Bullshit revisited (second and last part of response to criticism)

This is the second part of my repsonse to criticism (for the ones who didn’t click through yesterday). This text also temporarily appears as a fixed page in the menu.
After this, I’ll stop waisting time on the critics. For now, here goes…

Some people love my views, talks and writings, while other people… not so much. Some people in the movement criticize me, not always fairly. Here are some criticisms and their honest answers. If you’re a rational person who has read my work or watched me speak, you might be amazed at these – but I can assure you each of them is real and gets thrown at me repeatedly.

Tobias is not a vegan
First off, I find it pretty horrible that part of our movement seems to feel a person is entirely discredited, their opinion worth null and void, if we can just show they are not vegan or as vegan as they “should” be.
That being said, I became a vegan in 1998. See next question for the things that don’t make me vegan in some people’s eyes. I believe the fact that some in our movement would reject me as a vegan, is very illustrative in itself of some problems in this movement.

Tobias encourages the exploitation of animals
This wilful and quite nasty misrepresentation is problably based on the fact that I think our results are more important than our rules, and that effects are more important than personal purity. This means, for myself:
– that I would eat a steak for a 100.000$, using that money to help animals (particularly if that steak is going to be thrown away anyway)
– that I would make small pragmatic exceptions if I think it would positively influence people’s perception of vegans and veganism. I feel I should sacrifice a minimum of personal purity if it can help animals.
– that I consider myself vegan even while giving wine the benefit of the doubt (if it doesn’t say it’s not vegan on the bottle, I’ll drink it)

Tobias tries to redefine veganism
I think there is value in having a clear and generally accepted definition of something, but I definitely think that the way some people try to define veganism (conveniently forgetting the room for some “flexibility” that the original definition offers) is extremely ineffective (unless you want a vegan club rather than a vegan world).

Tobias is paid by the government to say the things he says.
Of course I shouldn’t take this seriously at all, but well…
I’m quite proud of having co-founded and led, for a long time, the world’s first partially government funded organisation to promote vegan food (EVA, in Belgium). Right now, I have left EVA to work on my own, but EVA still gets about 30% of its funds from the government. It shows that EVA was able to demonstrate that we had a socially relevant mission. Never has our funding had any influence on our philosophy or approaches (although there are of course criteria for funding, like we have to be in adult education, have to be active nationwide and not just locally, etc).

Tobias uses ableist language
This refers to me having called some vegans crazy. When I used it, it is mostly in the sense of omnivores perceiving us as crazy.
It is typical of today’s social movements to try to accuse people we don’t agree with by finding things that we believe discredit them. Among a part of the audience, a person will be discredited if one can demonstrate that this person is “immoral” in the sense that they might have done or said something that is ableist, sexist, racist etc. For this reason, some critics will always be on the lookout for indications of said behaviour. I’ll just let this one pass. If people take offense at me having called vegans crazy then so be it. At no point was it my intention to make fun of people with a mental disability.

Tobias is a careerist
In the fifteen years since I co-founded the organisation I used to work for, I have worked for it more than fulltime for about ten years, while I have had a full time salary for exactly three months (some years I was paid 40 %; many years I worked entirely as a volunteer). Right now, I’m travelling all over Europe and writing without getting any money from that (although my travel costs are mostly reimbursed).
An example of a criticism:
““This seems like more in the long line of “look at me” self promotion from this reducetarian. It’s disappointing that so many otherwise intelligent “animal people” don’t see the emphasis this reducetarian has on self promotion in the lead up to his book being published. It’s always disappointing to see “animal people” using the movement to further their career and agendas with so little regard to the damage being done.”

Tobias doesn’t want a vegan world
Oh yes I do. I just believe there is room for different strategies, and that some strategies may be more effective than the ones that are used by some. I believe that getting as many people as possible to reduce is a faster way to tip the system than getting a small percent of the population to go vegan. To learn more about my views, watch this video.

Tobias criticizes other activists himself
I do, but 1. I try to be constructive in my criticism and 2. I mostly criticize people for criticizing others (like. e.g. Gary Francione does all the time), which doesn’t, in my view, put me on the same level. I try to speak out against the bullies – something that is really not done enough in our movement, because we are afraid of appearing divisive. But we should stand up to bullies.
In general though, I try to be really slow and thoughtful when I criticize people, and I’m in favour of slow opinion.

34 thoughts on “Bullshit revisited (second and last part of response to criticism)

  1. Here is my challenge to you, Tobias, and to everyone else: go an entire month without using the word “vegan.” Only talk about how something explicitly helps or impacts animals. No language policing, no philosophizing, no name calling. Simply discuss how something will or won’t impact animals, period.

    1. It’s a good idea, but i think the word vegan just emerged from the need to be able to name the practise, and explain it in a concise way, with one word.
      The word should not be problematic in itself, i think…?

  2. You can waste a lot of time justifying your thoughts Tobias…there’s really no need.
    It’s so obvious that you speak from your heart.
    Everyone is free to have their own thoughts, and to publish them, shout them from the rooftops, whatever…
    Keep going : )

  3. Firstly, I don’t understand your position on drinking wine that you suspect might not be vegan. Why would you even contemplate that? Just drink mineral water or fruit juice! You’re twisting the term “as far as practical and possible” to say that the definition of veganism permits you to drink wine that may have been fined with fish bladders or eggs.

    Secondly, could you confirm or deny that you also eat mayonnaise that you suspect is made with eggs?

    Third, is your apology a commitment to avoid using ableist language in future? Because if not, your “apology” is fake.

    Fourthly, belated greetings for World Vegan Day. I’m not sure you are actually a vegan, but I hope you will become one.

    1. Way to go Vanilla Rose. Your response typifies those misguided individuals who feel entitled to go around judging and condemning others for no other reason than self-edification. Your self-righteousness does nothing whatsoever to help the animals you allegedly care about and is the precise reason that so many people are turned off by the mere mention of the word vegan.

      1. Why the ad hominem attack, Jeff? In fact, why attack me at all? Why won’t Tobias simply answer my questions? They’re not very complicated.

        If Tobias does choose to consume egg mayonnaise, he’s not a vegan. Thus, he isn’t in a position to try and lecture actual vegans.

        What I find ironic is that he thinks vegans shouldn’t do anything slightly inconvenient in terms of diet (not drinking wine, what a terrible, terrible burden!) and yet tries to guilt-trip vegans who say they wouldn’t eat a steak for money. As I wrote on my blog (http://www.vanillarosetangents.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/anything-for-money-indecent-proposal.html), what is the logic of stopping there? Why not try to guilt trip vegans into doing *anything* for money?

        1. you’re just confirming the points i’m making, vanillarose.
          you write:

          “If Tobias does choose to consume egg mayonnaise, he’s not a vegan. Thus, he isn’t in a position to try and lecture actual vegans.”

          If you can’t see how problematic and dogmatic that statement is, well… can’t help you.

        2. “tries to guilt-trip vegans who say they wouldn’t eat a steak for money” At no stage did Tobias ever do this. If you re-read the post it is very clearly stated right in the beginning that this is a *thought experiment*.

        3. “If Tobias does choose to consume egg mayonnaise, he’s not a vegan. Thus, he isn’t in a position to try and lecture actual vegans.”

          Using that logic, you could say the following:
          Gary Francionne doesn’t eat meat. Thus, he isn’t in a position to try and lecture actual meat eaters.

    2. Hi Ms Vanilla Rose, Y
      Your blog tagline states, “Spreading love and peace and veganism”. I know it’s just my opinion, but I think you’re missing two out of those three in your comment above to Tobias.

      I have to admit that I agree completely where Jeff wrote, “Your self-righteousness does nothing whatsoever to help the animals you allegedly care about and is the precise reason that so many people are turned off by the mere mention of the word vegan.”

      For the animals’ sake, can I ask if you have thought about, considered, or studied the psychology of how what we say and how we behave can actually accomplish the opposite of “spreading veganism”? To me, veganism includes not harming animals, even if it’s by just our words turning people off.

      No, our words shouldn’t turn people off, but it’s an unfortunate fact of the real world we live in.

      I’ve seen over and over again how the way vegans behave and how they speak towards others has does done much, much, much more harm to veganism and the animals than those things you’ve questioned Tobias about. In my definition of veganism, I could say the same thing to you, “I’m not sure you are actually a vegan, but I hope you will become one.”

    3. To answer your question of why a vegan might drink wine or consume anything that might have small amounts of an animal product in it, here is why, I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you haven’t heard this reason before.

      The only way to save more animals is to influence people who are currently eating animals and get them to stop. Most non vegans think that going vegan is too difficult. If they didn’t feel this way, we would have a much more vegan world by now.

      So, by demonstrating that being vegan is do-able, and that vegans can go to restaurants, order a drink, and eat a meal without worrying about tiny amounts of animal products in everything, this encourages non vegans to try. I would rather someone order a curried potato dish in a restarant and have a drink with it that may not be purely vegan than give up on the idea and have the chicken dish instead.

      I have had non vegans tell me exactly this, that they thought it was too hard to be vegan and express relief when I tell them not to worry about being 100% pure.

      Whether or not you agree with this approach, at least understand those of us who employ it do so for the purpose of saving animals. We value animals more than we value purity.

  4. It’s very hard to be understood by the “most everybody”, even if vegan.
    We think vegan people shouldn’t be divided what happens; we are what we became just because of animal exploitation as a deep unjustice and/or lack of empathy (benefits/ignorence) of humanity in general.
    We want to protect animals and set them free as possible, that’s all.
    K&M

  5. Tobias, I also want to say this: SCREW the people who are haranguing you for (a) getting government support, (b) earning your living via activism, and (c) “careerism.” Poverty is a dead end both for individuals and movements, and the more money that flows into our movement, and to our activists, the better. You have every reason to be proud of the very things they are accusing you.

    Here’s the link to Anita Sarkeesian’s (a gamergate target) speech on the effects of the abuse she endured. I hope it helps at least to provide some fellowship. http://www.bustle.com/articles/69612-anita-sarkeesian-what-i-couldnt-say-speech-lays-bare-what-two-years-of-endless-abuse-does

  6. I notice that Tobias hasn’t bothered to actually deny that he’s deliberately consuming animal products, such as egg mayonnaise. I don’t like to rely on second hand sources. Please answer the question, Mr Leenaert.

    There is something almost Orwellian about your attempt to redefine veganism. Unfortunately for you, it’s not going to work.

    1. vanillarosetangents,
      Would it be ok to ask why you are so insistent on knowing whether Tobias has consumed egg mayonnaise or not? If you want to prove that he’s not perfect, well, none of are. No vegan is 100% perfect 100% of the time, including you.

      If you want to prove that he doesn’t meet your definition of “vegan”, then you can add my name and lots of other “vegans” to your list who may not meet your definition 100% perfectly.

      A million animals are being slaughtered every hour just in the United States alone. If you wanted to help them, your time could be much better spent on opening the eyes & minds of the millions of people who still consume egg mayonaise, not to mention dairy & meat.

      That is of course if you are interested in helping the animals. If instead your bigger priority is figuring out who fits your definition of vegan 100% perfectly, then you are free to do that if you wish. But if you wish to help the animals, then there are much more productive ways to do that instead of questioning Tobias’ mayonnaise choice.

      Nobody owns or has a copyright on the definition of or the word “vegan”, including you and me. I could argue that you are trying to redefine my definition of veganism, just like you are accusing Tobias of doing to your definition.

      Perhaps I’m wrong, but I can’t help but wonder if there is some other motivation for your ongoing questioning regarding the egg mayonnaise.
      ???

      1. the weird thing is that i, like i suppose many other vegans, feel that i *have* to respond to this silly question and kind of “absolve” myself. This ideology and the cultism around it can be really pernicious, i think

        1. Tons of people have your back whether you respond or not, Tobias. 🙂

          I can’t help but think that some people are just trying to sneakily prove some point they have; they aren’t really open to what you might say in response to them anyway. You could provide them with 4 out of 5 of Friday’s winning lottery numbers, but they would still try to “get you” on the 1 number you got wrong.

          I think you’ve explained yourself more than anybody could ever ask for, Tobias. I don’t know how you could explain it more clearly…at this point I think having to explain yourself anymore is a mute point.

  7. Its hard to understand why anybody would focus on purity when animal byproducts are used throughout plant agriculture both as fertilizers and soil amendments, that is especially true for organic produce. In this sense ordering an organic vegan salad at a restaurant would be no different than ordering a vegan meal that may contain a bit of animal byproducts, in both cases the food was produced with the use of animal byproducts. But I haven’t heard anybody condemn organic produce. Well, actually you do, but just not by the people that insist on purity….

      1. Yes, I’ve heard that argument…..but I don’t think it addresses matters. Buying organic produce, for example, is done intentionally yet organic produce makes much heavier use of animal byproducts and its really not something that one day will stop because all the alternatives aren’t organic.

        But even in the case of conventional produce, you just don’t hear anything about vegan plant agriculture yet everyone is very interested in reading the label of every product the eat. Its a strange aspect of veganism that its seen as okay to produce something with the aid of animal byproducts but that its not okay to consume the byproducts directly. In relation to one of your new posts, I think this is another matter in which veganism is seen as “extreme”.

        There are some many oddities with veganism it surprises that people believe so strongly in it.

  8. People often lose perspective when they are strongly attached to a certain issue. If the point of being vegan is moral purity for yourself, how could you be satisfied to achieve perfect veganism while along the way intentionally and repeatedly causing suffering for *people*? I think we should try to extend our compassion to all species, even our own.

  9. In part i think we have adopted a system that is indeed not the most consistent and, more importantly, not the most strategic aim. Still, i think it has some use as a heuristic or a way to briefly explain things. Like in your case, you say you ate not vegan, and so it is less clear to me what you are, what your views are, where you want us to get, etc. Not that that you couldn’t explain it, but it’s a little more cumbersome 🙂

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