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ny times gives us some time…

November 22, 2009

In a New York Times Op-Ed piece yesterday, Animal Vegetable Mineral, philosopher Gary Steiner discusses ethical veganism, using the rocky terrain of thanksgiving as a lead-in. Steiner touches upon a plethora of problems the “ethical vegan” encounters: social isolation, tolerating a meat-mongering society, the frustration of realizing people really don’t care about the moral rights of non-human animals and the odds and ends of figuring out the myriad products that have animal parts in them for no discernable reason.  It is definitely a must-read.

This op-ed piece gave me butterflies—mainstream media has taken the concerns of vegans seriously. The heart of his op-ed is a welcome sight in such a widely read and respected newspaper:

…The human practice of delivering animals to the table in the form of food is abhorrent and inexcusable.

However, likely due to the constraints of length and of being in a mainstream outlet, the brevity with which Steiner discussed many of these topics left me a bit antsy. And so, Steiner’s piece will be the impetus for the next several Vegina posts.  Specifically, I will address a particular series of questions Steiner presents but doesn’t have time to answer in full:

Is it O.K. to eat dinner with people who are eating meat? …What do you do when someone starts to grill you (so to speak) about your vegan ethics during dinner? (Wise vegans always defer until food isn’t around.) Or when someone starts to lodge accusations to the effect that you consider yourself morally superior to others, or that it is ridiculous to worry so much about animals when there is so much human suffering in the world? (Smile politely and ask them to pass the seitan.)

I have chosen to follow-up on these questions for several reasons. First, they are present in the daily lives of most vegans and weigh heavily on the mind and heart. These questions are important for people committed to any social or ethical cause since we will always be faced with the question that underlies all of the above conundrums: When is it necessary to maintain a sense of civility over that of standing up for what is just?  The answer to this question is where Steiner and I seem to differ.

While Steiner’s article is a no-nonsense rejection of the murderous antics of the necromnivore, his answers to the above questions seems to favor civility (even if it is facetious) over the contention that may be necessary to generate any real change, or at least a real challenge. Though Steiner doesn’t go into the logic behind the solutions he offers to his questions above (“…defer until food isn’t around”; “Simile politely…”), it seems likely for the reason that he later mentions: “I have lost more friends…over arguments about animal ethics.”

In the next few days I will address these questions from my own perspective, so come back, have a look and leave a comment—interesting conversation is likely to ensue!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 23, 2009 12:54 pm

    The format of this article is classy. Thanks for fleshing — err, filling? — out some of the grievously brief (and sometimes fallacious) comments that even the cream-of-the-crop popular press are guilty of in all realms, not just that of our dinners!

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