they don’t have accents…”

Sigh and it only gets worse from there.

I feel pretty sad at the moment.

March 13, 2007

What I Deserve

Posted in emotional healing, entitlement, fur, vegan at 2:25 pm by nevavegan

Yes, this about veganism too.

All too often when I’ve tried to talk to people about wearing fur, and the cruelty involved in producing fur, I’ve heard “I’ve had a really hard life, so I deserve this fur coat.”

It’s really hard to look at someone, and listen to their hard luck stories and still say “No, you don’t deserve this.” Of course to me, it’s not really about deserving anything. People deserve to feel good about themselves, they deserve to be happy, they deserve to have some clothing they like. But that really has nothing to do with the horrors of the fur industry; in that case the animals deserve better.

But the question of deserving and entitlement run very deep in my psyche. I was raised with some soul-killing guilt and shame heaped on me. Guilt for being my own person even, for having my own thoughts or desires. Things have been rough at times, and I deserve more than this.

Still, I’m a slow learner at times so I tend to have these mouth-agape, pick my jaw up off the floor moments of realization. One such moment came when I was sitting in the therapist’s office describing how my mother essentially ruined my sister’s birthday and the party we’d planned was cancelled, and my sister nearly went off the deep end, running away screaming and crying. And I told this entire story, and the therapist asked some questions, and I did what I almost always did which was to launch into my litany of excuses. My mother is old, my mother is very sick, she has this health problem and that health problem. She calls me non-stop to tell me how much pain she’s in, all the medications she’s on and their side effects, how she can’t sleep, she’s having palpitations and so on and so on.

The therapist looked at me and said “All that may be true, but you need to realize that being sick doesn’t entitle someone to mistreat others. People can hurt without trying to hurt others. We can excuse an occassional slip up, everyone gets cranky. But just because someone is sick doesn’t give that person permission to terrorize and bully everyone else.”

Hello Jaw, meet floor.

I mean, I always knew this. I often don’t feel well, and while I do have my less than stellar moments of behavior, I never felt I could just trample over everyone in my path because I’m in pain. I never felt that having been abused myself gave me the right to abuse others. But I have this deeply entrenched excuse-making habit. For G__’s sake, I never reported or filed charges against the guy who attacked me because he told me he’d been molested as a kid and I felt so sorry for him. Yeah, it’s pretty pathological, huh?

While I would never put wearing fur in the same category with abusing other people (if for no other reason than wearing fur is condoned in our society, so many people just don’t get that there’s an issue with it), I do think there’s something applicable here. We can feel great sympathy for someone who has been through rough times, but that doesn’t really absolve them of living up to their own morals. I do think that if someone is saying “I’ve had it rough; I deserve this” then on some level they know there’s cruelty involved in producing fur. The person who isn’t aware is going to say “Huh? What are you talking about?”

But here are some thoughts on what all of us deserve. We all deserve to know that we are beautiful in all our many shapes, sizes, colors, or whatever, and that this beauty radiates from within us and is not enhanced by wearing expensive clothes (fur or not). We all deserve to love, and to know that we cannot accept the love offered to us until we love ourselves. We all deserve to be honest with ourselves, like a loyal and candid friend, who will call us on our b—sh–, but forgive us for it at the same time. We all deserve to continue to learn and grow everyday, but without growth there’s only death. None of these things we deserve can be bought at a store, but they are much more valuable.

Of course you also deserve that perfect outfit that flatters you perfectly, you know, so long as it’s vegan.

March 11, 2007

More about the rape analogy and more on Professor Francione

Posted in analogy, Francione, rape at 7:44 pm by nevavegan

It struck me sometime after my last post on the topic that there are a couple other problems with the rape analogy in the debate on welfare vs. rights (re: veganism).

It completely makes me feel like I’m diverting the discussion and I feel some guilt over that. At the same time I feel like the very use of the analogy diverts the discussion. Uggghhh, I can’t win.

The first and most obvious problem is appropriation of experience. This is a tricky one, because it would put the hypothetical objector, in this case me, in the position of sitting in judgment on the person using the analogy. Because I really can’t know if someone is speaking from personal experience or not.

But the appropriation argument goes roughly: It’s fine if I want to draw analogies between rape and the treatment of animals, but it’s not ok for you to do it (you meaning someone who has presumably not been a victim of rape). Of course I can’t know that unless the person reveals that information. This sounds awfully petty and picky, but on a deeper level it isn’t, because I’m deeply suspicious of anyone appropriating another’s suffering for political ends. I hate it when Republicans using the stories of crime victims to push for more punitive sentencing, even in the face of evidence that this does not reduce violence and may actually increase it.

Also I kind of want the discussion to be about what it’s about rather than bringing in other highly emotional issues to stir things up.

My next objection really only applies to the person using the rape analogy toward an audience that might include people who have been raped. But considering the epidemic of violence, sexual violence, and child abuse in this country, any speaker might just assume that a decent percentage of their audience has been the victim of some kind of sexual assault at some point.

The issue is this, and it’s subtle, so I’ll do my best to explain what I mean. There is a kind of assumption that someone who has been through something terrible has an obligation to turn that experience into something positive. Therefore, a woman who has survived a sexual assault is often expected to go volunteer for the hotline, help out with support groups, donate to women’s groups, and so on. And many obviously do. But what if a woman who has gone through this decides she doesn’t want to buy into that? Instead she just wants to forget about it all, go to parties, and buy shoes. And I’ve seen this happen: other people say “But you’re turning your back on your sisters.” I understand that, but the judgment can be harsher on a woman who has just been through something terrible than on another woman who hasn’t ever been attacked and spends all her time on shoes and parties. The latter woman is just a normal person blending into a crowd, but the former is a woman betraying all she is supposed to believe in.

The problem with this is that sexual assault victims are already shoved into so many boxes, the appropriation as I mentioned above, being objectified by their attackers, if they go to court they deal with all the ramifications of that often humiliating and disempowering experience. And then to be told that because something terrible happened to us, we’re expected to do more than other people do? Appeal to our compassion and our empathy, but don’t try to manipulate us based on our experience!

Of course I feel kind of the same way about people using the slavery analogy on animal agriculture too. Unequivocally animals are enslaved in our culture, but too often this comparison is made to an African American audience. Within that audience emotions and opinions on human slavery and its legacy run deep. Then to have that expectation thrown in: If you care about human slavery, then you should care about animal slavery. Of course everyone should care about how animals are treated, because it’s the right thing to do. But African Americans are no more obligated to care than anyone else, just because their families were so mistreated and commoditized.

I guess another problem with talking to an African American audience about animal issues via a slavery analogy is a kind of underlying racist assumption. It’s sort of like, “ok, these people aren’t going to be able to understand this from just being given the facts and looking at pictures like everyone else, I better talk about slavery, since that’s something they do understand.” But as African Americans are human beings, don’t they have as much ability as anyone else to understand ethics or to look at the photo of an abused animal and know in their hearts that this is wrong.

Ok, more on the rape analogy below.

Here is a quote from Gary Francione, as he wrote on the Satya boards:

“Here is an analogy: X really enjoys engaging in rape. He does not feel too terribly badly about that because there are millions of women all over the world who get raped every day. It is a ubiquitous event. Sure, people recognize that women are sentient and suffer, but lots of men rape lots of women “for various reasons.” So X justifies his raping Y because to conclude that rape is wrong would mean that all those millions of men who will commit rape today are immoral. And besides, X is concerned about prison reform so it’s OK for him to commit a rape.

If anyone made that argument to you, you would regard it as a very bad argument.

And that is exactly what you arguing here to defend eating animal products.”

And here is where I quibble.

Most people never ever look at the living animal they later eat, and fewer even than that engage in actually killing the animal. The majority of people who eat the flesh of animals create a huge distance between themselves and the violence and suffering that puts a nice cutlet on their plate. True there are some hunters and slaughter house workers out there, but that’s not the majority of the population.

By contrast a rapist tends to seek out that violence and suffering and enjoys it. This isn’t really a case where someone enjoys rape and rationalizes the suffering he causes away. He enjoys causing suffering and rape is his chosen method to inflict both physical and emotional pain. This is typically true regardless of the circumstances of the rape. Serial rapists tend to act out of extreme anger and hatred of women, but even a date rapist, who may claim that he misunderstood or have some kind of excuse, will often turn out to have hostile views toward women and a pretty deep mean streak. Then there is marital and relationship rape where men use rape to punish their partners either for supposed flaws in those partners or to punish them for things that happen in the outside world.

There’s a huge difference there. As I said, becoming vegan is relatively easy if you compare it to trying to stop rape. There is no evidence that counseling is helpful in reforming serial rapists. However there is a lot of evidence that a visit to a factory farm at least temporarily puts most people off of eating meat.

Additionally, Professor Francione is somewhat wrong to say that people recognize that women are sentient and suffer. If only. I mean sure, you ask someone and they’ll say of course they recognize that women suffer. But if people really understood this on a deeper level, that women have rights and their own interests, then how could we live in a world with female circumcision? There was a serial killer rapist who was shocked when the police actually arrested him, and he defended himself saying he was only killing prostitutes, he wasn’t killing soccer moms or accountants, just prostitutes. And you’ll find this across the board with rapists, abusers, and even people who aren’t violent but merely sexist: they do on a very deep level feel that women are less than men, they objectify women, they aren’t able to have empathy for them or feel that their suffering matters.

Of course all this is very discouraging to me. If we live in a world where a good chunk of the population can’t recognize that their mothers, sisters, or wives deserve to not be tortured or exploited, then how do we expect to reach people on animal issues at all. Still I have hope. I think the majority of people do recognize that animals have feelings, thoughts, and even souls. Their treatment of them represents more of a cultural schizophrenia (I don’t see it, so I’m able to pretend it doesn’t happen), than it represents a hatred of non-humans.

March 9, 2007

Reflections on Assumptions About Race, Beauty, and Veganism

Posted in beauty, race, stereotypes, vegan at 5:09 pm by nevavegan

My Brain Exploded All Over My Computer And This Is What’s Left:
My likely offensive reflections on assumptions about race, beauty, and veganism

Sometimes everything gets all jumbled up in my head, so I can’t make any promises that this entry is going to make any sense!

Recently I had a somewhat heated debate with a fellow vegan on the topic of how much we all ought to be doing. Or to be more truthful the debate was about her assumption that I do jack and sit around sucking my thumb and contemplating my navel all the time.

Ok, I do spend a great deal of time sucking my thumb (just kidding).

The trouble with making assumptions is that they rarely inspire the other person to be better, do more, try harder. Most people have the same reaction I did, which is to jump into defense mode and start listing off everything I actually do. Which is sort of a stupid game because without a doubt I’m never going to do as much as someone who is employed in animal rights (or any other cause) full time. I only have so much time, and I spend the majority of it elsewhere. Sad truth.

This got me started in thinking about the many times in my life that I’ve been judged and how I’ve dealt with each of those situations.

Assumptions on Beauty

I look a certain way and lots of people think they can tell a lot about me by how I look. This isn’t entirely a bad thing—we all have to size other’s up often by somewhat superficial measures. We try to guess if the customer we’re talking to is in a good or bad mood and adjust our approach accordingly. If we’re talking to someone about veganism and see that her keychain has a picture of a dog, we might start trying to find a bridge between our views based on a common love of dogs. But I do think we should be open to revising those views as we get to know people better. Also, we might try to make the conclusions we draw a little kinder.

When I was younger and in school I got picked on a lot for supposedly being ugly. I don’t think I look significantly different now than I did then actually, but trends have changed somewhat for one thing, and for another kids are just mean and call anyone different from them ugly. I think when I was younger the only look that was considered acceptable was a sort of Northern European look. Blonde was always considered superior, but it was also about the facial features more than hair color. Even the non-Caucasian models I saw in magazines seemed to have narrow noses and small mouths. I got called “a frog” and much, much worse for supposedly having the hugest, puffiest, “grossest” lips on the planet. Now that larger lips are the trend, mine look pretty thin and paltry next to those of some of the popular actresses and models. My nose was also a target. People honestly would say “You must have picked your nose a lot to make your nostrils so wide” or “Were you dropped on your face as a baby to make your nose so flat?” as if nobody is born with a flatter nose and wide nostrils naturally. I spent year fantasizing of being an adult and getting surgery to “fix” my nose.

Then I realized my nose, my lips, my everything really, reflect who I am ethnically and genetically. We don’t have to all look like cookie cutters.

I bring this up, because I never thought of myself as one of the “pretty girls.” In fact, walking into a room and deciding where to sit, I’d gravitate toward the girls without much make-up on, their hair pulled back in careless pony tails, often wearing glasses and comfortable clothes. That seemed to be my crowd, the place where I’d be safe.

Later I found though that based on my appearance people made assumptions about me. Women who felt like outcasts when they were younger would make comments saying that someone who looks like I do couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to grow up chubby, grow up with thick glasses, grow up being picked on, etc. Because they weren’t able to see who I am on the inside, they felt that someone with my “lush” lips and big eyes just couldn’t get what it’s like to be judged as unattractive. Almost funny, really, except when it just isn’t.

I mean in some ways I’m just lucky when it comes to appearance. I’ve never had my hair professionally cut or styled, but I have this “birth mark” two streaks of blonde hair on either side of my face in my otherwise darker, brunette hair. People just assume I pay a lot of money to have someone do that to my hair, so even when I practice my normal “angry hair styling” (I leave my hair alone until it starts to annoy me and then I reach up and randomly chop of the bits that are bothering me) people just assume that this is all on purpose. But it cuts both ways as some people think my hair streaks make me just too hoity toity to get along with them.

When I used to do a lot of stuff for Peta, they liked to send me places where I was supposed to blend in as part of the “high fashion” crowd. I went to the fashion awards and I went to an all fur fashion show. Doing this I began to understand the concept of acting the part. I went to these things wearing shoes from Payless and dresses from the Salvation Army with my angry-hair-styling hair and walked in with my head up and the look on my face saying “I’m so much hotter than the rest of you.” I was sure someone would spot me as the plant and say “hey, your shoes are from Payless!” But nobody ever did. I wish I could go through my entire projecting that kind of confidence, but I find the effort wears me out after about 20 minutes. It did help me understand though why when I went to school with my aura of “I’m in so much pain, please don’t hurt me” I attracted so many bullies.

Assumptions on Veganism

I swear, this bit will be shorter.

When I was in college a young woman I knew asked to interview me (and a number of other vegans) for her Sociology project. She was studying vegans as self-proclaimed minority group and her thesis was (no, I’m not making this up) that most vegans are white, middle class, and have never faced any significant hardships in their lives, and so they have adopted a non-vital issue as their cause, since they’ve never experienced violence, hunger, discrimination, or other problems. I was a little annoyed, but I wanted to disprove her thesis, so I did the interview. At the end of the project she said she was shocked to discover that many vegans had been through some very traumatic events.

I used to table a lot for veganism and many people would come up and unload on me. A favorite thing seemed to be for someone to run up to the table and shout “You’re from the city, what do you know about farming? If you’d ever been on a farm you wouldn’t be spreading this b&##sh%@!” And I’d patiently start to try to describe my early rural years and most people would dash off before I could finish. They didn’t want to hear an honest answer because then they might have to adjust their stereotypes. Heaven forbid they should have to deal with something that doesn’t match the views they already hold.

Assumptions on Race

Ok, this is going to be longer, apologies all around.

To state the obvious right off the top here. I’m white. I look white, I was raised white; my skin is so pale it practically glows in the dark. There is no way I’m anything else except white.

So given this I really can’t fully understand what it’s like to be a minority and face systemic and subtle racism in this country. I can listen to my friends and try to understand their experiences. I can read articles and essays and blogs. But I still have advantages every day from just walking around in my own pale skin.

However, in the vein that nothing is ever simple or straightforward, it so happens that my entire family is not white. I have Peruvian cousins, I have ½ Korean nieces, and I have bits and pieces of non-white DNA in me despite my outward appearance.

My father has long been proud of the slight traces of Native American in his ancestry, and has also investigated the family rumors that parts of our family were part African and “passed.” My father’s facial features are like mine, full lips, the flattened nose, and the same blue eyes. But unlike me, my father has very dark skin and black straight hair. There are features we use in our culture to identify race, and mainly they seem to be eye color and hair texture, which is kind of strange.

So, my father had two vastly different assessments of his “ethnicity” by some co-workers of his, and I’ll tell the stories because I find it somewhat amusing what different views people can hold.

The first one occurred at a conference. My father was out walking when he saw a group of his co-workers, among them some of his closest friends, walking toward him. It turns out the entire group was African American, and when he asked where they were going, they replied they were just walking and talking, holding the “Black Caucus.” Then one of his good friends said “But hey, you can join us too. You can be honorary black, because we all know you’re on our side.” A woman in the group, objected, still keeping it humorous, but letting it be known that this wasn’t how she thought things should go. “No,” she said, “I’m sorry, but there’s a test to get in this group, and you can’t pass it. The test is, you’ve got to be this dark or darker to join us.” And she held out her arm next to my father’s arm. To everyone’s embarrassment, my father was significantly darker. The real factors by which everyone judged his race were his eyes and straight hair, not the color of his skin.

Then later, in his office, an African American female co-worker (newly hired, she had not been at the conference) asked him “Do you mind telling me? What’s your ethnicity?” My father answered “You know, a little of this, a little of that.” Emboldened by his response she said “I’m asking because looking at your face, with the shape of your nose and your lips, I think you’ve got to be part black, right?” My father replied “I hope so, because that’s what my family told me.” Pleased, she said “I knew it, I knew you were one of us!”

Of course on some level, all of this is irrelevant, because my father looks white enough that most white people (and even most non-white people) never question his race.

If most people never question my father’s ethnicity, nobody ever, ever questions mine. This often makes people feel free to say fairly offensive racist/culturalist things around me as if the color of my skin means I will automatically agree. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people I talk to never, ever say anything racist, but the ones who do are real pieces of work and it makes me ashamed of who I am in many ways. I always try to correct people and let them know that this offends me deeply of course.

On the other side, I’ve had some non-white people make some pretty big assumptions about me as well, based on my skin color. One incident that stands out for me was when a woman yelled at me for attending an event to discuss oppressed peoples around the world, as she thought white people had no business there. She told me that white people like me are to blame for everything wrong in the world and unless I’m able to admit that I’m personally responsible for the suffering of millions I have no business intruding on such events.

Of course, personally I think white people really should attend such things because too many people in the US bury their heads in the sand and ignore what’s going on all around us. But anyway, I couldn’t really respond in that situation, because I could see that this woman had a lot of anger and was looking for someone to unload it on, and I knew any response from me would just bring out more anger.

However, as she went on and talked about white people like me continue to actively oppress people and that I’ve enjoyed wealth and privilege at the expense of others, I felt torn. True, I, like nearly everyone else in the US, enjoy wealth and privilege that has truly terrible origins. The main reason I was attending the event was to learn what I could do about that. On the other hand, I wasn’t a super-wealthy girl who went to private schools, lived in a gated mansion, did beauty pageants, and never had a care in the world (if any such person really exists, because who doesn’t get a share or two of pain, or more). I really felt I’d been through some difficult things in my life, I’d encountered sexism, which isn’t exactly like racism but it might give me a window into the issues. I also felt that I wasn’t 100% white even if I appear that way, so rather than condemning me and all of my ancestors maybe she should only condemn 85% of them, and condemn me like 90% and give me a 10% benefit of the doubt. I didn’t say anything back to her, and she walked away from me with a look of happiness on her face, telling a friend that she was glad she’d told me off. Maybe she just needed to unload and that helped her settle in and learn at the conference, but aside from that I can’t think of anything accomplished in the exchange.

In a more positive interaction I’ve had some African American react with surprise, but in a positive way, when we’ve compared notes on family traditions. Some have told me that they didn’t know of any white people whose families ate chitlins or celebrated New Years with black eyed peas. Of course, I didn’t come from wealthy people—everyone who was poor in the South ate those things.

Reflecting on all of this my main feeling is that we’re just all inter-related. Not that I think anyone should have less pride in their culture, their race, or their National identity. But there’s more we have in common than not. It’s just that I have to wonder if someone were to take my blood and tell me who I’m most closely related to, would it turn out I’m more closely related to my African American neighbors than I am to the ancestry I’m most identified with, which is Irish? What if the people on my street are my real cousins, not some unidentified, possibly fictional Irish family? And then there’s extent to which that doesn’t even matter. Scientists say that all of us humans alive today have a relatively recent (recent in archeological years) common female ancestor, so even people living in isolated regions of China are cousins of some sort.

But like I said when I started this, this is just all pointless musings, since my physical appearance seems to bind me into one column, one cultural stereotype in this messed up racist country we live in.

So anyone that managed to read this far feel free to tell me I’m wrong. You can call me a privileged deluded creep if you want to actually.

March 8, 2007

Vegan Thought for the Day

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:55 pm by nevavegan

It’s simple and everyone already knows it, but sometimes I like to remind myself.

Extending compassion is never limiting. I don’t care less about people because I care about animals. Instead I’m living with the idea that we’re all connected and we’re all worthy of compassion. I still cry over the fact that children are needlessly starving all over the world while the food that could save their lives rots in warehouses. And I cry because all around me species are blinking out of existence. And I see those things as deeply connected.

In the past some people have attacked me (verbally, not physically) for spending too much time on animal issues. “Why aren’t you helping the poor?” they demand.

The truth is that work and family illnesses have kept me pretty preoccupied lately, but I still feel like I try to help in all kinds of ways. I no longer volunteer in a hospital with the long term residents, but I pitch those programs and write to advocate compassion for the disabled and severely ill. I no longer volunteer teaching writing to women in prison, but I’d like to do that again one day, and I do try to remind people whenever I can of how issues of poverty and addiction contribute to epidemic of imprisonment in this country.

The truth is that we all make decisions about how we are going to live our lives. I’m not a wealthy person, but I try to donate what I’m able. I save money in other ways. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothing, and I’ve NEVER had my hair professionally cut or styled. I also got married in 10 minutes at the courthouse in my work clothes–no big expensive wedding to-do for us. I’m not judging anyone who does do those things of course (some hair is less cooperative than other hair for one thing). For some people the thought of doing without a wedding would be heartbreaking, but it was something I could give up so I did. I’ve had to try to choose what things keep me sane and working on my art is one of those things and watching a good sci-fi show with my husband is another. I want to do good things, but I realize that I can’t always do nothing but good things.

But here’s an encouraging thought: Nobody needs to be a saint. You don’t have to do everything perfectly tomorrow, try just doing one or two good things. I don’t need to do everything, I just need to do a few things and do them well. The first step is just feeling it–reaching out with love and compassion toward all creation. Just for a moment don’t worry if the homeless do enough to look after themselves, or if animals are intelligent enough to matter. Don’t obsess over whether those you send this love out to deserve it or not. Just feel the compassion and love and know how much better the world would be if everyone gave that benefit of the doubt to people, to animals, to the earth.

If you want a world filled with compassion and kindness then embody it, become it, and pass it along.

March 7, 2007

Why I kind of hate the rape analogy when we’re talking about Veganism

Posted in Francione, rape, vegan at 2:51 pm by nevavegan

So I’m listening to the Erik Marcus podcast with Gary Francione.

I have to say that I have no factual issue with Francione, but in the debate he more than once uses that tired old analogy I’ve heard so many times about how we wouldn’t work to make rape more humane, so we shouldn’t work to make animal exploitation more humane. Specifically he says, as many people have said to me before, that rape is better when the victim isn’t also beaten but we don’t lobby to ask rapists not to beat their victims.

While the analogy is accurate on the surface of it, I find it incredibly distracting. In fact as I listened I started thinking “well what does Gary Francione know about rape?” And then my mind drifted into all the ways that the analogy doesn’t work, and then I realized about four minutes had gone by and I hadn’t really been paying attention to the debate because I was so distracted by this analogy.

I realize that for me this is a particularly emotional issue and that maybe the majority of the audience is going to be open to the analogy, so I don’t want to say that people shouldn’t use it. But as always I see this as far more complex.

When we talk about animal based agriculture we are talking about animals that are conceived in misery, born in misery, live their entire lives start to finish in such horrible conditions that most of us can’t even imagine. They die in fear and agony and over the whole course of existence there is no hope and no relief. Let’s not fool ourselves on that point.

Now I agree with Francione that while more space or fewer cages is preferable, it really does nothing to change this basic situation. The animals are still born into and live their entire lives in misery and never know anything different. Getting rid of battery cages doesn’t take us back to some idyllic family farm with blue skies and free-running animals; it merely transports us to a dark, dank, filthy warehouse where every inch of floor is taken up with over crowded animals.

But what trips my mind up is that just the word rape sends me back into memories of support groups and the knowledge that not everything is clear cut or straightforward. One woman who was both raped and beaten might suffer extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, compared to a woman who was raped but not beaten who might have a smoother recovery. But as people are all individuals and all respond differently, for some people the opposite might be true. It’s not unusual to find a woman who was not beaten but is suffering extreme psychological trauma, while another might find some kind of peace despite being beaten, for example saying “I think it’s a blessing, because I know there’s nothing more that I could have done about it, I don’t have to second guess my actions.” I’ve also had women tell me that their bruises and black eyes helped them tremendously when their cases went to court, since juries were able to understand the photographic evidence in a way that they don’t always understand things like date rape. Such physical evidence legitimized their stories and allowed them to feel less ashamed when telling the court what was done to them (though this clearly is not true for everyone, with shame being one of the worst aspects of surviving any rape). This isn’t to say that I’m in favor of beatings–just that nothing is ever so simple.

And you see how the very introduction of the topic has taken me on a far tangent from the issue of animal welfare vs. animal rights. This is purely an emotional response on my part, I don’t know…

In ways it seems to me it’s a very simple thing for a person to become vegan, although everyone has their personal hang ups. Though good luck stopping rape. Sadly I think we will never be able to completely eliminate rape from our society and yet we still treat it as aberrant and demand nothing less than the end of rape.