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What the eff is a veg*n? Adults spell out their political views and so can animal advocates

What the eff is a veg*n? Adults spell out their political views and...

I still remember, not so fondly, the first time I ever heard the word 'veg*n' pronounced out loud by someone. It was years ago, and only now has the trauma subsided sufficiently that I can blog about it. I was on
a noisy, but relaxed, patio of a local cafe, drinking an espresso. I had been vegan for a few years already and yet, the term was still new to me. It was with a friend of a friend. He was just finishing some
lengthy and self-indulgent soliloquy about how seriously he took animal rights when he then proceeded to pour milk (not the good soy, nut, rice, oat, hemp, quinoa or potato kind but the dairy alternative) into his coffee. I thought he might actually tear up a little toward the end, and I was grateful that he didn't.

I said: “Are you really going to drink that?”
“Yes,” said he.
“But I thought you believed in animal rights?”
“I do, but I'm just a veg*n, not vegan.”

I was bewildered. Our mutual friend looked shocked, then anxious. To be
clear, I had absolutely no intention of flipping the table. Even now, I
write this blog entry not out of a sense of mean-spiritedness, but
comradely warmth, as well as a glowing love for the English language
and its proper use. It was not only ethically wrong (cows have a right
not to be used as property), it was a crime against coffee.

At first, I wasn't sure what I had heard. Maybe he'd sneezed half way
through saying “I'm just a clued-out vegetarian, not a vegan.” His
voiced lilted upward on “veg*n” in the way that tone lilts upwards to
denote disbelief or uncertainty, like: “I'm deeply confused?” I rifled
through the lengthy list of political parties and other organizations I
try to keep intellectually handy so that when I take the trouble to
chide someone's reactionary political views, it will be in terms
they'll most be able to appreciate. In the end, I do my best to
accommodate others.

But veg*n meant nothing with which I was then familiar. Nothing. As a child, I
was hooked on phonics, and when I'm in doubt, I go back to that. I
sounded it out. VEJ....UN. Nothing. And then it hit me. He had said the
word “veg*n” out loud. Till then I had only seen it in writing, and
honestly, I could have lived my whole life that way. But because I'm a
silver lining, big tent kind of guy, I took a moment to look on the
bright side. At least he wasn't drinking milk and calling himself a

But the experience took me back to the first time I had ever seen the term
veg*n in writing. At the time, I thought, “what the eff is a veg*n?”
Between us, in the interests of full-disclosure, I didn't actually
think “eff”. But for those more fortunate than I am, veg*n is a catch
all term used to apply to the vegetarian and vegan communities as
though they were one and the same.

I understand that some people transition into veganism (and I am
absolutely in favor of anyone taking the rights of animals not to be
used as property seriously and going vegan). I understand that in at
least some very few cases, there is a shared, strictly plant-based
diets. Nevertheless, the idea that people who still actively and
sincerely contribute to animal slavery unapologetically by pounding
back non-soy lattes, omelettes and cheese pizzas are in the same moral
community as people who do not because they fundamentally oppose that
slavery strikes me as odd. Odd here functions as a synonym for
unnecessarily confusing to the point of being morally and
intellectually negligent. I'm sure a good deal of the animal advocacy
movement will probably be offended by my willingness to comment on the
emperor's outfit. No offense, but placating your ego integrity is not
as important to me as paying what I owe nonhuman animals and
encouraging you to do the same.

Where am I going with this? you might ask. Well, a desire for sanity, clarity
and a general respect for the English language compelled me to pen this
post: a plea for people to stop using the term veg*n altogether. Why?
I'm only too happy to tell you.

First, "veg*n" erases "vegan". It's not accidental, it's a strategy. It's
intended to keep a public no more familiar with veganism than with
Zoroastrianism unfamiliar with the prospect that all animals have a
right not to be used as property and that veganism
is the lived daily practice of taking those rights seriously. Most
people understand what 'vegetarian' refers to (except, of course, for
all the dictionary-challenged folks who believe it includes fish and
fowl). Most people have no problems writing it out. Most people don't
know what vegan is. Writing veg*n is a way to avoid having to write
vegan for those who don't want to be reminded or to remind others that
vegans take animals seriously, and vegetarians either do not, or do not
understand why vegetarianism is meaningless to nonhuman animals.

Second, veg*n collapses two completely incompatible ideas together as though
they were the same or closely related. They're not. The Queen of
England and I both like an occassional glass of wine. When can I move
into Buckingham Palace? People who use animals because they or their
by-products taste good, look good, or make them laugh contribute
wilfully to animal exploitation and suffering. Vegans don't use animals
and avoid actions that cause animal exploitation and suffering insofar
as it's practical and possible to do so; at the very least, they don't
eat animal products. As a term, veg*n would be like creating a term
fem*n to describe a group that included noted non-feminists like Jerry
Fallwell as well as noted feminists like Gloria Steinem, bell hooks and
Gayle Rubin. If that sounds totally preposterous, probably because it

Third, veg*n is just an assault on clarity. What is a veg*n? What will they accept and what
will they not accept? If there are two different words in the English
language, it's probably for a good reason. Veg*n may make vegetarians
feel good, but it confuses restaurants, bars, pubs, bakeries,
clothiers, mothers, father, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, aunts and
uncles, among many others, when one veg*n says “I'll have my eggs over
easy and my coffee with cream thanks for asking!” and another veg*n
says “No, I don't want butter, honey or eggs with my toast,.you amoral
cad!” Confusing everyone from the start really isn't best way to make
progress for nonhuman animals.

Finally, veg*n is just a bad idea and it reflects a lack of respect for ideas.
It promotes a kind of cultural illiteracy, as if it were simply too
much work for anyone to remember two different, easily distinguished
worlds that represent relatively simple to remember, but very
different, concepts. If you're not sure why cute but dumb ideas are bad
for veganism and bad for nonhuman animals, check out my previous blog
entry. It should clarifies things.

I realize that using vegetarian and vegan separately and properly may
take 2 extra seconds to type , but for nonhuman animals, basic clarity
and all that is decent. I hope people will make the effort. Nonhuman
animals depends on veganism and vegans
to help lift them out of slavery. It's a shame when their
self-appointed advocates can't even bring themselves to use firmly,
clearly and unashamedly the only words in the English language that
signify an opposition to nonhuman animal slavery.

Vincent J Guihan -

Views: 31

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Comment by Carolyn Bailey on February 19, 2010 at 11:05
You're very welcome Heather, Vincent's work is very interesting.
Comment by Heather on February 19, 2010 at 8:49
excellent! thanks so much for sharing!


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