Yesterday, Erik Marcus, author of the blog “vegan.com”, published a short, vacuous rant over the piece, specifically targeting Steiner’s honesty about some of the challenges vegans face in avoiding animal products and handling awkward situations, especially when other people are consuming animal products. Apparently, Marcus would prefer that we market veganism in a way that makes it more attractive to people who would rather not make an effort to identify and avoid animal products and/or who simply don’t care enough about the issue to pay much attention to what goes into or comes out of the mouths of people who aren’t vegans.
Among the questions Steiner raises in the essay is how we should feel about spending time with people who are not vegan, and whether, by doing so, we implicitly condone speciesist attitudes and behavior.
“Is it O.K. to eat dinner with people who are eating meat? What do you say when a dining companion says, “I’m really a vegetarian — I don’t eat red meat at home.” (I’ve heard it lots of times, always without any prompting from me.) 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.)”
These are honest, legitimate concerns that Erik Marcus apparently would rather not disclose to potential vegans. Instead, Marcus worries about potential vegans being offended, turned off, or frightened, as if we’re selling a luxurious fad to fickle socialites rather than being honest about what’s right and wrong and thereby gradually changing an entrenched social paradigm.
In contrast, Steiner is concerned about being perfectly honest: 1) we are not justified in exploiting and intentionally killing sentient nonhumans; 2) being a vegan, while it would be very easy in a non-speciesist society, can be difficult at times in a speciesist society that uses unnecessary animal ingredients and processes in the production of so many products; and 3) people who are not vegan can be arrogant and inconsiderate because it’s socially acceptable to be a hardcore speciesist in a way that it is not acceptable to be even a mild racist (despite these two prejudices being identical in substance).
Steiner has set forth superb social criticism questioning the speciesist paradigm that sees sentient nonhumans as commodities while honestly confronting the subtle issues that vegans – the sane and nonviolent people – must face in an insanely violent world. While seeing this piece in The New York Times indicates a big step forward in encouraging meaningful dialogue about speciesism, we’ll know we’re making progress in society when we see opinion pieces as consistently honest as Steiner’s in The Times on a regular basis.