Wednesday, November 24, 2010

the great vegan debate

If you don't regularly stalk vegan food blogs, you may have missed last week's drama. In short, Tasha of the blog formerly known as Voracious Vegan, wrote a long post detailing her decision to once again eat meat, after 3.5 years of passionate veganism.

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. People pick up and discard eating habits all the time, and blog about the topic just as often - Ashley at (never)homemaker wrote a post about becoming un-vegan that was both balanced and respectful, as did Jes of Eating Appalachia. The difference with Tasha - one of the most vocal, prolific, and unapologetic vegan food bloggers around - is that she is not only rejecting veganism personally, but as viable option for the majority of the planet. When I learned on Twitter that she had given up veganism for health reasons I was surprised, to say the least. When she finally blogged about this decision, explaining all the thoughts, epiphanies and experiences that led up to her first bite of steak, I was downright confused.

The Vegan RD does a great job of dissecting Tasha's post and pointing out its inconsistencies. And while I have talked to Tasha online, I don't know her in person and I can't say whether or not her decision to return to eating meat, eggs, and dairy was or wasn't justified. What I do take issue with is the assertion that vegansim is NOT healthy or sustainable. While I don't think that veganism is perfect, possible for every human being in the world, or a magical band-aid that can heal the earth, I know from personal experience that it is indeed possible to be healthy, happy and vibrant without animal products. Does Tasha need animal products to be healthy? Perhaps. Does everyone? Absolutely not.

Below are some quotes from Tasha's original post in purple, with my thoughts and responses in black. Because while I do think she brings up some interesting points, I don't agree with most of her conclusions. Also, you may have already noticed that this is a long, text heavy post. If vegan politics don't interest you, then come back later for my latest 30 for 30 creation. ;) 
Just like always, I still care intensely about the environment, the well being of animals, and the politics of food, but my ideas of how to do the most good and effect the most change have drastically transformed. I reexamined the party line of veganism, that it is the moral baseline, and admitted to myself that I had never been comfortable with the arbitrary declaration of drawing a line in the ethical sand.
Veganism, while coming from a decent place of compassion, is ultimately short sighted and does not fix our problems. Truly local, preferably wild food is the only way we can live without causing devastation to this planet. And living truly locally, without massive consumption of monocrop industrialized grains or soy, in almost every part of the world necessitates the use and consumption of animals for us to be healthy.
I agree with Tasha that local food is important and is perhaps the most sustainable choice we have. Obviously, it would be better for me to eat a bunch of collard greens that I purchased at my local Farmers' Market then to eat a kiwi shipped to Texas from New Zealand, and this is precisely why I shop at the Market and no longer eat kiwis, even though I love them! I also believe that animals and humans can co-exist peacefully. My and Nathan's life plan is buy some acres of land, build a house, grow our own food, and raise animals. We don't plan to eat the animals, but rather use their waste for fertilizer and eat the eggs from the chickens. (Because while I'm a mostly-vegan, it's not because I think using animals is wrong, but because I don't support the way animals in our society are treated. This is why I'm okay with eating the eggs from my local farmers or from my own theoretical chickens, but not any that come from the grocery store or whose origin cannot be directly traced. You can read more about my thoughts on eggs here.) 

Where Tasha loses me is the assumption that you cannot eat locally AND maintain a vegan diet. Of course, it depends on where you live, how much money you have, how many options are open to you, etc. Most of the world does not have the means or the ability to choose what they will and will not eat, and I don't know what the logistics are where Tasha lives. But it seems to me that someone with the education and privilege that Tasha possesses should be able to acknowledge the fact that locavorism and veganism are not mutually exclusive.
Obviously, the planet cannot support 7 billion people in any meaningfully sustainable way, vegan or not. Therefore, an integral part of us being able to live in a genuinely environmentally respectful way is not for us all to go vegan, but for us to lower the birthrate and the population so we can live truly locally. First and foremost this will require the advancement of women’s rights and the global empowerment of women.
Tasha's argument veers into political and feminist territory towards the end of her post, which I appreciate. I fully believe in the theory of intersectionality - that all forms of social and cultural oppression are connected - and I clearly see how food politics, animal rights, human rights, classism and racism affect one another. Again, though, what I don't understand is the idea that veganism - or even vegetarianism! - doesn't make any positive difference in the world.

Veganism is flawed, yes. No movement is perfect, and no singular act can change the world. But is conscious consumption, a rejection of unnecessary cruelty, and an effort to live as compassionate a life as possible, towards all creatures, pointless? Absolutely not.

Tasha, I'm glad that you're feeling better and that you've regained your health and passion for life. I just wish you could find a way to personally reject veganism without attempting to disprove a way of living, thinking, and eating that works just fine for so many of us.