Saturday, October 09, 2010
Can we BUILD VEGETARIAN COMMUNITY AND CULTURE (around 'what we don't eat')?
These four (4) ideas seem to have very little to do with one another.
My obdervations are that:
When ages ago - in the 1970s - I first announced that I was interested in organizing networks of vegetarians, groups of vegetarians, local vegetarian societies, I heard on occasion that there's no LESS powerful reason for organizing a random (or 'motley') group of persons than in terms of what we do not eat.
That may account for (a) the difficulties I've had organizing folks, (b) the problems local groups (bar none) have experienced in terms of (i) growth and (ii) leadership, and (c) and, of course, the low volume of constructive contributions on this particular list.
My ineptness, social clumsiness, age, girth, or lack of physical beauty may all have contributed to these challenges, but I wonder now whether or not there's something inherently problematic about organizing others, not in terms of what we have in common, but in terms of (or 'around') what we agree NOT to eat.
Vegetarianism and veganism know a number of themes, and in light of that, my own second phase efforts were to build a local organization with several tiers of activity and association: such an incorporated entity would have had (formally organized) (a) an education committee (for INTERNAL education) around issues, needs, news, interests, and personal well-being of individuals and families on vegetarian diets, (b) a news or public relations committee (for EXTERNAL education) to advance our growing body of knowledge to the world (and to intervene interpretively in the news of the day - sort of like PCRM does online now), (c) a financial committee to manage costs for these aggressive efforts, and (d) a standing committee (which includes officers).
Experiments with hierarchical group organization or distributed communities organized around geography, personalities, ages, social values, and so forth could occur (or have occurred) without jeopardizing the organizational structure. Plenary events (like those held by the EVU, IVU, or NAVS in North America (at the annual Summerfest) would have made kept the disparate subcommunities together.
However, the lack in North America of a thriving MOVEMENT to organize and build local vegetarian groups MAY, I dread, have something to do with the challenges of building community around a negative value.
We do have local, regional, national, and international ANIMAL RIGHTS CAMPAIGNS, and we have social pluralism within the 'community' of practicing vegetarians around what others do wrong (abuse or even use of animals, as in the abolitionist movement).
Many of these themed-networks are built around individuals and their personalities (e.g. Gary Francione, Erik Marcus, Michael Greger, et al.), and some have resurgent success (macrobiotics was once vigorous and highlyvisible; raw foodism is thriving today). Junk foods veganism (the 'sinfully' self-indulgent teens and pre-teens and faux-teens with 'vegan cupcakes' and 'decadent desserts') and the varying measures the faith communities are adopting aspects of vegetarianism (the classically pro-vegetarian religious communities are not 100% vegan, but Suma Ching Hai gives folks an option; others think of creation care and creation stewardship, and we all know that there are opportunities within widespread ecological awareness to talk about the consequentialist benefits of shifting towards more completely plant-based diets; also, 'Meatless Monday' campaigns offer the small so-called 'flexitarian' 'numbers' some ways to 'get in on the action' - and this challenges homemakers and volume feeding institutions to develop more meatless meals.
I fear, also, that a consumerist mentality drives our folks in terms of how we socialize AND how we think about food AND our vegetarianism. If vegetarianism is about food - mostly about food, then there's merely a strategic problem to be solved: 'how do I get vegetarian food' when I'm in any of the following situations. Raw Fooders in the 1970s used to discuss how great the steak houses in the southern states were for their salad bars; so were the bars. Once the
I'm pinning MY historical hopes for veg*ism's widespread public growth (overtaking the human population, eventually dominating their feeding habits) on two strengths: one from the human intellect: a growing public health awareness that is built from assembled evidence: an evidence-based advocacy movement for plant-based diets is what I'd like to see; and the other on dreaded historical outcomes (ecological incapacities to feed burgeoning human life on heavily
Neither will move us to veganism; abolitionism will, but so many of US have deep and fundamental issues with abolitionism (most professing 'vegans' are not abolitionists).
Now, how we work conditions how we socialize because it 'constructs' how we earn money and what money we earn. It shapes our attention for most of our daily (work-week) waking hours (WWWH), and it significantly defines our social (a) outlook (and expectations of others and of 'the world') and (b) image (how others see us). The movement to intelligently 'socially construct' vegetarians and vegans so that we could become vocationally and financially successful was pooh-poohed by others as (a) needlessly invasive AND (b) unnecessary (but that was in times of extended financial prosperity).
Vegetarians have SELDOM been culture builders; if 'we' (the poetic or literary 'we') HAD been, today's generations would 'receive' a deep and longstanding legacy of social and cultural institutions around vegan values, or at least around vegetarian values.
Oh, but wait: we DID receive those social institutions, did we not?
We received (a) religious vegetarianism AND (b) a broad array of (i) humane AND (ii) anti-vivisection organizations. We also noted occasional (and more often failed) institutions around raw foods and natural health. Indeed, that MOST vegetarian institutions have ([please forgive me for saying this) have 'fallen into the scrap heaps of history' is tragic, but to be predicted. Often, what has happened is a result of cash flow issues; oh, had we the cash flow and the institutional wisdom to move what were often family, individual, or small group operations boldly into the public arena to compete aggressively. But hindsight is...
Nonetheless, I think the question remains: in vegetarian community organizing, is MERE vegetarianism (reminds me of how Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis became a rallying tool for enthusiastic Christians in the late 20th century) enough of a pivot, focus, center, agenda, or REASON for associating with one another and building communities that WORK (a) FOR US AND (b) for the world and the other persons in that world, both human AND nonhuman?
Does MERE vegetarianism merely lack sufficient, clear, and LEAN definition so that the public can come together around MERE vegetarianism, pure and simple? And will many or most VEGETARIANS themselves accept any MERE vegetarianism.
'what we eat' 'how we socialize' 'how we work' 'how we build'
Does insight INTO this quartet help us understand HOW to do vegetarian organizing:
'what we eat' 'how we socialize' 'how we work' 'how we build'