Sunday, March 17, 2013

I never thought I'd say this, but I agree with PETA on this one.

As a longtime vegetarian, I'm used to having to explain to people that not all veg*ns support PETA.  I find that their tactics tend to give animal rights activists a bad name, and often marginalize groups of humans in the name of ending the oppression of nonhuman animals.  It as though PETA doesn't realize that all oppressions are interrelated, and that humans are, in fact, a species of animal (as potentially problematic as that may be to say).

So, imagine my surprise today when I stumbled across this post on PETA's website.  Did I just see a message of moderation from PETA?

What led me to the aforementioned post was another post on the PETA site:  a list of foods that are accidentally vegan.  That list contains the following footnote:
*Items listed may contain trace amounts of animal-derived ingredients. While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals. For a more detailed explanation of PETA's position, please click here
That sounds remarkably similar to the position of Peter Singer and Jim Mason, as described in their recent book, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.  (The relevant quotation from that book can be found at the bottom of this post.)  Perhaps PETA saw the sense in their argument and decided to take their lead.  That would be appropriate, as Singer and Mason are two of the founders of the animal liberation movement.

The position of Singer, Mason, and (strangely enough) PETA is the position that I espouse in this blog.  Veg*nism is, in essence, a boycott.  For a boycott to be effective, it is necessary for a large number of people to participate.  And it's much more likely that others will be willing to participate if they don't feel that they have to give up every product with a miniscule amount of animal-derived ingredients.  At this point in our history, at least, I believe that we can do more good by encouraging people to do what they can than by focusing on purity and dogmatic adherence to a strictly vegan diet.

One commenter on this blog summed it up nicely:
Over time, I've come around to the idea that "mostly vegan" is perhaps a more ethical choice than fully vegan. My logic is that [if] you live a happy, healthy life as a mostly vegan person and others see it's not so hard to avoid animal foods when you can and not to worry about it when you can't, you're more likely to inspire others down that path. And if you convince three other people to drop half the animal products from their diet, you've done much more good than a strict vegan who eats no animal products - and turns off others from making a choice towards a plant-based diet by making it seem rigid or difficult.*

So, if you're reading this post, and you're not already vegan, please know that every vegan choice you make is a step in the right direction, and you don't have to compulsively check ingredients lists in order to make a difference for animals.

*ETA NOTE: While I believe that this commenter makes a good point, I do not wish to suggest that those who maintain a strict vegan diet are less ethical than those who don't -- only that there is an argument to be made for not adhering to veganism so rigidly that the vegan lifestyle appears to others to be difficult or impossible to maintain.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


As you may have heard, Alex Jamieson -- vegan author, nutrition coach, and ex-wife of Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock -- recently announced that she is no longer vegan.  I found her announcement, while disappointing, also heartfelt and brave, given the generally harsh response to ex-vegans by the vegan community.

Several years ago, I actually had an experience like hers, and, like her, I experienced these cravings for at least a year and gave a great deal of thought to the decision before I acted on them.  I had built an identity around being vegetarian.  I relentlessly debated whether giving in to the cravings would be a good thing, in terms of rejecting the rigid purism of a strictly vegetarian diet, or a bad thing, in terms of compromising my values.  Ultimately, I decided that the cravings were my body's way of telling me that I needed some meat, so, for that as well as for social reasons, I briefly became a poultry-and-seafood flexitarian. I found that I did not feel any better from eating meat, did not particularly like the taste of it, and in fact, did not like how I felt when I ate it.  I could not stop thinking about the fact that I was eating a once-living animal.  The cravings quickly gave way to disgust and guilt, and I became a vegetarian again.  I still feel badly about this brief lapse in my adherence, but perhaps it was necessary in order to recommit to my ethics.

That was, of course, my experience, and others' experiences may be different.  I cannot make the claim that no human being needs meat to be healthy.  All I know is that the even the most conservative authorities deem well-planned vegan diets to be healthful.

But Jamieson's experience raises a question, and it's a question to which I don't know the answer:  When are cravings telling us what our body really needs, and when are cravings lying to us?

I frequently have cravings for chocolate.  It's one of the reasons that I'm not fully vegan.  (I know dark chocolate is often vegan, but sometimes dark chocolate is just too much for me, and I crave a milder, sweeter version.)  I've heard it said that chocolate cravings indicate a shortage of magnesium.  But I take a daily multivitamin, and I recently had my nutrient levels tested and found to be within normal ranges.  I've also heard it said that chocolate cravings are really just sugar cravings in disguise, but I don't buy that.  There's definitely something particularly addicting about chocolate.

So, is my chocolate addiction just that -- an addiction?  Or is there something in chocolate that my body truly needs?  Are meat cravings just like chocolate cravings, or is there something more substantial to them?