Memento Mori (or: why I still have spots) October 7, 2010Posted by tuimeltje in food-related, rant.
As much as I love being vegan and can enjoy a bit of vegan community, there’s a thing about the vegan community that tends to bug the hell out of me.
Here one recent example, the one time I bothered bothering. I don’t intend it to be a one-off thing. Hardly the only one, just the one I can write about fairly easily because it’s recent and it involves me.
So here’s the story.
Tuesday evening I read the Vegan Hope Facebook page, one I’ve come to rather like since that $21 challenge.
What I found that day was this:
Wishes more people would stop thinking pink and start thinking GREENS. If we are serious about stopping *most* breast cancers we must become serious about the way we eat.
Quite a bold statement, that.
Prevent or cure* most breast cancers? Reading that had me wanting some information about how one would come to such a conclusion, especially after my most recent dip into that subject (admittedly, that was a good few months ago) had me under the impression that diet hadn’t been shown to have much of an influence on breast cancer risk, with the closest I could find being excess alcohol use and obesity.
So I asked for references to back up this claim, which is the sensible thing to do in those kinds of situations. I was thinking I’d be getting something along the lines of a recent article, maybe some link for a cancer society or a recent blog post, something about a recent discovery. Something we could discuss and pick apart to see if the data supported that statement.
What I got, however, was a long list of books and DVDs, with The China Study mentioned twice. I’ve read that book and while a good read, I was was somewhat uncomfortable with it mainly going on about a somewhat simplistic One True/Main Cause for really rather complex conditions.
I am not the only one with doubts, and as a reader of the Science Based Medicine blogs, I’ve enjoyed these two blog posts which did a little critical reading (and was happy I was eating plants for the ethics).
I mentioned one in my comment after the few that gave me a reading list rather than an answer, along with an ACS link and an NCI link about breast cancer and diet.**
If I don’t get an answer, I’d better look for one myself.
I also clarified that I would prefer PubMed info to books and probably some other thing, but I don’t fully remember.
You see, when I’d gotten to my computer the next morning, my messages had been deleted and, judging by the inviting “like” button, I was no longer a follower of that particular page.
Rather bad form, that.
It also means I’m working from memory. So while I know there was another link I put there, one with a list of cancers and and possible dietary risk factors, I was unable to find that link again.
Because I’d not expected that and am not used to such things, I’d not made any screen caps. I made some this morning, which may no longer show my posts but do show someone else mentioning me as proof that I was, at one point, there.
(yeah, crappy and small. This one is marginally better)
Deletion like this is very annoying and *so* not the way to deal such a situation.
The proper course of action when asked to back up a clearly*** defined statement with evidence? One brings evidence (and no, an avalanche of books will not do. I’ll get to that in a sec). Following that, the evidence will be discussed to see if the statement is supported.
It is *not* shutting down the conversation when it turns out not everyone wants to pat your back for speaking “truth” and then delete the bits that question that “truth”.
I’m pretty easy, really. If you don’t want to discuss it, you can tell me. If I’m honest, I would be disappointed because I think making sloppy claims hurts veganism and the public perception of vegans and veganism and there’s some issues to the statement I’ll get into below, but I’d respect your wishes and be content to take it no further. People made curious by my statements would know where to find me.
However, this act of silencing, apart from being rather rude, makes me very uncomfortable. Stifling anything that comes close to dissent, discouraging actual debate and critical thinking, deleting the bits you don’t like, show only the bits that agree with you, makes the whole thing a very groupthinky affair and it all gets a little too close to cultishness for me.
This does not help veganism.
These kinds of instances creep me out and are among the main reasons I prefer hanging out with vegans rather than being part of some vegan community.†
Apart from the deletions, there’s another thing that bugged me.
The huge reading/viewing list.
I have no idea if it was intended like that, but it felt like it was a way to tell me to “stop being contrary, shut up until you’ve read this, be convinced, then come back and play nice”. As if asking for clarification or substantiation of a claim made me the thick kid who didn’t quite get the awesomeness of plant-based living, like not having read all of those books made it so I was clearly not in possession of all the information needed to participate in this conversation, and could I go fix that please, before taking to my keyboard again.
Conveniently, fixing that would take a good amount of my time and more money than I’m willing to spend on books, so would be a nice, polite, non-confrontational way of getting me to shut up indefinitely which means that, for the time being, you can take your fingers out of your ears and stop saying silly things in a sing-song voice because I won’t be around to ask you to defend whatever you might say next.
It also reframes the argument somewhat. While the only thing I wanted was some information on the basis for that specific claim, I now have a whole list of books, no doubt filled with too many claims to check, to go through and dissect. Or accept at face-value, if I can’t be bothered to be thorough and kind of like what they’re saying and want to remain part of the group.
And really, there was no need for all of this. I’m not exactly hostile to veganism, or Vegan Hope specifically. Like I said, I rather like the blog and thought the $21 challenge was a great way to create awareness. Thing is, debate me, and you have a chance to hone your argument, get a clearer idea of what statements you can defend in a debate with non-vegans who know their stuff (and believe me, there are plenty of those), all with someone who is keen on veganism and seeing it represented well to the rest of the world.
Missed chance, really.
It’s not just the silencing that bothers me. We’ve not yet gone into why I’m bothered by the actual statement.
This part of the rant goes beyond what happened on Facebook and is more generalised. While the Vegan Hope example was hardly the most bothersome one I’d ever come across, it was bothersome nonetheless so deserves mention and it is, at the moment, topical for me.
Just so you know this isn’t me trying to attack Vegan Hope personally.
What bugs me about people going on about how veganism, or a whole foods plant-based diet (I get the feeling two tend to be used interchangeably in these kinds of debates) is a cure-all, a prevent-all, and the way to immortality, so everyone would be perfectly fine if they’d just get with the programme already.
The claims tend to be rather grand, often grander than the evidence warrants.
Yes, there is evidence that certain lifestyle factors increase or decrease one’s chance of getting certain diseases and healthy habits should be encouraged at every turn, but even with that, we’ll still get ill, we’ll still die. Claiming otherwise, making bigger claims than the evidence supports, does no one any favours.
Beyond that, this “all” kind of thinking tends deny that and have an unspoken undercurrent of victim-blaming that makes me very uncomfortable.
Ill? Well, since eating just plants would have prevented that, you must have done something wrong. Here, let me educate you.
Not getting better after you’ve mended your wicked ways? I bet you cheated or didn’t find quite the right way to go about it.
It allows you to accept neat, understandable, and above all, avoidable reasons to explain how other people got themselves in some rather unenviable position, and feel smug about how *you* are not doing that and managed to kill your fears of becoming ill by knowing that *your* actions will spare you such a fate. A rather judgmental attitude that neatly gets in the way of actually being compassionate and helpful to people who could really use it.
It’s the sort of thing that makes my blood boil, especially when combined with disparaging remarks regarding modern medicine and medical professionals.
As an aside, this also very much goes for parents who have a child born with (a) congenital defect(s). Most of the time, there are no known (avoidable) risk factors, nothing they could’ve done differently to prevent their child from being born like that.
If you discuss what they might’ve done wrong or shun them because only dodgy parents get defective kids, I’ll not be pleased and I *will* call you on it.
The idea that people are fully in control of their own (or unborn baby’s) health, go on as if the most natural state of the human body is “healthy” and therefore living “naturally” or “healthy” will restore your body to that supposed baseline, makes me really, really punchy. Apart from there being a whole lot of genetics, uncontrollable factors, unknowns, and simple bad luck involved with health that such an ideology refuses to account for, there’s also some iffy classicist implications.
Those rich people living longer and more healthily? They totally deserve that! Those lazy poor slobs should just take better care of themselves.
Ben Goldacre wrote it better than me here (scroll down a bit, though the whole thing is well worth a read).
The fact of the matter is, veganism doesn’t actually need any of this. It’s a perfectly nice ethical concept which is mostly easy to implement in one’s daily life. Few people, especially few doctors and researchers, question the healthfulness of eating plenty of plants. There’s ample evidence to back that up.
There’s nothing wrong with mentioning that evidence. Just know the limits and stick to what’s known rather than what you’d like to be true.
It’s not as if, when you find out that the main risk factor for some disease isn’t diet-related, the whole exercise is pointless. Veganism is, above all, an ethical view from which certain dietary practices follow.
It not curing/preventig all ills does not mean that the improvements you made through dietary change are irrelevant or illusory.
Nuance. Subtley. Shades of grey. They matter. Learn to love them.
Oh, and by the way, I still get spots. PETA pretty damn near promised me going vegan would give me a skin free of blemishes.
Guess they were wrong.
Good thing there are actual good arguments in favour of veganism, isn’t it?
If you’ve read this far, you might interested in learning more about critical thinking and skepticism. If so, check out something skeptical. Say, one of the many podcasts or blogs. If you’ve found one or two, it’ll take you no time at all to find more than you can keep up with. That’s how I got started.
As for blogs, I already mentioned two in this post (by the way, be sure to also check out Ben Goldacre’s book), as for podcasts, my firsts were Hunting Humbug 101 and Skepticality, I’ve a strong love for the Quack Cast, and just today I was listening to Righteous Indignation podcast.
If I get around to it, next post will be a bit more cheerful and should involve the carrot my girlfriend gave me for World Animal Day.
* Initially I took the statement to be about prevention, but after rereading, I realised it could just as easily, if not more easily, be about curing breast cancer. I mentioned this in my last comment, but never got an answer.
*** Well, sorta. See *
† This is not limited to the vegan community but is something I can find to some degree in many communities.