Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Abandon Ship!

This page has been defunct for quite a while (more than I even realized as I was gallivanting around). As of now, I am only updating through Facebook. You can find that page here:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dining Out

Recently I ate out with a large group of coworkers, most of whom I had just met. Unfortunately, the restaurant chosen was one of those big chain sports and burger type places. I scoured the menu and found one item that just might work if it weren't for the cheese splattered on top.

Undaunted by the social ramifications, I dared to question the server if they could possibly make it without the cheese, and whether there were any other animal products that might show up. I had barely started when she interrupted me with, "Are you vegan?" I bit was a bit surprised as this was in the South (US), and the last time I had been by that way, I had found that everywhere I had eaten out had managed to work at least animal fat into every dish, forcing me to subsist on little more than fresh fruit and veggies. Raw-foodists may have been delighted, but I don't roll that way. True, that had been over a decade previous, but that I didn't even have to explain veganism was a nice surprise.

Sweet, this restaurant does have something I can eat!

She went on to explain that her college roommate had been vegan and she knew all about it. It turns out there was a hidden ingredient--the rice had Worcester sauce made with anchovies. Wow, she was good. It was pre-made that way, so she offered a safe alternative. Another server brought out the dish, and even told me they had taken pains to cook it separately for me so I wouldn't get any icky splatter on it. Very grateful, I was about to dig in when I noticed a suspiciously creamy sauce on top. It wasn't cheese, but it was some type of dressing with dairy in it.

The server apologies quite sincerely, and I apologized also. I didn't of course need to apologize myself for the mistake, but I was sorry that the food would go to waste, and that this could have been avoided if I had perhaps just asked one more question. It also pays to be gracious when sending food back to the kitchen.

They got it right the next time and it was pretty good. I managed to scarf it down before some of the others finished eating their far less appetizing dishes. Both servers and the manager came by to make sure everything was up to spec, and they also checked back with me as we were leaving.

I relate this because people vegans "animal people" (?) saying we should suck it up and eat the occasional animal product to avoid any faux pas or whatever are starting to really torque me off. Oh, it's never the omnivores I eat out with, friend or new acquaintance. They couldn't seem to care less. It takes just a bit longer for me to order sometimes, but it's no different from someone with an allergy. It's not the waitperson either giving dramatic sighs or rolling eyes at my weirdness. Nope, it's people who seem to think the world will change with no effort, or maybe that the waitstaff will go out and kill bunny rabbits after work if a vegan had the gall to ask a few questions.

Funny thing, I tend to have very pleasant experiences eating out. Servers sometimes ask me questions out of curiosity and often react positively. But why should we expect differently, especially when there is a fat tip on the line? Even when eating in places where tipping is taboo, I've had great experiences with friendly and supportive servers and chefs. Heck, I've got one place I go to in Japan where the owner/head chef personally greets me and tries out new dishes on me. He couldn't be happier to make sure his menu accommodates vegans well.

Here are my tips for making dining out a pleasant experience:
  • Be nice
  • Don't be afraid to ask
  • Be gracious when you can't be accommodated
  • Let the server know how much his or her efforts are appreciated
  • Don't sweat mistakes post-consumption when everyone made their best effort at avoiding animal products
  • Tip well--leave the impression that vegans are generous!
  • Thank the owner/manager
  • Ask that the kitchen staff be thanked, especially for alterations
  • Feel good about letting the restaurant know that vegans will eat there
  • Feel even better when vegan items start showing up on the menu
  • If everything fails, go to another place next time!

If it is not apparent from this, I am of the opinion that meekly eating items of questionable origin does jack squat for anyone. Oh sure, you don't cause a fuss, but why are you eating out with people who are going to be upset by something as innocuous as trying to order food you'll be happy with?

This is perhaps the easiest type of advocacy you can do. If the risk is people thinking vegans are fussy, that seems a small price to pay. I have to think that anyone annoyed by vegans dining out isn't exactly about to dive into veganism themselves anyway. Let those people deal about their own failings. I'm going to keep eating out and to keep asking questions, and having a very nice time doing so.

Image: Suat Eman /

Sunday, November 6, 2011

More Cleanse Nonsense

Vegan cookbook author Claire Gosse and fitness "expert" Brock Picken have a new book called Vegan Flush (press release here). Scare quotes on 'expert' there because what kind of fitness expert doesn't understand how the human body actually flushes out toxins? (Hint for "experts" out there--your liver and kidneys take care of things).

I forget, did you say to use two or three parts bleach?

I wrote about the subject of "detoxing" before. It's still a nonsensical idea that toxins in the food we eat just hang out in the colon, waiting for scrubbing agents to clear it all out. And as always, there's no medical reasoning for why this would or could possibly work, and of course no studies with measurements to back up the claims. It's bunk through and through and just another variation of the old snake oil.

But, this is bunk being peddled by a vegan to a vegan audience. That sort of riles me up. Any group I belong to is going to be more intelligent (not to mention better looking) than average, but this kind of idiocy is really dragging us down. We should be better than this! Veganism is not just a diet to try out for sixty days and then ditch when you feel better about yourself, and no vegan should be promoting it as such.

On top of that, nonsensical claims like this make us look stupid while we try to convince others that veganism is in fact healthy. Look, I think the science behind claims that vegan food is darn healthy is pretty solid. But attributing extra-special medicinal properties? Eating plants is not going to make you into a superman or cure your cancer. At best, it's good food that will keep you healthier than a lot of junk you could otherwise be eating.

If for some reason you really need toxins flushed out of your body, get yourself to an emergency room because you are about to die. Seriously. Detoxing is a serious thing, a real medical emergency. Being poisoned or overdosing isn't a joke, and it isn't curable by eating special foods or by following some goofy elimination regimen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Blame the Corporations

Yesterday I ran across a link from Animal Legal Defense Fund declaring that Occupy Wall Street Takes on Corporate Animal Abuse. The linked "official declaration" contains this statement: "They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless nonhuman animals, and actively hide these practices." Okay, so I'm not sure who "they" are, although I could certainly fill in some names. I also don't have the foggiest how a movement like this has an official statement. rather think the protesters at large would be surprised to hear that they "are giving a voice to the truth about how animals are regarded by corporate America." Sample the protesters, and I'm sure you'll find that they give no more thought to truly ending animal use than anyone else does. A gathering of non-vegans does not make a coherent animal rights protest.

Let's assume though that the protesters are on board with the torture statement, as hypocritical as that may be. What we seem to be dealing with here then is the same old tired animal welfare nonsense, not animal rights. Animal rights is concerned with the use of animals, any use, not specifically torture over "humane" use, or the hiding of practices that are perceivably worse in some way than other animal use.

But let me forgive even that. Let's further assume that the declaration doesn't run full bore into welfare territory, and instead uses abolitionist phrasing: "These corporations (to be named at a later date) have profited through the exploitation of animals." That's much better.

But not really. Here's the problem--these corporations are providing goods and services to meet demand. Demand from people like those protesting on Wall Street. You want it, they'll make money providing it. Putting the blame on McDonald's for selling hamburgers is completely misguided. People have to stop eating animals for corporations to stop offering them up as food. Stop buying hamburgers and they'll have no one to sell them to.

Ah, but what about corporations that profit from animal use when the actual product does not necessitate that use? Have at it in my opinion. Someone has to say something when they see unnecessary animal use, whether it is a customer or someone within the corporation. The more people pointing out that animal use is largely unnecessary, the better.

However, going after the food and entertainment suppliers just doesn't make sense. If the protesters do in fact want an end to corporate animal use, they will need to start by modifying their own behavior.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Skeptic's Review of VegNew's Veg Marketplace

Reading VegNews is always an adventure. There's usually some good recipes, factual articles, and items that can genuinely be called news, mixed in with welfarism, woo, and other assorted wackiness. It's just the right mix that fascinates me. I'm often appalled but can't stop reading it. Today I'm going to examine a part of the magazine that is a good representation of the woo side of things: Veg Marketplace. If you've got the September/October 2011 issue handy, get it ready and follow along.

This issue does have a lot of yummy looking recipes...

We start off in the food section and the first thing that jumps out of course is 'organic'. I count 6 of the 28 food advertisements and 2 of the 4 restaurants using the term. Now, it is not exactly woo, but if I've got a choice between a non-toxic synthetic fertilizer and using manure, I'm going the non-organic route. Loads more could be said on the subject; it boils down though to the old appeal to nature which I will write about in the future. I'm sure we could have a jolly time arguing about the merits, or lack thereof, of organic farming and labeling, but what should get all vegans riled up is the inclusion of an advertisement for Frey Vineyards. While the wine they produce can be called vegan, the term 'biodynamic' in the advertisement should be sending up red flags for anyone familiar with it. I encourage you to read the linked article at Skeptical Vegan, but what you should know at the least is that biodynamic farming expressly calls for animal use. I can grin and bear it knowing that most of my vegetables are not even close to be produced with all plant inputs, but that's a symptom of our long history of animal use. It's not good, but I'm fairly confident that animal inputs will naturally disappear as we humans stop our animal usage. I find it repugnant though when farmers are actually proud about that use of animals when they should darn well know better. You advertise your wine as vegan and then go on to write glibly about using animals to run your farm?! Talk about moral schizophrenia!

Moving on. There are advertisements for raw and gluten-free foods (thanks again Skeptical Vegan for saving me the trouble of writing on those topics!). I eat raw food, but just because it happens to be good raw. I also eat cooked food, because lots of stuff is more nutritious when cooked, it's delicious, I get more variety, and cooking is fun and all-around awesome. Advertising that foods are gluten-free is certainly good for those that have genuine trouble with gluten, but I suspect the gluten-free rice company may just be looking to make money off of the people who have become convinced that gluten equates to poison. Jicko Foods stands out of the crowd by advertising itself as raw, no soy, no gluten, no nuts. The website goes on with "No soy, no nuts, no gluten, no refined sugars to drain your energy level." Um, okay. I am no nutritional or thermodynamic expert, but I'm pretty sure those things actual contain calories that would confer energy to a person's body.

There's a juicer that produces "living" juice. There's also a restaurant that sells "living" foods. I quite like fresh food. Fresh lettuce is quite a bit better than the wilted kind. However, the distinction I make in my food choices is whether it has come from an animal or not. I don't much ponder whether my fresh squeezed orange juice is "living" or not. They should be calling it 'fresh', but that won't sell to a certain crowd. Mix it in with terms like "holistic" and "detoxification" as can be seen at the woo-tastic site for The Living Foods Institute and you've got a real money maker.

You can get a FREE report (a $15.00 value!) that will expose H2O scams! Get the truth about energized and clustered water! Hey, I bet there's a government conspiracy involved! Well, really, it looks like they are just trying really hard to sell water purifiers. It's a very cynical application of woo judging from the rather boring website, but still. Can't we advertise things on their real merits instead of making up crap that no one who understands even the basics of chemistry could possibly believe? But, on the other hand...$$$$$$$

Here's a vegan B&B that will "nourish your body, mind and spirit". Okay, two things here. First, the separation between body and mind is hard enough to define and understand. It's not even clear what benefit we have in making that distinction most of time. Then you want to throw some ill-defined third concept on top of that? I've got my software and my hardware. If I die, I've got some mysterious backup program that copies my software to another location? What? Isn't that just more software? Heck, maybe I've got some crazy offsite NVRAM storing all my experiences. More hardware too then? Who knows? I don't think the B&B operators were expecting a debate on the issue, but I hate it when places casually pander to the belief in the supernatural. Now, the second thing, and this really sets me off--what kind of godless heathen doesn't use the serial comma? It should read "nourish your body, mind, and spirit"! Let's see some clarity in our writing! It's not hard, people!

The last advertisement is for Integrated Medicine. It's got woo up the wazoo, probably literally. Naturopathsacupuncturists, and massage therapists, oh my! It's predictable, but still upsetting that they target vegans with this kind of nonsense. The advertisement asks, "Wish you could go to a vegan medical clinic?" Well, yes actually. I'd like to go to a clinic that completely understood my diet, and in general I prefer to support vegan businesses. A pharmacy that at least didn't put my animal tested medicines in gelcaps would be swell too. However, given the choice between vegan quackery and non-vegan real medicine, I'm going to have to go with being treated at a non-vegan clinic. And that's a real shame.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irrational Reactions to Veganism: Appeal to Tradition

Examples of Appeals to Tradition in Regards to Veganism

"Raising animals and eating meat is what made us human. The human race hasn't come this far eating lettuce."

"The Inuit culture has always depended on eating meat. You can't ask them to change."

"We're meat eaters. End of story."

Simple Example to Demonstrate the Fallacy

"We have always believed that the earth is flat. No fancy math or satellite image is going to convince me otherwise!"


An appeal to tradition is pretty much what is sounds like--we have done this thing for a long time, therefore it is good and right to do this thing. The same goes for held beliefs. Because something has been believed for a long time, it is held to be true without any supporting proof.

Simple Rational Reaction to the Fallacy

Past actions and beliefs should not necessarily inform current actions and beliefs. Just because we have done something or believed in something previously, it doesn't mean we should continue to do those things or believe in those things.

Examination of the Reactions

Appeals to tradition are often not presented as such and are sometimes difficult to spot. They can also be used in conjunction with other fallacies such as an appeal to nature or consequences, and it is sometimes difficult to separate out the different ideas contained in one simple sentence.

1. Raising animals and eating meat is what made us human. The human race hasn't come this far eating lettuce.

The idea here is that a past benefit should inform our current position. You will often see this in conjunction with claims that our ancestors' brain growth was spurred by meat eating, or that animal rearing was necessary for the advent of vegetable farming. We do not need to address these claims at all. Right here, right now, we do not need to treat any animals as our property and have no need to eat anything but a vegetable based diet.

2. The Inuit culture has always depended on eating meat. You can't ask them to change. 

Let us concede that any number of cultures depended and continue to depend on animal use to maintain their state. That they do or did so does not tell us what is correct. Pick any number of cultures in history that depended on human slave labor. We would not support these cultures simply because of how they traditionally functioned. A culture or lifestyle that depends on the misery of others should not be supported simply for the sake of that culture or lifestyle.

3. We're meat eaters. End of story.

This is a very basic appeal to tradition. There is no justification sought other than the fact that people have eaten animals in the past and continue to do so. Pick any societal ill to demonstrate how this is fallacious thinking.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Imagine a Vegan-ish World

There's a Wayne Gretzky quote I've always liked: "You miss 100% of the shots you never take." Applied to the world of activism, you will never change anything if you never make the attempt. Last post I lampooned the notion of "vegan-ish" and how foolish it looks when applied to things like racism and sexism. Another aspect of "vegan-ish-ism" is that the goal of a vegan world isn't even attempted. It's an odd thing to claim that trying to not make waves or be seen as "extreme" would ever get us to a place where most people are vegan. It's like expecting child abuse to end if we set the example of only abusing children 5% of the time. Contributing to the problem to be less confrontational, in ways that are easily avoided even, is horribly misguided.

How purposefully not advocating veganism leads others to less animal use is a bit of a mystery, but let's skip over that and say that a "vegan-ish" proponent somehow got others to follow along on the path to staying an omnivore being "almost vegan". The thinking is that this is a small steps program along the lines of the New Welfarists.You first get people to reduce animal use by steps, and then it's gone. I see another gap in the reasoning here. If people think they are vegan except when eating out, there's no way they accept the notion that animals aren't our property to do with what we please. It would be like agreeing that human slavery is wrong, then going to eat out at a place that uses slave labor.

So, where would that put us? Since these people would not be in agreement that animal use is simply wrong, they would have to be given the same argument that animals are not ours no matter where they are in this supposed continuum to veganism. Convincing people that think they already do enough to make a true vegan commitment is very difficult. If you doubt this, give it a try. Try to convince a vegetarian to become vegan and listen to the rationalizations of how the animals are well cared for, or that it doesn't hurt much, or being locally sourced makes everything wonderful. More than anything, you'll hear the underlying claim of "I'm doing enough". That final step in this imagined process is at least as large as getting any person who has never thought about it to become vegan, making all these small steps utterly pointless. Like welfarism, it has no record of success and there's no reason to think it should. Make "vegan-ish" your goal, and at best, that sorry state is what you will accomplish.

We're Trying to Hit the Rim
A world where all people are wishy-washy about animal rights is really not different from what we have now anyway. People in general think it is wrong to hurt animals without reason, but if the reason is no better than "I don't want to offend" or "a little indulgence won't hurt" for the "vegan-ish", how is that really any different? I cannot see that it is. A world where everyone simply tries to reduce the amount of pain they cause is still fraught with horror brought on by our hands. But perhaps the most ridiculous thing about "vegan-ish" is the idea that veganism is about perfection in the first place. It's not and never has been. It's about doing our best to end the property status of animals through our own actions. If you do not reject the property status of animals, there's no reason to try to apply vegan as a label for yourself. You are still very much part of the problem. The solution though is simple--instead of imagining doing all that you can one day, do your best right now.

Image: graur razvan ionut /