Britain has a shadow environment secretary, Kerry McCarthy (Labour party), who is a vegan. Conservative media in the UK are not real fans of her or of Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader. I read a couple of articles in conservative newspapers about how Kerry McCarthy hates Christmas
McCarthy is described in Mail Online as “blasting her normal, nice and funny friends over meat”, as being afraid of getting too close to bits of dead animals. Express headlines that the “Labour environment hates Christmas… because she’s vegan.”
All that is of course not so good for the image of veganism. Not too many people (except for, admittedly, probably a fair share of vegans) hate Christmas and not too many people like party poopers, especially if they remind them of their own guilt, which often is the case and is part of the reason for the high resistance against veganism.
So McCarthy, with her statements, apparently didn’t do veganism a service. Still, let’s look at what she actually wrote. Was it that bad?
First of all, the blog posts (here and here) that the news sites refer to are from 2010. McCarthy wasn’t a shadow minister then, though she already was a member of parliament. Arguably, being an MP at that time, she might have been more careful, but obviously the newspapers were trying to dig up some dirt. They found that the only relevant thing they could say about McCarthy and Christmas was something she had written on her blog five years ago.
Reading McCarthy’s two blogposts on Christmas, one can’t find all that much wrong with it. She describes that for her, being around meat is not the norm. She isn’t used to it and for her it’s hard. She seems like the typical vegan: someone whose eyes and mind have opened up to the animal suffering implied in our food, but experiencing that everyone around her is still blind to the things she now abhorrs.
So for the most part, I would say that McCarthy was maliciously targeted by conservative media, who love to have a go at her. It’s not surprising that media affiliated with the opposite end of the political spectrum will not paint a fair representation of what people say or write, much less if they are not quality newspapers or sites. And like most other people, most journalists too will have a certain resistance against all things vegan and will be looking for excuses not have to get involved.
What does all of this mean? We can take different positions here. We can not care at all about how others are going to interpret and represent our opinions (in the media or otherwise). We can try to care but not go out of our way because we know we’re going to be misrepresented anyway. Or we can really go the extra mile to be supercareful and make sure we minimize statements that could be interpreted incorrectly or misquoted.
In the case of McCarthy’s blogposts (making abstraction of the fact that they were written five years ago), what would I have done differently if I knew I was in the public eye?
First of all, again, we have to realize that Christmas and parties are touchy subjects, where it is better to emphasize the alternative (the great food we can eat) rather than the vegan problems these situations create.
Secondly, I think this paragraph is the most problematic:
“I spent Christmas Day this year as usual with a bunch of meat-eaters: fussing over them to make sure they’re not using the same serving utensils for the vegetables and the meat, and that the vegetarian gravy hasn’t got muddled up with the ordinary gravy, and trying to help with the serving up and clearing away without having to get too up close and personal with bits of dead animals.”
“A bunch of meat-eaters” doesn’t sound too respectul of your friends or family, and the phrasing emphasizes the we-versus-them dichotomy. Never a good thing. Then there’s the fussing about the utensils: understandable (I hate it myself when utensils are used for both vegan and non vegan stuff) but not so much for said “meat-eaters”, who indeed think this testifies to unadmissable, neurotic, fanatic fussing. So, better not to write about it if you can avoid it. Same for cleaning up and doing the dishes: I hate it myself, but if we say that it’s hard for us to even throw leftover bits of meat in the trash, we may not be at our most credible.
McCarthy also adds she doesn’t drink wine. While I appreciate people being teetotallers, this serves to confirm the idea the “outside world” has of vegans: party poopers who can’t even enjoy a glass of alcohol. Again: not information we should volunteer, I think. Sometimes I joke that vegans are under a moral obligation to drink alcohol.
It’s also noteworthy that while McCarthy writes that she sometimes compromises (sipping from a cup of milky tea or eating around some diary bits), these small inconsistencies are not the things the newspapers pick up on (as opposed to what some vegans, I am sure, would fear).
Bottom line: there are situations where the cards are stacked against us and we can definitely never control the message one hundred percent. But it’s good to be aware of the fact that we are always communicating, that we are trying to sell something, and that as much as possible we should contribute to a positive image of vegans and veganism.
In any case, I wish Kerry McCarthy the best of luck with her political career.