Greetings, Queer Vegan Food readers! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the Ellen Degeneres egg posts. The discussions have been enlightening and I think very useful in figuring out how our vegan movement needs to address the backyard egg movement.
Today, I am beyond excited to post this article written by guest blogger Jessica Zafonte! In this guest blog, Jessica calls attention to unique queer-vegan issues within the gay parenting-themed American television series “The New Normal,” which airs on NBC and is co-produced by openly gay Ryan Murphy and out lesbian Ali Adler (both of whom also work on the series Glee, another LGBTQ-themed show). Jessica calls attention to how animal welfare is portrayed in this series, and her discussion about the show’s portrayal of how the privileged gay characters (both of whom are wealthy, male, and able-bodied) relate with animal welfare concerns on the television series is excellent and needed. LGBTQ issues and animal welfare issues are inextricably linked.
Jessica asks us to consider why an opportunity to showcase a meaningful connection between oppression against animals and LGBTQ folks was squandered when the television series made a muck of the topic of animal welfare during a recent episode. Jessica wonders if the show’s creators fear that in order to portray gay themes to mainstream audiences, they cannot simultaneously work against oppression of other groups (or even, I would add, non-privileged gay groups)?
I invite you to read Jessica’s fascinating, well-written and insightful post, and to leave a comment and share your thoughts on her post and this topic:
Guest Post: “The New Normal” TV Show’s Attitude About Food Animals
By Jessica Zafonte
I know that in order for our society to awaken to the cruelty and injustice behind raising and killing animals for food and for our culture’s consumption to move towards a more compassionate diet, the topic will need to enter the public discourse and become a mainstream debate. However, as I’m sure many of you can understand, currently when the mainstream media address any animal issues they are usually frighteningly misinformed and one-sided. I often wish that a given newspaper article/news segment/ TV show just chose to ignore the subject rather than address it in such a biased or unhelpful way. But I think it is important to remember that before any societal norm can change, it has to be discussed by those on both sides of the issue. It might seem like things are getting worse before they can get better.
This topic came to mind after watching the Thanksgiving Episode of NBC’s new show, “The New Normal.” For those of you not familiar, the show is based around a gay couple who hire a surrogate to carry their child. The antagonist of the show is the uber-conservative, angry, homophobic, racist, etc. grandmother of the surrogate mom. Although the show is cheesy and gets most of its laughs from playing off of stereotypes, it does promote a progressive and pro-gay rights message. When I read the synopsis on a recent episode on Hulu though my heart sunk. It stated that upon going to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, two of the main characters decide instead to rescue all of the turkeys at the farm. Sounds like a good thing, no? But I knew it was too good to be true. Sure enough, while the “pardoning” of all the turkeys motivates the characters to initially acknowledge that Thanksgiving is about peace, compassion, and forgiveness, they ultimately regress to their old ways of thinking about these animals.
The more flamboyant half of the gay couple takes the daughter of the surrogate (don’t get bogged down in the details) to an organic farm where they can buy a “hormone-free, antibiotic-free” turkey. (Since the surrogate is pregnant of course, otherwise it would be perfectly fine to put these sorts of additives into the human body). They are then horrified when the farmer tells them to pick their turkey and that he will kill it right in front of them (as the camera zooms into a bloody tree stump and axe). The duo is horrified – it was their understanding that they’d be buying something already killed and wrapped up- something that didn’t look like the living thing it was! Yes, I like this! Demonstrating the disconnect between living animals and the food we eat! Upon returning home, with the rescued living turkeys in tow, the closed-minded grandma, known for her offensive and ignorant lines, is appalled that the family won’t be eating turkey for their holiday meal, insisting that “meat is American” and that “vegetables are for poor people.” At this point I’m really excited.
This seemed like it was turning out to be a humorous commentary on what is now a growing awareness of the harm and unhealthiness behind animal agriculture! The character making these ridiculous statements is the one that always says the things that are “wrong” and “non-progressive,” after all. But, to my great disappointment, it was all downhill from there. After numerous comments about how stupid and dirty the turkeys are, the family sits down to their tofurkey dinner and then proceeds to be so revolted by the meat substitute that they all simultaneously spit it out onto their plates. Cut to the last scene where the little girl goes off to school and the mother snickers at the turkeys and tells them they will make a “delicious Christmas meal.” End scene. Heart drops. Blood pressure rises. So even a show that attempts to convey an important message of compassion and tolerance to a wide audience, which inevitably includes many prejudiced or closed-minded folks, just cannot extend this kindness and acceptance to animals?
Gays have been oppressed, marginalized, and physically and emotionally attacked throughout history – but I think we all derive hope from the fact that the public sentiment is finally changing. Yet the show proceeded to focus this same cruel and unjust treatment on living, breathing, feeling animals. Even the characters who were undeniably created by the show’s writers to stand for acceptance of an “alternative” lifestyle, tolerance of those difference from us, and compassion towards those we may not understand, acted inconsistently with their own moral fibers.
I often feel similarly after receiving google alerts that I set up for the words “vegan,” “animal rights” and “animal welfare.” Some of the articles that they lead me to are from inside the animal agriculture industry, where the authors bash animal activists for being extremist. One such article said something to the effect that only farmers know what is truly best for their animals, not animal activists. After my blood stopped boiling I began to think that maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing. First, Big Ag is getting scared of those on the side of animal welfare. If we weren’t a threat to the way they run their businesses (aka torture animals) then they would not be discussing this in the first place. (See this somewhat encouraging article in “Alfa Farmers,” acknowledging that the animal rights movement includes some “very influential people,” are “well-funded” and worries that “in the future, will one out of five people be vegans?” And that they cannot “underestimate our society’s ability to change.”). Second, the more publicity a topic is given, the greater chance that someone who has not yet made his/her mind up on the issue or even though about it, will begin to. Change doesn’t happen before discussion and a fight. Just like that famous Mahatma Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I think right now our movement is somewhere in between the” laughing at you” and “fighting you” stage.
But the underlying question is why the public sentiment on this topic is so negative, even among educated, caring, progressive individuals? Is caring about animals just TOO progressive? Is veganism really that radical? I know that a lot of us tend to live in our vegan bubbles but when we step out of them we realize that many people do see our lifestyles as extreme and our way of thinking as “outside the box,” to put it mildly. But not long ago, a non-heterosexual lifestyle was seen as the exact same way, and still is by many people. The same is true throughout history of our view and treatment of other races and cultures. In today’s age, is having no compassion for and killing/eating animals the great equalizer?
Is this the issue on which conservatives and liberals, gays and straights, blacks and whites can agree on? And if so, why? Is an iteration of the common enemy theory? Do we, as a society, always need to be marginalizing some group in order to function? I don’t think so. I think that the animal agriculture issue is one that most of society is still uneducated about, especially as farm animals become more out of the public eye than ever before, closed behind factory farm doors. So while I sometimes wish that no one would even touch on the food/animal issue if it is going to be done in a misinformed, hypocritical, closed minded way, maybe this is actually the first step.
Jessica Zafonte is a vegan animal lover and attorney. She worked as a criminal prosecutor in Brooklyn before becoming an associate at a large law firm practicing patent litigation. Jessica lives in New York City with her boyfriend, three cats rescued off the streets and fifteen mice rescued from a lab.