Putting the Late in Deflate

The fallout from Voracious Vegan’s de-veganization continues and it’s good to see some critical thought and critique finally making its way into the public.

In a previous entry I warned of an impending bubble burst when all the bad arguments vegans throw around so willy nilly will cause an artificial inflation of vegans who will eventually fail and become disenfranchised for being duped. The counter anecdotes and knee-jerk mockery have subsided and it was an embarrassing display to witness. The cleanup crew is getting in gear though and Ginny Messina RD writes: How the Health Argument Fails Veganism.

She continues in the comments:

…My question, though is this–since there isn’t really any science to suggest that a vegan diet is the healthiest (or only truly healthy) way for people to eat, do we want to say that it is? Some people might say yes–anything to get people to go vegan. I’m not sure I agree with that.

BINGO.

Alllmost there…c’mon…why aren’t you sure you agree with that…c’mon…

Messina is best to comment on the nutrition side though and here we have it. A vegan RD is telling vegans to STFU with that heath shit already. Will her plea be headed? This anything-goes approach has long hampered any consideration of the principles behind veganism and it’s about time to see this become a priority. As the accounts of ex-vegans continue to pile up vegans are wiping the Ener-G from their face and scrambling to plug the nutrition gaps in the ill-advised health vegan’s knowledge. This may stem the eventual vegan bubble burst and I hope to see some more integrity in the vegan arguments. The hardest part will be how to make a compelling ethical argument without resorting to old habits of bait-and-switch. It’s an endeavor that needs some pioneering for those willing to brave it.

19 comments to Putting the Late in Deflate

  • Hi Dave,

    I had not heard of your site before I got your pingback and thought I’d check it out. Very interesting.

    Since Voracious Vegan made her post, I have seen a ton of stuff by ex-vegans claiming how horrible vegans are. I have certainly met a number of vegans who have acted insensitively. And, yes, veganism is a kind of club where when someone leaves it makes other vegans disappointed with them. And, yes, vegans want to believe the best things about their diet – that it leads to amazing health and saves the environment. Most of them are not scientists themselves, so they believe what the popular authority figures in the movement say.

    I, and Vegan Outreach, have worked to try to prevent this sort of religious conversion that often ends in disillusionment when people find out their gurus weren’t exactly right.

    But, for the most part, the vegans I know, and I know a lot of them, are not mean to non-vegans or ex-vegans. They do not make threats against them or write screaming rants on their blog pages.

    After reading a number of your posts, I’m interested to know what you are getting at. Do you not think eating animal products contributes to animal suffering?

  • Hello Jack, thanks for stopping by.

    That’s good to hear. What specifically are you and Vegan Outreach doing to mitigate damage done by gurus? VO’s popular mantra is “reduce suffering”. Don’t you think this might foster an anything-goes atmosphere where an advocate faced with a fallacious argument may say “well at least that’s less animals being eaten”?

    I don’t think the non-eating of animal products is as important as the idea that animals deserve to have recognition of interests. A million people can be vegan but have no idea of that concept. If that idea of justice was communicated veganism and animal liberation would be the natural result.

  • gladcow

    “If that idea of justice was communicated veganism and animal liberation would be the natural result.”

    You’re assuming people are good again 😉

  • I do give people the benefit of the doubt. With all the horrible things people do to animals it’s easy to become misanthropic but without the tools to parse the ethical considerations is it fair to judge them strictly by the same standards we apply to non-humans? Until vegans make a good case that this is an ethical issue I don’t think misanthropy is a luxury for which they should so easily indulge.

  • Hi Dave,

    I guess I’m still not totally clear what you’re getting at. Why is reducing suffering significantly different than saying animals’ interests matter?

    ➢ Don’t you think this might foster an anything-goes atmosphere where an advocate faced with a fallacious argument may say “well at least that’s less animals being eaten”?

    Do you mean that promoting suffering reduction leads people to believe that promoting veganism for health reasons is good because it leads to less suffering? Would the same thing be applied to any other promotion of animal rights? Before Vegan Outreach’s idea of reducing suffering became popular, veganism was mostly promoted by animal rights activists who used almost nothing but health and environmental arguments (because they believed the public is mostly self-interested). When VO tried (and largely succeeded, in my opinion) in moving the focus from rights to suffering, it did not increase the use of the health argument. In fact, I would argue that on a ‘percentage-of-vegan-activism’ basis, the health argument has decreased tremendously in the last 12 years.

    ➢ I don’t think the non-eating of animal products is as important as the idea that animals deserve to have recognition of interests.

    Certainly VO is on the forefront of promoting the idea that animals have interests. Our booklets, which we distribute at a pace of 2 million per year, most going to pedestrians (and about half distributed at college and high schools), focus on the interests of animals.

    > What specifically are you and Vegan Outreach doing to mitigate damage done by gurus?

    Well, to some extent, it’s what we are NOT doing to mitigate the damage. We are not promoting the health argument. You don’t see us promoting The China Study and other books touting veganism for health reasons. Our booklets do not say that if you go vegan, your health will improve. And this is in the face of people constantly asking us to do such things.

    Here are more examples. VO does not say that vegans have less cancer (except in a few instances when we have quoted the ADA Position Paper which used to include cancer in their summary). Instead, we quote this:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/experts

    “Studies of cancer have not shown clear differences in cancer rates between vegetarians and non-vegetarians.”

    And I have written an article detailing the research on vegetarianism and cancer here:

    http://veganhealth.org/articles/cancer

    “As you will see, most studies have not shown a difference between vegetarians and meat eaters regarding cancer.”

    I responded to an article in Vegetarian Voice regarding the myth that animal protein is what causes osteoporosis and that vegans need less calcium:

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=730
    http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=751
    http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=777

    And I recently countered Doug Graham’s statements about vitamin B12:

    http://jacknorrisrd.com/?p=1391

    And there are more examples.

    Jack

  • Jack,
    you wrote “You don’t see us promoting The China Study and other books touting veganism for health reasons.”

    Have you read The China Study? The book is NOT a vegan book and does not “tout veganism.” In fact, in the eating guidelines it specifically allows nonvegan foods!

  • Jack:
    I guess I’m still not totally clear what you’re getting at. Why is reducing suffering significantly different than saying animals’ interests matter?

    Well, one is an action and one is an idea. Actions are great but it leaves the participant barren of the idea. They are left wandering and grasping at justifications for their actions. Instead of justifications though they could use a foundational idea for which to build.

    Jack:
    Do you mean that promoting suffering reduction leads people to believe that promoting veganism for health reasons is good because it leads to less suffering? Would the same thing be applied to any other promotion of animal rights? Before Vegan Outreach’s idea of reducing suffering became popular, veganism was mostly promoted by animal rights activists who used almost nothing but health and environmental arguments (because they believed the public is mostly self-interested). When VO tried (and largely succeeded, in my opinion) in moving the focus from rights to suffering, it did not increase the use of the health argument. In fact, I would argue that on a ‘percentage-of-vegan-activism’ basis, the health argument has decreased tremendously in the last 12 years.

    Yes, when the rights argument is boiled down into a utilitarian equation it loses fidelity. Using suffering as the emotional trigger to get a handle of rights puts a focus on the suffering which can mislead. For example, how many times have vegans heard “well what about small cruelty free farms?” in response to the suffering argument? It’s a valid response but it shows the idea of nonhumans deserving the same chance at life (i.e. “animal rights”) is not getting across.

    The same would probably be true in any other area of “promotion” through action. Focusing on action leads absurd results like how we see the whole vegetarian -> vegan -> rawfood -> fruitarian -> breatharian “ladder” plays out as a consequence for health or purity goals.

    I do believe Vegan Outreach was innovative in this area but I suspect the pendulum swung too far to focus so heavily on an action. I know VO has been criticized for not being “vegan enough” but I think veganism itself is a dead end. Where is the room for further innovation in animal rights when veganism is the ultimate goal?

    Certainly VO is on the forefront of promoting the idea that animals have interests. Our booklets, which we distribute at a pace of 2 million per year, most going to pedestrians (and about half distributed at college and high schools), focus on the interests of animals.

    I agree, you got the best mainstream lit I’ve seen so far.

    Jack:
    Well, to some extent, it’s what we are NOT doing to mitigate the damage. We are not promoting the health argument. You don’t see us promoting The China Study and other books touting veganism for health reasons. Our booklets do not say that if you go vegan, your health will improve. And this is in the face of people constantly asking us to do such things.

    I was more interested in what you WERE doing but the fact that not doing something is meaningful says more about the flaws in veganism in terms of animal rights.

    I’m quite familiar with the work you do to inform and combat misinformation, it’s valuable for sure. What makes me nervous though is the information that is flawed allowed to propagate because it is in veganism’s favor. I think it’s just a harmful as the info that challenges it. Skinny Bitch is a book that should have been thoroughly denounced yet it is commonly tolerated and touted within vegan circles.

    In a nutshell my point is that veganism is questionable for meaningful change. But if not that, then what or how? I’m not sure. I write here at Pythagorean Crank to hopefully challenge people on both sides of the issue so we can find out.

  • Elaine,

    The list of foods on p. 243 says to avoid meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. It says to minimize fish. And on p. 244, it says, “For most Americans, the idea of giving up virtually all meat products – including beef, chicken, fish, milk and eggs [what products are left?] — seems impossible.” Why would they say it seems impossible, if they weren’t suggesting, at least implicitly, that people try it?

    You are splitting hairs — for all practical purposes it is a vegan book and it is used by vegans to promote a vegan diet because anyone reading it knows it’s implicitly promoting one.

    Dave,

    Well until we have a better method of achieving our long range goals, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.

    My experience is that someone is much more likely to accept the idea of animal rights or justice after they have stopped eating animals, so we are hopefully helping them down that road. If their health suffers, then they are much less likely to eventually embrace the idea of animal rights (or they will end up rejecting it after once having embraced it). But this would be true even if we promoted ideas rather than actions. The ideas don’t matter to me other than as a tool to reduce the suffering and death of animals.

    There is a large group of animal activists whose activism hinges on pushing public policies for humans that inadvertently help animals. Almost all animal legislation is based on that idea – that in order to get it passed, it has to help humans in some way. Promoting veganism for health and environmental reasons is just another version of this sort of activism that the purveyors consider more sophisticated and effective. And they don’t read many blogs critical of their ideas. I don’t have much of a point here. I guess my point is that this sort of activism is here to stay.

    Jack

  • Jack,
    That doesn’t make any sense. Unless you have something against improving human health, why would you avoid recommending books that offer evidence for healthy diets?
    I’m not trying to split hairs, but honestly, how is a book that explicitly allows animal consumption tantamount to “using the health argument for veganism”? It’s not.

    I’m not suggesting that animal advocates distribute copies of The China Study instead of copies of your leaflets; what I’m suggesting is that when someone says, “I have heart disease and diabetes and I’m looking to change my diet” that’s a good opportunity to say, “Have you read The China Study?” It’s not the time to say, “well, many animal advocates would tell you to go vegan to reverse your heart disease and control your diabetes but I want to make sure you really care about the animals so I’m going to tell you about all the suffering that the majority of animals endure on factory farms and hopefully that will persuade you.”

  • Jack:
    Well until we have a better method of achieving our long range goals, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.

    That’s fine but is that the same attitude upon which Vegan Outreach was founded?

    Jack:
    My experience is that someone is much more likely to accept the idea of animal rights or justice after they have stopped eating animals, so we are hopefully helping them down that road. If their health suffers, then they are much less likely to eventually embrace the idea of animal rights (or they will end up rejecting it after once having embraced it). But this would be true even if we promoted ideas rather than actions. The ideas don’t matter to me other than as a tool to reduce the suffering and death of animals.

    I’m sure you’re well aware how our own experiences can be biased. If I can add my own interpretation of seeing the same I would say these people are grasping at straws of animal rights to justify an otherwise failing argument. Why not cut to the chase and deliver that “rights” argument upfront? I think it’s not only the respectful and right thing to do but the most constructive thing to do. We shouldn’t be tempted to trick people into animal rights because it’s in itself a valid argument that’s worthy of championing. The idea that animals deserve justice is the very idea that will ultimately “reduce the suffering and death of animals” (BTW nice addition of “and death” as a stopgap of the usual VO company line) the most. To eclipse that for the sake of expediency is a short term gain that will prolong any real change.

    Jack:
    There is a large group of animal activists whose activism hinges on pushing public policies for humans that inadvertently help animals. Almost all animal legislation is based on that idea – that in order to get it passed, it has to help humans in some way. Promoting veganism for health and environmental reasons is just another version of this sort of activism that the purveyors consider more sophisticated and effective. And they don’t read many blogs critical of their ideas. I don’t have much of a point here. I guess my point is that this sort of activism is here to stay.

    It’s unfortunate that such a large group would exploit the democratic process like that instead of making the appeal to the people themselves. Again, a short-term ill-gotten gain under an anything-goes rouse. Just because this is happening it does not lend credence to the practice. I also do not know why you decide to argue the way you just did. It sounded like you were making allowances for misinformative appeals Messina just nearly denounced. I also see Marcus recently is also finally questioning that tactic as well. Your insistence of defending the status quo for its own sake also sounds like “We’ve been eating animals for a long time, why stop” type of argument. Why am I still surprised to hear vegan advocates employ the same fallacious reasoning they often defend against?

    It’s disconcerting to hear you make these admissions in such a manner but thanks for your candor. Talking to your leafletters I’ve heard your same exact arguments. The benefit of the doubt was yours but my worst suspicions were confirmed. It’s one of main reasons I eventually left vegan advocacy.

  • Elaine,

    Why would someone diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease go to your average animal rights activist and ask them what they can do about it unless they were putting themselves out there as having a cure for it?

    Dave,

    > That’s fine but is that the same attitude upon which Vegan Outreach was founded?

    We were founded on the idea that we were going to do whatever we could to help animals the most. That’s still what we are trying to do.

    > Why not cut to the chase and deliver that “rights” argument upfront? I think it’s not only the respectful and right thing to do but the most constructive thing to do…. The idea that animals deserve justice is the very idea that will ultimately “reduce the suffering and death of animals”…To eclipse that for the sake of expediency is a short term gain that will prolong any real change.

    Okay, then we have a simple disagreement on what tactic will bring about the best end. Conversation after conversation we get into goes like this, “I’m opposed to animal rights, but I think animals should be treated humanely.” Polls also back up this observation that the public is opposed to animal rights but is in favor of treating animals humanely. So, we are starting where people are. Handing out pamphlets talking about animals’ rights, but not about their suffering, would, in my opinion, result in a very low rate of persuading people that animals have rights. It usually takes explaining why animals need rights, by showing them how they are suffering, before someone will begin to take pleas for their rights seriously.

    I’d much rather just create a tract on why animals should have rights and hand that out – it would be a lot easier to produce. Since you think talking about rights rather than suffering is more effective, that’s what you should do.

    ➢ It’s unfortunate that such a large group would exploit the democratic process like that instead of making the appeal to the people themselves.

    You seem to have a lot of faith in the people to do the right thing – I’ve seen little evidence of this among the general population. But since you believe in appealing directly to the people, you should do it. Prove the other activists wrong.

    And, by the way, I wasn’t saying I support that sort of thing; I didn’t even imply it. I was merely telling you their thought process. I’m sure they don’t like that they have to do that – they would much rather just talk to legislatures about the animals, but in order to accomplish things for animals (and they have accomplished some things) they have to appeal to legislatures about human issues. I have to have respect for them that in order to help animals they are willing to check their egos and talk about human issues when they’d much rather talk about animals.

    But whether you like it or not, that sort of thing is here to stay. Other forms of activism that are here to stay are appealing to people regarding animal suffering, as well as working on animal welfare reforms. Direct action is also here to stay, as is promoting veganism for health reasons. So whether you or I agree or disagree with any of these forms of activism, the question for us should be “Given that all these other forms of activism exist and will continue to exist, what can I do to help promote animal rights (or whatever your goal happens to be)?”

    Jack

  • Okay, then we have a simple disagreement on what tactic will bring about the best end. Conversation after conversation we get into goes like this, “I’m opposed to animal rights, but I think animals should be treated humanely.” Polls also back up this observation that the public is opposed to animal rights but is in favor of treating animals humanely. So, we are starting where people are. Handing out pamphlets talking about animals’ rights, but not about their suffering, would, in my opinion, result in a very low rate of persuading people that animals have rights. It usually takes explaining why animals need rights, by showing them how they are suffering, before someone will begin to take pleas for their rights seriously.

    I’d much rather just create a tract on why animals should have rights and hand that out – it would be a lot easier to produce. Since you think talking about rights rather than suffering is more effective, that’s what you should do.

    You seem to have a lot of faith in the people to do the right thing – I’ve seen little evidence of this among the general population. But since you believe in appealing directly to the people, you should do it. Prove the other activists wrong.

    Well, it’s more than a simple disagreement of tactics because I think the idea of animal rights is the most important one to propagate. You want the reduction of suffering, animal rights has that but doesn’t stop there. The problem of people not accepting animal rights isn’t going to be solved by not talking about animal rights. Furthermore it behooves animal rights activists to talk about that and create compelling literature. It’ll take some work, sure but we cannot evolve the message until somebody starts. Quality not quantity is important here. Veganism alone is not going to liberate animals, there needs to be ideology to drive that.

    Speaking of “meeting people where they’re at”, why not work on providing humane meat sources? When I was leafletting that’s often the response I got to the suffering argument. That’s even more where “people are at” eh?

    Oh and BTW thanks for your permission to do animal rights activism. I can continue on in my other projects reassured that I have your blessing. If a Vegan Outreach activist starts railing against me can I use your endorsement to call off the pack? Hey and maybe some day one of my animal rights tracts will make it into your hands and you’ll come around to the cause.

    And, by the way, I wasn’t saying I support that sort of thing; I didn’t even imply it. I was merely telling you their thought process. I’m sure they don’t like that they have to do that – they would much rather just talk to legislatures about the animals, but in order to accomplish things for animals (and they have accomplished some things) they have to appeal to legislatures about human issues. I have to have respect for them that in order to help animals they are willing to check their egos and talk about human issues when they’d much rather talk about animals.

    Checking egos is just a euphemism for deception and in public policy I find that pretty reprehensible. God bless America!

    But whether you like it or not, that sort of thing is here to stay. Other forms of activism that are here to stay are appealing to people regarding animal suffering, as well as working on animal welfare reforms. Direct action is also here to stay, as is promoting veganism for health reasons. So whether you or I agree or disagree with any of these forms of activism, the question for us should be “Given that all these other forms of activism exist and will continue to exist, what can I do to help promote animal rights (or whatever your goal happens to be)?”

    I have no illusions that any of this will go away but it’s not going to keep me from levying criticism. I’m not sure why you’re so compelled to keep repeating this. I understand my work is cut out for me but again thanks for your advice, I can continue on with my work.

    -dave

  • I came upon your blog today, and had no idea what the blog was about or what it stood for. I think you should have an “about” page or box. 🙂

    I like the critical stance/approach you’re taking to issues connected to / surrounding / clouding animal rights. I wouldn’t say my belief is in animal rights, but I did hate the Skinny Bitch books, and I dislike the pseudo-science espoused by so many vegans. (However, as part of the continued quest for accuracy in science, I recommend this article:)

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all

    I’ll only say that you brought me up short in your last comment to Jack Norris when you went all Mr. Sarcasm on him. lol Ease! It wasn’t the tone I was expecting on such a rational-discourse-science-oriented blog. That’s just my opinion, but that sarcasm makes me wary of posting comments, and it might scare off other people too.

    🙂

  • Hey London,

    There’s an “About” tab up at the top actually. Thanks for appreciating my critical stance. There’s a lot to be critical of so I have my work cut out for me.

    I don’t think my sarcasm was unjustified or irrational. The title of the blog has the word “crank” in it afterall and my rhetoric will often reflect my passion for my arguments. Still I appreciate the constructive criticism and will keep that in mind.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • TaVe

    @Dave
    How do you feel about leafleting overall? Would you support VO if they made their lit based more on animal rights, rather than a bait-and-switch?

    Side note:
    In the below article, Mooney suggests that liberals are somewhat persuaded by facts. Since AR is more egalitarian, it attracts more liberal minded people. So perhaps people like you have a chance at getting lots of the non-sense away from ARs and veganism. Perhaps they are not “here to stay”. Although if we want any chance of this, the whole “whatever it takes” idea needs to go away.
    http://www.alternet.org/story/154252/the_republican_brain%3A_why_even_educated_conservatives_deny_science_–_and_reality/?page=1

    • Hey TaVe,

      Leafletting was one of my favorite activities because it got me up close and personal where I could plea my case directly and honestly. I would be totally in support of an Animal Rights version of Vegan Outreach. We are so far away from arguing over tactics when we have such different goals. I address this in the Vegan Interlopers post where I do defend a tactic but only after drawing a line between the two causes.

      Thanks for that article. I think facts and ideas can be compelling when they are presented appropriately. AR needs more innovation in this area.

      • TaVe

        “Leafletting was one of my favorite activities because it got me up close and personal where I could plea my case directly and honestly. I would be totally in support of an Animal Rights version of Vegan Outreach.”

        Perhaps you should help get one made, even if it is making suggestion in what do you think should be included?
        Would it focus on a broad range of topics, from zoo animals, rodeos, fur, experimentation, food animals, etc. Or would it be more focused on the ethical/justice/philosophical reasoning on why other animals should be given rights? Would it include information on how they can help (guessing not, since you have a problem with advocating “go vegan” and rather plant a seed to grow however the person sees fit. Although I also saw the comments in Vegan Interlopers by Cakes, talking about how the person did not know what they should do)?

        “Thanks for that article. I think facts and ideas can be compelling when they are presented appropriately.”

        No problem. I figured you would find it interesting in general, with all of the anti-science rhetoric out there. Although it made me question if maybe Santorum is on to something with his anti-education opinions.

  • […] but pro animal liberation, which seemed to fit Dave D’s philosophy. Jack Norris made some comments on Pythagorean Crank and his main reaction was confusion. He didn’t know what Dave D was […]

  • […] founder Jack Norris was kind enough to post a few comments but it was the same old tired arguments I’ve had with zealous followers of Vegan Outreach. Their […]

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