Monday, August 10, 2009

Brian Leiter is Veg Curious

In a recent post, Brian Leiter writes: "Perusing the law blogs, I'm encountering more and more folks who are now professed vegans." I'd be delighted to learn that he's identifying a trend here, although I wonder whether most of his perusing is of THIS law blog, with multiple references to veganism by our 3 principal bloggers (yours truly, Neil Buchanan, and Sherry Colb, all of us, as it happens, vegans). A recent post on TaxProf by Paul Caron notes that he is the father of a new vegan (which I interpret to mean that a child of his has just become vegan, rather than meaning that he has just fathered a child he intends to raise as a vegan, although I could be wrong), but Paul points back to two posts by Neil back here on DoL. There's a good deal of very interesting pro-vegan material on Gary Francione's blog, but that's hardly a new development. Gary has been an outspoken vegan for many years.

Brian is inspired by the apparent growth in the number of blogging law prof vegans to wonder about attitudes towards veganism among his readers. I'll have more to say on that in a moment. But I'm interested in whether there is a real trend here. Googling "vegan law professors" doesn't turn up very much. For example, it produces a Wikipedia entry for "List of Vegans," that includes exactly three law professors: Francione, me, and Larry Lessig. (Francione and I are both listed under "authors," while Lessig is listed under "Other notable people," which is odd, because he's also an author.) Anyway, I know that list to be incomplete, but I don't know how incomplete it is. So, if you are a vegan law prof and you come across this post, please email me off-list. I'll keep track and if there's enough interest, create a listserve or at least see whether I can arrange a vegan meal at a future legal academic conference.

Now back to Brian Leiter. To answer his question about attitudes towards veganism, he conducts a poll of readers. One useful critique notes that Prof. Leiter has departed from his usual methodology for measuring things and that he has somewhat mischaracterized veganism as simply a "dietary regimen." (It's more. E.g., I wear synthetic leather shoes and belts.) Leiter does deserve credit, as noted in the post at the link I've just given, for providing an external link to a generally pro-vegan website. However, Leiter's question struck me as peculiar. With apologies for all the white space that results from simply cutting and pasting from the Leiter blog, here it is:

























Which statement best expresses your attitude towards veganism?




View Results

Web Poll from Free Website Polls


Given the unscientific nature of the poll, I'm not especially interested in the results. But now I'm wondering about attitudes towards Brian Leiter. So, I'm going to conduct my own poll. (Scroll down through the white space.)













Which statement best expresses your attitude towards Brian Leiter?






View Results
Free poll from Free Web Polls


I realize that this could lead to polls about whether I am disgusting, but that's the price of blogging.

UPDATE: In a comment, Brian Leiter asks whether I'm offended by his post and poll, and offers to take down his poll. Here's my response (which also appears in the comments):

My poll was and is meant as a parody of Brian's, not as an actual inquiry into attitudes about Brian, as I thought was clear from the absurd proposed responses and the way in which they parallel the proposed responses in his poll. That said, while I am not offended by Brian's initial post, I do think that both his initial post and the possible answers trivialize veganism. For ethical vegans, veganism is no more a "lifestyle choice" (as Brian characterizes it in a friendly private email to me), than pacifisim or opposition to slavery and torture of human beings are lifestyle choices. I doubt that anyone who is not on the political far right would dream of polling readers about their attitudes towards people who oppose torture of humans (as opposed to their attitudes about torture itself) and include as an option, "People who oppose torture are disgusting." In a spirit of charity, I therefore read Brian's "disgusting" option not so much as deliberate offense to us vegans but as evidence that he was doing this whole poll with tongue in cheek. Thus, my response in the same spirit.

As for the option of Brian deleting his poll, I would definitely NOT prefer that. This little imbroglio, if it even rises to that level, could have beneficial consciousness-raising effects.


Posted by Mike Dorf

13 comments:

Brian Leiter said...

Mike, I am sorry you are so defensive about this issue, and I apologize if my inquiring about attitudes towards veganism among readers of the law blog offended you. If you'd prefer, I'll just delete the poll altogether.

Zed said...

I read this post as humor, but if that is not the case then I would think it interesting that this blog's advocation of civility at the SCOTUS doesn't apply to law professors! But like I said, I read this as humor.

Michael C. Dorf said...

Zed is correct. My poll was and is meant as a parody of Brian's, not as an actual inquiry into attitudes about Brian, as I thought was clear from the absurd proposed responses and the way in which they parallel the proposed responses in his poll. That said, while I am not offended by Brian's initial post, I do think that both his initial post and the possible answers trivialize veganism. For ethical vegans, veganism is no more a "lifestyle choice" (as Brian characterizes it in a friendly private email to me), than pacifisim or opposition to slavery and torture of human beings are lifestyle choices. I doubt that anyone who is not on the political far right would dream of polling readers about their attitudes towards people who oppose torture of humans (as opposed to their attitudes about torture itself) and include as an option, "People who oppose torture are disgusting." In a spirit of charity, I therefore read Brian's "disgusting" option not so much as deliberate offense to us vegans but as evidence that he was doing this whole poll with tongue in cheek. Thus, my response.

As for the option of Brian deleting his poll, I would definitely NOT prefer that. This little imbroglio, if it even rises to that level, could have beneficial consciousness-raising effects.

For those who don't read the comments, I'm going to now cross-post this response in the post itself, so that people realize that this is not meant as a personal attack on Brian.

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

One might be a vegan for dietary or health reasons, or be motivated by ethical or spiritual concerns, indeed, even politico-economic reasons might prompt one to become a vegan (and various combinations thereof). It is better to characterize it as a "worldview choice" (insofar as it may be one component of same) than a "lifestyle choice" at least as that phrase tends to be used in our society.

It's analogous to the characterization of the sincere endeavor to live in an ecologically responsible manner (refuse the ethic of conspicuous consumption, live 'simply,' reduce one's carbon footprint, recycle, etc.) as merely a "lifestyle choice." Of course one reason people invariably describe such things in "lifestyle" terms is that virtually everything at some point becomes commodified and vulgarized in terms of the logic of capitalist commercialism (e.g., being 'green' is marketed in 'lifestyle' terms, thus implying those who adopt it exhibit exquisitely good 'taste' of the fashionable kind) and "lifestyles" are a ubiquitous form of commercial marketing and advertising (cf. 'lifestyles of the rich and famous').

As Adam Smith and David Hume well understood, conspicuous display by way of social emulation functions to generate wealth in our society and even such things as veganism and ecologically sane living will be harnessed toward such ends, hence the temptation and the value of framing something like veganism in "lifestyle" terms.

Brian Leiter said...

Mike, thanks for your reply. Read Freud on jokes!

Veganism quite plainly implicates lifestyle in a way that opposition to torture does not, and insofar as it is motivated by ethical considerations, it involve choice. So I did not mean "lifestyle choice" as a pejorative phrase. And the option "veganism is disgusting" (which I've heard people say, as you probably have too) was put in for a very particular reason: namely, the reaction that someone else's ethical posture and lifestyle is "disgusting" is very revealing about the critic's attitudes and the rationality of those attitudes. The more damning response (assuming the respondent has reasons for it) is that veganism involves some kind of ethical mistake.

There'd be no interest in a survey of people's attitudes towards torture, or, at this point, academics's attitudes toward homosexuality, since there is no longer meaningful divergence of opinion. What is interesting about this case is that there is at least some profound moral (or other) disagreement about veganism.

Needless to say, it's also summer and there's no actual news for the blog.

Michael C. Dorf said...

I will not be satisfied until President Obama and Vice President Biden invite me and Brian to the White House Lawn for a beer. (Many, but sadly not all, beers are vegan.)

Len said...

I long considered becoming a vegetarian for health and efficiency reasons. After reading on this and Jack Balkin's blogs about ethical reasons for being a vegan I stopped eating meat last November. It was on Thanksgiving. I'm still not a vegan but I might eventually change that.

I don't understand your comment about beer. Beer is made from malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. Does veganism exclude yeast consumption? If so then because all alcoholic beverages are made with yeast they are off the menu. The only beers that I know of then that are not vegan-friendly are milk stout, which has lactose isolated from milk, and oyster stout, which probably has a flavor too horrible to contemplate.
I suppose it is possible that some brewers continue to use gelatin or insinglas as clarifying agents, but I think silica or polyclear work better. I usually drink cloudy beer anyway, but if you have a ready source of which beers are not vegan I'd appreciate a link to it.

Len

Sherry F. Colb said...

Hi Len. Glad to hear that you've stopped eating meat. (Some beers, as you guessed, still use isinglass, but you're right that many do not; ethical vegans do not object to yeast consumption, because yeast are not sentient).

Though most of the discussion for this post is funny, because Brian Leiter conducted his poll, I do want to suggest a reason for an ethical vegetarian (of which there are an increasingly large number in the U.S. and elsewhere) to become an ethical vegan instead.

If one avoids meat in order to withdraw consumer support from the killing and harming of cows, then it makes sense to eliminate dairy from one's diet for several reasons. Dairy cows are killed for beef when their milk production drops (typically at around age 3), and their male babies are taken from them and killed as veal (in a manner that has generated veal boycotts but has somehow left milk and cheese largely unaffected).

The reason for the milk-veal connection is the need to impregnate cows to cause them to produce milk (with the result that non-milk-producing -- male -- offspring, not bred for great flesh, are killed as babies, often at 3 months old).

A similar dynamic results in the killing of egg-laying hens' baby chicks (virtually every male chick and about half of the females) in the beginning of their lives, because keeping them alive even briefly is not considered economically useful (they're thrown in dumpsters or woodchippers or buried alive after being separated out).

To read about the lives of cows and chickens in "organic" and "free range" facilities, check out this site: http://www.peacefulprairie.org/outreach/letter.pdf.

Cheers! Sherry

SBL said...

Allow this teetotaling vegan-wannabe to take a (nonviolent) stab at the beer question and expand on Sherry's answer.

The issue is usually filtration--as Len said, beers may be filtered through animal products (e.g., isinglass or gelatin). (This is more frequently an issue with foreign or micro-brewed beers.) And of course, any beer that contains honey (usually that's in the name--e.g. "Honey Ale") is not vegan.

Barnivore has a good list of vegan beers (and wines, and other alcohol).

David Cassuto said...

There is a good thread on Leiter's poll at the Animal Blawg. I here cross-post my reply to Brian's comment to my colleague, Luis Chiesa's posts on the poll.
"As someone who spends a lot of time living (and blogging) about animal issues, I am pleased both by your interest both in veganism itself and in perceptions of it. However, I remain confused by your assertion that veganism is a lifestyle decision and in your decision to go with the “veganism is disgusting” choice in the poll. Since it is ethically driven, veganism differs markedly from other decisions that are more oriented toward lifestyle (i.e. house or condo, hatchback or sedan). I understand your point that ethics is inherently choice-driven but that makes veganism no different from any other ethical consideration and I do not understand you to be saying that all ethical decisions are lifestyle choices. Furthermore, I must question whether the fact that a certain segment of the population has a knee-jerk (and ignorant) reaction to veganism makes that reaction worthy of validation as a poll choice.
All that being said, I hope you will continue to blog about these issues and that you will consider guest-posting here.
Best,
David"
You can find the full thread here:
http://animalblawg.wordpress.com/

Brian Leiter said...

I've just posted a response at Animal Blawg, but was surprised to see you post the same question here, given that I address these issues in my reply to Michael Dorf, above. Perhaps you did not read the comment thread. In any case, anyone actually following this discussion can see an elaboration of my points, above, over at David Cassuto's blog on animals.

Paul Scott said...

I can't decide whether Brian's ignorance of veganism (nothing wrong with that, per se, since at some point everyone is ignorant of everything - but usually at some point before we publish an opinion about something, we do bother to cure that ignorance) or his belief that his poll could actually answer some question.

Certainly this quote: "UPDATE: Unfortunately, some pro-vegan websites have now linked to this, thus skewing the results, at least for now. I would encourage other law-related blogs to link, so that we can get a less skewed sample of opinion. Thanks."

was the most amusing thing about his blog entry. I mean, seriously, this guy is a tenured law professor at the University of Chicago (the irony really piles on) and he thinks his poll data has now been skewed? So he must actually have thought his internet poll was a valid and complete survey absent any sampling bias until it got linked by several vegan blogs?

I am impressed.

Brian Leiter said...

Paul Scott:

1. I understand that vegans believe that what is significant about what they do is that it is more than a dietary regimen. That doesn't mean observers have to share that view, and it doesn't mean that for purposes of a poll on the internet that distinction is usefully drawn. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn't.

2. My law school blog has mostly law school-related readers. When a pro-vegan website links to the poll, and 100+ readers from that site vote in the poll, it obviously distorts even a casual attempt to guage attitudes among law-related readers to veganism.

This isn't hard, I'm sure you can figure these points out even though you're not a professor at the University of Chicago.