Everyone’s a Critic

Critics hey? Who cares what they say anyway.

Most people, I suspect. Although aren’t we all critics? We might not do it publicly, but we all pass judgement whether it be watching a film, looking at modern art or on a night out at a restaurant.

Today I read a review of a restaurant that I have been aware of for a couple of months, but haven’t had the chance to check out yet. The reason I have been interested in it is because it is a pizzeria that recently changed its whole menu to be 100% vegan. It appears the owners went through a change or realisation, which lead them to transition to a vegan lifestyle. As owners of a very successful eatery in Sydney’s hip suburb of Newtown, they took the bold and brave step of almost immediately transitioning their restaurant with them.

Now I have to reiterate that I have not yet had the opportunity to try the menu out for myself, but my problem when reading the review of Gigi Pizzeria on the Time Out website is two-fold…

The first issue is that throughout the article I felt that the review was not just of the food they were eating, but comparing it to the food they would expect to be eating or had eaten in the establishment previously. This meant that there was a constant reference to the lack of cheese or ‘imitation’ cheese, even when discussing the ‘Marinara Tradizionale’, which, as I understand it, doesn’t traditionally have cheese on it. In fact, I’ve eaten pizza in Italy, right in the heart of Naples and the Amalfi Coast region, and the one thing I recall – apart from the fact that the pizza was soooo good – was that it had very little cheese. So to remark that the Marinara is ‘hanging for cheese’ is incredibly ignorant. Perhaps this particular critic would be more at home in a Domino’s.

I listen to a film review podcast featuring the great Mark Kermode, a critic I like, respect and often disagree with. One point he will regularly note is that you can only review the film in front of you, not the film you want it to be, expect it to be or wish it were. This critic did not adhere to this particular code themselves and right from the off obsessed at the ‘issue’ they were faced with.

My second problem is a biggy, and it’s not one that I had experienced in my life until becoming vegan more than a year ago. Vegans are the target of ridicule and are ostracised for their beliefs, often publicly by people on social media, on TV, radio and frequently in print, for holding a different set of beliefs than the mainstream. I am the first to admit that some members of ‘the movement’ don’t help the cause by not being able to communicate without seeming aggressive, condescending or superior and terms like ‘the movement’ only add fuel to the perception that we are often part of a new age, hippy cult. But this isn’t an excuse for people, often in the public eye, to diminish a set of beliefs that simply put are for compassion and non-violence for all beings on the planet – pretty wacky hey?

I wonder how many people would wish for world peace if offered three wishes. Publically most people do. Vegans are the only people who actually live that life philosophy every day. That might sound like I’m being superior by saying that, I don’t mean to, it is simply how I see it. So why is it OK to constantly belittle our set of beliefs and shrug off our ideas without any real reasoning?

So back to the review of Gigi’s Pizzeria and they ask “why not just serve a range of vegan pizzas on an otherwise egalitarian menu?” Well, a vegan menu is egalitarian. You see, vegans don’t eat meat or any other animal derived food, but omnivores do eat ‘vegan’ food all the time, so a wholly vegan menu does not restrict an omnivore from eating anything on the menu. Not an open minded one anyway.

The reviewer also asks “why race all the way to vegan extremism?” This is such a common view, that veganism is extreme, but sums up the complete disconnect from the issues and reasoning that leads people on the road to veganism. The reason the restaurant owners “raced to vegan extremism” is because once you make the connection, the connection that our dietary and lifestyle choices are causing unnecessarily violence, torture and pain to billions of animals each week, there really is only one thing you can do about it and that is to live a wholly vegan lifestyle.

From an environmental standpoint it is the easiest contribution you can make to the planet too. The longer you live it, the more reasons you find. Any compromise to this is unimaginable and when people ask me “wasn’t it difficult to go vegan?” it is always a simple “no” in reply. You see for me it wasn’t a choice; it was like a switch going on. I suddenly saw the world differently. I don’t need to cause the deliberate death of any animal to live a happy and healthy life, so I don’t.

There is a report doing the rounds now from the WHO – not fronted by Roger Daltry unfortunately, but The World Health Organisation, stating that bacon, sausages and other processed meats could be as dangerous to our health as smoking. This leads to the usual backlash from the morning TV and radio shows who wheel out a doctor to spend a minute to say it’s OK to carry on as we are, eat the meats as before without actually referring to anything in the report itself. They don’t really say why it’s OK, why they disagree, and that it is an alarmist report from nowhere.

Having been vegan for a while and vegan-curious for even longer, I have read and watched a lot on the health implications of vegan and non-vegan diets. The findings by the WHO is not new news to me or most vegans and vegetarians. It’s dismissal by the mainstream is not only alarming in itself but insulting to those who share that opinion reached by independent research.  And to have it openly mocked by Karl frickin’ Stefanovic proceeding to eat from a plate of bacon in an act of defiance and clear corporate cooperation is frustrating.

As a 34 year old, white, English man living in Sydney, Australia I may be being a little bit too sensitive as I am the last demographic to be ostracized, but the way people in the mainstream media and even in my own social network (yep, I’m definitely privileged – I have a social network!) dismiss my beliefs and arrogantly question my views on animal abuse or health and environmental benefits of a vegan lifestyle without any prior knowledge or even interest in the subjects is a constant source of frustration.

A vegan is always asked to justify a decision to not participate in the killing of sentient beings. How weird is that? And why?  Because suddenly the world is worried about my nutrition. Being questioned about protein, iron, omega 3 and B12 by anyone other than a nutritionist is a joke. If I started questioning an omnivore about their balanced or unbalanced diet that would seem rude and presumptuous wouldn’t it? How about you ask yourself why you eat meat, why you pay people to grind live chicks and abuse and slaughter infant cows? How balanced is your diet? What are your iron and omega 3 levels like? Do you even know where your B12 comes from?

Frustration aside, big picture thinking cap on, I can only see it as a positive though. One great quote from Gandhi regarding the process of real change is “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” We are definitely between the laugh and fight stage, which means real change and the win is around the corner. In the meantime we have to learn to let some things wash over us (changing channel also works) and for the others we must become better at communicating and learning how to communicate the right message, at the right time, to the right person.

A mamamia.com.au article from earlier on in the year really annoyed me. Or rather the title, ‘Veganism is a first-world luxury. There, I’ve said it’. After reading it I actually didn’t find it offensive apart from the warped view that if you are privileged enough to have access to all types of food, the way you should show respect to those who haven’t is to eat as plentifully as possible. I’m not even going to try and understand the logic there. When searching the website for the article it does bring up a few articles, mainly speaking out against veganism or healthy eating and there was one article that questioned JLo (that’s Jennifer Lopez to me and everyone born before me) and her decision to raise her kids on a vegan diet. The writer disclaimed that she is not a dietitian and has no specialist knowledge on the matter, but pushes the ‘normal’ diet on her family of meat, cheese, fish (except for her) and dairy that consumers eat and therefore feel its OK to presume the diet of someone who does not eat these things as abnormal. Slavery was once normal.

Life changes and humans evolve. Surely we are now evolving at an intellectual rate that we can’t carry on looking at “the way things have always been done” as justification. The author considers that we all force our lifestyle choices onto our children, so surely one that is of compassion is the best you could give your children. A healthy, balanced diet is difficult to give your children no matter what the restrictions, there is no excuse. Do the research – we don’t need to eat animals to be healthy, and we certainly don’t need the milk intended for a calf to go through massive weight gain in a just a few months. Living on a vegan diet doesn’t mean that it is necessarily healthy, but it can be.

I guess it’s just one of the challenges, having to fight against the open aggression, ridicule and downright rudeness that people seem to think they can get away with just because we have a different world view – a world view that is pretty inoffensive.  But they are fighting back, they can’t ignore us or the science, which means we are winning!

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