on being a bad vegan, part one

Since I apparently have a fondness for everyone getting all touchy and angry at me for not toeing some magical lefty line, I thought I’d start a whole new giant fight with some controversal thoughts on veganism.

Some of these were inspired by discussions we had a few weeks ago, here and on another site I’m not going to link to because I don’t wanna. I’m thinking this is going to be a three-part post. Here’s Part One. Look out for Part Two: My Gloves, and Part Three: BEES!! soon.

At said nameless other site, someone was talking some smack about my besties over at Bloodroot. Said someone had once written a letter to their local paper (said someone apparently lives near Bloodroot) attacking them for not being 100% vegan, and repeated their arguments in the context of my supposed general shittiness.

Their argument: because the restaurant isn’t totally vegan, “the owners of Bloodroot are making money from their continued exploitation of other animals.” Of course, this is true. However, as usual I wanted to make this more-complex, long-view N*U*fuckin’A*N*C*E*D argument about why, though I wish Bloodroot was 100% vegan, I’m not heartbroken that it’s not. Surprise! It didn’t take. Let me try again here. Here’s what I said:

Hello, Person Who Wrote A Whole Essay About How Shitty I Am!

….It occurs to me to ask if you’ve ever spoken to Noel and/or Selma about veganism, since it appears that you live in Connecticut? If you had, you’d have a fascinating, nuanced conversation that would leave you refreshed and inspired about your own vegan practice. I’ve had countless talks with them about it, all of which were respectful and friendly.

Bloodroot is not a vegan restaurant, it’s about 90% vegan. Selma and Noel spin wool and other animal fibers. These sentences seem so damning to vegans, but there is a lot behind them.

First of all, the tiny bit of eggs and dairy that they use truly does come from sustainable, humane sources. Their cheeses are all vegetarian and are from small, artisanal businesses, many of whom they have visited themselves to verify that the animals were treated well. I haven’t eaten cheese in 17 years, but I respect the way that Bloodroot serves cheese.

Their dairy and eggs are locally produced, and the truth is that many of the dairy dishes on their menu are literally DEMANDED by longtime customers, many of whom would, without a doubt, stop coming to the restaurant if they couldn’t get their green tomato pie with cheese or butterscotch pudding with heavy cream.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever run a business, Person Who Wrote A Whole Essay About How Shitty I Am, but if you have I’m sure you understand the importance of keeping repeat customers. If you’ve ever fun a food business, where margins are notoriously tight, you will understand this even more.

In fact, I believe you could make a strong case that Bloodroot has done more to usher vegan meals into non-vegans’ diets than most vegans I know. Because many of their customers are not vegan, the 90% of their menu that is vegan is serious activism–getting vegan food into non-vegan bodies. [Many of their customers are not exactly the type to frequent 100% vegan restaurants, thus if they weren’t at Bloodroot, chances are they would be eating meat somewhere else.]

Similarly, the animal fibers that they use in their fiber arts are 100% from living animals who are treated well–no animals are ever killed for their wool sweaters. I adore a pair of rabbit fur gloves that Selma made for me–the rabbit fur was spun from a rabbit while it sat in Selma’s lap, being brushed and living a wonderful, pampered life. Selma dyed the fur with natural dyes made from plants grown in her garden, then knitted a pair of gloves I will always cherish.

So then, said person said:

The idea of something being “90% vegan” is misguided. It’s as absurd as claiming a business can be “90% feminist” if it only exploits women 10% of the time. Even if only a tenth of a business is actively involved in the exploitation of women, it should still be considered anti-woman and anti-feminist. The same goes for the exploitation of other animals. This is because exploitation is a qualitative matter, not a quantitative one.

Also, the use of percentages is intentionally misleading. A plate of pasta with meat sauce may be made up of 90% plant-derived ingredients and 10% animal-derived ingredients, but we rightly consider such a dish to be inappropriate for vegans. Regardless of the limited content derived from the exploitation of other animal, it is the quality of the dish as a whole that is important. Likewise, the 10% of the Bloodroot that is directly involved in the exploitation of other animals can’t be separated out from the other 90% that is assumed otherwise.

I completely disagree! In my book, opposition to exploitation must be both qualitative and quantitative, and both are equally important. We’ve got to be vegan, yeah, but if we aren’t, 50% vegan is better than 0% vegan. And even though a plate of 90% vegan food isn’t suitable for vegans, it’s better, in the long run, than if it were 100% not vegan. Obviously, the more vegan food non-vegans eat, the better things are.

I see why you think the way you do (veganism is a totality, like being pregnant, blah blah), and in the case of feminism I do think it makes a teensy bit more sense, but, I live in the real world. (I mean, I try very very hard not to, but I have to sometimes, enough to know how it functions, at least.) And if 90% of the world became vegan, I’d be so fucking happy I might explode, and so would you. So don’t tell me I’m being INTENTIONALLY MISLEADING. It’s, first of all, just FUCKING RUDE. I’m FUCKING VEGAN HERE, OK? I WANT! PEOPLE! TO! BE! VEGAN!. My FUCKING GOD.

OK, um.

Let’s talk about this in a calm way. Because I’m sure you get my point by now, but I want to beat it into the ground.

Yeah, OF COURSE (oops. Calm.) a “plate of pasta with meat sauce may be made up of 90% plant-derived ingredients and 10% animal-derived ingredients, but we rightly consider such a dish to be inappropriate for vegans,” but…that argument doesn’t hold water if you take it out of the narrow context of a plate of food. Do you not shop at a supermarket that might have 50% vegan shite food and 50% not vegan shite food? When you go to non-vegan restaurants you’re not forced to eat the non-vegan food. (You might remember I’m the one in my vegan family who makes it a point to eat at non-vegan restaurants, to the dismay of my moms). Do you live in the world AT ALL? In the real world, honey, I’m thankful for people who are trying, who are being as vegan-friendly as they feel they can safely be. Of course I want the world to wake up vegan tomorrow, but I won’t be boycotting every single inch of this earth that isn’t vegan until that happens. I’ll just keep on keepin’ on, doing what I can and supporting others who do the same.

Then, someone else said:

Seems like you’re saying people have to exploit animals in order to advance veganism (or that it’s OK if they do).

And, uh, that comment is just so….SOMETHING, that I am pretty much flabbergasted. Uh, no  [insert WTF here]. I don’t think Bloodroot serving slivers of cheese is OK (and I never said I did)—I’m just trying to explain why I think it’s not the horrible horrible crime some are making it out to be. There’s a whole world between “I am just fine with this” and “it could be a whole hell of a lot worse.”

I’d much rather support a restaurant like Bloodroot, where the owners are engaged with vegan ideas and are thinking about problems and solving them in their own ways (though they might be sometimes different than how I would solve them), than your standard shitty vegan restaurant that uses tons of processed fake food (food bought from a Sysco truck, microwaved, with no soul or life) and doesn’t offend any vegans (except me). Bloodroot is a multi-faceted, complex, astonishingly fascinating universe. People who decide that their lines in the sand are made of stone won’t understand them, and they taught me long ago to accept that (I’m not listening lately, obviously).

I remember once Selma (Bloodroot’s co-owner) told me she was reading some gardening magazine or other put out by a Catholic group (she also reads Tikkun, which sort of equally astonishes me, knowing of her vehement atheism). I was astonished—Selma, who had an abortion at 16 (in the 1950s!), radical feminist lesbian Selma, Selma who talks shit (often using the word “shit”) about any religion to any religious person who might come through the door—how could she? “It’s a good magazine, interesting ideas,” she responded simply. We both read lots of non-vegan food magazines, calmly tearing off and tossing* the November turkey covers and gleaning what we can from the rest. We both mourned Gourmet’s death. We adore finding treasures at the Fancy Food Show, a trade show we go to every year where maybe 10% of the vendors have vegan samples and the atmosphere is thick with half naked women handing out energy drink samples.

You snatch out and cobble together the good parts of this horrid old world, and discard the rest. At Bloodroot, they call that “levity.” Rising above the shit, into your own thoughtful, personalized universe. It’s what smart people do.

(Ah, but I know what you want to talk about, antsy vegan pals o’ mine–those gloves I mentioned. Let’s have a fun fight about them in the next post! Disagree with me! Change my mind! Lets do this! But if you say my heart isn’t in the right place, I WILL FUCKING TEAR YOU UP—OK? Deal?)

*Of course, I mean RECYCLING. Gotta watch my language in this hyper-sensitive old internet, I guess.

19 Responses to “on being a bad vegan, part one”

  1. Joshua May

    shit yeah, lady.

    gotta pick your battles..I’m pretty tired of the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ situations (especially when the ‘them’ are righteous vegan jerks). can’t we all (just hold hands and) work at this shit constructively?

    even as people labelled ‘vegan’, we all have our own morals, ethics and ideals, but we have one thing in common. let’s focus on the bigger issues, not the 90%/10% stupidity. that’s 90% better than 99.9% of other establishments are doing, so let’s applaud them on that.

    so: fuck yeah, Bloodroot.

    Reply
  2. Marla

    I just wanted to add that a very common thing I hear from failed, would-be vegans is that they couldn’t be pure enough, that there’s something animal-based in nearly everything, and they started to lose their minds a little when they tried to live as conscientious vegans. I think we need to be encouraging along the way, not creating an elitist club only the few can join, and stop reinforcing this all-or-nothing attitude. Like you, I’d be ecstatic if the world started moving in that direction and we certainly need to help foster that by encouraging vegan options. I didn’t go vegan overnight, though, and I don’t expect that many will. We need to be there to assist, not attack until they drop their whole pursuit of veganism out of frustration.

    Reply
  3. Jen

    THANK YOU! I wish there were more vegans who understood that a little bit of nuance doesn’t make you a “bad vegan,” and that acceptance of anything less than 100% is not a failure in the imperfect world we have to live in.

    I know people who became mostly vegetarian quite late in their lives. They eat fish once in a while and are otherwise vegetarian. They used to eat lots of meat and now they don’t. Should I scoff at their efforts, which fall short of the vegan ideal and harangue them about their continued exploitation of animals? Or should I embrace the fact that they are doing the best they can which is way more than most people, and continue to cook them lovely vegan food?

    Should I boycott my family dinner with the dead bird on the table, or should I get over my own personal disgust and use it as an opportunity to bring something yummy along and show twenty-odd people that vegan food is delicious and that vegan people are not scary?

    Should I not support the lunch truck that recently opened near my workplace, which serves vegan things but also meat things? I emailed them to thank them for their vegan options, and the chef said that he was happy to hear I liked the vegan things, and that he was transitioning to eating less and less animal products himself. He said he wants to add even more vegan things, but has had a hard time convincing his business partners that there was enough demand for the vegan food. If vegans boycotted such a place because it is less than ideal and in some way “supporting animal exploitation”, the net result is even LESS vegan food available and out there in the world, which is a big fail in my book.

    Reply
  4. ruby

    I college we used to say, “Vegan as you can be, vegan as you wanna be.” It meant, we’re all trying hard, we all have our own reasons for doing this, let’s not judge each other’s decisions to eat a freegan cookie or put honey in a smoothie. We acknowledged that there was always going to be film in your camera, glue on your shoe and other small ways that animal products snuck into your life. We switched to digital cameras, we bought 100% vegan shoes, but no one is perfect, and
    I’d rather have people trying to live in line with their beliefs instead of deciding the world is fucked and giving up.

    I think going to non-vegan restaurants and not only (politely) asking for vegan food but inquiring as to where they get their greens, etc. has a chance of helping us reach our goals of more local food and less meat and dairy consumed. It’s nice to go to vegan restaurants and relax – knowing you can eat anything on the menu, but we’ve got to spread the word and work to change the world at large, not just curl up in our tiny vegan communities.

    Finally, Jen! You should tell your family you’ll come to Thanksgiving, but not if the carcass itself is on the table where you eat. I came up with the idea a decade ago (I’m sure I’m not the first) and a bunch of my vegan and vegetarian friends have had that holiday discussion – and not one has been refused.

    Reply
  5. Jordan

    Where would this person who wrote you being a shitty person shop in my neck of the woods? Every store around here even the whole foods has something in it that isnt vegan. We only have one 100% all vegan store in the state and its an hours drive. Sometimes in the snow or on a busy day when i dont have time for traffic I would just have to go with out i guess. The only reason I went vegan was because of someone who is Vegetarian. She opened the door as I’m sure Selma and Noel have done for so many. I think this person who wrote an essay about your shittyness should be followed at all times by vegan spys to see how perfect thier vegan life really is. I hope they walk everyplace they go because if they use tires of any kind they are no longer a vegan and have fucked themselves!

    Reply
  6. Christy H

    I am loving this discussion so far! I have so much to add, i can’t even begin. I live in the world of backyard chickens and know lots of mostly vegan folks who only eat eggs from the backyard. i myself have refused to allow chickens in my own backyard and still think of eggs as not vegan regardless of the circumstances, but if i had eggs in my own backyard, the reasons not to eat them would be flimsy and rooted in ideals rather than reals. My veganism also exists in the real world. In my mind, veganism is, in part, one of many important fail-safes for all the circumstances of production that are used to create things we use. If you care about animals and the planet, ridding your diet and your life of non-vegan stuff will go some of the way towards ensuring you do not support cruelty to animals. but the gloves! or the backyard eggs! or the bees! or… lots more I am sure… i don’t think we ever meant to isolate ourselves from animals and thus, what is our relationship to the ones we include in our lives???

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Oh, you psychic! My next post is all about backyard chickens!

      These comments are all so heartening and fascinating!

      Reply
  7. Donna

    Hmm – sounds like a lot of the Bloodroot critics fall into the “veganer than thou” category. I remember reading something by Carol Adams some time ago – she talked about how she was an aspiring vegan – and she used the word aspiring because as we all know – living in the real world presents us with situations in which we do un-vegan things. I can’t remember her examples but I can think of a few – ever get a ride in someone’s car that has leather seats ? how many poor insects are crushed beneath our feet on nature walks. I think that if we were all really honest, we would realize that it took most of us a while to get here and we should encourage others – not trash their efforts. Many years ago, shortly after becoming vegan, we rented a car (lived in the city then) to go to Bloodroot. Sure, there were totally vegan restaurants in Manhattan, but I was fascinated by the idea of a restaurant that was an extension of a complex belief system – I was not disappointed.

    Reply
  8. lagusta

    AHHHHHHH I ADORE YOU ALL SO MUCH I’M DYING! I’M OVERWHELMED WITH THE AWESOMENESS! CAPS LOCK KEY CAME ON ALL BY ITSELF!

    Reply
  9. truthvscompliance

    Yeah – I’ve been down this road. I’m a “bad vegan” because I smoke. Shit, actually – I’ve been told I’m NOT vegan. Even though I am vegan in every other aspect (I’ve also been told I’m not vegan enough because I have a leopard print couch – obviously not real leapord skins).
    The logic of some vegans gets a little ridiculous. So basically – I’m not vegan because my money is going to RJ Reynolds (they test on animals, which totally sucks) but the thing is – half of the specialty vegan foods are distributed by, you guessed it – RJ Reynolds (and other big tobacco). Silk is owned by whitewave – which owns freaking factory farms…A lot of the vegan products are made by companies that own factory farms…
    I guess that’s why I try to just look at my own contradictions and try to find ways around them – without bringing anyone else into it… Everyone has a different cut-off point.
    I don’t even understand why the continue to test cigarrettes on animals – wtf? we already know they kill us, what else do we need to know about them?

    Reply
  10. brittany

    I’m curious – where does Person Who Wrote a Whole Essay About How Shitty You Are get food from? Does this person have a magical store that no one knows about that has never dabbled in anything animal-related, ever? Or does this person only grow his or her own food, using nothing that can ever be traced back to a company that has nothing to do with animals? I’m confused, since anything other than “yes” to these questions would mean that this person is supporting those horrible world-ending businesses like Bloodroot, ConAgra and McDonald’s.

    Also, if this person had a choice to eat nothing but pasta with meat sauce, steak and eggs or tuna fish sandwiches for the rest of eternity, what would this person choose? Apparently, starvation. Which really didn’t do much for “the movement” after all. :/

    Reply
  11. Ellie

    It’s not possible to farm animals humanely — if you doubt that, see the humanemyth organization.

    Reply
  12. Noah

    To say that Ida of The Vegan Ideal was “attacking [Bloodroot] for not being 100% vegan” is a mischaracterization that removes the nuance of how the discussion began in the first place.

    Recall that Ida’s letter was written in response to a newspaper story in which Miriam of Bloodroot stated: “The secret of life is transformation. You take a bit of wool and spin it [to make a scarf], that’s magic. You take an egg and make an omelet. It’s how I transform what [comes from] Mother Earth.”

    As http://veganideal.org/content/our-bodies-and-lives-questioning-cissexual-politics“>Ida explained:
    “In a letter published in the Post, I disputed Bloodroot’s magical thinking about the exploitation of other animals, saying, ‘Wool, eggs and dairy products are not magic, but are derived within systems of control over others’ reproduction and offspring. Once these animals can no longer produce for us, just like animals raised as meat, they will be killed.'”

    You brought up the fact that Bloodroot was lacto-ovo-vegetarian as a way to try to defend them against Ida’s letter. But the fact that Bloodroot is a lacto-ovo restaurant does not make them immune from critique – especially when they are publicly saying that the exploitation of animals is magical.

    Vegans ought to be allowed to point out speciesism without being told by other vegans that some animal exploitation is OK because customers DEMAND it. That is why your comment was characterized as anti-vegan backlash:

    “Often coded in terms of being ‘pragmatic,’ ‘practical,’ and ‘effective,’ this backlash seeks to silence, marginalize, and discredit vegans who persist in challenging human supremacy.”

    I think if you had accurately portrayed the full context of the discussion, your readers would have had a different reaction. But instead you made the discussion about people being “bad vegans,” which is never what the discussion was about.

    Also, the Bloodroot discussion wasn’t in the context of your “supposed general shittiness” but specifically in the context of a critique of the transphobic writings (that used to be) on your site and the transphobia of the owners of Bloodroot. To say otherwise makes it sound like Ida was randomly personally attacking you, which was not the case.

    Reply
  13. Ellie

    ” ‘ Wool, eggs and dairy products are not magic, but are derived within systems of control over others’ reproduction and offspring. Once these animals can no longer produce for
    us, just like animals raised as meat, they will be killed’ ”

    I agree — these animals suffer the same mutilations, forced pregnancies, separation of parent/child, and violent deaths as animals raised to be meat.

    Also, I think there’s a big difference between unintentionally harming animals and deliberately using them.

    Reply

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