Written by JLM; Published by GENDER FOCUS on May 30, 2012
I just watched Vegucated, a documentary that follows three meat-eating New Yorkers through their journeys into veganism – a lifestyle that – for a variety of environmental, ethical and dietary reasons – involves abstaining from using animal products.
Veganism is a response to the pitfalls of consumption. I cried a lot while watching Vegucated. And I mean, a lot. I do not consider myself to be an animal lover, but I have compassion for all of the creatures of the earth. However, and it’s a big however, I find that wherever I fall on the continuum of consumption, I always end up a hypocrite. After all, what is the difference between smashing a fly that won’t leave my kitchen and chopping the head off of a chicken? To me, they lie on different points of a continuum of consciousness by virtue of the size of their brains.
The only reason humans feel conscientious about animal consumption is because we relate to animal consciousness. We see ourselves in their eyes and their will to survive. We feel empathy for their consciousness by imagining ourselves in their shoes.
I do not take a firm stance on the human consumption of non-human animals. What I take issue with is the manner and practice of killing. I believe the earth we inhabit is a place in which consumption is the central cause of life and death. According to my theory, which is primitive at best, the chicken hatches an egg for creation’s sake and the lemon tree produces a lemon for the same reason. The lemon carries the lemon seed to grow the lemon tree population. The hen hatches her egg to grow the chicken population. All for the purpose of life.
Vegucated touches on some important elements of progressive humanism: awareness and high ethical standards. I relate to the film through a perspective of feminist and humanitarian morality. As a feminist, I will be the first to proclaim that the ways of the hunter are not for me. I am a gatherer, and I think the way of the gatherer is the way of the future.
I believe it is humanity’s responsibility to set high standards based on the most advanced theory available. I have no doubt that in twenty years we will have more comprehensive values and be better able to shape human society to match that knowledge and those values. Vegucated addresses where we are now and how the meat industry operates at this moment in time.
I have a ton of questions as a result of watching this film. Vegucated provides a small glimpse into what agriculture and the meat industry have become in the United States. I responded with confliction. I tend to go by the philosophy that I should be able to kill an animal myself in good conscience before eating it. And if I had to kill it in order to survive, I would not enjoy doing it. I would grieve for the animal and the earth and I would offer up thanks (and apologies) to it for its life. But in the end the only reason I get to survive is because I am bigger and smarter. I dream of the day when the hunter no longer has his weapon. When he has to struggle for his meat in an open field, where everyone can see and where he must contend with the approval or disapproval of others.
It’s easy to commit a treacherous act in the dark, when no one is looking. Try a more challenging venue, one that requires courage and conviction: do it in broad daylight and with a crowd. Face the consequences. “COME ON,” say the deer (and their feminist champion), “MAN UP AND BE A BETTER SON TO YOUR EARTH MOTHER.”
Man’s global consumption-based innovations seem, perhaps to them, to justify their ends. My conscience is very different than the conscience of a hunter. Earth is, for now, a planet where hunting reigns supreme. Alas, hunting is outdated and the earth needs a new mode of operation. Here on Earth, every individual has her own conscience. The brains of humans – that is where the problem lies. Vegucated speaks to a higher consciousness, a prophetic and non-violent one. It preaches a message of non-violence that has been the cause of many great leaders. Peaceful coexistence: that’s what I want for myself, for the ones I love, and for every living being. And, most of all, for Mother Earth.
Consumption, in its reality, is a form of taking from the land. Must we, as humans, be a collective parasite? Every baby starts out as a parasite, nothing wrong with a baby parasite. I’ve had one in my belly, and I loved it because I hoped the baby feeding off of me would become a human who would give back to the earth in a way that would make me proud. A baby is supposed to be parasite – that is how it survives. It’s when the baby becomes an adult and remains a parasite that problems arise.
Adult humans do not need to trash the earth in order to survive; there are more efficient and beneficial ways of co-existing. It’s time that we grow up, as a species, or we will die in our youth. I believe it is only fair and ethical to try to give back to the land what we take from it. How do we do that? I guess we start by giving back. We plant good seeds to replace what we take from the Earth. We try to be more the planter than the parasite.
Our dearly depleted Mother Earth cannot provide for her children and take good care of them if she is in shambles. So her children must help out and treat their mother well so that she can continue to care for and support them. Forget your father. It’s your mother you need and your mother who needs you in the here and now. When we do things that sabotage healthy growth by allowing institutions – such as the meat industry – to get out of control, we are moving in the opposite direction of life. In the best of circumstances (with the best species – clearly not humans at this point in time) animal creatures will nurture their living space by caring for the creatures and plants they consume.
There are creatures of our consumption that Vegucated puts an enlightening spin on. Is cow milk a renewable and ethical resource for humans? According to the film and to common sense, a cow produces milk for her the purpose of feeding her calves. Not for other full-grown cows and not for humans, either. She wants to feed her young, as I produced breast milk for my babies. I wouldn’t want to be chained up until man no longer finds me useful only to be eliminated after my long and unsatisfying imprisonment.
I think we need to rethink milk. I don’t think it’s any secret that the “Got Milk?” ads are suggestive, and quite often feature women with suggestive “milk” mustaches. The advertising tactic is disgusting. The cow behind the milk mustache might not look so sexy, content or “healthy.” Why not focus on maintaining cleaner water supplies so that we can stop draining cows of their milk and then sending them to slaughter when they are no longer useful to us? Got Water? No mustache needed. Seriously. Water is where it should be at. We can change our own minds if we are determined to do it.
When I was in high school, back in 2002, a friend of mine and I worked to get veggie burgers on the cafeteria menu. I remember what an accomplishment it was to change the state-overseen menu. I have to admit that the change was possible because the high school is a progressive one of affluence. This brings up another ethical issue: the socioeconomic and sociocultural status of vegan food items.
My middle-class family has been trying to focus more of our time in the fruit and vegetable aisles of our grocery stores over the past year. We do our best with what we have and what we can do to improve things. Depending on your finances, a farmer’s market or local co-op or even a backyard garden might not be an option for you. There are small steps toward health and environmental improvement that each of us can take, in our own way and at our own pace. Focus on what you can do, not what you feel you should do.
I don’t think veganism, as it now exists, is easily compatible with households of low socioeconomic status, so I was a tad annoyed by the walks down the vegan food aisles with no mention of socioeconomic realities in Vegucated. But it’s still educational and a step in a positive direction.
As for all my tears during Vegucated, I can only explain them as empathy. When I see a chicken with its neck bent over because it is in a tiny cage, I feel sorry for the chicken. Now I don’t want to have hundreds of chickens to care for, because -honestly- chicken feathers freak me out and the smell of chickens is enough to make me gag, yet I absolutely do not want them to suffer or be treated inhumanely under my watch. But that’s the thing – it is under my watch. It’s under OUR watch. By ignoring it, we’re allowing the problem to continue.
What do you think? Are humans just selfish parasitical creatures who cannot help but pillage and trash the earth? Are we destined to extinction? We need strong leaders and we need more information. We need things OUT in the open, not behind closed doors. Open classrooms, open books, open windows, open houses, open buildings. And not only do I think it has to be government-guided and enforced, but I also think it has to become a cultural movement. It already is, it’s just a small one that I fear will not compete on a grand enough scale with rampant consumption to ensure the survival of the species.
As a woman, I do identify with the prey of the earth. If I ruled the world, I would send off all of the predatory consumers for reeducation and reform. Then the former predators would work under the uncorrupt leadership of the former prey to rebuild, replenish and repair the earth. I see the meat industry as having a gender, and that gender is MAN. I didn’t say anything about sex, because it’s socially constructed. I hope that we can redefine the gender of man while we redefine consumerism.
If the only way to consume meat is to be blind to how animals are turned into meat then that’s no way to consume. If we are not blind consumers, then we are educated consumers. An educated consumer has the power to change the food industry. Vegucated empowers through its educational perspective rather than converts.
I’ve seen similar poultry and meat industry footage before, in a Global Feminism course, but it’s all new again in Vegucated: cows hanging by one of their legs on a conveyor belt (while they are ALIVE); pigs being stunned, boiled, skinned and chopped up; living chicks being ground up and disposed of; cows giving birth and having their calves dragged away from them immediately after. And yes, I’m crying again.
I am not going to go vegan because of what I saw in the film, I’m still relatively satisfied with my pescatarian diet; however, I feel a bit more informed and I will think before I eat my next egg salad sandwich. I wish I could do something to help change what is happening to the poor creatures of the earth. Whenever we open our eyes and learn, I guess we get just a little bit closer to caring for our disempowered mother and the home she provides for us.