Don’t judge a province by its cover story

I’ve been holding off on this one for some time, but a tweet from Isa (PPK) of Veganomicon and Post Punk Kitchen fame has me feeling like it is an issue that needs to be raised. So, here goes…

As of yet, it seems T.O.F.U. has avoided jumping into some of the darker areas associated with veganism. Sure, we’ve touched on some of the divides within, and some of the misunderstandings people may have because of them, but many of the darker subjects have been avoided.

One of these dark sides, in my opinion, is judging those who are not vegan. It’s probably evident by now that I’m not an aggressive vegan, and for the most part I seem to have surrounded myself by a lot of folks who are like-minded. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I’m surrounded by more omnivores than I am herbivores in my daily life. Of course, a part of this is more my surroundings than my own choosing.

It is within these surroundings that I sometimes feel more of a connection to those who may not share my view on food, but understand me on so many other levels. Here in my small hometown of around 5000, where people still sit together to eat supper around 5pm, and where they long for the weekend so they can disappear into the wilderness, I write these words. Sure, Wal-Mart has its stranglehold on local commerce, and fast food litters the streets like so many other communities, but here you can still find a warm smile and an open door for a weary traveler when needed. Yes, the winters can be cold, and the summers far too short. Sure, the land may seem ragged and harsh to some, but to many of us now scattered around the world, this is home. We crowd airports every Christmas to return, and many of us spend our lives working terrible jobs just to have enough to buy a piece of this ragged, windswept land to call our own. To this day, in both the literary and the film version, when I hear of the Shire, I think of here. This is Newfoundland, Canada.

Of course, for many veg* folk, Newfoundland has a much different image. Filled with savagery and blood lust, it is the home to those who kill for fun and have no consideration for the world they live in. In short, it is home to the annual seal hunt. For decades now this hunt has been the focus of much media attention, and the majority of it has been negative.

Like so many issues involving animals and people, this one is complex. However, and this is where the dark part comes in, to some it seems incredibly simple. Those who kill or harm animals are horrible, and possibly even worthless, creatures. Based on the singular idea that animal cruelty is inexcusable, judgement has been passed by those who seem to live their lives avoiding such cruelty.

However, at the end of the day, we all have blood on our hands for some reason or another. Whether it be from the cattle an immigrant worker slaughters to keep his family fed in their new homeland, or through the death of numerous woodland creatures by an organic farmer who doesn’t believe the rabbits and the birds have any right to the carrots he is growing, the blood is there. To pretend that we, as vegans, are innocent from this is ignorant. The best most of us can do is choose to limit this bloodshed as much as possible.

So, is it fair to judge others using our choice as a guideline? Should we expect the hunters, the cattle farmers, the fisherman, and so many others to follow our lead and give up their ways? For me, I guess it all depends on what it is that I think allows me to choose to be vegan. There are so many factors that I feel are necessary to properly live as a vegan, and after spending the winter here I feel lucky to have those present in my life. Although my restaurant options have been minimized, and I can’t find tempeh anywhere on the Island, I still have choices at the local grocery store. Luckily, I also have the money to purchase these items, which are certainly not as cheap as most of the other things on the shelves. However, I also happen to live in one of the major service centres for the area.

The point is, before one makes judgement of someone else based on your own personal lifestyle choices, you should know where the other person is coming from. Going vegan in a small community is not as easy as the city. Choosing to eliminate animal products from your diet in an area where you already live mainly off the land is not so easy when your main agricultural products will most likely be potatoes and carrots. So, what makes your choice the best one?

How is judging these people based on their livelihood or diet any different than judging someone based on their religion or other personal choices? We tread a thin line the moment we start to feel that our decisions are the intelligent, superior ones to those around us, especially those separated from us by culture, language, gender, heritage, etc… History is littered with examples of those who strived to enforce their ideas and choices on those around them as far as they could reach, and the effects of such efforts are still felt today.

I touched on this idea with both Todd from Propagandhi and Zach from Rise Against a few years ago, and it’s a tough one. I’ve been battling with how to even write this for a few weeks now because I know that it is bound to upset a few folks. However, between reading a few articles that were hellbent on making life a living hell for everyone on the east coast of Canada to try and stop the seal hunt to then hearing about the horrible attitude some folks are developing towards China based solely on their treatment of animals, I thought I had to put my two cents in. I’m not saying the death or mistreatment of animals should be thought of as acceptable or negligible in any case, but I am saying that the threatened death or mistreatment of a fellow human being should be given just as much weight if we are to ever keep this world from falling apart. Those who can choose to avoid harming animals ideally should do so whenever they can, but for those of us who already do so, we should remember to consider the whole person before we lay judgement upon them.

If we are to change the way the world views everything around it, I think we should be fighting for animal equality, not animal superiority. To judge the life of an animal to be worth more than the life of a human to me is not a step forward, especially when that judgement is based on whether or not that fellow human is as good as you. As a vegan we are constantly provided with examples of famous, historical figures who were vegetarian or vegan. How about all of those who were not? Is the work of Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln any less meaningful because they may have celebrated with a steak instead of a stuffed Portobello mushroom at their dining room table? These men were intelligent, amazing individuals who chose to live their lives working to improve the world in one way or another. Just because it was not in the same manner as the way we choose, did they have any less of a right to be respected or treated equally?

With that in mind, do these sound like the words of a savage hellbent on blood and pleasure?

Garry Troake’s Speech

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