Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why Do People Hate Vegans/Vegetarians So Much?

I had read somewhere that Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman - among many other celebrities - became vegan, or rather, animal activists, after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals.  I picked up the book on the recommendation of a friend and couldn't put it down, it is riveting and thought-provoking, intelligently written, and does not employ the usual extreme rhetoric that we might associate with animal activists.  If you can say at all that you want to be an informed consumer and that you have some care for the treatment of animals, please pick up this book and let me know your thoughts.  He talks about the story that each one of us has to food, the cultural and familial ties, and how that's really hard to re-write but how important it is as a direct reflection of our belief system and morality.  For example, when Hindus don't eat meat, it reflects their story on religion, same with Catholics and Lent.  In the United States, the story of masculinity, since the mythology of the cowboy, has been associated with meat-eating. I can't praise the book enough, it is engrossing, well-researched and explores the ambiguity within all of us.

Here is the quick blurb from Amazon:
Like many young Americans, Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between enthusiastic carnivore and occasional vegetarian. As he became a husband, and then a father, the moral dimensions of eating became increasingly important to him. Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them.  
Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill. Part memoir and part investigative report, Eating Animals is a book that, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, places Jonathan Safran Foer "at the table with our greatest philosophers."
Let's be honest, it's not really cool - yet - to be vegan or a vegetarian.  A lot of my friends & colleagues, even well-educated ones, label them as extremists and weirdos.  I did the same, privately dismissing them as tree-hugging, Birkenstock schlepping idealists.  But why?  Why the vitriol?  Why do we immediately marginalize them?  

I was thinking about this after I read the book.  And I knew, at least for me, why I did:  because I was in denial and didn't want to know the truth about how my juicy bone-in ribeye steak got to my table at Mastro's.  And I am evolved enough to love animals - anyone who knows me knows my deep, deep love for dogs in particular - and to realize they are highly sentient beings, able to feel pain, to register suffering in their brains, to feel love, to feel compassion, to feel terror, loneliness and despair...yes, even cows, pigs and birds and a plethora of aquatic life that I've never even heard of before...all of them have those feelings, both emotional and physical.  

And I'm also intelligent enough to know that animal factories run by huge corporations - that provide more than 99% of all meat sold in the U.S. - are not adequately regulated (if at all), that the majority of the board members of the United States Department of Agriculture have financial ties to the meat factories (how is this conflict of interest even allowed??!!  Not permitting financial conflicts is recognized by all lawmakers, lawyers and regulators as the most single most important factor in ensuring a truly democratic and transparent regime, we all know this, but who knew that the food industry is that powerful??!! I'm horrified for us) and that due to an escape clause in animal welfare laws governing these industrial farms, there ARE no standards for the way farm animals are birthed, housed, transported, mutilated, slaughtered.  

I knew all this.  And yet I had secretly hoped that, well, organizations like PETA or other advocacy groups were powerful enough to keep these companies honest.  That maybe, just maybe, farm animals really don't feel the pain or don't register the suffering - no, a pig or a horse or a cow could not in any way be as cognizant as my beloved pet dog.  Or that maybe those secret surveillance videos of the horrendous cruelty - the bludgeoning of livestock, the skinning alive of pigs - were manipulated for dramatic effect or were merely unfortunate anomalies.  

Stupid, right?  But this denial and wishful thinking prompted me to categorize vegans as extremist kooks.  I wanted them to be wrong because if they were right about the extent of cruelty and suffering of industrial farm animals, then...our world was a shitty place and our government is fundamentally flawed and I was a huge hypocrite for loving dogs and claiming to be an animal lover yet perpetuating the cycle of violence against sentient animals by consuming meat and not doing anything to change the way these meat factories work.  

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I did some more research and was surprised to discover quite a lot of celebrities who are vegan/vegetarian - who knew that an ostensibly self-absorbed demographic could be so enlightened?  Oh Alexandra, you have so much to learn.  And I am interested in who is vegan/vegetarian because for better or for worse, celebrities have a large impact on shaping the norms of our society - the more celebrities/other influential people are vegan/vegetarian, the more careful people will become about supporting the meat industry.

Among them:

The stunning Penelope Cruz...Vicky Christy Barcelona was the best!
Carrie Underwood
Anne Hathaway
Natalie Portman

Russell Brand (vegetarian since the age of 12): "You shouldn't eat animals.  It's mean to them."  Can't argue with that simplicity. 

Jessica Chastain
James Cameron
Alec Baldwin
Russell Simmons
Joaquin Phoenix
Kate Winslet
Woody Harrelson 
Alicia Silverstone 

Ne-Yo.
I played "Because of You" in a constant loop in 2008 during a bad breakup.  Memories.   
Tobey Maguire
Dax Shepherd
Ben Stiller (pescatarian)
Brad Pitt

Peter Dinklage:  "I wouldn't hurt a cat or a dog or a chicken or a cow.  And I wouldn't ask someone else to hurt them for me.  That's why I'm a vegetarian."  
How much do I heart Game of Thrones? And this guy?  What a man. 
Chris Martin
Gwyneth Paltrow
Mac Danzig 
Steve O 

Mike Tyson.  Been a vegan for the last two years.  What?
Anthony Kiedis (pescatarian)
Casey Affleck 
Alan Cumming
Bruce Springsteen 
Herschel Walker 

My favorite ex-President 
Pamela Anderson 
Lauren Bush
Ellen Degeneres
Portia Rossi 

Kristin Wiig
Olivia Wilde
Kellie Pickler
Leona Lewis 
Shania Twain
Alyssa Milano

Maggie Q
Christina Applegate
Mark Ruffalo
Alanis Morrisette 
Anna Paquin 
Ashley Judd 
Christie Brinkley 
Diane Keaton 
Dianna Agron 
Emily Deschanel
Michelle Pfeiffer


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Impressive list, right?  Some of these people I would never have pegged to be so thoughtful about their food.

But back to my original question:  why do some Americans, even well-educated and fairly evolved ones, hate on vegans/vegetarians?  Is it for the same reasons I did?    

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