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Joanne Donovan


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Are the western vegetarian and vegan movements food fetishes for the rich?

'LET THEM EAT CAKE'. These words, attributed to Marie Antoinette just prior to her execution, enraged the struggling masses during the French Revolution. To people who had few daily food choices, most subsisted on low grade bread and little else, these words seemed so callous, and so bereft of compassion.

Why do we, in today's wealthy western countries, place such a high degree of importance over our individual diet? Is it just selfishness and ego born out of having too many choices each day? Do we claim self esteem and identity this way? Are we detached from the real meaning of food and nutrition, of survival?


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    Apr 22 2012: "Fetish" comes from the Portuguese for "charm" or "sorcery". It is generally taken to mean an abnormal and irrational obsession with an inanimate object, sometimes accompanying a belief in magical powers or spiritual possession; sexual attraction can also be a part of the definition.

    Do you mean "fad"? I've never heard of vegan diets as a fetish under any conventional definition. If you mean fetish, can you please elaborate? Sometimes the ways people talk about meat, the (sometimes sexual) way it's advertised, and the "special powers" you get from meat (you can only be strong and healthful eating meat) that individuals and industry profess, seem to fit the definition of a fetish. I've never seen plant food spoken of and represented this way.

    If you're vegan because you don't want to give money to factory farmed meat, dairy, and egg suppliers (supermarkets, restaurants, etc.) because of the environmental destruction and animal torture they cause, it's a challenge to see how this is born out of selfishness and ego.

    Joanne and I have already touched on this debate in Jonathan Foley's talk, but I couldn't help but respond to such an inflammatory conversation heading :)
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      Apr 23 2012: Hi Warren, please don't be upset but I think 'abnormal and irrational obsession' fits for many people. As does 'fad'. I think if you find my opinion 'inflammatory' you might want to ask yourself 'why'. Perhaps you will then have an answer to my question.

      You are preaching to the converted when it comes to the meat industry. Its often disgusting, usually rampantly exploitative and sometimes even tragic. This is not the subject I have put up for debate.

      When you say this ' you don't want to give money to factory farmed meat, dairy, and egg suppliers (supermarkets, restaurants, etc.) because of the environmental destruction and animal torture they cause, it's a challenge to see how this is born out of selfishness and ego', I can see you wish to make the 'individual protest' point. I think this is a valid point of view and I applaud you for it. Who do you give your money to instead?

      Thanks for your heartfelt contributions.
      • Apr 23 2012: Another thing is that there are farm subsidies that go into certain crops that are used as animal feed, and sometimes to raising meat itself. In order words, meat eaters are stealing money from vegitarians as taxes, and by reducing the price you increase quantity demanded. Vote Ron Paul...
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          Apr 23 2012: Alexis, vote Ron Paul at your peril. Thanks for your comment
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        Apr 24 2012: Joanne,

        I agree that many vegans are so because of irrational reasons. However, your question wasn't "are some veggie movements fetishes but the rich?" but "are the veggie movements fetishes..." You've implied all are, when clearly this is untrue. And inflammatory because you are inaccurately generalizing an entire movement.

        Glad to see you acknowledged that many nonvegan diets are actually fetishized, especially meat. Also, vegan and vegetarian diets are not fads; they've existed formally declared in western culture since the late 1800s, are recognized and advised by registered dieticians worldwide (which paleo, raw, Atkins, etc. diets are not), and have existed for thousands of years in other parts of the world.

        "[Nonvegan industries are] often disgusting, usually rampantly exploitative and sometimes even tragic. This is not the subject I have put up for debate." It actually is the subject up for debate, because you've clearly implied in your question that veggie movements are irrational fetishes. What is the alternative to vegan? Nonvegan, meaning meat, eggs, and dairy. This is why I brought these industries up, this is why it is relevant to do so.

        I give my money to growers of Canadian organic soy, organic dried beans, organic hemp, and nut butters for protein. Please tell me if there is something worrying about these industries so I can adjust my dollar voting. Who do you give your money to?

        My diet is not a fetish because I have rational reasons for choosing it, many of which you are acknowledging, and it is not based in spirits, charms, sexual urges, or magical powers. Do you still think all vegan diets are fetishes? If so, please explain clearly.
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          Apr 24 2012: You realise the term organic is completely meaningless. From a scientific point of view. If you take an aspirin or chew willow bark your body can't tell the difference. Organic is the biggest fetish of them all. You can add evil chemicals like ammonium nitrate or you can use chicken poo the plants can't tell the difference.
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          Apr 24 2012: I think vegans should be lobed in with athiests.

          Each has their own personal reasons individually,not as a group.
    • Apr 23 2012: In reality there is no clear distinction between plants and animals. You are lamenting the torturous methods of meat farming but don't mention the fact that most consumption of plants involves eating the unborn offspring of another organism. Is it more of a crime to eat veal or to cut the reproductive organ from a whole field of corn plants? If you are more concerned about the veal I would guess that it is becuase you are genetically closer to it. That seems to be how this whole vegetarian thing works.
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        Apr 23 2012: Peter, I was wondering if someone would present this standpoint so thank you! I always wonder at the dominating moral heirarchy with which we view the animal world. If we were a great deal smaller, we might value a preying mantis with the same devotion as a white tiger. Its to do with proximity, and is the same process we use to have empathy for our fellow humans. If we could hear a stalk of corn's scream as it is harvested, would we mind eating corn? I think the same law of proximity govern the amount of empathy we can have for our fellow humans. For example, if the crew of the Enola Gay had eaten breakfast with a Japanese family, on the day of the Hiroshima bombing, would they have opened the hatch and dropped the bomb? Promximity is too often the way we decide to care for something or not. Its not logical or reasonable.
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          Apr 23 2012: Hi Joanne and Peter

          While I agree with both of your concerns about the moral hierarchies of animals, I think there is something we have to keep in mind.

          To understand that all the biotic communities are equally significant and to understand that the biosphere is essentially holistic as opposed to hierarchical I think takes a higher level of awareness.

          The reason why this is the case is because, as humans, we have a natural tendency to be concerned about those organisms that have a higher range of suffering and pleasure; a higher range of experience and interest as opposed to those who don't:

          I don't think its by accident that people would be concerned about the slaughter of a chicken as opposed to, as Peter puts it, "cut the reproductive organ from a whole field of corn plants? "..the reason for this is because we tend not to think that plants suffer and therefore we see nothing wrong with doing such a thing.

          In spite of this, the question remains, is any of this justifiable? perhaps not being that we have the capacity to understand that every part of the biosphere serves a purpose in regards to the worlds eco-system..

          nonetheless, I do have to agree that this line of thinking is what gives way to the whole issue of moral hierarchies.

          which I am sure you, Peter and Natasha are well aware of
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          Apr 24 2012: Hi Orlando. Your comment is precisely the reason why even though I am a small v vegetarian I don't claim to do it for moral reasons. I eat very little meat purely because I feel healthier if I limit the amount of meat I eat.
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          Apr 26 2012: Joanne,

          I agree we don't know with 100% certainty if plants can feel pain. Or most invertebrates for that matter. But given what we know about experience, there is no reason to think it.

          It is a terrible error in reason and judgment to argue that because we don't have complete certainty in "plant consciousness" that therefore we may kill or use any living thing we like. We don't have complete certainty in gravity or evolution—you don't even have complete certainty that humans other than you are conscious—yet all the evidence we currently have points to these explanations of the natural world. Any other way of thinking disregards the evidence we have of how the natural world functions. It is unreasonable.

          It wasn't until the 80s that the governing body of US veterinarians declared that nonhuman animals could feel pain. Prior to that, they were engaging in nothing else but an assault on reason and evidence. There has been lots of evidence throughout human history that many nonhuman animals are conscious, sensitive beings. Not so with plants. There is no evidence for it, only convenient speculation when challenged to abstain from killing and hurting those sensitive nonhumans.

          And if plants could feel? If all the evidence is wrong, and the lack of it sprung up? Eating meat, eggs, and dairy uses more plants that a strictly plant-based diet, anyway.
      • Apr 23 2012: What reality do you inhabit, Peter ?
        In Meta-Reality there is no clear distinction between 'dust' and 'man'.
        So what ?
        • Apr 23 2012: Please classify these as plant or animal. Euglena, Trachelomonus, Diatoms. What about a sponge that derives 80% of its oxygen and nutrition from algal cells within its body. The one thing that most identifies plants is the presence of chloroplasts, but these probably started as cyano-bacteria that were engulfed by early single celled organisms. Essentially plants are animals that took cyano-bacteria hostage much as sponges, corals and giant clams now take algae hostage. If you look at the development of life on earth the seperation into plants animals and fungi is very recent, thats why we still share the majority of basic cell structure. Male plants make sperm and females make ova just like people.
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        Apr 24 2012: Peter,

        This argument is so disingenuous. Reflect honestly for one moment, without thinking of "debating vegans" and ask yourself if you truly believe plants feel pain, if you have no preference for seeing a head of lettuce go into a blender or a mouse go into a blender.

        There is zero evidence for plants feeling pain.

        1) No brain.
        2) No centrally organized nervous system.
        3) No nociceptor cells.
        4) No evolutionary function.

        Can plants react to stimuli? Definitely. So can my thermostat. Reaction does not mean feeling or experiencing psychological, conscious phenomena like pain and pleasure. Human bodies in comas react to pathogens constantly. Do these people feel anything?

        People call veganism irrational, and yet this kind of arrogant sophism gets a platform. Comparing the suffering of young calves confined in crates barely wide enough for their bodies, deprived of iron such that they lick rusted nails, separated from their mothers in a hostile environment where some have their heads caved in by the heels of brutalized workers... to corn in a field?

        Is it any wonder people genuinely concern with animal suffering and environmental destruction get angry?
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          Apr 24 2012: You realise your four points of identification also apply to half the animals in the world. In fact the vast majority of animals don't have a brain or central nervous system. You seem to be limiting your definition of animal to chordates, a very small fraction. And no I don't know if plants feel pain, but I also don't know if jellyfish feel pain or snails or ants as they don't have the part of the mammalian brain that perceives pain.
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          Apr 24 2012: Warren, no one is saying, well I am not saying your concerns for animal welfare are not valid, of course they are and I too am concerned about such things. I think Peter makes a great argument about the broad spectrum of animal and plant life that is trampled beneath our jack boot.

          Only a generation ago people said farm animals felt no pain, or mourned or felt emotion. Most people today do not accept this. Whales where not considered to have a family life, or a language or even much intelligence until relatively recently. The point is, we do not know, and we are notoriously arrogant and anthropocentric.
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        Apr 25 2012: Peter,

        True. Those points do apply to most animals on earth, since most animals on earth are invertebrates. I have little to no reason to think most invertebrates (like arthropods and molluscs) experience pain or pleasure. Given this, I happen to think insect and oyster farming would be a great humane food source (with likely little environmental impact).

        I don't think "vegan" should be "don't eat animals or their by-products", but rather "don't do things that hurt sensitive beings".

        Also, respond to my comments of your comparison of veal and corn suffering. You don't get off that easy for making such callous, empty arguments.
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          Apr 26 2012: Your question about the blender isn't a fair one as I assume you are taking about a live mouse. If the mouse is already dead like the lettuce I dont have a problem with either. To put you at ease though I would feel uncomfortable about blending a live mouse, but I also feel uncomfortable if I pick fruit. I feel like I am stealing something another organism has gone to a lot of trouble to create. Its not that I don't feel guilty for taking the life of an animal so I can eat it, I just feel equally guilty for taking the life of any organism. The problem is in order to eat you have to kill something.

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