Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vegan and Vegetarian Vampires

My sis Leeann came over for dinner last night (tacos with seitan chorizo, black beans, avocado, and Dayia…yummish) and she, Jason, and I ended up flipping through channels whilst noshing on the comestibles. We landed, for reasons I may never know, on Twilight, and then Leeann and I essentially made fun of Robert Pattinson’s forced smolder (I can just imagine the director, off camera, constantly saying, “smolder more, eh, Rob?”) and Kristen Stewart’s atrociously bad sense of gloomy ennui. Jason, however, actually likes the Twilight movies, and I find this quality, in a straight, 39-year-old man, both perplexing and somewhat adorable. So he watched while we snarked.

This is Edward in a typical pose.

Watching and snarking at Twilight made me aware, yet again, of the current discourse that exists with regard to vampires and vegetarianism/veganism. Edward and his ilk consider themselves vegetarians. He states, in a moment that has received much attention in the veg press and blogosphere, that “We call ourselves vegetarians because we don’t drink human blood. But it’s kind of like a person surviving only on tofu: you’re never really satisfied.” The good and sparkly, out during the day, graduating from high school over and over again vampires of Forks drink only animal blood; they refrain from their baser desires to feed on human flesh. And because they drink animal blood – which, like tofu, never truly satisfies – they consider themselves vegetarians. Aside from this total diss of tofu, which, as the author of Dawnofanewera maintains in her criticism of Edward’s logic, “is the liquid metal of all foods – it can shape shift into just about any meal, as soy can take on many forms, tastes, and textures,” equating eating animals with vegetarianism is just plain wrong.

I must digress for a moment to say that I tried to read Stephanie Meyer’s books; I made it through the first two. And then I couldn’t take it anymore. The things that upset me the most about this series are, I think, the things that upset most women who believe that their existence constitutes more than window dressing. I tend to concur with various critics who claim that the series promotes a not so implicit valorization of abuse (he leaves, he comes back, he lies, he causes her much emotional and physical pain), that it works to undermine female agency and independence (Bella is always rescued by Edward, Bella is always put in harm’s way by him as well, and she continually enables this scenario to remain manifest), and that it reinforces dangerous and, I’d like to believe outdated, Victorian era notions of male and female sexuality: he’s a beast who must learn to control his baser lusts, and she, simply by virtue of the fact that she’s female, is responsible for inciting those lusts. And despite the fact that Bella wants sex, he just can’t defile her (t’would be so wrong), unless they get married.

Twilight makes me miss Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the more.  Buffy is a badass, ass-kicking vampire slayer who fucked her way through a slew of guys, living and undead alike.  And while Whedon’s Angel might remind me a bit of Edward (or perhaps I should say that Meyer has created in Edward a wussier version of Angel – after Angel and Buffy have sex, Angel goes all kinds of psycho), Buffy and Angel finally call it quits, realizing that not being able to copulate is simply not any fun.  Better she should hook up with Spike, which is, incidentally, what I would have done as soon as he entered the picture. Angel who?

Brown chicken, brown cow, brown chicken, brown cow

To Edward’s question of Bella at the end of Twilight, “Is it not enough, just to have a long and happy life with me?” rather than get “turned” (either into a vampire or, er, “on”), Buffy would say a definitive no.  And I love that about her.  But back to the vegetarian issues that the film raises – and that are raised in our current vampire lore, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Twilight franchise, and Alan Ball’s HBO series True Blood

Like Twilight, True Blood also plays with the vegetarian vampire theme, but it does so without ever explicitly stating that theme.  Bill Compton, another of the many non-human eating vamps that lately populate the fictional landscape, is the only real vegan vampire of the Edward, Angel, and Bill troika; he drinks synthetic “True Blood,” a beverage that consists of neither human nor animal blood.  There’s a slew of media out there about the vegan and vegetarian implications of the show, so I won’t bother to post all of that discussion here.

I will, however, post this awesome cartoon of Bill Compton.
In terms of this aforementioned troika, all the vampires in question are male, and their decision not to consume human blood is directly linked to their virility, their (in)ability to engage in sexual relationships with women – who very clearly function as consumable objects.  As one of Bella’s friends tells her soon after she starts dating Edward, “he looks at you like you’re something to eat.”  Edward, who doesn’t drink human blood, can’t lose control sexually with Bella.  And he says so every chance he gets.  Eating animals = not having sex, both here and in Buffy and Angel.  When the “vegetarian” Angel has sex with anyone, bad things happen.   


Even Bill, the most sexually functional of the three (he and Sookie boff regularly and often on the show), nearly kills Sookie after losing too much blood.  She gives him her blood, and it’s overwhelming; he can’t stop himself and drinks too much.   

Buffy never actively played with the linkages between non-human blood drinkers and vegetarians.  I always wanted the show to do more with that, but except for a couple of nods in that direction, specifically one episode in which humans are factory farmed and another in which Buffy works at a burger joint (the Doublemeat Palace) and speculates that the “secret ingredient” may be human meat only to discover that it’s cellulous, the show just didn’t go there.  But that’s certainly preferable, I think, to Twilight’s aligning of vegetarianism with the very antithesis of vegetarianism – eating animals.  Despite the fact that PETA2 gave the movie a Libby award for being the most animal friendly film of 2008 (largely because, despite the fact that Stephanie Meyer’s Bella isn’t vegetarian, Kristen Stewart, who is a real life vegetarian, plays Bella as veg in the film), the movie still places the killing and consumption of animals at the fore of its narrative.  And all of these recent reinventions of vampire lore still maintain the same sexual politics of blood that underscore older versions of the story, only now those politics include a tacit discourse of non-human blood as well.

As my sister astutely noted, as we snarked at Edward, “just because you’re not a cannibal doesn’t mean that you’re a vegetarian.” I’m so making a tee shirt that features Edward Cullen’s face and that statement.  Wait for it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Valentines and Vegans

The last month has been a blur, and I need things to slow down.  First, the state of North Carolina’s budget situation vacillates between terrifying and out-and-out catatonia producing, so my mind and my energy has been devoted to fighting that (most likely meaningless) fight.  I desperately want to turn my energy back to my teaching and my scholarship, the things about my job that I like, but I keep getting drawn into the discourse of trying to justify my existence.  Have you seen this video?  

It has nothing to do with veganism, but it is so true.  And, at present, that female professor is the embodiment of me.*  But next week is spring break, and if I can just make it until then, I might survive.

* This is not to say that I haven’t also been the little blonde girl with the pigtails.

So let me pull myself out of the mire of the possible dismantling of the public education system as I know it and return to the world of the vegan blog.  Valentine’s Day was pretty swell.  Jason didn’t get me anything as usual, but what’s not usual is that I went into major preemptive bitch mode about the fact that I knew he wasn’t going to get me anything.  I have a friend who calls such behavior “pre-suffering,” and I think that’s about right.  I was, after 13 years of being in a relationship with this boy, suddenly made jealous about the fact that a colleague was discussing the Pajama Gram that he was sending his sweetie.  First of all, I didn’t want a Pajama Gram, not even this one, which would make me look like a giant piece of bubble gum.

But I suddenly wanted something.  What I got was a Valentine’s Day without Jason, as he was at work all freaking day and night, fixing a Valentine’s Day vegan dinner, which I did get to eat for free.  It consisted of the following: first, sweet potato soup with scallion cream cheese and a candied basil leaf; second, chili rubbed seitan and grilled broccolini with smoked Jerusalem artichokes over a savory apple sauce; and for dessert, cocoa risotto beneath coconut tempura banana with a side of Kahlua ice cream.  And it was excellent.  So Jason is forgiven.  He does this every year, and every year the meal is better than the previous one.

Today’s news contains the following top five items when one does a news search for “vegan”:  an article called “What Would Vegan Society Founder Donald Watson Think” about a debate in the UK as to whether animal rights activists should tone down their focus on veganism and speciesism as these stances tend to alienate non-vegans. The author, Gary L. Francione, write about an ad in a Vegan Society publication for a bed and breakfast that serves the likes of poached eggs and Danish with cheese.  He states that Watson, who died in 2005, “coined the word ‘vegan’ and founded the Vegan Society in 1944 precisely because he wanted to emphasize that not eating meat was not enough. He wanted to erase the arbitrary line that had meat on one side and everything else on the other.” He quotes Watson:

The excuse that it is not necessary to kill in order to obtain dairy produce is untenable for those with a knowledge of livestock farming methods and of the competition which even humanitarian farmers must face if they are to remain in business.

For years many of us accepted, as lacto-vegetarians, that the flesh-food industry and the dairy produce industry were related, and that in some ways they subsidized one another. We accepted, therefore, that the case on ethical grounds for the disuse of these foods was exceptionally strong, and we hoped that sooner or later a crisis in our conscience would set us free.

That freedom has now come to us. Having followed a diet free from all animal food for periods varying from a few weeks in some cases, to many years in others, we believe our ideas and experiences are sufficiently matured to be recorded. The unquestionable cruelty associated with the production of dairy produce has made it clear that lacto-vegetarianism is but a half-way house between flesh-eating and a truly humane, civilized diet, and we think, therefore, that during our life on earth we should try to evolve sufficiently to make the ‘full journey’.

A second story, a self-proclaimed “rant” by “veggie girl,” is an “Open Letter to Militant Vegans,” in which she asks militant vegans to “shut the fuck up already.”  Veggie Girl is, as she states, “on your side,” but she ultimately states that

I'm tired of being lumped in with your ilk. My choices are just that -- MINE -- and I respect the rights of others to make their own choices, whether they're vegan, vegetarian, a conscious meat-eater or stop by the drive-through every night. Get off your high horse, shelve the self-righteousness and lead by example. THAT is how you change eating habits -- and lives. Otherwise, you're just an animal-loving version of Fred Phelps. And nobody likes that guy except his fellow church members. And maybe not even them.

So both of these pieces bring into relief the perceived vegan persona, legitimate or not, as alienating and off-putting, as needing to be tempered, as needing to be modified to prevent making the general public from feeling put upon or threatened.  While Veggie Girl does make the claim, however unsubstantiated, between militant and non-militant vegans, the narrative that Veggie Girl and Francione evoke is one that, while they argue from opposing positions, is illustrative of the strange stance that vegans seem forced to occupy, as ethically guided by a belief that animal suffering is preventable and unacceptable yet somehow responsible for the comfort levels of those who disagree.

Other stories: Jessica Simpson is maintaining a vegan diet to lose weight prior to getting married 
And Ryan Couture, some kind of fighter guy, won a fight.  He’s a Los Vegan, which is nothing like being a vegan, but that’s why this story came up.  File that one under who fucking cares…