Thursday, May 20, 2010

NZ Vegan Podcast Episode 56 - Veganism is not a diet, also I re-visit and clarify some things I said in the last episode, plus my updated job profile!

 Listen HERE

This week I talk about a Veganism is not a diet, and I also just want to clarify some of the things I said last time, just to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding.  Also, I have a new update about my profile from my job, there is a permanent entry and they have put a link to this website, for which I am very surprised and pleased :)

Here is a link to the new profile:

This is the link to the CNN article that I mention:
Global bake sale is 'sweet' activism

And this is the link to the article I mention from My Face is on Fire :
Flirting With Hypocrisy -- A 'Kinda" Diet

Thanks for listening!


  1. Hi Elizabeth:

    I hadn't listened to any of your podcasts before this one this morning. I've been missing out! Not only do you make an excellent argument on the substantive points that you raise, but you do it a way that makes me feel like I'm visiting with you in your home as you do. Your personal style, natural humor and warmth shines through.


  2. Hi Tim!
    Thank you so much for listening, and for saying such kind words.
    Thanks for all you do

  3. Thank you for this offering, Elizabeth!
    I too am troubled by the redefining of veganism as a merely dietary practice, as a personal choice. The vegan "movement" in my local area also often talks about the "different reasons" for folks going vegan (or they just say "veg") and rejecting speciesism and objecting to animal exploitation (or exploitation in general) is rarely ever mentioned, or is substituted with the watered down "some people go vegan out of concerns for animal welfare".
    Historically the vegan movement was very specific about what veganism was/is. It was/is a principle of non exploitation "from which certain practices logically flow". Leslie Cross, former the VP of the Vegan Society UK, said it well in a 1951 statement on behalf of the Vegan Society which was intended to "clarify the goal toward which the movement aspires". It can be found here -
    The statement also makes clear that veganism is not animal welfare.
    In 1947 Donald Watson said, "the vegan believed that if they were to be true emancipators of animals they must renounce absolutely their traditional and conceited attitude that they had the right to use them to serve their needs. They must supply those needs by other means."
    This is veganism as it was originally envisioned and it is absolutely not the consumerist, personal choice practice that folks make it out to be today.

  4. Hi Lucas thanks so much for listening and making such great points here, also thanks for the links they are fantastic :)

  5. Hi Liz I finally was able to listen to this episode. It is fantastic! I too agree with your sentiment about this whole vegan diet thing. Veganism is not just diet, and definitely not a flexible one.

    PS: I think you look great in your picture :) and Zsebi is so cute! I'm enjoying the videos you've shared of her antics on twitter. Much love mi amor.

  6. Thanks chiquilla!
    te quiero muchísimo :)

  7. Elizabeth,

    In this episode, you argue that, since veganism is not a diet, you want to get across to people the moral personhood of animals, rather than talk about food. You point out that people claim what they eat as a personal choice – by which they obviously mean a private matter -- which to challenge makes them reject the call for veganism.

    All of us who engage in vegan education have frustrating experiences with omnis telling us that we have no ''right'' to interfere with what they eat. The same people might be more amenable to activism against vivisection and fur (which I know you don't support). We must not draw from this the conclusion that we should not be talking about animal foods, or accept the discussion shifting away from this issue .

    As you state, the overwhelming majority of animal use is for food. The consumption of animal products is the most significant form of animal exploitation, quantitatively and qualitatively; one that everyone who is not a vegan engages in every single day, one that is, as Gary Francione points out, considered as normal and natural as breathing air and drinking water; it is the form of exploitation that "'legitimizes' all the others...If you dislodge that use, you dislodge all others.''
    (see Gary's blog essay, ''A Short Note on Ethical Veganism as a Single Issue Campaign'')

    That's why there is no getting around it, why focusing on food in vegan education is not only warranted but necessary, and educating about why using animals as food cannot be justified is the starting point of abolitionist animal advocacy.
    There is no way of conveying to anyone the idea of the moral personhood of nonhumans as long as they are eating them.

  8. Hi Karin thanks very much for your comment, very insightful and helpful as always!

    I just want to assure you that I am not saying we should ignore the food issue, or stop promoting plant based food and educating people about plant based food. Also, I acknowledge, as I did in the podcast, that as long as people think it is perfectly normal to eat animals they do not need to eat, simply because they enjoy the taste or they are used to it, they will never take animal interests seriously.

    What I am really trying to say is, if you are presenting a plant based diet in any other way apart from as part of the moral baseline of veganism, i.e you are promoting "veganism" by doing cooking classes that only focus purely on diet for health reasons, or as diet to support the environmental issue and there is not mention of animal rights - animal rights as we know it of course, not just their right not to be eaten but their right not to be used,k period, their moral personhood - then I feel like I now object to the classes being called vegan classes.

    I would prefer they were promoted as what they honestly are - classes about the plant-based diet. If you hold classes about diet, and you call it a "vegan" cooking class, and you don't mention the property status of animals and animal rights, their moral personhood, then you are presenting veganism as a diet, as a humancentric health-related issue, and I think that is why we have so much confusion and why we can't seem to get away with being all tied up with "flexitarianism" and "veg*nism" and vegetarianism, etc. "Part-time veganism" "Semi-veganism".

    You can legitimately have a "semi-plant based diet" but you can't be semi vegan, as you and I well know, of course, but the general public doesn't. Many "vegans" don't either.

    So all I am saying is if what one is doing is promoting a plant based diet, please call it that. However, for example I have a flickr account that is called "What this NZ Vegan Eats". In my intro I state that veganism is not just a diet: "Remember: Veganism is not just a diet! It is a rejection of violence and a rejection of the USE of animals, of which an overwhelming amount is for food, as we all know—the majority of our use of animals is for food, but certainly is not limited to food. I reject all animal use in my life as an individual as much as I possibly can in this world as it is, and through this photostream I hope you will see how easy it is to sustain yourself on a vegan diet, even in NZ. Enjoy!"

    SO that way, although it is clearly a cooking photostream, I have made clear that veganism is not a diet, but a rejection of animal use, and diet is just part of that. So I hope you understand that I fully agree with everything you said above, and in no way did I mean to portray any kind of contradiction of those statements you made, I fully agree. I just think that people who are promoting veganism through cooking etc need to a) make it clear veganism is not a diet, but certainly that a plant based diet is part of veganism or b) refrain from calling their classes vegan classes and instead call them "plant based diet cooking classes" or whatever.

    Anyway, I hope I am making sense, I hope you understand what I am trying to say.

    Thanks again Karin

  9. YOu know, this is something I am still trying to get across myself, so I actually originally said in my flickr intro "How easy it is to sustain yourself on a vegan diet" - as a vegan, I think I should probably be allowed to keep that, however, I changed it to "plant-based diet" to underline my point that veganism is not a diet. What do you reckon, in my particular case? Since I am making it clear that veganism is not a diet, therefore should I keep it as "vegan-diet" or "plant-based diet"?

    I know of cooking classes that have no mention whatsoever of animal rights, and are purely focused on human health. Well from all the promotion and things I can see of them. I am not denying this is essential knowledge and very good for people to learn, good education. I just object to them being called vegan cooking classes now, I want them to be called "plant-based diet for your health" or something. It is not about us and our health, although luckily it is extremely beneficial and healthy for humans to eat a plant based diet. But that is not what veganism IS.

  10. Ha! I just noticed my flickr account said not JUST a diet and I changed that to "not a diet".
    I hope to get more feedback from people, like Karin did, I am only trying to organize this in my head now, if anyone else thinks I am being wrongheaded please let me know, I really would love to discuss this amongst vegan advocates, I also really hope I am not creating a misunderstanding and portraying that I think we shouldn't promote not eating animals or their secretions, in no way did I mean to portray that and if I did I apologize....

  11. I just want to again respond to something Karin wrote, because it is troubling that I came across that way. Karin you said

    "In this episode, you argue that, since veganism is not a diet, you want to get across to people the moral personhood of animals, rather than talk about food."

    I did not mean to portray that at all. I did not mean to in any way insinuate that we shouldn't talk about food with people at all, when I said that but I wasn't really articulating clearly what I mean. Of course we have to talk about food, (didn't I say that?) but I mean, when we talk about the food it always must be clearly presented as being just one integral part of veganism - a huge part of course - but a part of veganism which itself is a the rejection of the property status of animals and recognition of their moral personhood etc etc, rather than portraying veganism as a diet. In other words we need to turn that around, not start with diet and then talk about veganism, but rather talk about animal rights and that will lead us to talk about diet of course, but the initial thought process will be the full concept, the reason WHY we are talking about diet. i.e we are not talking about diet because I want to discuss the individual's health as the reason for eating this way, etc etc. We are talking about animals, and that means we must also talk about what you eat. But why? Not to reduce your carbon footprint. Not to discuss diabetes - those are clear benefits but they are not the main reason.

    Now, obviously, I didn't come up with any of that wonderful philosophy or concepts, I learned it from Gary Francione and I am learning it more and more from other abolitionist advocates such as yourself. Also, I am not saying that everyone only portrays it as a diet, or only talks about health benefits without mentioning the real issue - obviously abolitionists don't, and I learn from them - but many many people do.

  12. cont'd..

    I am just trying to urge us to kind of clarify in the face of all the representations of veganism as a diet, done by others, to sort of counter that in a way, that what they are promoting is the plant based diet - a fantastic thing to educate people about of course, and I fully support that - but we must be clear in those cases that they are promoting essentially a plant based diet, not essentially veganism, of which diet is only a part. We shouldn't START with diet, the first concept should be animal rights then we can go on to discuss diet. Of course, we have no choice. I don't want to start there though. And I am not saying you do or everyone does, but I see a lot of evidence of that. I also see a lot of evidence of people who eat a plant based diet or "used" to eat a plant based diet (but not rejecting animal use as a whole) calling themselves vegans. Or "I used to be a vegan". Correction: you used to eat a plant based diet. Correction: you eat a plant based diet.
    That is what I meant I am going to try to start doing more of.

    It is more work for us, and it may irritate people ha ha, but I am saying I think it is very important to counter that whole thing, because that is what has led veganism to be all mixed up with things like "flexitarianism" etc. I don't even want that to be in the same sentence as veganism, because "flexitarian" is purely a diet. Oh gosh, I don't know if I am making any sense.

    I simply am changing my rhetoric a bit, to always say "plant based diet" when talking about food (which was suggested to me by someone on facebook, thank you I can't keep track of all the new abolitionists lol, so right at this moment I can't remember who) and I will be very clear that what a plant based diet is is an integral part of this bigger concept of veganism, and also I have started trying to urge those who are confusing veganism by representing it as a diet, and therefore getting us all mixed up in the veg*n nonsense etc, to either get it straight or say "plant based diet" not veganism.

    I guess this is part of my personal crusade to desperately save the word vegan and therefore the concept of veganism from being perverted, the way vegetarianism has been perverted and the way animal rights has been perverted. I so so do NOT want to have to come up with a new word at this stage. And this focus on diet - which is not in general done by abolitionists anyway, although I myself have fallen into that on occasion - is perverting veganism.

    Wouldn't it be great to finally be able to extricate ourselves from this whole horrible flexitarian nonsense etc? Let them have their stupid speciesist diet labels, but let's not get veganism mixed up in that. Well, we are not, they are, but there is a reason why they are. I myself have done it. In one episode I said "I have a friend who was vegan for 7 years". That was false. She ate a plant based diet for 7 years, she was never vegan. Those are the kinds of misrepresentations I am talking about, that is the kind of thing I am trying to avoid doing anymore, and hoping others stop doing.

    Gosh, shut up already Liz!
    It's better if I talk this out rather than write I think!

  13. Thanks for the clarifying comments, Elizabeth.

    In the pamphlet on, it reads: 'Veganism is not merely a matter of diet...'' And in his blog essay, ''Some Thoughts on the Meaning of 'Vegan,''' Gary writes, ''following a 'vegan diet' is the minimal meaning of 'vegan' ''

    I don't see why eating only plant-derived foods should not be referred to as a ''vegan diet'' – in the sense of ''vegan'' as a shorthand for ''of plant origin,'' not containing animal products. And I would not hesitate to characterize veganism as primarily about what we eat.

    Focusing on food in vegan education as the core issue of animal exploitation reflects the fact that using animals for food is the primary practice, quantitatively and qualitatively different from all other forms of animal use; it does not mean, and must not be mistaken for, presenting veganism as a diet.

  14. Hi Karin!
    Thanks for taking the time to get through all my comments.

    "Focusing on food in vegan education as the core issue of animal exploitation reflects the fact that using animals for food is the primary practice"

    - I totally agree with this. The key words here are "animal exploitation" - what I object to is focusing on food, making it all about human health and/or the environment, with no acknowledgment of all other animal exploitation, and presenting that angle as vegan.

    "quantitatively and qualitatively different from all other forms of animal use"

    - I am not sure I totally agree with this part, although I understand the premise I think. Buying little trinkets made out of the skin of animals, or going to watch animals get tormented in rodeos etc, to me is not that different from casually eating food made out of them, in fact I would argue in some way it may even be more disturbing, because at least with food people honestly still think it is, as Wesley J. Smith put it on the Michael Medved show "good, sound nutrition".

    That being said I would never, as you acknowledge, go and start focusing on rodeos or any other single issue campaign, we do and will continue to focus on the core issue of animal use. Please understand I am not suggesting that everyone is doing otherwise, especially not suggesting that Gary is doing otherwise! Or abolitionists in general are doing otherwise, quite the contrary.

    It's just that many people are, in fact many people - some of them not vegan to boot - are promoting variations on a plant based diet with no reference to animal use, and calling it veganism, and that is creating as many problems for us as the promotion of welfarism being called "animal rights" in my opinion.

    "it does not mean, and must not be mistaken for, presenting veganism as a diet"

    - all the things being done by yourself and Gary Francione and other activists, are not focusing presenting veganism as a diet. I never meant to imply that at all. However I have done so before, and I am going to try to never do it again.

    What I am really trying to say is that in many other places, the majority of places, vegans and also those who eat a plant based diet but otherwise participate or condone animal use and also those who eat a semi-plant based diet i.e. "vegans" who eat honey, ARE presenting it as a diet, and to me that is problematic, the same way welfarism is problematic although perhaps not to the same extent, and should be exposed.

    If someone is clearly presenting diet as part of the overall concept of veganism, as part of the way we respect animals, then I don't object per se to them talking about a "vegan" diet - as long as vegan has been qualified as a rejection of the exploitation of all animals and a rejection of violence etc.

    It is when it IS being presented as nothing more than a diet that I object, such as promoting a non-animal product or plant-based diet as being totally focused on human health, or on reducing one's carbon footprint, with no mention of the overall exploitation of animals, then I object to that being called "vegan education" but I understand not everyone will agree with me on this.

  15. Hi, Karin! I don't presume to speak for Liz (especially since she speaks so well for herself!), but I'd like to jump in, if that's okay. :-)

    You wrote: "I don't see why eating only plant-derived foods should not be referred to as a 'vegan diet' – in the sense of 'vegan' as a shorthand for 'of plant origin,' not containing animal products. And I would not hesitate to characterize veganism as primarily about what we eat."

    I have two categorical thoughts on that, related to your two points. First, regarding "vegan diet" as being synonymous with "plant-derived." Until about a month ago, I thought it was perfectly acceptable to use "plant-based diet" and "vegan diet" interchangeably. That changed for me after I received a VegSource e-mail proclaiming "Mike Tyson Goes Vegan." The article referenced Mike Tyson's supposed veganism in the same paragraph as saying he's now starring in a show where he exploits pigeons. I posted a comment that VegSource should call it a "plant-based diet" or "vegan diet" rather than mislabelling it as veganism. Long story short, through the course of the back-and-forth on those comments, it became clear to me that "vegan diet" is not accurate any more than "vegan" is accurate.

    The problem was that "vegan diet" was interpreted as a diet in the same way people interpret the Atkins diet and the South Beach diet—as a food issue. I realized that there is—and there should be—a difference between a plant-based diet (what foods to eat) and a vegan diet (moral abstention from animal exploitation, specifically with food). For the people commenting on the Mike Tyson article, a "vegan diet" had nothing to do with veganism or the moral personhood of animals. After that discussion, I see very clearly that a "vegan diet" makes sense only in the context of animal rights and veganism, because otherwise it's just a list of do's and don'ts like any other non-vegan diet.

    My second thought about your paragraph regards this sentence: "And I would not hesitate to characterize veganism as primarily about what we eat." I think veganism is primarily *about* what we owe nonhuman animals, but primarily *manifested* through what we eat. The distinction here is absolutely crucial. Veganism is about justice for nonhuman animals and their rights and interests. It's about our moral responsibilities to and about animals. We fulfill those responsibilities by what we eat (or more specifically, who/what we *don't* eat), by what we wear, by how we conduct our lives, etc. You are right that, at least numerically, our veganism *primarily* affects the realm of food, but that is only one extension of the overarching problem: speciesism. If we killed more animals for leather than for food, then veganism would *primarily* manifest numerically in the realm of clothing, but that would still just be one extension of speciesism, and all the other extensions would be just as wrong. Of course, numbers aren't the only measure of atrocities or rightness/wrongness, and I think it can be confusing to think of veganism in terms of what it "primarily" concerns. To be honest, veganism primarily concerns our moral responsibilities and rejecting speciesism—not "primarily about what we eat." Being on a no-cake-diet does not necessarily require a moral stance on cakes. Being on a no-animal-products-diet doesn't necessarily require a moral stance on animal products. In other words, actions flow from morals, but not necessarily the other way around. Does that make sense?

    Because veganism involves changing our diet as part of fulfilling our moral obligations, it's very important to give people the tools to live healthily on a vegan diet. To that end, we should certainly discuss diet, nutrition, and recipes with new vegans. This is the "how" part, but not the "why" part.