Recent videos from Freelee the Banana Girl and Gary Yourofsky have sparked a great deal of controversy amongst vegans and non-vegans alike. In my first [and maybe only] ever “commentary” video, I talk about what we can learn from these videos
I don’t generally comment on controversies within the vegan YouTube community (though it would probably really help my view count)…and when I do (which is now, apparently)…it’s incredibly late (which is why I probably suck at Twitter). But I suppose it’s time I tried my hand at what YouTube seems to be built for: commentary on other peoples’ videos. (I feel so dirty) [tweet this]
There have been response videos and response response videos, accusations, name-calling, un-subbing, and more. If you’re reading this post and have a more timely grasp of current events in the vegan YouTube community—which doesn’t take much—then you’re familiar with these videos, so I won’t rehash much.
Basically, Freelee’s video says that perhaps non-vegans who know the exact impact of their actions don’t deserve to live, and Gary’s says that he hates all humans.
Of course that’s an extreme distillation and paraphrasing which is never fair so if you haven’t seen their videos in their entirety, please do so to understand the context. (Linked above in their names and at the end of the post.)
What I want to talk about is what teachable moments we can pull from these video and the controversy surrounding them. Cause you know me—always the educational buzzkill.
Some of what I’ll say will be more for non-vegans and some more for vegans.
First off, I want to speak to something I find can be troublesome and dangerous, and that’s hero worship. This is different from looking up to someone—of seeing them as your role model, mentor or inspiration.
What I mean by “hero worship” is when we take community leaders, celebrities, or really anyone, and put them up on an inhuman pedestal. We believe everything they say without question, and see them as our leader and—even more so—our savior. Until the time they invariably act human—as humans are wont to do—and then we get upset and are horrified; we feel betrayed and become disillusioned. [tweet this]
And honestly, that’s on us. It’s not fair to expect someone—anyone—to be everything you need and want them to be all the time. And yes, public figures should be aware of and cautious with the power they yield—but humans are humans.
So, I won’t be blindly defending them or saying they can do no wrong, because they can. We all can. We’re human.
Second, as Gary himself has said, you don’t have to agree with him—or anyone—100 percent of the time in order to still agree with the message. If they say something that rubs you the wrong way, it doesn’t automatically invalidate the message they stand for. And it certainly doesn’t mean animals are any less oppressed or dying any less by our hand.
Of course, if someone goes from hardcore animal advocacy to saying it’s okay to eat animals in select circumstances, that’s another matter.
So, what about what was said in these videos? Do non-vegans deserve to die? Should we hate all humans? First off, if you listen, Freelee, for one, isn’t saying all non-vegans, but rather those who know exactly and intimately what is happening to the animals of this world and yet choose—even with this knowledge—to continue to pay others to enslave, rape, torture and murder them on their behalf. And what Gary is expressing is utter disdain for humanity due to these actions.
Stay with me, if you will, for an analogy that may seem absurd. I want to try and put you in their shoes, if I can be so presumptuous—not in hopes you’ll agree with them, but rather in hopes you may understand where they were coming from: if someone knew that pushing a button would cause a person in another room to suffer repeated rapings, or be skinned alive, or have their throat slit, and decided to push that button anyway, we would be horrified and outraged.
These horrors are what’s happening to animals in numbers beyond what we can even comprehend, every second of every day all over the world. And it’s not the big evil corporations’ fault, so don’t demonize them—though they aren’t totally blameless. But really, they are only providing the products we demand. We are the killers by proxy. If we eat meat, dairy, eggs and honey, or wear leather, wool or silk, we are paying people to rape, kill, skin, maim, enslave, torture, and boil alive living being on our behalf.
And you may think “they’re only animals” and it’s extreme to use such human terminology. But rape is forceful penetration without consent. Murder is the forceful and violent taking of life. These atrocities aren’t exclusive to humans and we only want to make them so in order to further distance ourselves from what we are doing. [tweet this] Call it pork, not pig flesh, call it leather, not cow skin.
I’m reminded of a chilling quote by Jewish philosopher Theodor W. Adorno who himself fled from Nazi Germany: “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.”
So whether you think that’s an extreme view or not, or agree with their ultimate conclusions or their deliveries or not, that is—at least where I believe—Freelee and Gary are coming from. And imagine, if you will, that you were witness to trillions of human murders, injustices and horrors beyond description. In all honesty, what would you say?
Gary’s been in the trenches fighting for the animals for years. He’s lived in the thick of it, aware every moment of every day the lives that are being lost—felt the pain and terror of those he was attempting to defend and faced apathy, aggression, and outright mockery from their tormentors.
Now I’ll say that from personal experience, if you stay acutely aware of what the animals are going through and the mind-boggling enormity of our destruction not only in their lives but to the planet, and the utter disregard of the vast majority of this world’s population—if you’re aware of that intensely enough and for long enough, it will drive you into rage, fury, desperation, sadness and utter heartbreak. And you will either do something about it or choose to go numb again.
And Gary and Freelee have chosen. You may not like it. You may not agree with it. Hell, I don’t agree with Freelee or even Gary all of the time.
Now I purposefully take a different approach in my activism. Using primarily educational, fact-based information presented in an approachable way is how I feel I can best convey the vegan message to the largest amount of people. I may have learned to hold back my swears and couch things differently, but I do not pull my punches and I will never compromise when it comes to the animals. I will speak out against any exploitation or abuse without question and without hesitation.
What I won’t do is spend time criticizing and tearing down other activists. If I don’t agree with them or like the way they said something, guess what? I can approach that topic myself in a different way. We waste so much time and energy nitpicking each other and tearing each other down. And where, exactly, does that get the animals?
Now vegans, we can sit here and debate all day as to what is the most effective form of activism- what is helping the movement and what is hurting it. Well, I’ll tell you one sure thing. Action helps. Inaction does not. [tweet this]
And nitpicking, name-calling, and tearing each other down is a form of inaction. It’s not productive and is sure as hell doesn’t help the dairy cow whose child was just taken from her. It doesn’t help the male chick on the conveyor belt about to be tossed alive into a grinder. It doesn’t help the sheep slowly dying from an infected wound from careless shearing. And it doesn’t help the pig strung up over an electrified bath.
They don’t care who you’re subscribed to or when you hit the thumbs-down button. Let’s please focus on what–no, on who matters. [tweet this]
Don’t take your offenses out on the animals. If you’re non-vegan, please take a moment to look into what these supposed lunatics are talking about, even if their delivery was disagreeable. 99 percent of the time, when we humans get upset or offended it’s because what was said hits something we ourselves are insecure, uncertain, or ignorant about.
Most people know something is wrong with how we get our food. It’s no secret why we don’t visit slaughterhouses. So even if the way the message was said to you was upsetting, search around and you’re bound to find some vegan out there who speaks in a way that works for you. Vegans are just as diverse as non-vegans. Please don’t give up the message for the messenger. They’ve awoken you to something incredibly important (see resources below).
For my vegans, take the energy you’d spend writing a hateful comment or gossiping online and make a video calling out the horrors of dairy or exposing the horrific life of laying hens. Or going into the schools to speak the truth about what animals are going through. Or go volunteer at a farm sanctuary. If you think Freelee’s or Gary’s or my or anyone’s activism is ineffective or damaging, then go do your own form of activism with everything you’ve got. That is how we make change. Not by petty infighting, gossiping and hate. That’s an insult to the animals in the highest degree. And they deserve more from us. From all of us.
So do I personally always think what Freelee or Gary or any activist out there says and how they say it is ideal or exactly what I would say? Of course not. Because I know they are human and I’m human and we’re not carbon-copies of one another who always agree on everything just because we’re vegan. Far from it. But what we do and, I hope will always agree on is that the animals are the top priority. And I will fight to the death for them and for the rights of their defenders to defend them. Because I think the animals would prefer freedom by any means.
Now I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. If you liked hearing me weigh in on some controversy, though late it may be, and most likely, will remain a rare occurrence, share this post around to spark understanding and action.
— Emily Moran Barwick