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Misconceptions About Veganism

Your Views on the 51%

Two weeks ago, the Worldwatch Institute reported a study that showed livestock produce 51% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, not 18% as previously estimated. The report is, frankly, damning and the Institute’s summary concludes with a succinct suggestion that we abandon animal products:

Based on their research, Goodland and Anhang conclude that replacing livestock products with soy-based and other alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. “This approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations-and thus on the rate the climate is warming-than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”

This Monday, the New Zealand Herald caught up, in a beautifully-titled article: Meat Eating Worse Than Thought – Study.

Now, of course that’s fascinating – not to mention concerning – in itself.  I’m sure that the environmental side of veganism will become a recurring theme on this blog, and this new study adds new weight to the ecological case for eating less (or no!) animal products.

But what I find more interesting is the comments on the Herald’s Your Views page about this.  It’s a great vox populi sample of the New Zealand population, and, while I really do hope that it’s not representative, it’s definitely telling.  So let’s have a look at what people have to say.

The first example comes courtesy of Editing the Herald. H from Franklin is really worried that people might kill the animals:

“H (Franklin): What concerns me about this topic is that it sounds as if a great number of animals will have to be killed off to stop them contributing to green house gasses through expiration and flatulence. (Remember the FART tax!) And it probably won’t just be limited to traditional farm animals.”

Editing the Herald retorts:

Oh what? You mean… they’ll have to kill the livestock.

This is a striking example of the complete illogic that is common regarding animal farming. It seems that the thought that farm animals might get killed never crossed H’s mind.  And H is not alone.  It definitely didn’t cross AndrewKiwi’s mind:

Besides, what are you going to do with all those anamials if we stop eating them? They will not magicaly stop producing methane. Far from it. The only answer is to kill them along with the New Zealand economy. Unless you do that thier numbers will actualy INCREASE. You know, the whole mating thing.

Aside from the empty and silly economic claim,* there it is again: The horror.  We’re going to have to kill the animals.  Tied into it is Andrew’s simple ignorance that most farmed livestock don’t breed naturally.

Now, possibly, being charitable, H and Andrew are attempting to mock a straw man of the animal rights advocate, laughing that if we go vegan, we’ll have to kill all the animals.  That’s a nonsensical argument, because: one, we already kill the animals; two, if we stop breeding them, we’ll stop having to kill them; and, three, not even the most optimistic vegan expects everyone to go vegan overnight.  Thus, rather than having to do one mass cull of all farmed livestock, presumably, if the world does move to a vegan diet, economic pressures will just slowly encourage animal farmers to stop breeding animals.

But I don’t think they thought it through quite so far.  In fact, I think they just didn’t think it through at all.  I firmly believe that a lot of the population simply does not consider the implications of animal farming.  One such implication is that it is entirely possible that more farmed animals are killed in any one year than are alive at any one time.  The average lifespan of a broiler chicken is six to eight weeks.  So, six times as many broiler chickens will be killed this year as are alive as you read this.  Layer hens live around 18 months.  But wild chickens?  They can live up to ten years.  Pigs are usually slaughtered after five to seven months; a pig’s natural lifespan is 10-15 years, or more.  Dairy cattle probably live the longest, surviving for four to six years (of a natural lifespan of 20-25 years).  Cattle raised for beef live for 15  to 20 months.  Sheep can live for eight to eleven years, but prime New Zealand lamb comes from a sheep killed before he or she is one year old.

Moving on, there’s more gold to be had on Your Views.  WineGrower from Motueka is worried about vegans’ health:

“it impsayslies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change.?
Is this organisation actually a front for some self serving lobby group ?
Humans have evolved as an omnivorous species for a reason.

Consider the following: Vitamin B12 is naturally found in meat, milk and eggs
Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause severe and irreversible damage, especially to the brain and nervous system. At levels only slightly lower than normal, a range of symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and poor memory may be experienced. Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause symptoms of mania and psychosis. (similar to that found in PETA?)

According to the U.K. Vegan society, the present consensus is that any B12 present in plant foods is likely to be unavailable to humans and so these foods should not be relied upon as safe sources. Also, vegan humans who eat only plant based foods must ordinarily take special care to supplement their diets accordingly. The only reliable vegan sources of B12 are foods fortified with B12 and B12 supplements.
Is this one dimensional report worth the paper it is written on?

Now, he’s not the only one posting there who hasn’t heard of the Worldwatch Institute.  Nor, presumably, has he heard of the World Bank, because, if he had, I expect he’d know exactly which self-serving lobby group employs the two people who wrote the report.  But that’s for a different post.

So, to recap WineGrower’s point: Humans evolved to be omnivorous because humans need B12.  And B12 deficiency is making PETA crazy.  Right.

This is a common misconception.  Many people firmly believe that vegans and vegetarians are unhealthy.  B12 is the strongest example of such an alleged deficiency.  The others, especially the protein myth, are very easily dismissed.  It is true that B12 doesn’t come from any plant sources.  Strictly speaking though, it doesn’t come from any animal sources either: Bacteria produce it.  As WineGrower cited the UK Vegan Society, let’s see what it actually says about B12:

Good sources for vegans are yeast extract and fortified foods – like fortified soya milk, fortified margarine and fortified cereals. The B12 is made by fermentation using bacteria, a bit like beer making.

I can live with that.  In fact, I do; I’ve been vegan for over six years.  I don’t take special care with my diet.  For most of the last two years, I only recognised two food groups, and one of them was coffee.  Yet I’m not B12 deficient.

WineGrower also simply doesn’t grasp the basics of the land area argument:

Take out non productive areas such as all the mountains and hill country, sea, lakes, swamps and rivers. Then take into account the fact that to get enough essential vitamins and minerals to remain healthy we would need to eat considerably more volume of food.Is there enough viable land on earth to grow enough vegetable based food without the use of animals?

This is completely wrong: It takes less land area to produce a vegan meal than an omnivorous one.   There are several environmental reasons for going vegetarian or vegan, and one of the oldest is the contention that it takes much less arable land to produce a vegan’s (or vegetarian’s) diet than an omnivore’s.  James Rachels pointed this out in 1977, and I haven’t seen any cogent counter-argument since.  To quote Rachels:

In fact, we do use a process that is just this wasteful. The process works like this: First, we use our farmland to grow an enormous quantity of grain–many times the amount that we could consume, if we consumed it as grain or grain products. But we do not consume it in this form. Instead, we feed it to animals, and then we eat the animals.  The process is staggeringly inefficient: we have to feed the animals eight pounds of protein in the form of grain to get back one pound in the form of meat, for a wastage of 87.5 percent.

Some days, I find it hard to believe that something first exposed in 1977 isn’t commonly accepted by now.  Then I think of climate change and sigh a little.  That said, I do heartily recommend that you read Rachels’ article in it’s entirety, as it is very well argued.

Back on Your Views, Dan from Wellington City has different worry:

It’s absolutely true that if everyone on earth was vegetarian then the planet could support twice the population it can support at the moment, but then would you want to live on a planet that crowded?

Never mind the 1.02 billion undernourished people alive today; Dan doesn’t want longer queues at the  Wellington supermarkets.  The point about veganism and food production is not that we can use it to feed 12 billion people; the point is that we can use it to better feed the six billion people alive today, with less environmental damage, less deforestation, and less wastage.

LadyBarbieGirl, from Epsom, thinks vegetarians are pale, sickly creatures:

Almost all the vegetarians I’ve ever come across look absolutely palefaced like they are about to cop it.

So much for being a, pardon me, “healthy” vegetarian.

Not to mention that a pig can flee it’s killers whilst a carrot and beetroot can’t run anyway at all. Yeah, think about that.

Another common misconception, and one I simply don’t understand.  Perhaps I’m simply meeting different vegetarians.  On the small team writing this blog, so far, we have passionate cyclists and a weight-lifter.  I know a vegetarian kickboxer.  And I suppose now is a good time to mention that I’m finding it rather hard to walk today; I ran a marathon yesterday, with Team Vegan.  We’re hiking 100km in 36 hours next April (again).  Poor, pale, unhealthy vegans.

And those pigs sure do get every chance to run away.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the views of a fellow Aucklander, Donna.  She’s a little bit confused.  According to Donna, vegans can’t exist.  Because, vegetarians need dairy products like eggs, or they’ll make themselves very ill:

You still need milk, eggs, cheese and other dairy products to keep a good diet. All these products come from animals, especially the humble cow, which we will still need, and will still polute our air.

[* Because no economy has ever successfully changed from producing one kind of product to another, ever, and it’s entirely beneficial to the New Zealand economy to be reliant on a small spectrum of low-value-added export products. Right.]

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About David Tong

LLM (1st Hons) / BA/LLB (Hons) Vegan Straight Edge

Discussion

19 thoughts on “Your Views on the 51%

  1. Someone get me Winegrowers address so I can send them my blood test results from my last doctors appointment. Not only was I not deficient in ANYTHING, I was actually reprimanded for taking supplements – and my diet, much like David’s consists of two food groups – pasta and cupcakes.

    By the way, it turns out the reason I was feeling like crap (hence the trip to the doctors) was because I was suffering from panic and anxiety attacks, brought on by trying to make sense of the majority of human kind. I’ve since stopped reading “Your Views” on the Herald website, and feel 100% better for it 😉

    Posted by Jay Herself | 3 November 2009, 4:25 pm
  2. Nine-time Olympic gold medalist, Carl Lewis, a vegan, had this to say:

    “I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet. Moreover, by continuing to eat a vegan diet, my weight is under control, I like the way I look. (I know that sounds vain, but all of us want to like the way we look.) I enjoy eating more, and I feel great.”

    The world’s top athletes are vegan and vegetarian. People like LadyBarbieGirl who claim that vegetarians look “absolutely palefaced” are simply not in touch with reality. I suppose that someone who likes to play with Barbies probably doesn’t have too good of a handle on reality anyways.

    For an excellent resource on the profound health benefits which result from a vegan/vegetarian diet, see:

    http://www.goveg.com/vegetarian_athletes.asp

    Posted by James Roach | 3 November 2009, 6:12 pm
    • Henry David Thoreau, a vegetarian, wrote Walden in 1854. Here is a relevant excerpt:

      “One farmer says to me, ‘You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with’; and so the farmer religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plough along in spite of every obstacle.”

      Posted by James Roach | 3 November 2009, 8:07 pm
  3. I have often found the argument about a potentially ballooning animal population somewhat absurd, it reeks of Charleton-Heston-world-ruled-by-apes 60s sci fi Cold War-esque paranoia, the straw man special. It’s just about enough to drive me into building a bombshelter out the back of my house to hide from our future animal overlords. Crime would be through the roof as gangs of cows carry out bankjobs just for kicks (motivated by revenge, not money), then spending the excess on stomach stapling to reduce their carbon footprint.

    While I needn’t be alarmist, it raises the point – what is the purpose of these animals? Wherever it is found, domesticated animal-rearing plays a disruptive role to the advance of either actor (man or prey), enacting a profound cultural effect. It invokes a decidedly competitive relationship by making scarcity a reality and the endangering the lives of either actor. Whether man kills animals for his meat, or slowly kills his fellow man for meat, the relationship is one of dominance; a destructive dominance that comes to dominate the spirit of both oppressed and oppressor. This is the spirit engendered in the act of meat consumption, a zero-sum exchange that is detrimental to all concerns.

    Given that, these comments always confuse me a little – how people feel it is their duty to undermine the foundation of vegetarianism as a movement. Of course meat has more protein in than tofu does, but a more interesting statistic relates to how much protein a person needs. My flatmate enjoys showing me his 800g steaks – one part of one of his favourite meals that contains 240g of protein, just over four times his daily requirments. While this is extreme, the point remains that, yes, of course vegetarians get less protein than our meat-eating friends. However whenever I have bothered calculating my protein intake i sail through my requirements comfortably. While its interesting how rarely these issues are canvassed, even more interesting is the characterisation of those advocating the view. That crazy PETA organisation is often targetted, one of my favourite depictions appeared on South Park where grey-haired activists liberally threw buckets of blood around and then returned to their compound for passionate bouts of animal fornication.

    I’m rambling now, but the strawman argument is surely a favourite of mine. I’d probably like it even more if it wasn’t used to justify the maintenance of billions of animals around the world into a twisted production line.

    Posted by Edward Miller | 3 November 2009, 6:32 pm
    • Excellent points, Ed. On the subject of protein, animal protein is actually deleterious to one’s health. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that “animal protein tends to leach calcium from the bones.” People who consume meat and dairy suffer from (among other diseases) osteoporosis; animal-based protein and calcium are not healthy for humans. Check out the PCRM’s website:

      http://www.pcrm.org/health/prevmed/osteoporosis.html

      Posted by James Roach | 3 November 2009, 8:33 pm
  4. Despite being on the decidedly overweight end of the vegan scale, I can testify to what Jay Herself is saying.. I went to the doctor for a checkup, got my bloods taken to make sure everything was okay after divulging my veganism to the Doctor, and was found to have perfect iron, cholesterol, b12, blood sugar etc.
    I take no supplements whatsoever. A basic, bordering on unhealthy, vegan diet has given me the best health I’ve ever experienced.
    The “your views” section of the Herald is a quick way to put that health in jeopardy however.

    Posted by Hells | 3 November 2009, 6:33 pm
  5. I have had my blood tested twice since I went vegan. The first time, in 2005, the doctor telephoned awkwardly a few days later, to ask if I had been drinking before the blood test. Apparently, alcohol in the bloodstream causes false positives for iron, and my iron levels were too high for him to believe.

    He became even more awkward when I told him that I hadn’t touched alcohol since 2002.

    Posted by David Tong | 3 November 2009, 6:45 pm
  6. What annoys me is that my doctors keep telling me that I need to either take iron supplements or start eating meat since I have been tested with low iron levels. However, I have never felt better eating veges! But perhaps a universal vegan-only food policy is not going to be actually fair. What about people with hemoglobin deficiencies, or some other kind of blood deficiency that may require supplementing with a heme-iron diet?

    Anyway, I like what Ed said. The analysis is one of the oppressor and the oppressed, the powerful and the powerless. And in saying that, the privileged masses in the Global North would do themselves and the world a lot of good by immediately switching to an organic vege diet and rejecting industrialised food production.

    So going back to a universal worldwide food policy vis-a-vis the third world, any kind of vegan solution, will still need to deal with cultural imperialism in relation to a non-meat policy, especially when animal farming is still a predominant form of subsistence for many indigenous people in third world countries. Surely no one is saying that the Maasai people ought to be relocated into permanent settlements and told to only farm vegetables?

    I once met an Israeli animal rights/LGBT/anarchafeminist activist who refused to support the Palestinian fishermen in their struggle against forced eviction by the Israeli authorities on the basis that she could not support those who were oppressors themselves (i.e. implying that these artisan subsistence fishermen were oppressors of the local fish population).

    Sometimes it all feels rather absurd to me.

    Posted by Tania | 3 November 2009, 7:52 pm
  7. Tania :

    What annoys me is that my doctors keep telling me that I need to either take iron supplements or start eating meat since I have been tested with low iron levels. However, I have never felt better eating veges! But perhaps a universal vegan-only food policy is not going to be actually fair. What about people with hemoglobin deficiencies, or some other kind of blood deficiency that may require supplementing with a heme-iron diet?

    There are two issues here:
    1) Your iron deficiency. As I understand it, doctors get all of two lectures on nutrition at medical school. Thus, they don’t tend to recommend nuanced responses to problems like deficiency. There are many vegan sources of iron. The vegan society lists some: http://www.vegansociety.com/food/nutrition/iron.php. Others include molasses (which is also delicious) and simply replacing teflon-coated non-stick frying pans with old-fashioned cast iron ones, from which your meals will actually leech iron that your body can digest. Not joking. While I doubt you ‘need’ to eat meat or supplement, and while it’s great that you feel so good on a vegetarian diet, I would recommend that you make a conscious effort to consume more iron from good, vegan source.
    2) Whether people with haemoglobin issues should be encouraged to go vegan. Given the plethora of vegan sources of iron, I’m not sure whether there’s any necessary connection between a vegan diet and lacking iron. In fact, I’m fairly confident that with a well thought out, high-iron vegan diet, you could get an equal iron intake to just about any omnivore’s. So rather than recommending my coffee and whatever vegan diet, I’d recommend – from my completely untrained perspective – a diet based iron iron-rich vegan foods. And lots of molasses and dark cane sugar.

    Tania :

    Anyway, I like what Ed said. The analysis is one of the oppressor and the oppressed, the powerful and the powerless. And in saying that, the privileged masses in the Global North would do themselves and the world a lot of good by immediately switching to an organic vege diet and rejecting industrialised food production.

    Did you check out the Editing the Herald page I linked to? You might find the reply there to Aklr In Exile entertaining, as it deals with a similar issue.

    Tania :

    So going back to a universal worldwide food policy vis-a-vis the third world, any kind of vegan solution, will still need to deal with cultural imperialism in relation to a non-meat policy, especially when animal farming is still a predominant form of subsistence for many indigenous people in third world countries.

    I don’t think there’s any need for the animal rights advocate to address questions of cultural imperialism now, because the animals rights lobby is – as the Your Views comments show – hardly part of a dominant or oppressive culture. But, you know what? Where a famine-struck community is farming inefficiently, I’m entirely in favour of anything that will help them farm more efficiently and starve less, culturally imperialist or not. Plus, I’m more concerned with the inefficiencies of animal farming in developing, industrialising states, such as China, and in developed states, such as ours, than I am with subsistence farming in underdeveloped nations.

    (Though I remember reading a fascinating article by an Indian woman named, uh, Dasgupta, I think it was, a couple of years ago, which made the horrifying point that many subsistence farmers were trapped in a cycle of poverty and overpopulation, resulting in ever more land degradation and ever more famine.)

    Tania :
    Surely no one is saying that the Maasai people ought to be relocated into permanent settlements and told to only farm vegetables?

    Well, no: I think we should clean up our own backyard first. However, should the Masai decide to go the way of China and rapidly industrialise, I would be entirely in favour of encouraging them, by the strongest means possible, not to repeat our mistakes (as many developing states are in agriculture, and other industries).

    Tania :

    I once met an Israeli animal rights/LGBT/anarchafeminist activist who refused to support the Palestinian fishermen in their struggle against forced eviction by the Israeli authorities on the basis that she could not support those who were oppressors themselves (i.e. implying that these artisan subsistence fishermen were oppressors of the local fish population).

    If we approached most issues with this sort of moral absolutism, absurdity would result.

    Tania :

    Sometimes it all feels rather absurd to me.

    I think it is unnecessary to consider fringe cases such as the Masai or Palestinian fishermen when looking at whether a vegan diet would be a better ecological prescription than an omnivorous one. Neither of us have any power to influence either of those examples. However, we do both have power to decide our own diets, and power to influence the diets of those around us, who have very little in common, in terms of diet, with any subsistence farmer or fisher.

    Posted by David Tong | 3 November 2009, 8:34 pm
  8. Some great discussion here. I would point out, however, that while I think much of the propaganda about vegan health is overblown, we should point out that David’s diet would not work well for most vegans – and certainly not for those of us who are older, much younger, or with any sort of health issue – not to mention pregnant women. There are things to be concerned about, though I agree with the sentiment regarding vegan health generally. I personally take B supplements myself, and get my blood checked regularly.

    Many of you have also been vegan for relatively short periods, and some of your pre-vegan stores (especially iron) can keep you stocked up for some time.

    Again, I think the majority of anti-vegan health propoganda is nonsense. But I do think keeping an eye on what you are ingesting is wise. As I said earlier, I take B supplements, and have recently started eating flax seed as a means of getting sufficient Omega oils. I’m not quite as young as David, and a coffee diet at my age would probably send me to an early grave!

    I guess my message here is that while we shouldn’t overvalue the messages about unhealthy veganism, we shouldn’t completely ignore them only. Just be sensible.

    Cheers all!

    Posted by Peter Sankoff | 3 November 2009, 9:28 pm
    • Peter: I should note that my diet has improved over the last year, by necessity. Man cannot train for a marathon on deep fried coffee alone. Flaxseed oil, or ‘LSA’ mixes are definitely a good option.

      Posted by David Tong | 3 November 2009, 9:31 pm
  9. Mmmm. Thick treacly molasses are definitely an excuse to go vegan. So are buckwheat noodles with seaweed and spinach with lots of OJ. No doubt a healthy, balanced vegan diet is infinitely more nutritious than a disgusting piece of bloody steak, I’m just not convinced that it should be a universal (especially because there are just so much genetic variation among humans – surely people are not that much evolved from people in the hunter gatherer paleolithic period?)
    Perhaps instead of an absolute, universal assertion or statement that all humans must be vegans, wouldn’t a more considered response be one that allows for an exception in limited cases for omnivorism? There is surely enough paleoanthropologic and evolutionary evidence for this. And that just means it may be a lot harder (though not physically impossible) for some people to be vegans than others.

    Secondly, in terms of animal rights advocacy, I think it has the potential to fall in the same category as the western liberal feminists’ responses to “FGM” (or the more politically correct FGC). The western liberal feminist rhetoric against the barbarism of FGM, fails to consider the centuries old, culturally and anthropologically accepted practice of female circumcision. Of course, when considering the morality of female circumcision, the question is ultimately one of choice (and whether the lack of such a choice results in oppression) and freedom. Thankfully the animal rights advocates are not active in that part of the world just yet, but I would argue that cultural imperialism is an issue that will need to be addressed at some point.

    I agree with you in that industrial farming is the problem, but I think that it ultimately derives from the western industrial revolution and the development of associated farming “technologies”. I also think that the Global North ought to reform their own backyards instead of touting some rhetoric of “do as I say, not as I do”. BUT: I think the West (supported by the rather perverse and anti-nature ideology of “dominion over the earth”) is morally culpable for collectively slaughtering and abusing millions of animals over the past 100 years of industrial food production. And until something is done to change this underlying paradigm in the West, telling China not to follow the footsteps of the Western world in industrializing farming isn’t quite going to work. Having said that, I think the best thing to do for animal rights activists in the west would be to lobby against practical things like shops importing Chinese fur, organise against Fonterra ownership of Chinese dairy farms, raise awareness and perhaps write note very effective letters to the Chinese government/embassy. Other things include building networks and links with the animal rights activists underground in China and provide solidarity and support to them.

    On the comment about Dasgupta on subsistence farmers – I think its repetitive. ‘Subsistence’ means to survive on the extreme bare minimum.

    On the Masai industrialising. Sadly, this is part of cultural hegemony. Being pushed into either industrialising and participating in globalisation and “development” in a neo-liberal sense, many young Masai are leaving their ancestral lands and traditional practices into more “western”, institionalised lifestyles.

    Unless hegemony is gotten rid of first, industrialisation is inevitable.

    Posted by Tania | 3 November 2009, 10:03 pm
    • On veganism: I advocate abolitionist animal rights, because I think it is unethical to kill sentient animals. Is it any shock that I see veganism as an (almost) universal moral baseline? I’m not concerned with culture, that much, because I’m quite happy to criticise my own culture: Why should I give any other culture a free pass? That said, I do not think anyone can be ethically obliged to commit suicide, so accept that one may eat meat in situations of absolute necessity. Arguably, some indigenous peoples live, now, in such a situation.

      On FGM: I’m with the liberal feminists on that one. I do not think culture can legitimise oppression, and do not accept that past oppression of one culture is any justification for protecting its own oppressive practices.

      On Dasgupta: I know what subsistence means. Her article explored, with empirical support, the proposition that subsistence farmers in overpopulated areas of India tended to have larger families, as more children meant more ‘workers’ on the farm. But, as the land was already past its ecological carrying capacity, higher birth-rates meant more overpopulation, meant more land-degradation, meant more famine. In response to more famine, the farmers try to work the land harder, having more children, degrading the land further…and the vicious cycle of famine, death, and land degradation continues.

      Posted by David Tong | 3 November 2009, 10:44 pm
  10. You make some interesting points regarding your views on culture. Critique your own culture if you like, but colonialism and imperialism is something that oppressed peoples all over the world have struggled with for centuries and silencing their voices along with their collective cultural identities, traditions and food practices (hunting, fishing etc).

    Sure, one can make whatever universal statements one likes, but this treads the fine line between a total abuse, disregard and silencing of indigenous peoples cultures and values with rhetoric that label such practices as heathen and barbaric and immoral. Thus making a universal statement that “it is immoral to kill sentient animals” (without further qualifying it or at the very least engaging the indigenous peoples in a constructive discourse and discussion on these issues) is surely cultural imperialism and neo-colonialism.

    I think indigenous people have a far greater spiritual connection to the land and the animals upon which they rely on than people in the West do today. Hence making such blanket statements out of context of indigenous values and worldview is totally unjust and just another means of the powerful (and loud) voices dominating or suppressing the less powerful.

    It may sound a little too postmodern, but (with all due respect) should you at least explore *post-veganism* and maybe move beyond single issue politics? (sorry if this irritates some people, I am aware that this is after all a vegan blog)

    I’m not pro-FGC, but what I’m saying is that second-wave feminists protesting against FGM do not take into the cultural complexity of the nature of female circumcision, effectively silencing the voices of the women who may perhaps voluntarily participate in FGC and not see the practice as “oppressive”. Third wave feminists argue that to give the women themselves a voice in dialogue is to recognise their agency, and the cultural values that shape their perceptions of female circumcision. I’m just saying that at the very least, any discussion of the right-ness or wrong-ness of FGC ought to be inclusive and contextual, otherwise its just another form of propagating the allegory of the West as saviours/heroes of the barbaric heathen from themselves.

    I don’t expect you to agree with me at all – in fact I don’t usually expect a lot out of white, privileged males (but please don’t be offended by me saying this,I’m just making an observation) – just saying that there are more ways of looking at an issue than one might think.

    Posted by Tania | 3 November 2009, 11:31 pm
  11. Tania, I’m kind of confused. As far as I can tell your conclusion (‘otherwise its just another form of propagating the allegory of the West as saviours/heroes of the barbaric heathen from themselves’) would hold if David/vegans/Second Wave Feminists were claiming that the way things are done in the West now are fine. But this seems fairly absolutely not what David is saying about our treatment of animals, and isn’t what many Western feminists who are against FGM would say of our treatment of women either. In fact, David/vegans/Second Wave Feminists probably spend (or spent) most of their effort on attempting to address the faults the West has in these areas (which actually seems like it’s possibly more of a problem to me, though I think it is also probably understandable to start with what we’re most familiar with).

    Really though, I guess I can’t agree with the suggestion that universal moral statements are ‘surely cultural imperialism and neo-colonialism’. At least, it doesn’t seem so sure to me, and it seems possibly circular (is cultural imperialism immoral? If not absolutely, then there are surely some situations where it isn’t, and maybe say, killing innocent people is one of them. If yes, then isn’t that just a universal moral statement?).

    The ‘post-veganism’ comment is annoying I guess, not because it’s a vegan blog and we’re all vegan vegan vegan, but because lots (most?) vegans do also care about and try to work through other political issues; so I’m not exactly sure what specifically you’re suggesting.

    Posted by Moe | 4 November 2009, 12:37 am
  12. I guess this discussion is getting rather OT, so my apologies for taking off on a tangent a few posts prior. Earlier this year, I was organising a national gathering for Camp for Climate Action Aotearoa and we decided to have it at Parihaka because we recognised the importance of building a multilayered movement. Every one of us are either freegans, vegans or some form of vegetarian, but when it came to our kitchen committee discussing the ethics of food, we decided that whilst preparing vegan food is the ultimate ideal, we needed to respect the customs of marae tikanga too. And Parihaka marae was doing us the great honour of inviting us to stay in the marae itself for the few days of our gathering.

    So when it came to it, as guests, we needed to have meat present at the powhiri. We had endless meetings and discussions about it. We could not possibly disrespect Maori culture, but yet we recognised the potential to engage the leaders and the local Maori in dialogue and debate about dairy farming (REALLY BIG in Taranaki) and talk about the ethics of meat eating, etc. We finally settled on bringing in hunted boar. Some friend of one of our committee is a bit of a feral bush hunter, and hunts wild boar, so we got given some of that meat, which we then brought to the marae for the powhiri. That seemed to settle the issue. We subsequently had a whole weekend of good korero which then got the local Maori dairy farmers asking if there were ways of changing the way farming was done, and what to do about the issue of meat and dairy. They probably won’t convert to veganism or vegetarianism anytime soon, but that we have built some enduring relationships.

    If you haven’t already heard about us, do check out http://www.climatecamp.org.nz !!

    Posted by Tania Lim | 4 November 2009, 11:51 pm
  13. Oh yeah, and I guess I may be the only dissenting minority here, but I think my point is better articulated in this article on Racism and the Animal Rights Movement found here : http://www.satyamag.com/jun05/hamanaka.html

    Posted by Tania | 5 November 2009, 1:35 am
    • Tania,

      You have come a long way from the original topic of this post. I will not be discussing the climate camp, or anything that may or may not involve illegal direct action on this blog. This is a blog written by law students and graduates, and I do not want to encourage any advocacy of or discussion about potentially illegal activities that some of our readers may be involved in.

      This is a post about misconceptions about vegetarianism shown by the Your Views column of the Herald. One such misconception was the land area issue. It is not a post about the Climate Camp, cultural imperialism, or multiculturalism within the animal rights movement.

      As an advocate of abolitionist animal rights, I am not especially concerned with changing farming practices to improve welfare, and I am not comfortable with contributing to the killing of animals, except in situations of absolute necessity. Likewise, while hunting is perhaps arguably better from an ecological or welfare point of view, it is completely in contradiction to a rights perspective.

      The article that you linked to is even further off topic, and a complete break from your previous line of argument. It raises questions about whether the animal rights movement is predominantly white and middle class. In New Zealand, it seems to be relatively diverse. However, that is a topic worthy of separate consideration, and it may be the subject of a separate, later post. It’s not something that is relevant to the topic here.

      Finally, I object to your dismissive comment about me being a white, privileged male. It is not that I’m offended; more bemused, and distinctly unimpressed. I also think that several of the topics already posted on this blog demonstrate a commitment to placing veganism in context, thus rejecting single-issue politics.

      Posted by David Tong | 5 November 2009, 2:47 pm
  14. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the abolitionist approach in principle, I feel that it pays lip service only. A few other non-white animal rights activists seem to find the “scene” rather white and exclusive (my observations as someone only marginally involved in Animal Liberation).

    The abolitionist approach itself whilst overtly anti-racist, sexist, etc. Is only paying these issues lip service, and I have yet to see it in practice.

    Likewise, I am not impressed with your trenchant, hardline assertion. You too pay lip service to being anti-sexist and anti-racist, and I find your refusal to consider the issue of multicultural engagement really amusing. As is your lack of involvement in the day to day practical work of animal liberation activism, whilst on the other hand coming across as animal rights advocate extraordinaire in cyberspace.

    Oh yes, and your absolutist view of veganism is so riddled with hypocrisy. Do you even know that harvesting of rice/wheat/other grain, necessarily involved killing and destroying the habitat of thousands of mice/rodents that live in the fields?Those vegan oreos and stuff you eat with “vegetable oil” really contains stuff like palm oil from deforested forests where animals are killed, trapped and poisoned. The vegan eating choices unless truly examined is full of hypocrisy. It only serves to make middle class rich people feel more humane and better about themselves. It doesn’t make the world a better place for animals, nature or humans.

    Don’t even get me started on VIVISECTION. Western animal liberation activists fight for domestic legislation banning vivisection, but then STOPS THERE, as if the battle has been won. These corporations merely OUTSOURCE it overseas to third world countries! But since its not in your backyard, you don’t care, do you? You are probably just content saying that it’s the problem of these developing countries, when the source of the problem are the multinationals themselves.

    I reject single issue politics for this reason, but I don’t feel like I need to justify myself any further. Stay in your little niche you want, but I have more important things to do organising with the grassroots, ON THE STREETS, not in your little ivory tower of cyberspace.

    Posted by Tania | 5 November 2009, 5:06 pm
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