Yesterday I saw a bunch of vegans I know online sharing this article, “The 19 Most Annoying Things About Being Vegan,” and it was pretty good for a laugh. It’s sadly true that most vegans I know (including myself) have experienced most it not all of the items on that list, including dealing with the hand-wringing of people who become suddenly concerned with our protein intake, or obviously take some sort of bizarre pleasure in playing “gotcha” by pointing out that abstaining from cheese and meat is (allegedly!) pointless because there’s pig fat in tires and animal by-products in plywood. It’s also an amusingly self-aware article about veganism, for friggin once, since instead of taking the but why do you refuse to think about the screaming of murdered baby pigs and cows you omni asshole tone so rampant in internet articles about veganism, even the “funny” ones, it instead points out that yeah, some of us do miss the taste of cheese sometimes, and yeah, we do laugh at jokes aimed at vegans because we do have a sense of humor, and yeah, while it’s frustrating to be fed plate after plate of grilled veggies at catered events, it’s super-nice of people to ensure there’s a vegan option.
But another reason that Buzzfeed piece made me laugh so much was that last week I saw at least (at least!) fifteen thousand people posting and reposting a Guardian article called, absurdly, “Can vegans stomach the unpalatable truth about quinoa?” Upon seeing it for the first of far-too-many times, I immediately felt my expression becoming frown-cat face because I’ve been vegan for nearly 7 years at this point and I can smell a finger-pointing, smug-but-misinformed locavore article a million miles away. It’s a talent, what can I say?
Anyways, the article starts out with a description of quinoa, a grain-like seed native to South America, and talks about how it’s become increasingly globally popular in recent years because it’s good for you and tastes pretty okay too. It’s also a “credibly nutritious substitute for meat” (reputable nutrition journalists without an obvious bias against vegans would simply call quinoa a “good source of protein”, btw).
It then talks about how the global appetite for quinoa has begun to affect Peru and Bolivia negatively, alleging that farmers in those areas no longer can afford their staple food and are eating less healthy, more processed alternatives. If accurate, this is obviously extremely distressing. I say “if accurate,” as it turns out that NPR ran a similar article in November of last year, but there has been some question about the truth behind some of their claims, which are similar to the concerns raised in the Guardian article. I don’t know for sure which side of the story is true; both sides raise interesting issues. Regardless, this concern for Bolivian and Peruvian farmers is certainly something I’ll be considering when making future food purchases.
Yet, setting aside the core of the article for a moment, I think it’s fascinating that the finger in the Guardian article is pointed directly at vegans. Vegans, it basically says, can you handle the truth that you’re also morally suspect when it comes to making ethical dietary choices?
Protip: That’s exactly why many of us vegans are vegan in the first place! (Shockingly enough, it’s not just that we hate fun and bacon and also really enjoy being a giant pain in the ass to everyone when traveling or deciding where to go to dinner!) Thus, the finger-pointing (and finger-waggling) the author utilizes to make the various points she’s trying to make beyond the whole quinoa thing that defined the first part of her exposé is kind of … stupid. Like this, for example:
Soya, a foodstuff beloved of the vegan lobby as an alternative to dairy products, is another problematic import, one that drives environmental destruction. Embarrassingly, for those who portray [soy] as a progressive alternative to planet-destroying meat, soya production is now one of the two main causes of deforestation in South America, along with cattle ranching, where vast expanses of forest and grassland have been felled to make way for huge plantations.
What’s actually embarrassing is that even the Guardian, who ran that dumbass article, can’t even stand behind the author’s claims—they have, since publishing the piece, added a footnote to the above quote I cited clarifying that, in their own words, “while soya is found in a variety of health products, the majority of production – 97% according to the UN report of 2006 – is used for animal feed.” Yep, it’s not actually those pesky vegans ruthlessly destroying the rain forest with our appetite for fake bacon bits and plant milks! Because—again, another protip—as vegans, we eat neither the animals fed with soy beans nor do we consume the products of animals fed with soy beans. (We just eat the soy beans. Yum!)
Additionally, the notion that such a small group of people out there—vegans are, I think, less than 2% of the population in the U.S.—could be the ones responsible for this problem is deeply silly. The bias in the Guardian article is so absurd, so obvious, so pointlessly, misguidedly accusatory, that it’s pretty cringe-worthy that this was presented not as an op-ed but as environmental/world news. Because, despite our efforts to vote with our dollars, vegans simply don’t have enough economic clout, enough large-scale buying power, to impact such an enormous change on the world. (The reason there’s ten jillion kinds of plant milk at the natural food store isn’t the vegan clientele—it’s that vegetarians and omnivores also like hemp milk.) While it’s true that I bought one bag of Bob’s Red Mill Quinoa a year and a half ago, and I have genuinely no idea if it’s South American or not … I’m still using it. Compared to, say, Whole Foods’ (omnivorous) salad bar, or the Boulder yuppievore restaurants around here who serve it alongside elk steaks and farm-to-table chicken and whatever else, I’m statistically insignificant. Not that my insignificance excuses my actions—like I said, I’ll be considering this issue whenever I think about buying quinoa in the future—but as a vegan, I simply don’t matter as much as the vastly larger population of rich omnivores who control the market for “health foods.”
Why am I bothering to point out this article’s bias against vegans? Surely the issue as regards farmers in South America is more important? Yes, definitely! And because of that, I feel that it’s important to note that the author’s ridiculous sputtering over those people who make different ethics-based dietary choices than she does is so extreme that she herself gets away from her point, wasting valuable space and time ranting about those troublesome vegans instead of doing actually good investigative journalism on what seems like a major issue. Instead of keeping her focus, her article devolves into an attempted ha-ha about soy, and asparagus, and how locally-raised meat and dairy are so much better for the earth and for humans (though she is just plain wrong about that … at least, so says the extreme leftist vegan propaganda engine called, uh, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.)
Anyways. I guess my overall point is that when it comes to talking about global food markets, shortages, economics, and the ways we can be better people … unless one’s goal is simply to get as many hits and comments as possible, surely focusing on the truth behind what our appetites are doing to the planet and the people living on it—and what we can do to change things for the better—is probably a better way to raise awareness about those issues?