Veganism: threatening the culture
The Australian Vegan Magazine | ISSUE 2 – May/June 2017
Vegans are being ridiculed all over social media and discriminated against on a daily basis. But there’s a deeper reason - veganism is threatening omnis’ culture, and everything they have ever know.
We live in a world that is gripped with fear - fear of terrorism, fear of death, fear of being hurt, and fear of being different. In fact, for many, the fear of being different is so intense, that it is a phobia; xenophobia to be precise. Xenophobia is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign”. We usually see xenophobia rear its ugly head as racism, but if we look a bit deeper, xenophobia affects many areas of life and many groups of people. It seems that as a race, humans fear being different so much, that we openly discriminate against and ridicule those who do not conform to our standards of normal. Vegans are a marginalised, and at times, despised group in the western world.
Veganism is growing the world over, but it’s still early days and the xenophobia surrounding veganism is rampant. A simple google search using the question, ‘why do people hate vegans?’ yielded 12,100,000 results. At the bottom of the page, under the heading, ‘searches related to why people hate vegans’ the following options are given: ‘how to make a vegan shut up’; ‘why do people make fun of vegans?’; ‘obnoxious vegans’ and many more. There would be very few vegans who have not been ridiculed or harassed for their views.
A hatred for vegans and veganism goes beyond the norm, and many omnivores make stereotypes and judgements against the plant-based population. This can be bewildering when you consider the reasons
why people actually choose a vegan lifestyle. As Hesham Mahdi’s study in the last issue of The Australian Vegan Magazine revealed, 80 per cent of people turn vegan for the animals. Health is the next most popular reason, and thirdly, to help save the environment. In and of itself, every one of those reasons is noble and legitimate.
Considering we live in a world where we are encouraged to be ourselves and to be who we want to be, veganism is still, at times, considered a ridiculous and unhealthy choice. Admitting you’re vegan is almost asking to be ridiculed, and it’s certainly not a lifestyle for those who can’t handle confrontation. It invites intrusive questioning about your health, morals, and intelligence, and of course, listening to all those reasons why humans are not meant to live on plant-based foods.
In his book, Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals (2010), Hal Herzog points out the hypocrisy of society as a whole in the way we view animals. He uses the examples of cultures that consume dog meat, and how this is viewed as
barbaric by western nations who classify dogs as pets and even family members. Dogs are now so much a part of our lives that we can buy clothes and accessories for them, as well as organic food, dog washes
and beautiful funerals. Herzog writes that in China, puppy meat is a favourite and people can even buy and eat dog penises. In the Congo Basin, Herzog explains that dogs are beaten to death slowly, in order to tenderise the meat to make for better eating. In classical Hinduism, dogs are considered the “outcasts of the animal world” and never to be eaten at all. Some go as far as to believe that a dog could pollute food just by looking at it. Hindus hold cows in high esteem and many do not eat them because of this, but cows are the favoured type of meat in the western world. All the world over, the views on which animal flesh is acceptable changes from country to country. So, is it reasonable to ask whether dead animal flesh should be eaten at all?
Dr Melanie Joy is a Harvard-educated psychologist who coined the term “carnism” to describe the “invisible belief system, or ideology, that conditions people to eat certain animals.” Dr Joy reveals that omnivores do not think about why they’ll eat some animals but not others, nor do they think about why they eat animals at all. She says that because carnism is
invisible, people don’t even realise that eating animals is a choice and part of a belief system. (Eating animals is not a necessity to our survival, and many studies have revealed that the avoidance of animal products can actually increase the life span). This is key to understanding why there is so much fear and hatred aimed at veganism. Veganism challenges a belief system that is so ingrained into our western psyche, that any opposition to it threatens the core of how we identify ourselves. It causes us to question what we’ve been told and how we’ve been raised. The natural human response is to fight, ridicule and deny. That way, we can safely retreat back into our belief system and continue with what we know. Put simply, veganism actually threatens people’s culture.
A common complaint against vegans by ‘carnists’ is that we think we are morally superior and enlightened. The fact is, once a person becomes vegan and recognises carnism for what it is - a cultural belief system - we are able to see how ethically, morally and nutritionally-detrimental it is to consume animal products. We do not need them on a physiological level, and to continue consuming animals and animal by-products is simply unsustainable to the planet. That does not mean we feel morally superior, instead, we desire to reveal carnism for what it actually is and to wake up those who are ignorant to it. We were once there ourselves and understand how all-consuming carnism is.
Understanding carnism should help us in fighting the xenophobia surrounding veganism. All the ridicule and anger is attached to a deeply-rooted belief system that threatens to reshape people’s entire beings. It challenges their culture, their comfort and their habits. Becoming a vegan means reshaping your world-view, and learning how to live in this newly-constructed inner world which the majority of the planet is hostile towards. As the famous French essayist Michel de Montaigne reiterates, “Ignorance is the softest pillow on which a man can rest his head”. Let’s remove that pillow gently.
By Annelise Stephenson
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