Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Vegan and Dangerous!

While I have made a good number of choices in my life which were not in line with the predilections and views of the majority and consequently did not always reap enthusiastic accord, so I was nevertheless unprepared for the in part fierce reactions that my decision to forthwith abstain from animal products (including milk and eggs) prompted. I have since been subjected to everything from “this is too radical” and “you vegans are all so judgmental” to “Vegan – that’s a cult!”. At times I was also just derided as if I was some airy fool or I was again attacked in the sense of “oh, so you are one of those ‘holier than thou’ do-gooders who then also wants to impose his personal morality on us.” (An excellent example of argumentum ad hominem: instead of engaging in a factual discussion, one a priori attacks the person and discredits him or her).

That the abstention from milk products and eggs can result in such widespread and vehement reactions most likely indicates that there is a whole series of conscious and unconscious – suppressed – self-conceptions, habits, social taboos and economic interests that are being questioned.
Such reactions as I experienced remain on a purely personal level and in their effect temporally limited as long as the proportion of people in our society who abstain from consuming animal products is negligibly small. Should, however, this proportion in the population grow and result in making societal demands (for example offering vegan menu options in cafeterias or simply launching a social discourse about our till the last detail yield optimized, industrialized method of food production and their consequences for the involved animals, the environment and the stakeholders in poorer parts of the world), economic - and thus also political - interests will be affected, unleashing a whole string of measures aimed at silencing and curtailing their impact. Apart from the fact that farmers make up a disproportional number of the Swiss parliament, the farmer’s syndicate and the food industry are financially lavishly endowed and exceptionally well connected to the levers of power – be this the media with its concomitant advertising sector, the political establishment itself or the various governmental administrative departments, in Switzerland for example the federal office for health or for the environment. A massive economic and political campaign would thus be unleashed, where also a growing and formally organized group of citizens (in the US who consciously distances itself from the contemporary food production methods, will hardly be able to counter.
In spite of this, such a social discourse will become indispensible, at the end of the day not so much because of the compelling empathetic or health arguments, but because our current food consumption behavior is simply non-sustainable in the long-run. In this context one need to also ask oneself to what extent we wish to also include stakeholders that do not have a voice – as for example people in poor parts of the world, the not yet born generations of humans and of course also the animals – all of whom also bear the burden of the consequences of our consumption habits.
In this context it is however important that such a discourse ensues as much as possible without the according of blame and the passing of judgment. The point here is not to condemn, for example, the milk and egg farmers who, despite billions of subsidies in Switzerland, still have to increasingly operate in a market where, despite the ‘organic food’ movement, only the price per quantity counts, or to denote a tradition celebrating fondue eater as some kind of a monster. At the same time, however, it behooves us also to have consideration for “vegans” and to not a priori judge and marginalize them as radical do-gooders. Every person is at the end of the day embedded in his or her social and cultural milieu and incapable of always taking into consideration all the ramification of his or her behavior and habits - many of which he or she is often sentimentally entwined with - much less to readily change them accordingly. Thus we are all preoccupied with our daily problems – big or small, or are otherwise distracted by life, so that we are unable to open ourselves up for all “inconvenient truths” and their consequences for our behavior.
I myself am here a prime example: although I grew up on a cattle ranch in the US and have also worked for several weeks on a dairy farm in Switzerland, I still required my own good time until I was ready to investigate the matter more profoundly, and then to marshal the required energy so as to bring my behavior in concordance with my values and my sense of empathy. Nevertheless, a civilization is only capable of evolution and thereby fit for survival, if it periodically questions itself critically – also if one thereby challenges the economic interests, social taboos and historically deeply rooted traditions. Amos Oz, an Israeli author, wrote once that curiosity and the willingness to also investigate the uncomfortable are to be understood as part of human ethics.
Apropos: in this context it was fascinating for me to discover just how easy and fast you can change your eating habits without perceiving it as a sacrifice. It is indeed worthwhile as a personal experiment to abstain for a month from animal products, even if you do not always succeed outside of the home. The experience to be so readily able to change your habits in order to discover and create something new, empowers, liberates and enlivens in a wonderful manner!
Manuel Dawson

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